From Toxicity To Triumph

Grief Healing and Recovery Narcissistic Abuse

When No One Believes You: Working Through The Betrayal And Injustice Of Narcissistic Abuse

There are truly no words to describe the agony of not being believed.

I worked for years as a trauma therapist specializing in abusive relationships and toxic families. Day in and day out I heard excruciating stories of people who were stuck, unable to move forward in life, peering over the edge of their day-to-day existence wondering when it would be safe to join in again. They weren’t stuck because of a lack of effort towards recovery, but because whenever they reached the point in their grief where they found the courage to speak their truth, it was blocked. Their story became lost. A perpetual lump in their throat. A literal chokehold that had been imposed on them by others who refused to believe their truth had merit.

Having your voice silenced genuinely paralyzes you.

People don’t want to hear the pain. And so you feel it more deeply to spare them.

People don’t want to believe a family could actually be like that. So you contort yourself to try to fix the family.

People don’t want to hear that someone they know and respect harmed someone else. And so you question your reality and believe the lies that you are just crazy, too sensitive, or dramatic.

You swallow your voice, where it stays lumped. Unable to rise up, but refusing to be digested and discarded.

Jasmine’s Story

I have known Jasmine for close to a decade. We trained together. She tells me how hard it is for her to share her story. For a few complex reasons: Being a former therapist means she was trained to never disclose her personal self as it is seen as “unprofessional” (and in some cases, can veer into the “unethical” territory).

And yet, when used carefully and responsibly, a personal story or shared lived experience can help build trust. Can validate. Can connect. Can result in a client feeling genuinely heard and understood, perhaps for the first time in their life.

But she also struggles because, as a survivor of severe attachment trauma, she too, is used to her truth being denied, twisted, and used against her.

She shares with me, “If I am not being outright gaslit or threatened into silence, I am being patronized by the words, ‘We’re just very concerned about you. You’re clearly not well.’ Words that sound caring to outsiders, but are meant to blame, belittle and discredit me. Words that sound nurturing but are aimed, like a sniper, to take out my voice in one swift shot. I ask myself, am I not well? Or is the system very, very broken?”

Jasmine’s normal and natural reactions to being abused and abandoned, and her seeking support for those experiences — including speaking up against toxicity and calling for accountability — would indicate that she is possibly the only “well” person of the bunch.

But toxic family systems do not — and cannot — see it that way.

A Frantic Mouse Desperately Trying To Escape A Maze

A former client likened the experience of not being believed, to being a lab rat, stuck in one of those test mazes. Hungry for food, racing around to find the right lever that would alert the experimenters to the fact that they are starving. Hoping that with a press of the right lever, the experimenters would offer a morsel of cheese. And yet the lever is gone. The maze has no actual exit. The walls are too high. And the starving rat is becoming more and more frantic. Terrified as the realization that they are trapped sinks in. All the while the experimenters watch and take notes about how “crazy” the rat has become.

Jasmine told me how she, too, felt like she was bouncing off the walls of a life where truth is seen as the enemy. Where her reactions to abuse and abandonment are seen as more cruel and unusual than the abuse and abandonment itself.

We are told truth is the greatest gift. We are told truth heals. Truth has the power to change the world. Truth is the cure. That we must speak our truth. We must stand up for what we know and believe. That silence is violence. That speaking up is cathartic.

And yet, why are so many survivors sharing with me that the truth is what has made them feel most alone and ostracised? That the truth is what has made cherished friends and family turn their backs. Perhaps you have noticed it too; That even those who are not abusive themselves — such as aunts, cousins, or close family friends — when hearing the truth, ask to “not get involved” and eventually even ghost you. All because you choose to not honour their need to silence you.

It’s hard not to wonder whether societally, we actually really don’t want people’s truth. What we want is simply more voices sharing the same status quo. We want to hear from those people who can further reinforce the prevailing narrative, not those who pull the curtain back to reveal what is lurking in the shadows behind it.

When people say “own your truth”, they fail to account for just how much responsibility they also have to ensure people can actually live that truth. It is not enough to encourage people to trust themselves and their reality. We have to create structural change to ensure that those people’s reality isn’t hidden and concealed behind layers of toxicity and complicity. We have to remove the rubble piled on top of them, keeping them buried alive.

The Burden Of The Survivor

I’m preaching to the choir, of course. As survivors of attachment trauma, narcissistic abuse, family scapegoating, family estrangement, or toxic relationships, you are all already familiar with betrayal wounds and moral injury. You are reading this because you are wondering what comes after anger, grief, and injustice. You, too, have heard things like:

  • Just forgive and forget!
  • Well, what did you do to them? Have you taken responsibility for your role in everything?
  • You’re an adult now, why are you even letting them get to you?
  • We’re just so worried about you. You’re clearly having a mental breakdown and making all sorts of assumptions.
  • I don’t believe that! That’s not who they are. There must be more to the story.
  • Well…that’s your side of the story, but I really don’t want to make judgements before I hear from them…

The injustice happens not at that moment where you aren’t believed and supported. Because you expect that. The injustice happens when, later in the day, the hypocrisy sets in. When you remember that the toxic family has shared their version of events your whole life and not one person has come to you to hear your side of the story. The betrayal happens when you realize that people are happy to “get involved”, just so long as it’s involved with the abusers, not the victims. Because it’s safer for them there, regardless of the cost to you.

The trauma sets in when you surrender to the knowledge that not everyone is playing by the same rules. That the equation simply never adds up, and even when you lay out the facts and inconsistencies, you are told you’re the “conspiracy theorist”.

As people who are committed to justice, it is excruciating to realize you are playing a rigged game, where the rules shift in favour of them, the target moves and the outcome is always stacked against you no matter what you try.

