Article by Shahida Arabi: “What Abuse Survivors Don’t Know: 10 Life-Changing Truths”

I came across a terrific article called “What Abuse Survivors Don’t Know: 10 Life-Changing Truths” by Shahida Arabi on the website Mogul. There are some great insights in it that I hope you’ll appreciate. For other great articles by Arabi, visit her blog Self-Care Haven.

What Abuse Survivors Don’t Know: 10 Life-Changing Truths
Shahida Arabi

The journey to healing from emotional or physical abuse requires us to revolutionize our thinking about relationships, self-love, self-respect and self-compassion. Abusive relationships often serve as the catalyst for incredible change and have the potential to motivate us towards empowerment and strength, should we take advantage of our new agency.

Here are ten life-changing truths abuse survivors should embrace in their journey to healing, though it may appear challenging to do so.

1. It was not your fault. Victim-blaming is rampant both in society and even within the mental landscapes of abuse survivors themselves. Recently, the victim-blaming and the mythical “ease” of leaving an abusive relationship has been challenged in the public discourse. Accepting that the pathology of another person and the abuse he or she inflicted upon you is not under your control can be quite challenging when you’ve been told otherwise,  by the abuser, the public and even by those close to you who don’t know any better.

Abuse survivors are used to being blamed for not being good enough and the mistreatment they’ve suffered convinces them they are not enough. The truth is, the abuser is the person who is not enough. Only a dysfunctional person would deliberately harm another. You, on the other hand, are enough. Unlike your abuser, you don’t have to abuse anyone else to feel superior or complete. You are already whole, and perfect, in your own imperfect ways.

2. Your love cannot inspire the abuser to change. There was nothing you could have done differently to change the abuser. Repeat this to yourself. Nothing. Abusers have a distorted perspective of the world and their interactions with people are intrinsically disordered. Pathological narcissists and sociopaths are disordered individuals who have specific manipulation tactics as well as behavioral traits that make them unhealthy relationship partners. Part of their disorder is that they feel superior and entitled; they are usually unwilling to get help and they benefit from exploiting others. A lack of empathy enables them to reap these benefits without much remorse. Giving your abuser more love and subjugating yourself to the abuser out of fear and out of the hope that he or she would change would’ve only enabled the abuser’s power. You did the right thing (or you will) by stepping away and no longer allowing someone to treat you in such an inhumane manner.

3. Healthy relationships are your birthright and you can achieve them. It is your right to have a healthy, safe, and respectful relationship. It is your right to be free from bodily harm and psychological abuse. It is your right to be able to express your emotions without ridicule, stonewalling or the threat of violence. It is your right not to walk on eggshells. It is your right to pursue people who are worthy of your time and energy. Never settle for less than someone who respects you and is considerate towards you. Every human being has this right and you do too. If you are someone who has the ability to respect others and are capable of empathy, you are not any less deserving than anyone else of a relationship that makes you happy.

4. You are not forever damaged by this. Healing and recovery is a challenging process, but it is not an impossible one. You may suffer for a long time from intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and other symptoms as a result of the abuse. You may even enter other unhealthy relationships or reenter the same one; this is not uncommon, as a large part of our behavior is driven by our subconscious. Still, you are not “damaged goods.” You are not forever scarred, although there are scars that may still remain. You are a healer, a warrior, a survivor. You do have choices and agency. You can cut all contact with your ex-partner, seek counseling and a support group for survivors, create a stronger support network, read literature on abusive tactics, engage in better self-care, and you can have better relationships in the future. If you suspect you were the victim of emotional abuse, you can read about the manipulation tactics of emotionally abusive people and understand how pathological individuals operate so that you can protect yourself in the future. All hope is not lost. You can use this experience to gain new knowledge, resources and networks. You can channel your crisis into transformation.

5.  You don’t have to justify to anyone the reasons you didn’t leave right away. The fear, isolation and manipulation that the abuser imposed upon us is legitimate and valid. Studies have proven that trauma can produce changes the brain. If we experienced or witnessed abuse or bullying in our childhood, we can be subconsciously programmed to reenact our early childhood wounding.

The trauma of an abusive relationship can also manifest in PTSD or acute stress disorder regardless of whether or not we witnessed domestic violence as a child. Stockholm syndrome is a syndrome that tethers survivors of trauma and abuse to their abusers in order to survive. This syndrome is created from what Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D calls “trauma bonds,” which are bonds that are formed with another person during traumatic emotional experiences. These bonds can leave us paradoxically seeking support from the source of the abuse. Biochemical bonds can also form with our abuser through changing levels of oxytocin, dopamine, cortisol and adrenaline which can spike during the highs and lows of the abuse cycle.

