Via Screw you, I’m choosing me By Sarah J Webb – a qualified life coach who specialises in recovering from failed, toxic and abusive relationships. For free group support, login to Facebook and join Screw you, I’m choosing me and reach out.
To make an appointment one-on-one, contact me.
Narcissism is an evil that masquerades as good. Like a Pied Piper this master illusionist can lead you to Hell all while making you feel flattered to be chosen to go there. Only when you wake up in Hell do you realize the real evil that existed in his fluted song. By then it’s too late; not only have you fallen victim, but most likely you have paid for the flute, as well. Tigress Luv
Have you been the target of narcissistic abuse and despite trying everything, you’re still finding it difficult to move forward with your life? Are you in a relationship with someone that has you doubting yourself and you’re never sure if you’re coming or going? Even though it’s painful, you can’t let go or forget the good times? Was your relationship once Hollywood-perfect but now you feel stuck and trapped by threats of retribution? You may be riddled with paranoid thoughts that are stopping you from being your usual, happy self – things you had never questioned before…
If this is you, it’s time to start reclaiming your life back!
You may have found your way here because you don’t know what the next move should be to safely get out of this relationship or your obsessive thoughts may be driving you crazy… Narcissistic abuse is a cruel form of abuse.
As you read this post, keep in mind that narcissists don’t want to let go of anyone who they have trapped in their tangled web of torture because it takes effort to groom a new source of supply, and they have an intense fear of abandonment that they will never, ever seek help for – because they believe the problems are with everyone else around them. If anything, the threat of this abandonment only makes them angrier at their target.
What is narcissistic abuse?
Narcissistic abuse presents like a toxic relationship: because it has strong undercurrents of emotional abuse – they may not have physically hurt you, although this type of abuse often escalates into physical violence when there is a “narcissistic injury” – often caused when a target threatens to leave their narcissistic partner. Wikipedia describes it as “Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth.”
An anonymous source defined Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): one of the few conditions where the patient is left alone and everyone else is treated. Anonymous
According to survivor of narcissistic abuse, Jeni Mawter, someone with NPD has an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for attention and admiration, and a strong sense of self entitlement. It’s a condition that is often not medically diagnosed. She very aptly describes the narcissist as a “soul without footprints”.
Psychology Today says someone with NPD displays arrogant behaviour, a lack of empathy for others and a need for admiration.
If you experience a turbulent ending to a relationship with someone who has NPD, this may be one of the first things you can identify with. They are the original hallow man – and to fill their voice, they literally try to get their lifeblood from destroying the souls of their targets. They get to such a low where they measure their feeling of success based on how much they hurt the people around them who have loved them.
Narcissists are terrified of the idea of being alone – which is why they feel the need to groom their targets at the first stage of getting them to like them.
Narcissistic abuse is also like domestic violence, including threats, stalking and harassment, and it can escalate into physical violence which is what domestic violence is most known for. The entire narcissistic abuse cycle can leave targets deeply traumatised for a long time – even once the relationship is over.
One of the first things a target of narcissistic abuse will learn as they start piecing together their experience, is that the person they thought they knew and loved actually doesn’t exist. What they thought they knew was just a fantasy, and this evil, destructive person who is now threatening them (with even the most bizarre threats – in fact you could use this as a measure: the more bizarre the threat, the more narcissistic the person you’re dealing with, and the more pain they will try to inflict on you), is their loved one’s true, authentic self. This is who you loved all along. This is the person behind the mask – their true self – and as much as it hurts us to know the person we loved is gone, we are left we no choice but to accept it.
The fantasy was great – but it’s not real.
If you have found yourself in this situation and you’re wondering if you’re responsible for the clash – this blog post is for you. Let’s unravel their narcissistic spell and have a look at how you can go forward from here.
Background: a few things you should know
There are lots of facts about Narcissism, and while it may appear that narcissistic abuse is becoming more common or there are more narcissists in the world than ever before, with the technology boom and more attention being placed on material things and a dependence on that for their shallow sense of happiness. However, according to one of the largest studies ever conducted on personality disorders, narcissists only make up about 6% of the population (Stinson et al. 2008, US National Institute of Health). These statistics may not be entirely conclusive because a lot of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) refuse to get help.
The reason it’s wider known at the moment is because it is more spoken about than ever before, however still people struggle to properly comprehend it, and targets have difficulty accepting it. This is because of the mask a narcissist wears to hide their true self and present a false self which is almost perfect for you, because a narcissist will observe what you love (as much as what you fear) and mirror this back to you at some point throughout their cycle of narcissistic abuse./
This is also why you may feel that you don’t know where they end and you begin, making it very difficult (and painful) to separate from them. The only reason they seem to know you so well – sometimes better than you know yourself – is that they have studied your reactions and responses to everything.
