This opinion piece arises from my experiences in several support groups and the concerns that survivors bring to them and how those concerns are treated. It is also based on my own experience in healing.
Healing is a mysterious process. We use the word, but what does it mean? Does it mean the scars don't show, that we forget, that all is forgiven? Does it mean we just move on as best we can and try to put things behind us?
This means that there is no definable process except that healing seems like a neverending spiral.
Looking for Answers
It would be great if we had answers, if we could chart a course in healing that would give us certainty in our path, but I don't think that life is ever that simple and rarely that certain. Because we are unique, with different sensitivities and needs, how can our healing be anything but unique? And as for certainty? Perhaps that is the crux of the matter. Perhaps that is what is most horrifying about the effects of our encounters with evil.
Out of our disorientation and confusion, more than ever, we want life to be certain. We want the certainty of answers. But what we find, having encountered a character disordered person, is that all of our certainty crumbles. We become disoriented as if the world has gone awry, and all our most precious beliefs are smashed against the granite-faced reality of a psychopath/disordered N. It is a reality so alien to us and so twisted, and the psychopath's/N's being so deformed, that we are sent spinning and wobbling like a satellite loosened from earth's gravity out into deepest, darkest, unfathomable, unexplored space, with no way, it seems, to get back. Or, in my case, as if I had been thrown into a clothes dryer and left on the tumble dry cycle- knocking against the side of my walls of disbelief, erratically, bruising, being knocked and jolted about some more, not knowing where the next blow will come from.
In that dryer, I remember. In retrospect, I gather the evidence and recount the signposts that I missed, the history of my abuse that I did not know was abuse, the slow, insidious, sadistic rape of my mind and heart and soul. As the proof accrues, and unspeakable reality dawns, I am finally knocked senseless by it, the shock is so great.
"Obsession": The Beginning of Healing
Some call this preoccupation "obsession" which I think pathologises the thought processes of the individual. Many years ago I was in a motor accident (I was in a bus) where I saw someone die in their car in a fireball; I felt the need to go over and over that scenario in my head- I was in shock, in disbelief. I wanted to find out the victim's name, who he was, what family he had. I needed to tell my story over and over again, to anyone who would listen. I didn't know why I had this desire to do this. Then I read a study of burn victims who had survived terrible fires who were in intensive care. That same pattern emerged, the need to repeat their stories endlessly. This, to me, is the beginning of healing. Our beings, I realise, have been created in such a manner that mechanisms of infinite wisdom fall into place to start the process.
We can give psychological reasons- that it is the shock and that the mind and emotions have been sent reeling and that this is their way of reworking their worldview in a new way, because that world can never be the same. We can talk about 'cognitive dissonance' as Healing Facts does, or about 'paradigm shift'. All this is true. In layman's terms, we need to rework, recreate what happened until it becomes not alien to us, but a part of our ongoing and renewing selves. We need to integrate the experience bit by bit as part of our healing and that may take a life time. But in an encounter with a psychopath/pathological N, I think that there is more.
Failure of Beliefs
We need to recreate the past because we suddenly realise that all that we thought and knew, all that we believe, has failed us. FAILED us. And so, first of all, we need to retrace the steps of the relationship with our newfound perspective, our knowledge- that they were mentally disordered. It doesn't matter how long that past, or how short, what matters is the intensity, the severity, and the sensitivity of the individual. Like survivors with 3rd degree burns, we need to go over it again and again until it becomes real. We need to reorient ourselves with a new and revised knowledge base, where once the psychopath/N had turned the bedrock of all our cherished beliefs, and all that we knew, into quicksand.
But I also believe that we make a natural, predictable mistake: We believe that by changing ourselves that we can change the past. We believe that by changing ourselves we can find a reason we can live with for what happened to us. We believe that by focussing on ourselves, we can take control over what happened to us and what is happening. I think that none of this is true. None of this is true!
A Soul With No Footprints
It happened and there was nothing there. The relationship was one-sided and we were relating to a 'soul with no footprints', a shade, a ghost, a wisp, that leaves no trail because he never was. Our love was unrequited. The relationship did not exist. That, I believe, is the unvarnished truth.