The connection we have to the abuser is like an addiction to the vicious cycle of hot and cold, of sweet talk and apologies, of wounds and harsh words. Our sense of learned helplessness, an overwhelming feeling that develops as we are unable to escape a dangerous situation, is potent in an abusive relationship. So is our cognitive dissonance, the conflicting ideas and beliefs we may hold about who the abuser truly is versus who the abuser has shown himself or herself to be. Due to the shame we feel about the abuse, we may withdraw from our support network altogether or be forced by our abuser to not interact with others.

These reasons and more can all interfere with our motivation and means to leave the relationship. You may have been financially dependent on your abuser or feared physical or psychological retaliation in the form of slander. Therefore, you never have to justify to anyone why you did not leave right away or blame yourself for not doing so. Someone else’s invalidation should not take away your experience of fear, powerlessness, confusion, shame, numbing, cognitive dissonance and feelings of helplessness that occurred when and after the abuse took place.

6. Forgiveness of the abuser is a personal choice, not a necessity. Some may tell you that you have to forgive the abuser to move on. Truly, that is a personal choice and not a necessity. You might feel forgiveness of the abuser is necessary in order to move forward, but that does not mean you have to. Survivors may have also experienced physical and sexual abuse in addition to the psychological manipulation. You may have gone through so much trauma that it feels impossible to forgive, and that’s okay.

It is not our job to cater to the abuser’s needs or wants. It’s not our duty to reconcile with or forgive someone who has deliberately and maliciously harmed us. Our duty lies in taking care of ourselves on the road to healing.

7. Forgiveness towards yourself is necessary to move forward. Self-forgiveness is a different matter. You do have to demonstrate compassion towards yourself and forgive yourself for not leaving the relationship sooner, for not taking care of yourself better, and for not looking out for your safety and best interests. These are all things survivors tend to struggle with in the aftermath of an abusive relationship and it can take a while to get to this point.

Remember: You didn’t know what you know now about how the abuser would never change. Even if you had, you were in a situation where many psychological factors made it difficult to leave.

8. You are not the crazy one. During the abusive relationship, you were gaslighted into thinking that your perception of reality was false and told that you were the pathological one, that your version of events was untrue, that your feelings were invalid, that you were too sensitive when you reacted to his or her mistreatment of you. You may have even endured a vicious smear campaign in which the charming abuser told everyone else you were “losing it.”

Losing it actually meant that you were tired of being kicked around, tired of being cursed at and debased. Losing it actually meant that you were finally starting to stand up for yourself. The abuser saw that you were recognizing the abuse and wanted to keep you in your place by treating you to cold silence, harsh words, and condescending rumor mongering.

It’s time to get back to reality: you were not the unstable one. The unstable one was the person who was constantly belittling you, controlling your every move, subjecting you to angry outbursts, and using you as an emotional (and even physical) punching bag.

Who are you? You were the person who wanted a good relationship. The one who strove to please your abuser, even at the cost of your mental and physical health. You were the one whose boundaries were broken, whose values were ridiculed, whose strengths were made to look like weaknesses. You attempted to teach a grown person how to behave with respect – often fruitlessly. You were the one who deserved so much better.

9. You do deserve better. No matter what the abuser told you about yourself, there are people out there in healthy relationships. These people are cherished, respected and appreciated on a consistent basis. There is trust in the relationship, not the toxic manufacturing of love triangles. There are genuine apologies for mistakes, not provocation for attention or quick reconciliation.

Consider this: aside from the experience of trauma, these people in healthier relationships are not drastically different from you. In many ways, they are just like you – flawed, imperfect, but worthy of love and respect. There are billions of people in this world, and yes, you can bet there are plenty out there who will treat you better than the way you’ve been treated before. There are people out there who will see your wonderful strengths, talents, and who will love your quirks. These people wouldn’t dream of intentionally hurting you or provoking you. You will find these people – in friendships and in future relationships. Perhaps you already have.

