Narcissistic Abuse = Prison Camp Effect

Sharing is caring

Don’t judge yourself by what others did to you.”
~ C. Kennedy, Omorphi

Dear Kim:

I’ve been struggling in the aftermath of Narcissistic abuse.  I’m still stuck in depression, low self-esteem, and an overall feeling of hopelessness.  I’ve been reading self-help books and they help some, but I always go back to feelings of lowliness.  I’ve also been following your blog, which is very helpful in understanding what happened, but emotionally, I can’t seem to move forward.  How long until my life is normal again?


Dear Angelina,

The feelings you are having are quite common.  You were controlled and manipulated and forced to gain his permission for everything that you did.  Even small things like how you wore your makeup, how you dressed, whether or not you could have friends, whether you could work outside the home, what you and your children ate for dinner, even which thoughts you were allowed to have…you had to do everything his way or there were consequences.

Free from the Past

Subconsciously, you feel as if he still holds the power and that you need his permission to move on.  Without it, you feel stuck.  That’s exactly how he wanted you to feel during the relationship, and afterwards.  Narcissists know what they are doing.  They know that in the event the relationship ends, you will still look to them for validation for EVERYTHING.  Since they’re no longer around, you wander the earth like the Walking Dead.  Remember how your friends and family kept telling you that you are smart, successful, attractive, yet you didn’t believe any of it unless you heard it from your abuser?  That’s a sign you’ve been emotionally manipulated.

I often refer to the psychological tactics of the Narcissist being similar to those of prison guards.  It’s not a metaphor, it’s not an analogy, and it’s not symbolic.  Narcissists DO use the same mental brainwashing as prison guards.  If you were to research the long-term effects of prisoners who were subjected to this type of abuse, you would find that they lost hope, too.  Sadly, many prisoners went into a corner and died just from the sheer lack of hope.  They gave up.  Even the ones who were freed felt like they were still in a prison.  That’s what has happened to you.

Only YOU Can Set Yourself Free

You have forgotten that YOU are the one that holds the key.  You no longer need his permission for anything.  You don’t need to wait around for it anymore.  You need to give yourself permission to move on.

Key to Freedom

Surviving narcissistic abuse is a process.  It feels as if your abuser stripped away all of your confidence, self-esteem, joy, hope, and trust in other people.  During my own recovery, my therapist told me that those things weren’t really taken away.  They were buried underneath the mental abuse. Those positive feelings we once had about ourselves are like diamonds buried deep within the earth’s mantle, waiting to be unearthed again.  She was right.  We don’t have to start from square one and relearn love, trust, hope, etc.  We have to uncover them.

With all of that being said, you will need to process your grief until you feel yourself again.  These steps include:

  • Finding a good therapist who specializes in emotional abuse.  If you don’t have insurance, contact your local Domestic Violence center.  They offer fabulous resources such as reduced or free therapy and support groups.
  • Making sure you vent to people who have been through the same ordeal because they are the only ones who can understand and provide the proper support.  One of the worst mistakes one can make in recovery is assuming that everyone will understand, and then being met with damaging responses such as, “If he was so bad, why did you stay with him so long?”, “Just get over it”, and the like.  Quite frankly people who haven’t been abused will tire of hearing your stories and likely won’t be able to help.  Save your energy for people who will.
  • Educating yourself about your disordered ex-partner.  This helps you understand that the way they behaved has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.  It also helps you discover that the hurtful, evil things they said weren’t true, but a product of projection and emotional manipulation.  But beware, don’t linger on this step too long because it can cause triggering and PTSD symptoms if left unchecked.
  • Understanding that there will likely be a period where you will be angry with yourself for not spotting their deception sooner.

The Path Back to You

Road Back to Self

There comes a time in the recovery process where we have to let go of what they did to us.  That doesn’t mean forget it as though it never happened.  Letting go means acknowledging that you were abused, but taking the steps to move past it.  Again, it’s realizing that you hold the key to your future, not your abusive Ex.  Many people get stuck at this point because they fail to establish No Contact effectively.  The truth is, as long as we keep exposing ourselves to our toxic abuser, we will not heal.  There is absolutely no way around it.  If you are leaving a crack open for your Narcissistic Ex, you will not have a normal life, and you will continue to be miserable.

Starting the Journey Back to Self is also a process.  It’s best to take baby steps.  This is where you go on “adventures” to reclaim the person you were before you met your prison guard.  It will be different for everyone, but also the same in many ways.  Here are some examples:

  • If your abuser didn’t “allow” you to wear makeup or dress nicely, then fix yourself up and go out to the local library or bookstore.  Don’t go overboard or you will feel out of place.  Do what feels comfortable to you and makes you feel good about yourself.
  • If your abuser refused to let you hang out with your friends, call one of them and set a lunch date.
  • If you weren’t allowed to work outside the home, start looking for a job that you can ease into, perhaps starting part-time.  If you don’t have any skills, take some classes at your local community college.  Some community organizations offer classes for free.