We are left with two choices. Stay silent because there is no audience. Or speak, because our voice still matters even when no one is willing to listen.

We speak, not for them, but for us. We share our truth because we deserve to, even if it is radio silence.

Moving Through Injustice

After my years as a therapist, when I moved into coaching, I envisioned helping people with the question “What now?”

What do we do once we’ve talked through the injustice and agony but are still left standing on the edge of our lives afraid to dive in?

What happens after we have shared our traumas and processed them but don’t yet trust there is a beautiful future waiting for us?

What do we do once we know the root causes of our pain, but talking about them doesn’t build a bridge to happiness?

Where do we go now that we are just lugging around the stark reality of our life and upbringing and all the damage it did to us?

I shared these ideas with Jasmine. She also wanted to know what came next. After years of her own therapy, plus her education and clinical training, what was she supposed to do with the insight and self-awareness she had developed? Because on her darkest days, while it was useful to have, it didn’t change her circumstances.

My own passion for helping people with attachment trauma became about how to move through and beyond the experience of anger, betrayal, grief and injustice and into genuine joy, fulfillment and wholeness.

These are important questions that don’t often get addressed when we are stuck in anger. Because anger is the only validation some of us get that what we went through was real and that we deserved more. It’s understandable that we would want to stay in righteous rage because stepping out of it feels like leaving our truth behind.

But joy is not born in anger. And misery cannot lead us to love.

Our pain matters, but it is not a prison to live in. It needs to be moved through. Not skipped over, not subdued, not denied or swept under the rug. But traversed.

And here’s the kicker, when we speak our truth for the purposes of others validating it, that is how we lose access to its power.

The quickest way for your truth to be denied, subdued, skipped over, and swept under the rug is by waiting for someone else to hear you, understand you, and acknowledge you.

Let me repeat: Speak your truth for you, not them.

You do not need toxic people to validate your reality in order for speaking up to be healing.

It is about knowing your audience. If trying to get a favourite aunt to hear you out will only end in heartbreak and frustration, then speak your truth to your best friend who holds you tight. Or to your coach or therapist who provides compassionate witness to your story.

If trying to get an apology from a sister who was cruel to you is out of the question, then share your sibling woes with someone in your online community who can relate and reminds you that you aren’t crazy.

If trying to speak up to a parent leaves you afraid and tongue-tied, then honour your voice by not speaking it. I know that sounds odd — but when you open your mouth around toxic people, they reach in, steal your words, wring them out and throw them at you. Silence in this case is not dishonouring you, it is valuing your voice and truth so much that you choose very carefully who gets access to it.

If you have no one, you still have yourself. Journal your truth. Speak it out loud to yourself. And remember, this is just the beginning of your new life.

You don’t need toxic people to believe what you went through for you to deserve a better life than the one you had. For you to take steps towards genuine happiness and healing. Remember, not believing you is one of the rules of the rigged game. Stop playing.

And for what it’s worth, I believe you.

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    1. Oh, I’m so pleased to hear that. I’m so sorry you had this experience though. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. But it means a lot to know that you felt your experience was finally honoured and validated. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and let me know that my writing is reaching people. It’s healing for me too.

  1. Thank you with my whole heart for your priceless article Dr. Watson. I just discovered you yesterday & am so very grateful to you for your insight & contribution. It is not too much to regard as lifesaving. Thank you again

  2. Timing! You are the light in a long dark tunnel.
    Exhausted- Destitute – Despised yet Hopeful & Hungry for Health & Happiness xxxx
    Thank you

  3. Hello dr Watson,
    from the bottom of my heart thank you for this very clarifying article. i am in therapy again since a year and I have a very is a good therapist but this article really sums up what happened to me since i went no contact with my family 2 years ago.

    Was i really so blind , so stupid to expect that one friend , one familymember or old neighbour to reach out to me? to validate my childhood experiences…. i am still waiting: to hear those words ” i understand, we saw it, we knew what you went through and i understand that you left your “o so kind and friendly aging parents.
    ….. you are not a cruel egoistic person as all the rest seems to believe.

    but nobody came just a blaming card by this one aunt, how dare i do this to my sick father?

    As a 50 year old women i went no contact with my family 2 years ago. i already saw them very little , since i moved from Holland to France 15 years ago. so we saw each other 2, 3 times a year, but after the birth of my 2 wonderful children i had no choice but dive into my trauma much deeper and this healing yourney, so painfull and hard let finally to the no contact. I am feeling much better, but the stigma of this horrible selfish daughter weighs heavy sometimes; at the same time i am so proud of me, and i would rather live 5 days as my new liberated self then 50 years as the trapped scapegoated child of a codependent father and mentally ill mother who could never love me.

    thanks for your attention,

    love from FRANCE

    1. This sentence is incredible: “I would rather live 5 days as my new liberated self than 50 years as the trapped scapegoated child ”

      How beautifully you have summed up the freedom we can gain when we step away from the bind of needing to be believed. It is the most painful part of the journey. I am thrilled that you have shared your story and wisdom with me (and the other readers whom I know will also benefit from your brilliant phrasing and insight).

    i am a 50 year old women from FRANCE, thank you so much for this very validating article… i posted a long comment here 2 days ago, but it does not appear, it takes some time to validate i guess, i
    ,really appreciate your work for me it is the last missing piece in my healing journey… and understanding why nobody seems to want to hear this is validating for my process…


    1. France! I had the opportunity to live in France when I was an adolescent! It’s been so many years since, but I still to this day mourn the loss of a real “pain au chocolat”! The flavour of genuine French patisserie is unparalleled.

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