10. It may have seemed this relationship was like a “waste of time” but in changing your perspective, it can also be an incredible learning experience. You now have the agency to create stronger boundaries and learn more about your values as a result of this experience. As a survivor, you’ve seen the dark side of humanity and what people are capable of. You’ve recognized the value of using your time wisely after you’ve exhausted it with someone unworthy. With this newfound knowledge, you are no longer naive to the fact that there are emotional predators out there. Most importantly, you can share your story to help and empower other survivors. I know I did, and you can too.


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Comments 22

  • Really great points! All so true. And very needed on the internet.

    #1 was difficult for me to find peace with – and I see that often most in others. It’s hard to convince someone to entertain the idea that it is not their fault when many entered therapy with the belief that they needed to honestly look their faults in order to heal – so willing to accept responsibility, sometimes over that than is necessary or true. How do you explain to someone that – yes, we all have issues, and it’s not your fault. That yes – being honest with our faults or mistakes or pain or whatever language, can help us move through them…..but that does not mean you were an equal participant in this (even if you thought so).

    Yes, perhaps we draw experiences to us to learn. Yes, perhaps therapist brought up our own old issues, or was somehow repetitive of the past. Yes, perhaps it “takes two to tango” – but it is still not our fault. This is the hardest aspect for me to find language to explain why. It’s like my heart finally feels and accepts that as truth, but I don’t have a good rational way to explain why. Can you explain why – that if it takes two to tango, why is it still not our fault? The answer goes beyond the power-differential, beyond paying them, beyond gas lighting or stolkholm. Words like “needy” and “anger” and other self-adjectives seems to be the “but” to sentences. They did this, but I am/history has “proven” that I am……

    Thank you for your post!

    • Thanks for your comment! Here is what I’d like to say on this topic.

      I think it’s really hard for so many of us to accept our vulnerability, and that there are situations in which our power is dramatically reduced — or taken away altogether. As adults, we want to believe we have control and choice over our lives, and when something bad happens, we often blame ourselves because we want to believe that we could have created a different outcome. We don’t want to face our own powerlessness — it’s too scary, too threatening. It’s easier to think that if we had just done something different, the bad outcome could have been avoided. We blame ourselves, we blame victims, because it’s just so hard to accept that things happen that are beyond our control. It makes the world too terrifying.

      (It’s also common for co-dependent types to take on too much power and responsibility, such as taking responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors. They have been blamed for those things by the narcissists in their lives., so they think everything is their fault, and assuming blame can almost seem an antidote to feeling so powerless in their lives and relationships by providing a false sense of power. This is a result of poor/undeveloped boundaries, where they don’t know where they end and someone else begins. The lesson here is to let others be responsible for their own feelings and their own lives.)

      It’s REALLY hard to accept that another adult could have had this kind of power over us. It doesn’t seem rational. How could that have happened — and what does it mean about us? Most people really don’t want to feel like victims (unless it’s too our advantage!). But there is an inherent power differential in this fiduciary relationship. We are entrusting our selves (and our money) to the therapist with the belief that they can be trusted — and then we bare our souls to them and confess our weaknesses and shadowy places, which puts us in a very vulnerable position. Especially if we already have vulnerabilities around authority figures, wanting their love and approval and validation. That creates certain tendencies in our behavior, and the therapist can then take advantage of those tendencies and manipulate us into thinking or behaving a certain way. No one likes to be fooled or taken advantage of, but we were. That can be a devastating thing to admit because it shows our weakness, it shows the places that we would really prefer to hide from public view.

      Sure, it takes two to tango, but in the dance there is a leader and a follower. In this case there is a manipulator/perpetrator and a victim. We may have been part of the co-creation, but we did not orchestrate this or ask for it. More to the point, the therapist KNOWINGLY VIOLATED the code of ethics (and in some cases the law) for their own gain. That is solely on them. No one else can be blamed for it. Sure they can act the victim and blame someone else — that’s what narcissists do. But it was their ethical and legal responsibility to uphold the boundaries of the relationship. And it’s part of their professional training to know how to do that and be able to deal with challenging situations. We are relying on their professional expertise — and paying them for it. So if they violate the boundaries (intentionally or not), it’s their professional responsibility. it’s not the patient’s fault. If they had been ethical, they would have acted differently. As a subsequent therapist told me: “Even if you had danced naked on his desk, it’s STILL his responsibility to uphold the boundaries.” PERIOD. It’s not your fault.

      If you want to take responsibility for something, then take responsibility for learning and growing from this experience so that you are no longer vulnerable to this kind of abuse — so that next time you can make a different choice. Forgive yourself, love yourself, and know you’re worthy of something better!

