If you’ve been abused by more than one narcissist in your life, it can be helpful to look at rules or beliefs you have about people in general. For example, one rule survivors of narcissistic abuse often go by is “give everyone the benefit of the doubt.” When survivors are in recovery from the abuse, they think if they change that rule of how they deal with others, it’ll turn them into a jerk (or worse – a narcissist!). But one reason the narcissist keeps taking advantage of you is because you keep giving them the benefit of the doubt.
This is not to blame you! But I’m here to tell you as a narcissistic abuse survivor, I had to stop giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. I had to realize not everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. After I was able to change that long-standing belief, I gained a superpower of learning who to trust and who not to trust.
We have to change our beliefs.
If you are in recovery from narc abuse, you have to look at your rules and beliefs to learn how to protect yourself in the future. You can no longer apply one rule to every human being…because some of those human beings have no empathy and are out to do you harm.
Narcissists specifically target those of us who, for example, give everyone the benefit of the doubt. So, exploring what beliefs you have regarding others and changing some of them won’t make you a jerk; it will only make you more savvy about narcissists so you can avoid them like the plague. You’ll still be the same empathic person (to the right people), just no longer vulnerable to narcissistic abuse.
Which rules to change?
Below are three rules/beliefs that we’re frequently told by society to follow. And it’s frequently implied that we should apply these rules to every person and situation. Nothing could be further from the truth if you’re in narcissistic abuse recovery.
These rules can generally apply to “normal” (i.e., non-narcissists) but not to narcissists. So, when you’re in recovery, make sure you’re not using these rules with narcissists because they will not work. If you try to apply them to your relationship with a narcissist, you’ll end up hurt, frustrated, and confused.
Also be aware of people who tell you these rules as advice for when you’re dealing with the narcissist. It shows that they don’t understand narcissism and their advice is best not followed.
The first rule that does not apply if you’re in narcissistic recovery:
I mentioned this one up above… “Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”
This is a lovely rule that empaths follow. But it sets us up for abuse by a narcissist. This rule can only be applied to non-narcissists.
I made the mistake in my recovery of continuing to apply this rule to everyone, and what it did was block me from seeing red flags. Following this rule with everyone made me ignore those warning signs that I was dealing with a narcissist.
Some part of me continued to believe that everyone was good and had the best of intentions, and honestly, it was hard to give that up. But when you face reality and realize this is not true at all, you’ll move forward quickly on your healing path. It will bring you more freedom and peace, as well as awareness of who you allow in your life.
Not everyone deserves the benefit of your doubt. As a replacement for “give everyone the benefit of the doubt,” I suggest using this one instead: The benefit of your doubt needs to be earned. Let people show you who they are before you allow them into your world.
If you’re early in recovery from narcissistic abuse, I encourage you to actually err on the side of caution by giving only a few people the benefit of the doubt at first. What will happen is that you’ll eventually find a balance between understanding who deserves the benefit of your doubt and who doesn’t. This ability will come more easily over time, but in the beginning of your recovery, it’s best to start from a place of wariness of others. This will build your intuitive muscle.
Anyone who doesn’t support your initial caution and pushes you to trust them before you’re ready is someone to be avoided. A healthy person will not push for your trust until you’re ready, so don’t worry you’ll be sending away potential friends.
The second rule (belief) that does not apply if you’re in narcissistic recovery:
“Trauma is trauma.”
This is a nice idea, but it fails miserably. It started out as a great intention of recognizing that many of us have experienced some form of trauma. It comes from a place of wanting to be inclusive, but it equalizes everyone’s trauma.
When you’ve been abused by a narcissist, and the average person has no clue what narcissistic abuse looks or feels like, and then you’re told “trauma is trauma,” it can be devaluing and dismissive.
So many of my clients, including myself, have been re-traumatized by people who do not understand narcissistic abuse. So, when your trauma is minimized to a phrase of “trauma is trauma,” its invalidating. It doesn’t help, and it shuts down the conversation.
If you want to validate someone’s trauma but don’t understand it because you haven’t gone through it yourself, instead of saying “trauma is trauma,” just ask if they feel comfortable sharing some of their experiences, so you can understand better. Sometimes that one question can help you start to realize what the person actually went through.
“Trauma is trauma” is a great notion because we don’t want to invalidate those who have experienced trauma others might deem as mild. We can acknowledge everyone who has been traumatized, and we need to be careful because that phrase can be trivializing.
I’ve had clients tell me of narcissists using this phrase on them to invalidate any past trauma the empath/survivor has told the narc about. Narcs use this phrase as a way to demean and invalidate you. If you’re in narcissistic abuse recovery, honor what you’ve been through. Your experience is unlike any other person’s trauma.
The third rule that does not apply if you’re in narcissistic recovery:
“You must forgive to truly heal.”
There are a lot of old ideas about forgiveness, and some do not apply when you’ve been traumatized by a narcissist. Therapists who don’t understand narcissistic abuse in particular can be too quick to tell clients who have survived narcissistic abuse that they need to forgive their abuser. Nothing’s wrong with forgiveness per se, but with narcissistic abuse recovery, a great deal of healing typically has to happen before forgiveness.
I’ve worked with many clients whose previous therapist told them they need to forgive to heal. It’s true that forgiveness can be a good piece of your recovery, but I have only witnessed that forgiveness happens at the end of active healing and not any time before that.
This is because moving through grief over your losses and resolving anger/resentment has to take place before forgiveness. Many survivors of narcissistic abuse have wasted time trying to forgive their abuser without dealing with their own grief and anger first.
When forgiveness is prioritized over their own losses, healing is delayed. What happens is that clients end up thinking something is fundamentally wrong with them because it seems they can’t embrace forgiveness. (This is also why it’s extremely important you choose a professional to work with who truly understands narcissistic abuse recovery, otherwise you’ll be spinning your wheels for years like I did, trying to forgive an abuser without forgiving yourself first and moving through your anger and grief over losses.)
My personal recovery experience and what I’ve seen with my clients is that forgiveness can never be forced. Anger and grief need to be resolved first, and then forgiveness naturally unfolds.
One final note on forgiveness: Be aware of what your definition of forgiveness is because it differs from person to person. Forgiveness can be something you simply hold in your heart, or it can be something that allows you to interact with the narcissist on a regular basis.
You’ll Improve Your Intuition
Changing the rules you have with others will be as an essential part of your healing from narcissistic abuse. Narcissists are unlike any other types of people, and you cannot treat them like your average person. If you do, you’ll only end up hurt.
By incorporating these new rules for yourself, you’ll still be the same kind, compassionate, and loving person you’ve always been, but you’re going to be a lot shrewder.
Having people earn your benefit of the doubt will lead you to more fulfilling interactions. People who hold your same values will start appearing in your life and toxic people will stay away from you. Honoring your trauma will hasten your healing. And resolving grief and anger will allow forgiveness to unfold (if that’s your desire).
Ultimately, putting in place new rules for interacting with people can save you from having narcissists enter your life in the first place.
Are you ready to heal and thrive after narcissistic abuse? Contact Me Today