In Narcissistic Victim Syndrome you are looking for a cluster of symptoms to emerge:
Any of these symptoms mentioned above you might find in any client, however when they present themselves in a cluster, you will start to identify a syndrome emerging. You will identify many of the symptoms of trauma (avoidance behaviour, loss of interest, feeling detached, sense of a limited future, sleeping or eating difficulties, irritability, hypervigilance, easily startled, flashbacks, hopelessness, psychosomatic illnesses, self-harming, thoughts of suicide etc).
In the course of your work together, you may also become aware that the victim always seems to defend their abuser. While the situation would not make sense from a social standpoint, it may make absolute sense from a psychological viewpoint. What you may be witnessing is a psychological condition known as “Stockholm Syndrome“. Stockholm Syndrome involves the victim emotional bonding with their narcissistic captors, this “trauma bonding” is known to be a strategy of survival for victims of narcissistic abuse and intimidation. In such a hostile environment, the victim soon learns that their abuser does carry out threats, so they are in real danger. Threats to their physical or psychological survival terrify them, leaving them feeling lost and isolated. But then, confusingly, they can also receive small kindnesses from the abuser, which make them feel connected again, connection makes them feel safe once more. It will be important to understand the components of Stockholm Syndrome in order to understand why the victim still wants to support, defend, and even love the perpetrator after all that they have gone through. This is a highly unconscious sophisticated source of defense for survival that needs to be applauded. Sometimes therapists will ask the client why they stayed in such a dysfunctional relationship for so long. This is not a good thing; it also tells me that the therapist does not understand a process called “Cognitive Dissonance“.
Cognitive dissonance is another unconscious defense mechanism employed for survival. As you can imagine, living in a torturous war zone, where all forms of power and control are used against you (intimidation; emotional, physical and mental abuse; isolation, economic abuse, sexual abuse, coercion, control etc.), the threat of abuse is always present. Coping with these states of mind throw the victim into any number of inner conflicts where defense mechanisms are called for. For example, a woman who is abused by her narcissistic spouse will hate the conditions she is living in. However with the real fear of a violent reprisal from her narcissistic captor if she tried to leave, she will more likely choose to stay put. The cognitive dissonance shows itself through rationalization: On the one hand: she abhors her unhealthy relationship and all the abuse that goes with it; while on the other hand, she tells herself that he only fights with her because he loves and cares for her. This inner dialogue reduced her anxiety, allowing her to bond with her abuser, to the point that she will even protect him from the outside world if people attempt to rescue her or encourage her to leave. The result of that is a massive draining conflict ensues between the person’s emotional self and their rational reasoning self. Their “cognitive dissonance” is a sign of the disharmony the victim is experiencing as a result of two conflicting ideas going on at the same time; i.e. the victim knows that they should get out of the abusive situation, but they also know that to do so will put them (and possibly their children) in great danger. When these two strategies are in place (Stockholm Syndrome and Cognitive Dissonance), the victim firmly believes that their relationship is not only acceptable, but also vital for their survival. They become so enmeshed in the relationship with the abuser, that they feel that their world (mental and emotional) would fall apart if the relationship ended. This explains why they fear those people who attempt to rescue them from their abuser, and how this creates the victim to develop cognitive dissonance and become protective of their abuser.