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7 Books for Healing From Narcissistic Abuse

Karli writes as a therapeutic outlet and with the hope that her articles will be useful to others who have suffered psychological abuse.


Recovering From Dysfunctional Relationships

Here are some books that have been helpful to me. Some of them I read while in the process of leaving an abusive partner, others I read in order to help my husband recover from a toxic relationship and to try to understand what he was going through. Each one was helpful in some way, and I hope they will be of help to you, as well.

It's a short reading list, so as not to be overwhelming, although I cannot promise I won't be adding more. I do not read such publications with the voracity that I once did—fortunately, the subject no longer takes center stage in my life. However, I have not managed to attain 100% closure and, even if I do, the topic still fascinates me.

1. Captive Hearts, Captive Minds

  • Full title: Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery From Cults and Other Abusive Relationships
  • Authors: Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich, both former cult members

When I read this, I was already removed from my abusive situation but still trying to come to terms with what had happened. I found out about this writing while trying to figure out what was wrong with my husband early on in our relationship. Even though he was geographically far away from his abuser, she refused to let go and, after a while, she managed to get back into his head. I stumbled across this title while doing some research on how to deprogram brainwashing, as my then-fiance was behaving as if he had joined a cult. In a way, he had.

This was very helpful to me in figuring out what was troubling him and helping him to see what was happening (and had been happening for so long) to him. He eventually read it himself, and it was helpful to him as well. However, it might put you off if you are unable to come to terms with the fact that a cultic relationship is very similar to being in a larger cult. And there are parts that you might want to skip past, as they pertain specifically to religious cults.

2. The Sociopath Next Door

  • Author: Martha Stout, PhD

The Sociopath Next Door is one of the first books I checked out from my local library when it became clear that I would need to exit my abusive relationship. I chose the audio version, so that I could listen to it on my commute back and forth from work. I found it to be very helpful. Probably the most useful information I took away from this was in defining what a sociopath is. Most of us tend to think that sociopaths are like the axe murderers in bad slasher films. And they can be. But they can also go through life without ever killing anyone. However, they always cause major damage to those closest to them. The damage is almost always psychological, but it can also be financial, spiritual, emotional, etc. At any rate, Martha Stout shows us exactly what sociopaths are capable of and how they treat others, by using actual case studies as examples. If you check out the audio book, it's like hearing a narration of several different true stories.

3. The Gift of Fear

  • Full title: The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence
  • Author: Gavin de Becker

We often ignore warning signs for fear that we might come across as rude or insensitive. Learn how to pick up on cues from those around you, tune in to yourself and trust your instincts, be aware of your surroundings, and develop other necessary skills to ensure your safety. The author offers valuable insight into how we react in certain situations and how we can keep ourselves safe, if we only make the effort to be more conscious of ourselves, our surroundings, and the people we come in contact with.

4. Without Conscience

  • Full title: Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us
  • Author: Dr. Robert D. Hare, Ph.D.

Dr. Hare developed The Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), which he based partly on Dr. Hervey Cleckley's work. (Dr. Cleckley was a leading psychiatrist in the field of psychopathy. He wrote The Mask of Sanity, which was intended to help clinicians identify psychopaths). The PCL-R is widely used by professionals to identify and diagnose psychopaths.

Without Conscience is not only a fascinating read, it offers insightful information on detecting psychopaths and keeping yourself out of harm's way. (However, the author does point out that even the most skilled psychiatrists can be fooled by sociopaths, and he gives an example of being taken by one.)

5. The Psychopath Test

  • Full title: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
  • Author: Jon Ronson

The author is a journalist, and his account of learning how to identify psychopaths is fascinating and humorous. (Jon Ronson also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats). This is not a self-help book. However, as entertaining as it is, it is full of facts. Those who are well on their way to recovery from living with a psychopath or personality disordered individual will be able to appreciate this more than anyone who is just starting to learn about the topic.

The video below shows the author reading an excerpt from his book. He also goes through Dr. Hare's PCL-R (see #7 below for more information).

6. Toxic Parents

  • Full title: Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life
  • Author: Dr. Susan Forward with Craig Buck

I recommend it for anyone who grew up with toxic parents/guardians. For the most part, this reading contains practical advice. However, there are a couple of points that the author and I disagree on.

It's useful for naming common behaviors of abusers/manipulators, how to recognize when you are being manipulated, and how to assert yourself in such situations. The author also discusses feelings of guilt in the victim and why (and how) we enable the abuser. Of course, the subject of how to stop enabling an emotional bully is also covered.

7. Stop Walking on Eggshells

  • Full title: Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Authors: Paul T.Mason and Randi Kreger

Randi Kreger was in a romantic relationship with a disordered individual, and Paul T. Mason is a psychotherapist. I wouldn't recommend this publication to anyone who is freshly out of a relationship with a personality disordered individual, nor would I recommend it to anyone who is only thinking about leaving. This one is for seasoned veterans who are well on their way to recovery from such relationships.

I say that because the tone seems to be about eliciting compassion for abusers. While I have no problem at all with the author trying to empathize with these miserable creatures, I believe it is extremely important for victims to recognize the abuse for what it is and to establish boundaries and start standing up for themselves. In this publication, too much emphasis seems to be placed on gaining sympathy for the abusers. People coming out of these types of relationships tend to be overly forgiving of their abusive mates (or friends or relatives, whatever the case may be), and reading this might further enable them to remain susceptible to their partners' manipulation tactics.

However, some very useful and insightful information is provided in this text. If you are out of the dysfunctional relationship and well past the phase of still succumbing to the FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt) techniques your ex lover employs, then this is worth reading.

Are There Books I've Missed?

A short reading list seemed best, so as not to be overwhelming, and I may eventually create another short one. I do not read such publications with the voracity that I once did; fortunately, the subject no longer takes center stage in my life, and I wish the same for you someday soon. Feel free to add your own relevant selections in the comments section below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Karli McClane