Many therapists would say that the victim of narcissistic abuse seems to unconsciously choose abusive narcissists again and again in a bid to correct their own maladaptive behavioral patterns. And that this pattern of behaviour is the victims attempt to resolve old conflicts, and hopefully soothe their old wounds. This is a plausible argument, and personally I can concur with that to some degree, but personally I believe that the phenomenon is a bit more complicated than that.
I would like to add another level to the argument; it is a spiritual dimension that I have come across in the course of therapy with victims of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. On many occasions, I have worked with victims who had already completed therapy before coming to me, they thought that they had dealt with all the issues of their past experiences with abusive relationships, and yet they felt something was not right.
The victim could articulate that they felt as if the source of their primary narcissistic abuse was still under their skin; as if their abuser was still living off them in some way or other. In spite of having done all kinds of therapy, the victim knew (at a deeper level of the self) that something was not quite finished, or something was missing from their life. It has been my experience that traditional western therapies work well when working with victims of abuse on a mental, emotional, and physical level, but generally not so strong when it comes to working consciously with the victim on a spiritual level.
Therapists need to be able to work with the victim of narcissistic victim syndrome on a spiritual level, because “Narcissistic Abuse is truly a form of soul defilement”. It seams that whether a person considers themselves to be spiritual or not, they can tell that on a deeper level of the self that something is not right. The Shaman knows that soul trauma is a big part of victim abuse; it is created through the dyadic relationship that exists between both the narcissist and the victim. For the victim to recover on all levels of the self, it is useful if the therapist is familiar with transpersonal therapy (the psycho-spiritual component), or at least be able to refer the victim on to a therapist who can complete the recovery work on a spiritual level if they are not feeling confident enough themselves.
Shamanic diagnosis of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome:
Apart from being schooled in western psychology and psychotherapy, I have also studied Medical Anthropology with a variety of indigenous Shamans. The Shamanic view of western psychotherapy is that it tends to lack a good understanding of a psychology of spirituality (transcendent states of consciousness). By so doing, it has lost a sense of the sacred that awakens man to his sense of wholeness. Furthermore, as a result of this loss, most western therapies overlook the process of Individuation (the processof integrating the conscious with the unconscious, for the purpose of self-actualization), something the Shaman feels is vital for a full recovery for the victim of narcissistic abuse. When a victim is traumatized or shocked (as in narcissistic abuse), it is possible for the whole self to become fragmented; the Shaman calls this phenomenon “soul loss”.
Individuation is a centering of consciousness through which the self forms the personality into a coherent whole, bringing back the fragmented parts to a totally integrated “true self”, (the totality of a Divine Self). To reach the goal of the individuation process, the Shaman would take the victim of abuse through the pain of the contents of their own unconscious mind in order to access the contents of the psyche, and bring that knowledge into consciousness where it can be processed for healing. In this process, the victim begins to understand their relationship with everything, with themselves, others, including the relationship with their narcissist abuser.
Shamans (indigenous healers), were the first psychotherapists on earth, they have understood for millennium the phenomenon of the narcissistic dyadic relationship where perpetrator and victim merge in twinship, enmeshed in each other. When a victim is emeshed with a narcissist, especially if this began in childhood, the individual learns to give their attention, affection or emotional support to their abuser above all else, in time they begin to loose a sense of self. It appears that the victim puts the needs of the narcissist (and then others) before their own needs. This is true to a point, but actually, and more importantly, the victim’s first daily need is to remain safe in the environment with the narcissist. Becoming a “pleaser” is a way to stay safe, it works by way of “changing the mood” of the abuser, thus avoiding there rages, which usually meant punishment, guilt, shame, and abandonment for the victim. However this behaviour of pleasing may continue into adulthood, where it can cause a lot of resentment in the victim.
Many victims loose the ability to be able to ask for their own needs to be meet, as a result, they may find themselves acting in a way that is passive aggressive. The passive aggressive style of communication develops as a result of fear at not being able to have honest communication with their aggressor (because of fear of reprisals). The victim will need to examine and understand their behaviour, so that they can develop an assertive style of communication for a healthier balance in their relationships. These victims never knew reciprocality (“give and take”) when in a relationship with a narcissist, they learned to give, give and give again. Part of the recovery work with the victim will be to bring this awareness to them, and to encourage them to forge reciprocal relationships in the future with others, and reconnect with their own self.
The Shaman also understands that a part of a human soul is free to leave the body, and it may choose to do so for many reasons; indigenous cultures refer to this phenomenon as soul loss. Western therapy also recognizes this phenomenon; they refer to it as dissociation. From the point of view of contemporary psychology, the therapist may understand this better in the context of a victim experiencing a “vital loss of their essence” whenever they dissociate or split off from the body while experiencing a traumatic event. This soul loss (or vital loss of essence) is a defense response to many forms of physical or emotional traumas; such as fear, the stress of combat, incest, loss of a loved one, suicide, abuse, accidents, surgery, long standing illness, miscarriage, abortion, addiction, depression, narcissistic abuse etc.
