I spent 22 years in a narcissistic relationship with 2 different men and this is how i began the road to healing from that trauma.
When you finally realise you were in a narcissistic relationship you go through many different emotions. Anger at the person and yourself, fear for the future, sadness about the past and what you have perceived to have lost, also disillusion at how you have allowed yourself to be used and manipulated in such a manner.
Coming to terms with the realisation of what a narcissist and a narcissistic relationship is, can be painful. How can anyone be quite so callous? Do they know what they are doing?
Even when your gut knows the truth, you still look to see if you are actually imagining that the person is really a narcissist? Are you villianising them to make things easier? Could it be you have it wrong? I read once if you suspect it, then you have your answer. This was hard to hear.
There is a sliding scale to narcissism, from covert to full out grandiosity. We often see narcissists as larger than life characters that are full of themselves and quite obviously narcissistic. Then there is the covert narcissists. Very sly and harder to detect. On the surface they seem like a normal person, but scratch the surface and they are very much the same as a typical narcissist, minus the outwardly grandiose behaviours, they are still as entitled, cold and self-centred. These are often the hardest narcissists to deal with because no one believes the truth.
The damage a narcissist leaves is most likely to be shattered self esteem, fear of trusting anyone and sadness at the lose of time. You may lack trust in your decisions or be scared of being alone. PTSD is very common side effect to having lived with or being influenced by a narcissist. Flash backs, emotional triggers and anxiety in certain situations are all signs of PTSD.
Once you have left a narcissistic relationship or cut ties with one, there are many steps you can take to rebuild your life and self esteem once again. It takes time and often you will oscillate between being OK and not, frequently at first, then as time goes on, this will become less and less. The aim is to one day be free altogether, this will take time however.
Taking responsibility for your healing is the first step, while you had no control over what happened, it is up to you to heal. Blame is no good here, it won’t stop the pain and it won’t help you heal. Accepting what happened and starting on a healing journey is what will lead you to emotional freedom.
The first step – Coming to terms with what has happened
For me i had to research what a narcissist was, how they did what they do, why they do what they do and what causes it. This in itself sent me into a spiral of anger and sadness. The ‘aha’ moments of patterns of behaviours i had endured, the disillusion of how pervasive the behaviours were, how calculating they must have been, then understanding why they did it and finally realising that despite the cruelness of what they do, they have no control because they do not realise what they do is wrong.
Finding out what damage has been done
Once you understand narcissistic behaviours and what happened within your narcissistic relationship, you can start to see they damage they have done to you. For me it was trust in others and in myself. It was realising i was worth more. I deserve better. I can get better through setting boundaries. Then accepting that i had not wasted years but found out EXACTLY what i wanted for the rest of my life. Which was fun in all things, to live passionately, to love wholeheartedly, to never feel taken advantage of again and to help other people live their truths.
Looking at yourself, who are you? If i was to take away you describing yourself using your gender, job, age, sexual orientation, skin colour, weight, hobbies, likes or dislikes, beliefs, where you lived, things that happened in your past, what you want for your future would you still be able to say who you are?
Our self esteem or self worth often is gained from external factors. Instead of internal ones. Knowing who you are minus external factors is the foundation on which to build your ‘self’ and often the hardest to pinpoint. If you can do this, then you can work on the external factors. It’s worth baring in mind though not to get too caught up in labelling yourself with external factors. If these were to be taken away you would once again be struggling with self esteem. Know who you are inside first. These things won’t change even if the external ones do.
Learning to trust again
I was very lucky that at the time i left my 12 year narcissistic relationship, 3 of the most empowering people came into my life within months. They helped me to be able to trust again. Firstly in friendships and then finally in real love. Learning to trust is hard. Especially if your self esteem is low and you feel like your gut instinct has let you down in the past or you have been terribly hurt. Looking at patterns in behaviours of those you are looking to get close to can be a great way to see if someone is genuine…
Some questions to ask your self are:
- Do they raise you up?
- Do they support you fairly?
- Do they hold space for you?
- Are they positive about you in front of and behind your back?
- Does their actions reflect what they are saying?
- Does your gut say they are good?
