As a therapist and a person who deals in reality and common sense in my own life, it is hard to see some of the decisions that other people make in the name of love and devotion. What happens to the human brain that cannot see the plainly obvious in front of them? Where intelligent, common-sense people are stuck in relationships with people who are abusive, cheating, insulting and care very little for them! Even worse sometimes, they are openly manipulated emotionally, physically and financially in a process that leaves them devastated when it finally comes to an end. Even this is usually controlled by the narcissist who will leave only when it suits him/her and not before.
One case I am dealing with at present is a very good example of this (permission granted to use details with name changed).
In sessions, Joy talks hopefully about the time when she can move on from the abusive relationship she has with a diagnosed narcissist. Over the time they have been together, he has been abusive emotionally and physically and has been subjected to the “3 Stages of A Narcissist Relationship” and worse. He belittles her achievements and if she is successful with anything, he invariably makes it about him. He is a controlling manipulator who knows exactly where his victim’s weak spots are. She has abandonment issues and if she ever resists his control, he will walk off and give her the silent treatment, sometimes for weeks at a time. He has been known to pick her up physically and throw her out of the front door and once while pregnant. They do not live together and he never contacts her during the week but expects her to be present at weekends for, in her words “a sex-filled Saturday and Sunday”.
The above behaviour can be expected from someone who has a clear diagnosis of narcissism. However, Joy’s reaction to his behaviour has always troubled me and much as I challenge her thinking and try to bring reality into her view, the temptation to go back to him is too strong. Even though, she rationally knows he is abusing her, she cannot break the bond that he created. I have often asked her what keeps her in his circle of abuse and she will reply with statements like:
“We live in our little bubble and there is no-one else, I identify with him”
“He is the only one who seems to understand me”
“I keep hoping that he will change and be the partner I want”
“He needs me”
“I am afraid that if I get out of this one, I will not find anyone better”
Anyone who understands codependency will see the obvious effects of deep codependency issues here. Worse than this, the abuser has created a dysfunctional bond with his victim by convincing her that she can only survive when with him and controlled by him. This bond is similar to Stockholm Syndrome and is difficult to break. Joy knows rationally that being with him is not in her best interests but she describes him as her “addiction” and she “needs her fix”. He knows how to control her enough to give her just enough of what she needs. Like a pusher supplying just enough of a drug to keep the addict coming back for more, he revels in her dysfunction.
Joy is in therapy to try to break this bond that ties her to her abuser. It is a long, painful process and I always face the issue that if I come on too strong, she will run away from therapy. We are trying to chip away at the big rock of resistance as time goes on and trying to get her commitment for change in the present while dealing with the severe issues from her childhood that led to her to this situation. I have set boundaries around certain issues and have warned that if he physically abuses her again and while we are in therapy, I will call the authorities.
Joy is slowly learning and starting to show signs of self-care and thinking about herself. She is learning what it is to set a boundary even if she seems fearful of the reaction that might come from that. She has stopped destructive behaviours like checking his social media constantly. I am hopeful that she will, at some stage, be able to go no-contact, the only viable solution when dealing with a narcissist.
Joy is one of many such cases that I see where no logical reason can be found to stay in the relationship but an emotional child-like bond has been created to fill unfulfilled needs from childhood. Believe me, there are many people willing to take advantage of this. If you are in a situation similar to above, consider getting help to rid yourself of your worst nightmare.