The healthy mind is often hard-wired to see and believe the good in people – no one outright wants to be bad, right? In the case of NPD this may not be the case, although they have little control over it because that’s the personality they’ve built for themselves, generally since an abusive childhood. Meanwhile the target of this abuse from an adult narcissist will hold onto the confusion that their perfect and almost sickly-sweet relationship, rapidly declined into something so toxic, evil, destructive and dangerous that their anxiety attacks and fear started ruling them.
Part of the struggle to find decent help at this point, is when the target realises that not many people truly comprehend that truth can be stranger than fiction, and they often blame and judge themselves for omitting their abusive partner’s behaviours for so long, while also intensely fearing the judgement of others around them (generally mutual friends, family, and others who haven’t seen behind the narcissist’s mask), which is adding to their pain.
As a wounded healer, my experiences with ex-partners who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder has inspired me to start my business and assist others to get clear of these relationships safely. Without unintentionally fuelling the fire – because that’s often what our instincts lead us to (and is also what makes us predictable to the narcissist). Without police intervention. Without this fear of judgement. Without any support at all.
Tools narcissists use to torture
Narcissists use various tools to carry out their cycle of abuse which keeps their targets (also known as “sources of supply”) hooked in the turbulent and high-intensity relationship. They may feel unique if you haven’t experienced it before, but actually, narcissists tend to tread a similar path which is why when targets find each other in a support group situation (such as Screw you, I’m choosing me – a free Facebook group) that they are able to identify with each other so much. It can bring a lot of relief, particularly after feeling so isolated for so long.
Roberta Cone defines a narcissist as “a person who deprives their partners of the ability to feel joy and love as a separate person in relationships. They deliberately attempt to destroy or compromise the separate identity of another. The longer the relationship continues, the narcissist not only becomes less considerate, but more actively cruel.”
An example that is common with people who have NPD is a promise to do something – such as go on a family outing somewhere, or accompany you to a function that is important to you (that they usually wouldn’t enjoy) – and then just before it or right at the start of the promised engagement, they create a fight. “That’s it! I’m going home!” and just like a child in tantrum, they take off – bringing down the whole occasion for you and to create maximum impact and humiliation. The idea is that they destroy it so much that whenever you reflect on that event, you remember the pain they caused and created.
It’s important to understand the tools a narcissist uses in their cycle so that you can start to undo their spell and step away from the craziness so that you can heal and get on with life. A narcissist’s favourite tools can generally be found in each phase of their cycle of abuse – here are some of the most common ones:
Phase 1: Idealisation
This is the phase where you get some BIG red flags of narcissistic abuse, but unfortunately it’s so nice, and so addictive, it’s also arguably the most difficult phase to break out of.
The narcissist’s aim in this phase is to work hard to get your attention – this is called love bombing. It’s essentially the same as a psychopath grooming their targets. In fact, narcissistic behaviours parallel the behaviours of psychopaths, in that they are a Cluster B personality – everything at the beginning is done to prepare their targets for abuse in the future.
Here’s what to look out for:
– Repetitive text messages, emails, phone calls and Facebook posts, Tweets etc. that highlight their care and interest in you
– Excessive romancing: fine dining, flowers, elaborate gifts. This is why if your love language is “receiving gifts” – you may be particularly vulnerable.
– Public displays of affection: they’re not afraid to show their love for you. It’s likely you haven’t experienced anything like it before because the healthy mind doesn’t do it – that’s because it’s part of the narcissist’s attraction and fantasy creation
– They will turn up at your home or workplace unannounced and bring gifts they know you’ll love (I definitely saw that on TV!)
– Intense seduction and sexual chemistry – they will fake it until you believe it
– Swift-pacing of the relationship, they will want to move in with you immediately: and generally they find a way to make it happen a lot faster than a healthy relationship
– Mirroring and projection: They mirror their target at the start of the relationship to make the love appear mutual. According to psychology, people like people like them.
– Dosing by giving you attention, appreciation and affection – this is something they will revisit in the cycle in order to get the target’s hopes up that the good times experienced are going to return.
This is followed by a small (seamless) transition as it moves out of the idealisation phase. The transition phase includes:
It’s likely you will hear the words: “We only need each other” as they try to move you away from your friends and family. Sometimes they do this physically, other times they will do this emotionally.
They also use social isolation and depend on artificially inflating your self-esteem to get their way. You may hear things like: “I feel like a better person when I am with you”
Similarly, this is where they create a dependence on you – which makes you feel special on the surface but is designed to invoke guilt later and stop you from leaving: “I couldn’t do it without you”, “You give the best advice of anyone I know”.
The isolation phase is extremely subtle because their target will catch on if they try to do it overnight. As each phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle builds, the isolation tactics escalate to continue to move their target through the cycle.