      • As a former ballroom dancer it’s like nails on a chalkboard when I hear people misuse “it takes two to tango.” Sadly I would say that 99% of the population misuse this quote and I don’t know why. Actually I think I do know why. Usually it’s the abusers who are using this quote to take the blame off of themselves. When you learn the tango or any other dance each partner is responsible for learning the steps. If one person lies and says that they know how to tango and then you get out on the dance floor and they start dancing the cha-cha or just making up their steps as they go along the dance is going to look horrible no matter how perfectly you try to do the real tango steps. Also, please keep in mind that this quote comes from a song about it taking two to tango and that the tango is the dance of love–which means the opposite of how people misuse this quote. It takes two people to make the relationship work but it only takes one person to utterly destroy it. It’s time to reclaim that quote for what it really means, and not just use it as yet another tool for victim blaming!

    • My take on self-blame, too, is that it is partly just in our nature to tear ourselves apart and feel unwarranted guilt whenever something really bad happens. How many people have felt extreme feelings of guilt when a loved one dies? “It was all my fault…I should have told him how much I loved him…I picked too many fights…what if he didn’t know how much I cared in his last moments?…I should have visited the hospital more…if only I had been more proactive on his behalf…why didn’t I try to help find better doctors?…I feel like I killed him.” It’s not realistic, but it comes from a place of deep pain. And that pain is caused by the fact that you valued your loved one so much. I think abuse-caused PTSD can be very similar, except that *you* are the loved one being valued and mourned for…and, thank God, you’re not dead.

      Was this helpful? I hope so…

      • YEs it was VERY insightful….I lost a dad and sister and feel terrible pain over it, despite it was 5 plus years ago. even though I was partially estranged from my narcopathic family system prior to these passings, they on the other hand were in the eye of the storm. Of course the narco-path family system, its several members, those still shrouding the narcopath herself all de-voiced me from telling my pain or feelings on the matter, it was like being silenced. Awful 🙁 Thanks for mentioning,.

  • Love this! Thank you.

    It does make the world feel more terrifying!

    You do get at something very deep – I thought I had to have something to do with it. How could I not? Enter narcissism. But for someone that has not yet come to see narcissism, or maybe there are more gray shades of it, it feels difficult to say things like that. People defend therapist or say why they are “deserving” or that they are confused. I get that. It’s just that I can’t remember what actually made me start to go to the other side. I know it was feedback from others that helped. But when I find people more willing to back up therapist and degrade themselves, it breaks my heart and I am at a loss. Once again, I guess it comes back to feeling powerless.

    • Keep in mind that EVERYTHING that anyone says or does is about them, not about you. We all are viewing the world through our own eyes, with our own perspective, which is a result of our own history, our own beliefs and patterns. So whatever I say about your situation is a reflection of my life and my version of reality — not yours. When people back up the therapist, it has to do with their own denial, their own issues or their own need to see the therapist as they want or need to see him — because otherwise, they would have to deal with their own disillusionment or sense of betrayal. If they have their own relationship with him or to him, that may be too hard for them to handle. It can be hard for us to know and believe in the therapist’s guilt because we have to let go of our own story about them and face our own disillusionment and sense of betrayal, and the grief and loss that come as a result. And that’s painful! Of course it’s easier to be in denial!

      You have to be strong for yourself and believe in yourself, no matter what anyone else says or does. That’s part of the healing process. A lot of us got into these situations because we trusted the therapist more than we trusted ourselves. Now we have to learn to trust ourselves again. And you can do it!

  • I’m very concerned that a Psychiatrist at a University clinic in Toronto is determined to influence the Ryerson University faculty to level down allegations that she behaved seductively, asked the patient what her breasts looked like and confirmed that she will dress however she pleases showing her breast area in front of her other mental health patients, in addition to offering breast therapy to her patient where she would have put the therapeutic focus more about her breasts.

    The Psychiatrist also declared to the patient that he is afraid of his sexuality (meaning that he should have been sexually aroused in her presence) and that she will prescribe him drugs to reduce his sex drive (because she knew that he was traumatized and that chemically castrating the poor fella would reduce the harm caused by him).

    The Psychiatrist knew that her patient disclosed that he was sexually abused by his teacher and other authority women when he was a child, and she used this excuse to say that she was only flashing her chest that way to see if he can deal with his trauma.

    This Psychiatrist needs to be further investigated.