These things will feel foreign to you at first.  But, once you perform them a few times, you will feel your old self coming back, little by little.  More importantly, you will realize that you DO hold the key to your future and happiness.

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.”
~ Jim Morrison

Freedom is what we do with what is done to us.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

Sharing is caring

Leave a Comment:

Chris says May 18, 2015

Hi Kim,

…..It’s been some experience just to get where I am at this point. Its been said that “experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…and she sends a big bill”. I can vouch for that. Wisdom is learning from others’ experiences. You have definitely proved helpful in educating those of us who were / are thoroughly confused and were looking for answers….. As time goes on I find the info you share to be so spot on. Its scary and comforting at the same time. I recall you requesting stories of men narcissistically abused by women….in time, I will put the full picture together and share it in its’ entirety. Maybe 6 months ago I would have done it, but I have lost so much time, energy and resources over the last few years that I felt the need to move forward and not rehash the past….Spent too much energy doing that already anyhow. Getting back to your “spot on” advice….being mindful of the people you confide with, educating yourself on the subject and working on yourself. I believe my codependent tendencies were a huge contribution to my situation. I’m focusing on turning that characteristic around about myself.
Two areas that have proved to be difficult are letting go of the pain and no contact. I know the two go hand in hand. I’m leaning on The Big Man Upstairs to lead me from the pain, I haven’t been able to do it myself. I have faith that God will help in this area. The no contact part is a much bigger problem. We are co parents. I’m subjected to a lifetime of bull…it seems. Especially since I’m still devastated mentally, emotionally, physically and financially. She’s a world class manipulator…a covert narcissist. A very dangerous breed. She has managed to keep power and control using two very realistic vulnerabilities…..access to kids and manipulation of finances. My co dependency problems contributed to both of these. As a co dependent: Boundary issues… attempts at sturdy boundaries are met with insults threats of blocking access. It gives her that control she craves that I need to be under her thumb in order to share as much as I want to in the kids’ lives…. Financially: Broke beyond broke. Devastated for a multitude of reasons….lawyers, legal problems due to manipulation of courts and so on…..Again my issues of codependency has contributed to this. I agreed (gave in to threats and coercion…it was like negotiating with Jimmy Hoffa and the teamsters)to a child support payment I couldn’t afford. I wound up in mediation, which I couldn’t afford my half of that payment, without a lawyer. By the time we mediated I was thoroughly broke. I had a lawyer for 19 months, but used up all my resources on BS litigation…going to court and judges chambers about a dozen times. Falling behind in child support led to suspended drivers license…..Now, she’s acting like she’s willing to cooperate in renegotiating chip support…err negotiating in good faith, truthfully….and its doing me a favor by actually telling the truth. It helps keep those boundaries real blurry…. The messed up aspect about access to kids, sad, but true, is its outta spite and vindictiveness. She doesn’t even want to be bothered.
I need a whole lotta divine help in figuring out how to manage not being able to go no contact.