The Shaman accepts that the soul part flees in order to survive the experience as a means of self-preservation, and they have a technique for mending this common human predicament, which they call “soul retrieval”. Similarly, the psychotherapist (whether they know it or not) also does a form of soul retrieval by a process of uncovering and integrating the split off parts of the victim’s self. Take for example, a child who dissociates because of rape by her father and escapes to the top of the wardrobe. The Shaman would say that the child had experienced a soul loss when a part of their soul’s essence left the body due to being overwhelmed in that moment. However, both therapist and shaman would agree, whether it is called dissociation or soul loss, what is now needed is to integrate that fragmented split off part of the self back into the person’s system in order to make that individual whole again.
The Shaman also knows that there are other ways one can loose a part of one’s soul. In a case of soul loss, a person may unconsciously give part of their soul to another person in ignorance because of their co-dependence. For example, because a child’s psychic defenses are not strong enough to withstand the constant abandonment and rejection from their narcissistic family member, the child, in a bid to get love may give a part of its soul to the narcissist in order to survive. In this case the soul loss is a natural protective mechanism.
Many people inadvertently give themselves away when they are in grief. For example, I worked with a client whose narcissistic partner had died; she explained that it was as if a part of her had died also. She went on to tell me that she had put a photo of herself into his pocket before the coffin was closed. She said she could not bear to think of him being alone in the after-life. Her explanation of the event may well be true, but it also demonstrates the extent of her co-dependency. In effect, she sent her soul essence to her loved one in order to keep him company, but more importantly, she did this unconsciously in order to remain attached to him. By this act she was actually creating her own soul loss.
There is also a flip side of giving your soul away, and that is when a soul is stolen. In most cases of “soul robbery” by a narcissist, it is most likely their “acting out” is due to their sense of envy. For example, a narcissistic parent may see their children as both mirrors and competitors, and they may become increasingly fearful and envious of the child’sgrowing independence. They may equate the child’s independence as a threat to their sense of power and position in the family environment. Feeling a sense of powerlessness, the narcissist may set about stealing a part of the child’s soul in order to gain power over it; this is done through violent acts, such as the rape of that child, or severe mental or emotional beatings. That way the narcissistic parent regains their domination and power over the child, while at the same time depleting the child’s power. However, in the attempt of getting more power, sadly, the narcissist fragments the child’s soul, that is a high price the child has to pay for the narcissists envy.
By the way, it is important to say that it is not possible for someone to rob your soul without your consent at some level of your own self (usually it is an unconscious act, as in self protection). It is also possible to give your soul-part away inadvertently; this can occur during a trauma, when there is a partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of conscious or psychological functioning (and the individual fragments or splits).
Just to remind you, soul loss is comparable towhat psychology refers to as “dissociation”. When a shaman is working with a victim of narcissistic abuse they look for signs of soul loss, and they can recognize many symptoms that would confirm that a soul loss had occurred, especially by listening to the words they use, (i.e. “I don’t feel like the same person anymore”; “it feels like a part of me has died”, or “I have never been the same since…..”). Another tell tale sign is when a depression does not manage to heal.
To the Shaman, soul loss or dissociation is a sign that the person is not fully able to engage with life, the person is technically unable to stop “depressing”. Apart from looking out for soul-loss, the shaman would also check if the client was holding a part of someone else’s soul. For example, the victim may hold on to a part of the narcissist’s soul as a result of psychological conditions and reactions due to survival identification (such as happens in Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma Bonding).
Going back to the point I touched on earlier, where we raised the question as to victims seeming to choose abusive narcissists again and again in order to heal their old conflicts and wounds. The shaman knows that when they witness the victim’s maladaptive behaviour, (where they find themselves repeating the narcissistic trauma over and over again), they are being privy to the victim’s unconscious motivational drive towards its own self-actualization. Self-actualization means to fulfill one’s potential. The question then is to ask, “Potential for what?” The Shaman knows that man’s driving quest is to become “whole” to the core of their being…..incorporating body, mind, spirit and soul. To the Shaman, this is the only drive by which the human life is determined.
To be “holy” means to be “whole”. When we are whole we have integrated all the fragmented parts back together. The Shaman understands that this phenomenon of healing the fragmented soul is man’s primal and innate drive towards “wholeness.”, when man becomes fully actualized, an Authentic Self. When a person self-actualizes they possess an extraordinary ability to detect the spurious dishonest personality that is the narcissist, and they will never again need to repeat the narcissistic trauma. This is the journey home to oneself, it is a spiritual one, and each therapist is called to make this journey for themselves, because we can only ever bring others as far as we have gone ourselves.
Christine Louis de Canonville