The Narcissistic Wound of Childhood Abuse: A Dilemma

The Dilemma of Being the Only One in the Room

Thoughts from a Survivor Therapist

narcissistic wound survivor of abuse

As part of our continued outreach for our documentaries related to healing from childhood sexual abuse, we once again welcome our guest blogger, Mikele Rauch.  Since 1983, Mikele Rauch has worked with men and women survivors of sexual, religious, ritual and physical abuse. In addition to her work as a therapist, Mikele has also been a facilitator of Weekends of Recovery team since its inception in 2001.  In partnership with MaleSurvivor, she is Founding Chair of Taking Back Ourselves Weekends of Recovery, for women who are survivors of sexual abuse and assault to create community, hope, joy—and more life.  She is the author of Healing the Soul after Religious Abuse: The Dark Heaven of Recovery.  She lives, works and does her art near Boston, Massachusetts.


As human beings, we hope to think of ourselves as good people. As survivors in recovery, we believe we try our best. Many of us have spent much of our lives caring for others, perhaps even for those who misused it or violated us. Because of what has happened, we might have paid a large price for their more conditional manifestations of care. These distorted interpretations of love may have created a hole of longing that seems impossible to fill. We may find ourselves needing more reassurance that others recognize how deeply we care or how much we do.

Perhaps we believe that if we don’t do so much, or love in these familiar but unhealthy ways, we will become invisible.

On the other hand, perhaps all we want is to be invisible. We may stand at the edges because we feel too unworthy to be acknowledged at all. Surely, survivors can feel so diminished and undeserving of anything positive, it is difficult to communicate honestly or safely with anyone.

Either way, we just can’t seem to get out of our own way. It is hard to feel like this—to be like this—and difficult for the ego to recognize this in oneself. But the fact is that this kind of injury is sadly misunderstood and often badly defined. It is a narcissistic wound, directly related to the trauma of early violence, neglect, or the confusion often comes with sexual abuse. It certainly does not mean that one is selfish or cares any less about others. In fact, those with such wounds often care more deeply, even if they end up feeling more isolated. This sort of injury can impede intimacy and real connection, stifle deep recovery work, and confound honest spiritual practice

Once in a while we are seen as we really are, both in strength as well as shadow. We are recognized and acknowledged in a clear light, without the mask we have cultivated to cover the wounded self. This experience can be frightful—or deeply healing—sometimes both at once.

It can be terrifying to be this transparent, especially if we feel exposed or unsafe. We may fight all the more to keep appearances up with social, work or religious identities, or isolate to cover up the vulnerability—a further resolve to shield ourselves from being seen at all. If our weakness is exposed, the old habit of shame can produce a kind of self-defeating rage, a petulance born out of pride and resentment. But even if what is reflected back about us is positive, the initial experience can be almost unbearable. We still might resort to that default position of shame. Shame is a cannibal no matter how you cut it. It eats us from within, shutting off the ability to resonate with our true self. Shame and its fraternal twin, shamelessness, can then justify things like infidelity or addiction.

So how do we come to terms with this kind of wounding? Why would we still take the slightest offense at another’s less than flattering comments or need to recalibrate or edit our personal narrative? When can we gulp back defensiveness without justifying our less than savory behaviors, or buying into another large dose of self-loathing? How do we stop self absorption, or the occasional dose of self pity? How do we reconcile the notion of ourselves as good enough in the process of recovery so that we can own our stuff for better and for worse? It is a most difficult process. Some would rather keep up appearances and ignore what they are missing by all that self-protection. Others would rather stick to the familiar feeling of inadequacy. And, Ok but I’m an asshole simply only calcifies the victim identity and keeps one stuck. It is so easy to get in our own way, rather than addressing the pain with compassion for how difficult the struggle is.

At best, we want to be free to be our true selves, even if it is challenging to look deeply at these stumbling blocks. So, it is no small task to be brave enough to let ourselves be known in the light as well as the shadow, without either excuses or condemnation.

child abuse narcissistic wound

The old wounds need to be exposed to the air; they beg to breathe not with excuses or self-pity, but with empathy for the self.

Kinship, deep regard, tenderness—I have mentioned these before and will continue to again and again. They are the essential elements necessary not only for receiving from another in authentic connection, but that we can give ourselves, without either excuses or condemnation. It takes time, trust and patience with our own impatience, to come to what is honest and true outside with others and inside ourselves. The fierce and profound experience of loving compassion… It is quite powerful to encounter it with somebody else. It is altogether incredible to recognize it within oneself. When this happens, we can begin to have more empathy about our less than savory aspects, and ready to risk letting the shiny parts show. We can withstand the first old kickback to shame that may shut us down, and proceed with a fierce determination to lovingly and compassionately restore ourselves to our true self.

Eventually as we progress in recovery, it dawns on us that we have grown more interested in others and the world around us, rather than just what the world thinks about us. It can be quite liberating. And, as we grow, we discover that how we are interested has changed. Maybe there is a deeper quality to the connection. We release ourselves from the old habits of focusing on those who were not healthy or safe. We find ourselves interested in those who actually share more mutuality and honest affection.

Imagine that we can see others and risk being seen with the important elements of straightforward respect and kindness. It may require a new perspective on who we trust to be real with—with no secrets or compartments of disclosure.

These are the healing elements of good therapy. They are the heart of good and safe community. They are the components of healthy sexuality. They are the essential ingredients in loving relationships with others—and with ourselves.

Getting out of my own way, and reaching out, I touch the sore bone an inch above my heart and remember this.


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