Why is it easier to blame ourselves? Why do we need to engage in further self-abuse? What we can control, I believe, is in the work- of reremembering by thinking back, reframing, facing, changing, with our newfound knowledge.....that is control- but we cannot get back what we never had- we cannot get it back by blaming ourselves, even in part.......for as long as we blame ourselves, we hang onto a relationship, one that never WAS......as long as we blame ourselves, we cannot let go....we may have issues (and who doesn't) that we may wish to work on and that may have been sparked by the encounter, but we did not CAUSE the encounter- other than the human foibles we all carry, our strengths and weaknesses.......we were not remotely at fault- but to see and acknowledge these things it would mean that we would have to GIVE UP the idea that there was a relationship and that we had ANY control!
It is intolerable for us to realise that we were relating to this soul with no footprints. We would, then, need to give up the certainty of closure, of healing in a prescribed and predictable manner; we would need to chart our own course and find answers for ourselves that no one else can give us; we would have to give up the belief that we have any control over our lives and that there is certainty in life.
I think that that is why we need to blame ourselves in some way, and to work to change things in ourselves that may need changing but which did not cause the encounter with a psychopath/disordered N. We want to believe that we had some control. Yet, it is known and proven that if a psychopath/disordered N targets you, no one is immune (Robert Hare). And that if it happened to you once, it could happen to you again, even after you know what there is to know, if you remain uneducated about psychopathy/narcissism. This is also the opinion of Robert Hare. It isn't because you are an "N-magnet" but because you don't know any better, like most of the population.
Even if you are used to abusive relationships, from your childhood, you may tolerate the abuse of a psychopath,/N but this has nothing to do with that person being a psychopath/N- it just means you're even more vulnerable to such familiar abuse, but none of your weaknesses caused you to be the target of the disordered. It is NOT your fault. In our need to control events, even in the past, we blame ourselves, look for faults in ourselves which supposedly made us an "easy" target. We ignore anything which suggests that we have strengths that could have been attractive to the psychopath/N, who usually love a challenge. We pathologise ourselves with impunity, for the world is built on pathologising. We will always find someone to tell us what is wrong with us, rather than what is right with us.
Psychology, I find, is particularly adept at shaping our beliefs about ourselves. And it is frightening to be reeling out there in the cosmos, unhinged from the worldview that did not save us when we needed saving. So, we look to psychology to save us. But instead of stopping at the dysfunction of the perpetrator, the psychopath, the character disordered, the morally insane, the type that we should learn about and commit to memory for the rest of our lives, we focus once again upon ourselves and our "faults" as if that will somehow make the memory of our abuse more palatable. We depend on gurus and "experts", those who have never endured such devastation, who can only describe perhaps, but certainly not connect, with the survivors, to tell us who we are and to tell us how we should think about our encounter.
Losing Ourselves, Gaining Ourselves
There is an old adage, "for the want of a nail ........a kingdom was lost". For the want of a soul/relationship, the kingdom that is the person is lost, the nobility, the dignity of loving, of trying to love, of being human and having weaknesses, of being tempted and seduced, of being caring and giving and believing in a just and merciful world. Of hating. All these things, the kingdom of the human being, is slowly lost when we give ourselves up to beating ourselves up further with our 'faults and weaknesses'. It is not weakness to want love and to love, or to care. Even in the extreme. The greatest weakness is to give up ourselves to the worldviews of another. The unrequited love was still, love. And even though we beat ourselves up over it, the love remains and even our own self-contempt cannot erase that spirit, that soul. In truly loving, we are "captains" of our soul. But we would rather forfeit that and let others steer us right back into a worldview that will fail us once again.
Bottomline: we need to self-abuse because the alternative seems unthinkable. How does one wrap their hearts and minds around the idea that there was no relationship? That the months or many years we spent with the psychopath/N simply existed in our own minds, because we assumed the other was normal and they let us fill in the gaps with our own humanity? All those wasted years and energy. For nothing. Who can gaze into that abyss and not flinch? Who can live without certainty? Who can live without certainty of closure? If it was one big fat lie, what will fill the hole? We need to fill the hole, connect the gap, in order to heal. How will we do it? How much disbelief can we bear? We tell ourselves, perhaps it is better to hear that we are defective in some manner. We are echoes. In time they will make a new personality disorder just for us, let's say, for example, "echo personality disorder" and then we can finally understand.
And yet, the world and the survivors will never understand the Holocaust. And targets of true psychopaths/disordered Ns survive an emotional and psychic holocaust. Our greatest and hardest path to healing is to accept that it happened, that some things have no answers. That evil exists. That we don't know why. To accept that we are dealing with someone truly from another world, a soul with no footprints.