The question of how to overcome narcissistic abuse isn’t quite as straightforward as it is with otherwise amicable break-ups. The aftereffects can reverberate long after the initial separation has taken place. There are deep levels of hurt, accompanied by feelings of resentment, confusion and even anger that can be hard to shake off. Getting away from abuse is only the first step in a lengthier process of finding closure.
It’s not uncommon for victims of narcissism to remain fixated and obsess over their abuser after everything they’ve been put through. This makes a concerted effort around healing all the more important. In the same way that a broken limb needs strengthening after the cast is removed, so too does your mental and emotional states require self-nurture.
However, the idea that you need to get back to the ‘old you’ isn’t necessarily what you should have in mind. After all, it was that version which allowed the abuse to go for so long in the first place. Wouldn’t it be better to use the experience as a catalyst for growth? To create a stronger, more resolute and loving version of yourself that would never allow this to happen, again?
Here’s how you can put that thought into action:
Ground Yourself, Shift Your Focus and Cultivate Practice of Self-Love
As we’ve already touched on, if you’ve just exited an abusive relationship, emotions can be running high. It’s only natural when you’ve realised to what extent you’ve been manipulated. This is due to the amygdala located within the brain that forms part of the sympathetic nervous system. Its function is to interpret external stimulus, and relay the information to the hypothalamus. When it perceives any kind of distress, this triggers the release of adrenaline and the onset of the fight or flight response. However, in the aftermath of narcissistic abuse, this mechanism is thrown out of sync, as there is no imminent danger. It is your thoughts that cause this reaction in a process aptly named ‘emotional hi-jacking.’
As a result, your cognition and ability to rationalise suffer. There is a distinct feeling of edginess, and of being ungrounded. You become beholden to the negative thoughts whirling around your head, as they dictate how you interact with the world and perceive your place within it. You are, in effect, still under the control of your abuser through residual imprints and patterns. For example, you may have a thought such as, ‘I was treated this way because I’m worthless.’ This causes an emotional response, which then reaffirms that stance. As you feel these emotions, it then legitimises your thoughts, leading to further states of distress and thus greater emotional responses. It becomes a perpetual cycle; each step feeding the other.
Allow The Full Healing Process to Take Place
One of the biggest issues you’ll have found in your dealing with narcissistic abuse are the limits imposed on you. The last thing you want to do then is take this mindset into the recovery process. It’s important to understand that you shouldn’t deny yourself any part of how you feel.
You have likely suppressed your emotions for so long, it is necessary now more than ever that you allow yourself the freedom of full expression, having gone through such an ordeal.
It’s understandable after leaving an abusive relationship you wouldn’t want to relive the episode, again. The assumption can be that the separation is enough by itself. But addressing your feelings in a safe and constructive way is an unavoidable part of recovery. As with all break-ups, moving through the stages of grief, acceptance and reclamation is necessary to bring closure and move on with your life. By acknowledging what has happened, it allows you to take back the power your abuser had over you for good, which isn’t the same as re-living the experience.
When you’re stuck in cyclical thought patterns, it is done with no end in sight. However, when you do so through the path of acceptance, it is to understand what has happened in order to absolve yourself of any deserved emotions; it’s restorative. By having the courage to ask the tough questions of yourself, you change your perspective from one of imprisonment to empowerment. The experience ceases to be the millstone around your neck, instead, becoming an oppurtunity for growth, affirming what you will and will not accept in the future.
Setting Boundaries: No Contact, Means, No Contact
Many victims of abuse want nothing more than to make things right with their ex, despite the obvious pitfalls. For most people, states of animosity, or leaving their affairs in a state of flux can lead to feelings of being disjointed. There is a longing for reconciliation. So you leave the door open for a possible return, keeping your schedule clear, ‘just in case.’ But the truth is, by doing so you keep the narcissist at the forefront of your mind, and prevents the healing process from truly taking place. For as long as you associate yourself with that person, even on a mental level, there is no reclamation. You will remain subtly under their spell.
If you’ve reached the point in which separation was your only option, growing tired of being cast-off and brought back repeatedly, there needs to be a definitive cut-off. No contact. That means blocking the person on all social media, e-mail, mobiles and landlines. Any and all avenues in which they can reach you must be closed off, and you must be resolute in this decision if you’re to move forward. Unlike other relationships where a friendship might be salvaged after some time, with narcissists it’s not the case. Your boundaries must be upheld. After having them eroded for long, you need to refortify your defenses so to speak. Not to the extent you cost yourself new relationships in future, but more in the sense you exercise a healthy amount of discernment. Feel people out before you let them into your life.
Working on Yourself
The biggest slight of hand used to keep you within the grasp of your abuser is creating such a low sense of self-esteem, you believe you’re lucky to be with them. This is one of the defining traits of the malignant narcissist. It is so deceiving, yet makes such an impression because of their conviction. They truly believe their lies, getting you to buy into the narrative, which continues to confine and define you long after you’ve separated, physically.
As stated, the recovery process follows the steps of grief, acceptance and reclamation. However, in cases involving malignant abuse, there needs to be more emphasis on the reclamation of self. The loss of identity, through co-dependency can be a difficult enough challenge to overcome in regular separations. But when you’ve had your character so demeaned and diminished, it requires time to rebuild.
At first, it will seem like the easier option is just to do nothing at all, and hope things will eventually correct themselves. But taking this attitude is avoiding the inevitable, as you’ll continue to live in the shadow of your abuser. This isn’t to provide a fear-based ultimatum of do or die; you don’t need to undergo any dramatic transformations overnight. No one would expect that of you, as it would be wholly unrealistic. But starting the process of empowering yourself with acts of kindness, however small in the beginning, is the way towards improving your wellness. And the longer you stick to it, the easier it’ll become.
It really doesn’t matter what you do, all that matters is that you do something – anything – that will lift your spirits and help you shake off the apathy that has set in. A good place to start might be to reconnect with those people you were told were off limits, as well as taking up any hobbies and interests that have fallen by the wayside. Reintegrate yourself back into your passion; get reacquainted with old friends, and introduce yourself to new activities. The golden rule is, ‘Don’t self-restrict, and if it feels good, do it!