Sarah says November 16, 2014

I am scared to even write because my mom is the narcissistic abuser and if I told anyone they would never believe me – and I have no one to turn to because two years ago she told me ihave to pick between her and my father or i would never see her again if i said my dad. because i went on overngith visitation to his house and i was fine and had fun and then it wasn’t til the next day that i realized that even though she said it was okay to go, it was actually a test and i had failed by not calling her to come get me early. i realized this as my dad was dropping me off cause my mother was freezing me with her I wish you were dead and you disgust me vibe for not doing what she wanted, and let me know she saw it as a betrayal of her. I’m so sad sometimes since then i miss my dad so much i feel so sad i know hje tried to get the visitation enforced by going to the court and saying that my mom did all this stuff which she did actually go, like telling my junior high my dad had supervised vistiation only when I know he only had it for two months in 2009 and my mom knows that -but that was so the school couldn’t let him on campus when I was there and also, my mom had us move to a new house without telling my dad we were going to, and even after we moved I coulnd’t tell him we moved so even if he drove down to see me, (and I thinkhe did ) he went to our old condo and we weren’t there. When I think of that it makes me want to cry! and whenever he does see me, likeat my eight grade graduation, he was there, and he does cry. I can’t let myself love him thought because my mom will just stop loving me and she even said she would kick me out, and i feel so mixed up. And so i thought maybe because she actually did those two things, which anyone could see wasn’t me doing it to my dad, it was my mom doing it to block us, i thought maybe maybe there was a chance the judge would say, “well, in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 we believed you mother, when you said the child wasn’t going on visittation with father because it was her choice, and she chose not to. ” (that quote is actually what she would say all the time to my dad for all those years when she was the one blocking visitation) And then she let me go overnight two times, and that in march 2013, is what I was talking about before, when my dad brought me home after that one overngith and I made a mistake not calling ehr to come get me or something, and betrayed her by spending time with my dad, well, that march 2012 was the last time I saw him except each father’s day she gives me 2-5 hours to spend time with him. All the rest of the time, we either just don’t call him back when he leaves messages, or she has me pick up and say i’m busy. and say i’m busy “all summer” or “all christmas” if it’s a holdiay, so he “won’t bother us” she says, and say “i don’t have time” if it’s just a day he “wants”
when my dad called me all those times i could hear how sad he was and wanted to see me but I had to talk rude to him because my mom is right there and she listens and makes suire i can feel her listening like her eyes pruning me. My dad said this is crazy why don’t you ahve time for me and then he said i don’t hink it’s you i’ve been reading about this i think you can’t come unless i get the court orders enforced. He said “Should I go to the court and tell the judge, you need to tell my daughter and her mom the orders are not a choiice.” he asked shoudl i do that go to the jduge nad get him to write the orders are to be followed, then come down there and show you to get you to come on visitation?” i said “if you want” that way my mom couldn’t say i wanted it. i tjhought there was a chance, because my mom will listen to the court, and i had a bit of hope. But no, he went to the court lthis time, i thought since he could say, look ” my daughter is not scared of me – here’s the proof, heere she is over at my house in march of 2012, having a mellow fun time. Does she look uncomfortable? No, she is fine. Yet, your honor, the very night I brought herr back to her mothers, after this relaxing visit you see here in these pictures. And do you know what? I haven’t seen my daughter since, and your honor, this time, the proof that this lack of visitation is not because of the child’s choice not to is this.,.All these things mother did as soon as my child was old enough not to be in the after school care program and mother worried I might come down and spend time with her. AS SOON AS she had the happy overnight at my house in march, then became too old for after school care in fall 2012. Mothyer lied and told the school I have supervised visitation! When I do not! so i couldn’t go to my child’s school; and then, your honor, she moved and idn’t tell me and told the child not to tell me, so then, if i wanted to go to my child’s home, I could not. And if I wrote to my child and my child just happened to get home Then, your honor, she changed the school records of my maililng address, wenmt into the office and told them the current correct address they had for me was wrong, and gave them her old address that she had moved from. That way, the mail would get forwarded to her, any mail the school sent to me, the child’s father, would be forwarded to mother so she could see what they wrote to me, I would never receive it, so be cut out, and the mail would not be returned to the school wrong address, so they would never know she’d given them an address for me that was wrong. And then she changed the remote access to school student website so I couldn’t even follow her progress. Your honor, this shows it is not the child, please remove the child from this loyaltu question, if you don’t do it, she can’t, you can be okay ordering this, your honor becasue you know her mother is the one blocking the relationship, not supporting it at all.

But when he said all that at court, the judge asked my mom “let’s hear from you now”, and she said she tries to encourage visitation, but there’s some problems there, and told the judge I wanted to be heard by the court.
So what I thought was goig to free me just dragged me in deeper, because then the judge dutifully obeyed my mother, i do’nt know how it’s like she casts a spell on people and seems to normal in public and noone ever thinks she would do anything wrong, and if i say any different, she would make them think I was crazy not her. So it was terrible, because my mom said i wanted to be heard by the coiurt, and i am 14, now it is like my choice if I ever see my dad? or it can be unless you have a strict judge who doesn’t believe my “perfect” mother whose child “chooses” not to see her ‘fundamentally unworthy” dad, and because of that it “makes sense the child is not comfortable seeing him”. Then jduge lsitened to my mom, and set up a special hearing just for me and my mom to go and my dad too, though he wasn’t really the one who mattered, only my opinion did, and my mom was like, looking at me the whole time to make sure that I didn’t smile at him, and the night before she had me write up a whole list, and then copy it over, of the things I don’t like about him, and then I had to go and talk to te judge in his changers and i knew he would do what I said, and my mom knew that too, and she would know becuase the judge had made the whole hearing for me and had not told my mom she was iun trouble for any of the lies or moving or blocking my dad, and he believed her when she said she tried to encourage visits but ultimately it was up to :the child’s wishes” and the hearing wsjust for the judge and my mom to get me saying those words on thee record so the court could feel it was doing right by me and my mom could feel that she was right all along that event though she tells me i better do what she wants or she’ll give me two black eyes and i know it, she won again and now the jduge didn’t order me to see him jsut to go to therapy goota go she’s home

    Kim Saeed says July 17, 2015

    Hi Sarah, it’s been a while since you posted your comment, but one suggestion I can offer is to contact your local Domestic Violence center, or at the very least, call a domestic violence hotline number. Here’s the link to one site:

    You don’t have to be 18 to get help. Share your story with them and see if they can help you.

