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Traumatic Bonding: How A Narcissistic Relationship Is Similar To Stockholm Syndrome

First, I had to admit my life was out of control. Then I had to see him for who he really was. Not the person I had projected onto him. Not the one I was waiting and hoping he’d change to become. By now I’d learnt that I had to accept the things I couldn’t change. Which was him? I had to find the courage to change what I could. Which was me? I had to let go of trying to fix him, save him, rescue him. I had to focus on me.

“I’m at a point in my life where I just want my family happy, my health good, my mind right and no drama.” – Karen Salmansohn

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I remember the moment so clearly as if it was yesterday….. when it dawned on me that meant accepting him for who he was right now. Not who I hoped it might become one day in the future. What if he never changed into this fantasy person I had in my head? I knew I had to leave. My safety and that of my child finally outweighed my denial. I had clarity for the first time.


4) Leaving

This is an enormous step to take. It’s the culmination of years of having to challenge your fears over your future, your doubts that things are as bad as they seem. Facing down the uncertainty over whether you are making the right decision. Questioning what will happen, to you or to them, if you take this step. It is a very anxious time.

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Often it takes another horrendous incident, following a lull in the abuse (and the promise that it will never happen again) that’s finally the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“Narcissists rewrite history to escape accountability. You are not crazy.”

I can’t recall exactly what triggered the moment I finally walked free. But it was at night when I knew he wouldn’t be home for a while. I packed my baby and the bare essentials into my car and left.

You never realize your strength, survival skills and ability to cope under such duress before having to walk away from an abusive relationship.


5) Staying strong

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This is one of the hardest stages. Where you need to stay strong. To maintain the gains you’ve made leaving behind a toxic relationship that was filled with injury, fears and pain. That’s easier said than done. You think that when you leave an abusive relationship that’s it, it’s over, it’s the end. But it’s not. It’s just the beginning. In some ways, it can be the most painful part.

a narcissists brain
Traumatic Bonding – a narcissists brain

6) Termination stage

This is the point – if you’re lucky enough to get there – where you have finally terminated an abusive relationship, mourned its loss and started life anew, safely and securely.

I got there. It was one of the toughest journey’s I have taken in my life. I relapsed along the way. And it took many more years to understand why I was attracted to the type of person who would hurt me like that, why I stayed when others wouldn’t have and to build my self-esteem to such an extent where I can maintain healthy boundaries in all aspects of my life.

But it was also the most empowering one. I not only found self-confidence and self-esteem I never had. I went on to find long-term healthy love with the man I am married to now. The lessons I learnt from this relationship have benefited me in relationships with friends, work colleagues and my career.

But what I am most proud of is that I have broken the destructive and addictive cycle, and not passed the negative patterns down to my sons. There is life after abuse. And it can be a positive one.


No matter how much you love that person, being in a narcissistic relationship is just not worth the pain.

Initially, it might be difficult for you to imagine your life without them, but always look at the bigger picture and compare the pros and cons. You will see for yourself that the cons will always outweigh the pros. Instead of investing your energy in a doomed relationship like this, invest in yourself and your happiness. You will see your life going in a positive direction in no time.

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Vivian McGrath
Vivian McGrath is a TV Exec Producer making documentaries for US/UK and Australian television networks. She’s a survivor of domestic violence, motivational speaker and empowerment coach. It’s her mission to help women recover from abusive relationships, fall back in love with themselves and never settle for anything less than they deserve again! Watch her free Masterclass here:
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