Like many of the traumatized men and women I treat for narcissistic abuse syndrome, I too was a magnet for malignant narcissists. Throughout much of my life, the plight of brutal circumstances as a child raised by abusers set me up for subsequent victimization. The developmental disasters I incurred impeded the cultivation of interpersonal discrimination and discernment. Chronic neglect and mistreatment left me starving for loving connection and intimacy. Intimacy that I lacked the life skills and acumen to satisfy.
Unlike children who are raised in a climate of safety and love, abused children can develop a paradoxical attachment disorder known as disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). Essentially, when a necessary primary secure attachment to one’s parents has been denied, the child willingly and fearlessly turns to strangers for comfort. Many folks misinterpret these signs of DSED as a form of guileless trust when in actuality it is indicative of ruptured bonds with one’s primary caregivers.
Indeed, as a child beset by traumatic loneliness I carelessly engaged with anyone who was willing. As is reflective of children with DSED, I lacked instinctual fear and self-protective guardedness. Predisposed to be indiscriminately friendly and responsive to seductive overtures put me at risk.
Clearly lacking appropriate social boundaries and being driven by reckless desperation is inherently unsafe. Driven by the need to attach children with DSED may accept a ride from an unfamiliar person or enter the home of a stranger. Self-protective instincts are overruled by the need to attach. In fact, many of the folks I treat for complex trauma report repeatedly putting themselves in harm’s way with others who were glaringly unsafe. They either lacked the capacity to discern danger or they simply didn’t care.
As the work of British psychoanalyst John Bowlby established, the capacity for adult intimacy and love is largely predicated on the emotional bonds prevalent within the child-parent relationship. Accordingly, when the relationally traumatized child enters adulthood, difficulties with intimacy morph into relationships characterized by power-submissive dynamics, or what Dr. Patrick Carnes refers to as trauma bonds.
Since differentiating predation from trustworthiness eludes the victim of relational trauma and is exacerbated by an insatiable craving for love which they don’t feel worthy of, subjugation is inevitable.
As to be expected a reliable sense of independence within connection was not available to me. Afflicted by unmet needs for love, affection and security I deferred, yielded and fawned in pursuit of morsels of kindness. Dynamics with parental narcissism trained me to abdicate personal preferences and any sense of agency. Servitude was deeply imprinted in my psyche. I was groomed to be supply.
Supply is a term coined in 1938 by psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel. It is descriptive of the narcissistic objectification of a designated target. The insatiable needs of the narcissist demand uncompromising compliance and worship. Often referred to as energy vampires, the malignant narcissist will love bomb, manipulate, lie and abuse to ensure a steadfast, obedient continuous source of supply from primary and peripheral relationships.
Folks who were groomed to accommodate the unquenchable needs of their caregivers, to over-function, to endure abuse and neglect and disown dependency needs, limits and intelligent guardedness, are especially ripe for narcissistic victimization. Although these predispositions are not a decisive measure for who becomes the narcissist’s mark, these traits broadcast that one is a malleable naive source of supply that can be easily seduced and controlled.
Suffice it to say victims of narcissistic abuse who are beset by complex trauma will evidence a greater exacerbation of symptoms and present with a more challenging prognosis and recovery, than those grappling with an isolated acute episode of traumatic abuse. For the complex trauma survivor healing from the aftermath of a degrade and discard with a narcissist is not enough to break the relentless pattern of being repeatedly reduced to a codependent pretzel. Deeper therapeutic work is called for.
I had no blueprint for what a healthy relationship should look like, no sense of what it meant to protect myself from harm, and no capacity to stop my reckless delusional pursuit of what I erroneously believed was intimacy. The boundaries between flirtatious seduction and objectification were perversely muddled. Love bombing felt rapturous. Discounting my perceptions was routine. There were no rules of engagement to live by or healthy stages of intimacy to pace my momentum when it came to ‘love’.
Tragically, when we lower the bar on standards of interpersonal integrity, we deny our fundamental power. For those beset by complex relational trauma, this is an inevitable pattern and a debilitating loss. The malignant narcissist will capitalize on this weakness. To break this torturous pattern it is critical to evolve from a desperate place of attachment rooted in developmental need and survival fear, to volitional intentional intimate bonding.
The emergence of a mature cohesive adult self is a necessary pre-requisite to establishing an adult self capable of mature intimacy. This requires undergoing a comprehensive process of curtailing codependent behaviors and healing the wounds that comprise the psychological underpinnings of complex trauma.
The self that was lost must be recovered and nurtured so that the authority, instinctual discernment and self-respect buried beneath self loathing and core injuries, can organically emerge. This is a challenging and lengthy journey. Yet it is the trajectory to no longer being supply. It was through this prolonged healing process that I unearthed and assimilated my instinctual aggression so that narcissists could be thwarted. It was from this place that freedom from their enslavement finally came to be.