If you say no to any of these then perhaps you should be cautious until you can say yes with certainty. Over time people who do not have genuine integrity will let their mask slip. I used to believe that i should give my trust freely until i was betrayed by someone. Now i am more pragmatic and allow a person to earn my trust.
Building a new life
If there is anything being in a narcissistic relationship has taught you its what you don’t want! Take this as a positive and a springboard to finding out what you do want. It maybe you want to move and start a fresh life in a new town or city. Or maybe you want a new fulfilling relationship. Or that you want to be alone. Whatever it is make that the foundation of your new life. Make a plan for what you want long term. Then look at the smaller steps it will take to get to your long term goal. Remember though, it’s all about the journey. It’s good to have a goal just don’t get lost on the way. Take on each day with gratitude and seen each step, no matter how small, as a success.
Creating boundaries with the narcissist if they have to remain in your life or cutting ties.
If you have children with a narcissist it can be extremely difficult to fully extricate them from your life. Creating boundaries and being clear on how you move forward can be extremely helpful. This can be done in person or through mediation. If you are doing this personally its worth remembering to keep everything fact based and leave personal out of it. There is nothing a narcissist loves more than to get under your skin and keep you off balance. You have to be cold towards them. How often they have the kids, if they pay maintenance, anything to do with the kids, keep it to the point and don’t deviate. If they try to blame you or unbalance you with slights, insults or lies simply say, ‘if that’s what you choose to believe’ or ‘if you say so’. Do not accept their projections.
If you can cut all ties with the narcissist, whether it be leaving a job, relationship or severing family ties, do it. Once you have been in the grip of a narcissist they will try whatever they can to assert a hold on you again.
Repeatedly dealing with things that trigger you
Throughout your healing journey from your narcissistic relationship things will happen that will trigger an emotional response, Be it anger, sadness or despair. This can be especially hard if you have felt happy for quite some time. It’s important to see these triggers as unresolved hurts that have come up to be healed. It may be a friend has done something that has really hurt you or your new boyfriend has acted in a way you feel is unwarranted.
Firstly look at the underlying reason you have had such an extreme emotional response. Is it valid? Really? Would it be fair to say that perhaps its triggered a past pain? Digging down into hurt can seem counter productive, but just like your body pushing a splinter out from under your skin, similar can happen with emotions. Seeing each trigger as a way to deal with past trauma, accepting it and moving through it, will clear you of that pain. If it comes up repeatedly then it has not yet been dealt with. Then its time to look at coping strategies (see below) until you have resolved the wound.
Triggers whilst uncomfortable will eventually, with the correct mindset, be seen as positive and welcomed. You will see their use in moving forward to being fully healed and hopefully hold gratitude for both them and the person who initiated them.
If you suspect you are suffering from PTSD i would always suggest seeing your GP. Getting psychological help for this from a trained professional is favoured over dealing with the symptoms yourself.
Learning new coping mechanisms
Whether it is through counselling, CBT, psychotherapy or you decide to work on yourself, you are going need many different coping mechanisms. You may be taught these by a professional or come up with them as you go through your healing journey. I learned mine through reading many books and training in CBT, Counselling and Mindfulness. I also gained perspective from other people by taking an interest in how they coped with life and then trying to emulate that myself. Sometimes it worked well and i could put it into my personal toolbox of strategies.
Identifying various thought patterns and trying to cut them off before they went too far has saved me a lot of unnecessary worry. Occasionally though things will happen and i will spiral into despair. However as time goes on i recognise this, stop feeling guilty and know that with time, things will get better. And they always do.
Where ever you are on your journey, know that time heals those who has been in a narcissistic relationship. Commit to yourself and your healing. Do the research on narcissists to make sure you are never subjected to that again. Have the courage to move forward. You got out and survived some of the most soul destroying and cruel behaviours any person can endure. YOU SURVIVED! Now go out and live your life the way you were intended to. FREE, HAPPY and FULFILLED. You have come from the depths of hell and the only way from there is up.
I would like to give personal thanks to Jess, Rhia and Lee for being the people that continue to show up for me everyday. Who show me what real love is, what respect is and who inspire me to be a better person. You are earth angels and i give my eternal love and gratitude for your continued support whenever i stumble. When i was in the depths of hell you all sat with me, held my hand and gave me the strength to keep fighting. I love you all.