Narcissistic Relationships: Becoming a Survivor
When you hear the word "survivor," you think of people who have been through the fire and come out stronger. That is definitely true of people who have been through relationships with pathologically narcissistic people. A survivor is what we become after we have been a victim. The most important distinction is, then, where is that line? You are a victim when something is still affecting you greatly on a daily or constant basis - whether you are still in the situation or not. A survivor sees the trauma or the situation as something that happened but which does not define them. A victim is still in it completely, either physically or mentally. The transition from victim to survivor begins when someone is able to start processing, understanding and moving on from what has happened. It is complete when someone is able to let go of other definitions of themselves and change their mindset,
In order to become a survivor, it's necessary to first let go of other definitions of yourself, such as being a victim. This can be really hard for some people. There can be perceived safety in being a victim. Victims are not held accountable for anything. They are not responsible for anything. They are never to blame for anything. Ironically, many perceive that there is power in victimhood, as well; that there is identity in claiming the status of victim. This is a fallacy. There is no power in helplessness. There is no safety in the lack of control that is intrinsic to a victim identity.
It can be difficult to let go of a victim mentality. Not only is there perceived safety or even power in this mindset, but many times the narratives that have been created around this belief are very deep and have helped to form our self-concept and identity. If this is no longer true, what does it mean? If I am not a victim, what am I? If I am not the sum total of these experiences, what am I? What does letting go of this definition mean?
Maybe it's time to figure that out.
We are not defined by our experiences. We are so much more than that. Who you are is so much more than What You've Done or What Has Happened. These things can help shape your reality, but they are not the sum of your reality.
As people who experience things, we have choices about how we will view them and how they will affect us. If we are still struggling with a victim identity, we may see them as negative and hurtful because we are coming from a place of hurt. If we have moved on from that place of hurt, we can often see things much more clearly for what they are.
For example, if we are struggling with a victim mentality, we may take someone's harsh words personally and internalize them, allowing them to define and hurt us. If we have moved on from this mentality, we can see the behavior for what it is: a reflection of that person rather than ourselves. We don't take it personally because we realize that it isn't personal. It's not about us. It's about the other person. This doesn't mean we simply excuse the behavior. It doesn't mean we don't take necessary action to prevent harm to ourselves. It means we don't take it personally.
A struggle with victim identity is a struggle with the ego. The ego demands to be recognized. It yearns to be validated. It tells itself stories all day long, imagining that this is so. It imagines that it is the most important thing – not just to itself but to everybody. It fancies that everyone is talking about it, thinking about it, directing messages toward it and acting because of it. It does not stop to think that everyone else has their own ego which is doing the exact same thing and telling itself the exact same stories.
This is the reason it is so difficult not to take other people's behavior personally. The ego insists that other people's behavior is about you. If this is denied, the ego feels unimportant and becomes injured. When the ego is injured, it will rage. This is why the idea that “abusive behavior from others is not personal” causes some people to become very angry. Many people take comfort in that thought, because it means they did not cause this problem and are not responsible for it. But for others, it feels dismissive – of themselves, of their anger and of their pain. It is none of these things, but that doesn't change how they feel. It does not excuse the abuse that happened to them, nor does it somehow imply the abuser is not responsible or should just get away with it, but that doesn't change the way they feel, either. This is because the anger and pain are actually coming from an ego injury caused by the idea that they are not important enough to be the reason for the abuse.
However, abusive behavior from others isn't personal. It is not about us. It has nothing to do with us. It is about the abuser. They are behaving that way because they are choosing to react that way to how they feel and the stories their ego is telling itself. That's it. We cannot control their behavior or stop it – regardless of what they say. Those are the self-defensive stories their ego is telling itself so they can escape the blame (and shame) for their behavior. When we can let go of the victim mentality, we can see this very clearly. Abusers give their power away, too, and that is why they abuse: because they feel so weak and powerless.
The more we are able to break out of the mindset of victimhood, the better we are able to see that other people's behavior has nothing to do with us. It may affect us, but it is not because of us. These are two different things. Just because something someone else does affects us or our lives does not mean that we are the catalyst or the cause of the behavior. This is another story the ego is telling itself about its own importance. There is no power in these stories.
Power manifests when we realize we are not victims anymore. Safety manifests when we take control of our lives and decide that we are the architects of our own experience. Security comes when we can trust ourselves to act in our own best interest.
The past is over. It's done. Whatever happened, however it unfolded, it cannot be changed. But it doesn't need to be changed in order to be dealt with differently. The past doesn't have to control a person's entire life unless they allow that to happen. Using the power of choice, we can decide that we are no longer slaves to our past - or to anything. Because we aren't. We have power. We have choices. We have the ability to change.
So many people have become trapped in the idea that the conditioning, beliefs and behaviors they have now are permanent. They are not! If you are willing to sit with the discomfort of doing something different, you can change these patterns. It starts with recognizing them, taking accountability and understanding that these patterns can, in fact, be changed.
We sometimes hear people saying things like asking them to take accountability for their choices is implying that they deserved to be treated badly, or that it's victim-blaming. The fear behind that statement is always heartbreaking, because it usually means that person is afraid deep down that they did deserve it because of the choices they made. That fear is a prison. It keeps people from seeing how things can change.
We can't be afraid to take responsibility for our choices. We have to be willing to admit that we have some toxic or dysfunctional patterns, behaviors, thoughts and/or mindsets, too. We have to be willing to admit that we've made bad decisions and mistakes. It's not all just the other person – even if they are a narcissist or otherwise toxic personality. The fear seems to be, "If I have any responsibility here, that means I deserved the way they treated me." That is absolutely false and if anyone says that to you, they are wrong. Admitting these things does not excuse or justify any other person's behavior toward us and it does not erase our right to be treated with respect, consideration and dignity. You have to get to a place where you understand and believe that. It's the only way to be OK with taking accountability for your stuff: realizing that it doesn't make you any less valuable. Being imperfect does not damage your worth. It does not give other people the right to abuse you. Nothing gives anyone the right to abuse you.
No change in yourself or your life can be created without taking accountability. It all starts with you deciding that you have had enough of feeling powerless, of feeling helpless. It starts with you deciding – choosing – to create a better life for yourself. It starts with you choosing you. It starts with the power of choice.
Once we have accepted our power and understand that we have choices, we begin to realize that we are not victims. We may have been victims at one time, but we are not victims anymore. Victims have no power. Victims have no choices. If we have accepted and understood that we have these things, we realize that by definition, we cannot be victims. We are survivors.