    Wishing you all the very best <3

Narcissistic Abuse = Prison Camp Effect | Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed says November 6, 2014

[…] *Originally posted Dec 31, 2013  Narcissistic Abuse = Prison Camp Effect. […]

Dear Kim – Why Can’t I Leave the Narcissist When I Know He’s Toxic? | Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed says May 25, 2014

[…] **There are other causes that often result in our staying when it’s not in our best interest to do so.  These can include trauma-bonding, victim peptides, and brainwashing. […]

Constance says February 26, 2014

How fitting that he’s a prison guard? He doesn’t like people to know that’s what he does for a living. He tells them he babysits adults, or works for “The Man”. He puts on like he doesn’t like his job, and he just has to stick it out till he can retire. The reality is, he LOVES his job. His job is perfect for him.

Kim13 says January 9, 2014

What if the abuse is not exactly text book. What if it’s almost completely silent. I’m not sure why I’m even trying to figure it out anymore. I know I am going to leave him. He is never controlling. As a matter of fact, I have to handle everything or our lives would fall apart, and have several times, once to the point we were homeless…I fixed it. It’s like his only job is to HAVE a job. It doesn’t matter if he’s not making enough for us to survive off of, he’s the hero cause he’s working and I’m not. He is never violent, but will lash out if I point out how he always put himself and his needs first. I feel like I am just a convenience to him. I keep the house, pay the bills, cook, shop etc. Our entire “relationship” is mirrored by me..if I’m happy, he’s happy, if I get mad, he gets mad, if I hug him he hugs me. I feel like I’m holding up cue cards. If I do nothing…he does nothing. Why am I even telling you all this?

Effects of Institutional Abuse | Blogging Astrid says January 5, 2014

[…] few days ago I was stumbling across blogs as I found Kim Saeed’s post on narcissistic abuse and the prison camp effect. I have never been in a relationship with a narcissist, but for some reason, I could relate to its […]

Astrid says January 3, 2014

Thanks for sharing this, Kim. If I mayask a question, is this prison camp effect also possible in survivors of less extreme abuse if they’re themselves more vulnerable (eg if they’re children)? I can’t go into detail about my situation on your blog and I don’t know if you know this since you mostly write about narcissistice relationship violence, but I have many of these traits (still looking to my non-abusiv husband for approval of my every action) and I haven’t been with a narcissist.

    Kim Saeed says January 3, 2014


    If you’d like, you are welcome to contact me via email at It may be that you experienced covert abuse, which is often hard to determine as it comes across as someone saying and doing things they claim are in your best interest. It’s sometimes so subtle, you can’t put your finger on it, but it is a slow, steady abuse that does as much damage as outright, obvious abuse…

    I’ll be available if you’d like to communicate via email 🙂

Susan Lattwein says January 1, 2014

Kim, this post is truly insightful, thanks. Two of your points in particular stood out for me: 1) You have forgotten that YOU are the one that holds the key. 2) Starting the Journey Back to Self is also a process. Happy new year!!

    Kim Saeed says January 3, 2014

    Thanks for stopping by, Susan! It’s always a pleasure 🙂

    While writing this post, I tried to think of which factors hold people back the most when recovering from an abusive relationship. I used my own experience, and also feedback from different forums I visit. So many people feel that they can’t heal…as though their abuser is still holding them back. And, the Journey Back to Self is like re-learning yourself all over again…although, there is usually a transformation involved.

    Happy 2014 to you and your family!

      Susan Lattwein says January 3, 2014

      If the abuse began from an early age, the journey to self can be a big one.
      Do you think the holding back from healing is a lack of assertion from the effects of the abuse?

        Kim Saeed says January 3, 2014

        Susan, I definitely think a large part of it is rooted in not establishing healthy boundaries. As children, we weren’t allowed to do that, and we carry that into our adult relationships, where people take advantage of us in varying degrees. Learning to establish boundaries is another element in healing. It’s rather uncomfortable in the beginning, but it enriches our lives exponentially.

        And…healing our inner child is important, as well, because that little child inside never went away. He or she stays in there, hurting, until we uncover what’s hurting them and heal those broken parts.

          Susan Lattwein says January 4, 2014

          What you say makes so much sense to me, Kim. I worked with a counsellor who told me that most peoples issues are about boundaries. Have never forgotten that, and have been more aware of it ever since.
          What you say about not being encouraged or allowed to establish boundaries when young so hits the mark. Will make sure my daughters are brushed up on setting boundaries.
          I believe narcissists can even discourage independence, whether it’s tastes, opinions, friends, space, accomplishments, choice of partners.
          Thanks for your thought-provoking insights!

Add Your Reply