  • Love this article. Even after TREMENDOUS healing i’ve gone through, it seems there is always more layers to peel back to see another degree of painful truth. So, i’ve nearly given up my fight against my abuser because no one else seems to understand and it seems to be making everyone want to avoid me. BUT, while i do know some of my communication problems were mine long before my abuse by my therapist, i do know MUCH of my problems in this arena are direct results from his gaslighting and other forms of psychological manipulation. So, this article, in particular the part about how i cannot change him with my love is vital for me, and i’m sure to many others as well.
    Thanks so much Kristi for all you do on this site, you are a major blessing to a segment of society that is far too covered up by corrupt and demented people.

  • All ten truth you articulate in this article also could be applied to parent and partner abuse. Attachment bonds to family usually translates into attracted to the familiar. How similar and sound alike those two words are. I’m now healing with Somatic Experiencing Therapy after over 50 years of being attracted to the character traits in partners that were the same in my parents. Thank you so much for writing this article, sharing it with us, and helping us in our path of healing and emotional growth.

  • Enjoyed reading this article and sad and perplexed as well as other emotions. Time has been the greatest healer. I still look for articles on tis subject when necessary. To think much was said for just the purpose of hurting me is still hardest to imagine. But I have forgiven and moved on. Luckily not triggered. But I do remnd myself, feeling there is a healing that will be more complete soon. I think he is not working full time anymore. –The best blessing!!

  • I am grateful my daughter directed my attention to Shahida Aribi. I am still in shock but I think that I am digesting the information on more than one level, and I expect that it will lead me to be more aware in a positive way of what is occurring around me. I plan to purchase some of her books to continue the awakening. thank you.

    • Hi Pauline!! I received your letter by mail. Thanks so much for sending it. I will be responding shortly. Many blessings to you! 🙂 Best, Shahida

  • Hi! My name is Stacy!

    Can I send you a personal audio of what I believe to be me being abused by a Narcissis? I would love to send this audio to you because it is raw and real, and I got chills down my spine listening to it once again. Now that I am aware of different techniques used by Narcissist I can Identify many in this audio and I feel as though this audio might help someone realize how abusive this treatment is. Personally when I was In the moment of this situation I didn’t even understand what wAs happening and how wrong it was until I listened. I originally recorded because I always came out of the conversation between me and my Ex more confused and in pain. So my goal was to see if I was actually the “problem of our relationship”

    My goal is to help others or maybe just one person.

    Thank you

    Stacy Fountain

    I also wrote you on Facebook , I am really compelled to share

    • Hi Stacy,
      Thanks for your comment. The audio is not something I am interested in posting on the site, in part because it could be very triggering for survivors visiting the site, most of whom understand that they’ve been abused and many of whom are dealing with PTSD as a result. However, if you uploaded your audio to an online audio file, you could come back and leave a new comment and share the link. (You could post it on the “Your Stories” page.)

      All the best to you!

      • Hello!!

        I understand your reasoning for not wanting it on the site. The audio brings me some anxiety as well. I don’t know exactly how it would help but I was thinking more on the lines of getting it to someone who studies NM or even a individual who is in denial of abuse or possibly racionalizing the abuse of another. For example I did not fully recognize the abuse until I listen to the video and put specific moments or acted out tactics and identified them as stonewalling, word salad ect….

        I understand your concern and respect it completely. Please let me know if there is other was I could help with the benefit of my audio or just in general.

        Have a Amazing day!

  • My passion is to speak regarding verbal abuse, and I have been working on that for 20 years; I would like to speak on National Television (my story has been in newspapers and I have spoken on 3 radio stations. I presented my paper, Society’s Hidden Pandemic, Verbal Abuse, Precursor to Physical Violence and a Form of Biochemical Assault at my State’s Counselng Associaton . if anyone is interested in reading it: is my e-mail.

    1 in 3 women will be physically assaulted in their lifetime, and it all begins with verbal assault. After 31 years of an abusive marriage, I found the book which saved my life: The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans.

    • Oh my goodness Alice that book saved my life as well! It still took me years to leave my abusive husband however; I was completely drawn in by all of the issues Shahida has highlighted. On my road to healing I am indescribably comforted by Shahida’s articles. I’ve recently bought her book too: Power – Surviving and Thriving after Narcissistic Abuse. Such a gift.

  • I am in the beginning stages..
    My self worth seems null void with out him, but he fits every aspect!
    Thank YOU for this article


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