Although you don’t notice it yourself, your friends and family may say something at this point because they will notice the target withdrawing. They often notice well before the target notices themselves, and at this point (because everything has been so good) the target may become defensive of their partner.
Meanwhile, inside the situation, it looks like this:
– Mirroring: it may start with the narcissist removing themselves off social media, and then asking you do the same (it’s likely they still have a profile and have changed their name or blocked you)
– Rejecting: it then moves to you cancelling plans with other people because you need to prioritise them over anyone else
And before you know it, you find yourself watching your phone ring out as concerned loved ones call but you’re not allowed to take the call because you’ll disturb the narcissist or for any other reason they have given or inferred.
These calls eventually stop.
And then it’s just silence.
Day in and day out.
While you share accommodation with the narcissist, you walk on egg shells the entire time. It’s a nightmare and this is where the seed is planted for escalating the isolation.
Phase 2: Devaluation
Strap yourself in tightly – you’re in for one hell of a ride!
There is only one purpose for this phase: the narcissist is testing for their future abuse.
If you make it through to this phase without leaving the narcissist because they’re so “special” to you (you may be able to step back just enough now and see how the narcissist makes you feel special so in turn you think they’re so special) – you’re about to experience a taste of this nightmare relationship.
By now the narcissist has control and they will make sure you don’t get off the ride here. At this stage, you will start to see flickers behind their illusion and the gorgeous mask they’ve been wearing – this is where the nightmare begins as you start to see the true character of the person who you’ve fallen in love with rather than the delusion they portray.
Concerned targets will often seek support for a “toxic relationship” at this point because it was so good, just a moment ago. And it’s not abusive – because they haven’t hit them. So why can’t it just go back to how it was? The narcissist’s prime tactic in this phase is to confuse their target as much as possible.
Get set for: sudden rejection, silent treatment and snide remarks.
The narcissist will disappear – stop texting, stop calling, stop dropping in to visit you.
Everything good that you knew from the phase before is now gone – no sign of it.
There’s no attention, no affection and no appreciation. In fact, they’re testing the opposite.
As the narcissist’s deception becomes more apparent, it’s at this point where you may find they’re cheating on you or there’s another indication of a double life. If your narcissist has a second source of supply on the line (another woman or man who seems to be more interesting to them than you), it will be the world’s worst kept secret. A narcissist is almost proud of having multiple sources of supply.
This is where they get to exercise their favourite tool of all: triangulation.
Watching two healthy sources of supply fighting for their attention becomes the narcissist’s primary source of entertainment. If they want more entertainment, they just need to stir things up slightly and sit back and watch.
For the target, it’s no longer just the two of you in the relationship. While you’re competing and begging for them to return to being the person you once knew, you are also being played off their other source of supply. It’s a constant struggle to win the narcissist back and outdo someone else. Competing to the point of exhaustion.
Of course sometimes you’ll win – and the narcissist will return, and sometimes you’ll lose – and the narcissist will leave. This just keeps the game going.
And meanwhile, to the targets (sources of supply), the narcissist appears more desirable than ever before. If someone else wants them that badly they must be something special.
OK, this was up there with one of the most painful experiences of my life so let’s unveil this shit fight for what it is: this triangle has been deliberately created to stimulate rivalry in an attempt to raise their perceived value.
The tools you will see in this phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle include:
– Triangulation (getting played off another object of affection)
– Projection (they’re going to say you’re doing things they are doing ie. they’ll blame you for cheating or get upset over unfaithful behaviours when they’re cheating)
– Trauma bonding (deliberately setting up high intensity situations and causing maximum distress before playing the hero and sucking you back in)
– Disconnection (where they used to validate your feelings and appeared to care – they will be completely careless, nothing matters to them anymore)
– Mirroring and projection (used to place the target at fault and create maximum confusion. Projection reduces anxiety in the target, who knows they’re doing the right thing, and allows the narcissist to express themselves in a way that the conscious mind can’t recognise)
– Evoking sympathy to distract from blame (ie. working long hours, your high expectations etc – they’re doing it all for you)
– Hoovering (A target will often try to leave or consider leaving in the second phase, or in the transition phase because they’re exhausted. To maintain control, a narcissist hoovers their target right back in again – no matter how bad things get.)
And are you ready for some more craziness?
No matter what turmoil is going down, or how bad the shit storm is that they’ve created – while you’re feeling at rock-bottom low, they’ll catch you and you’ll hear the narcissist say:
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this happy, if I ever have.”
What’s the problem right here?
This is where the narcissist NORMALISES the pain they just put you through.
Because they’re setting you up for more abuse – beyond anything that you just experienced.
In devaluing their targets – sucking them back in, and then devaluing them again – the narcissist sets the target up for long term trauma created by their own self-doubt. Once the target realises the reality of the situation, it can be a lot harder to forgive themselves and move forward.
Right when you’re exhausted and devastated and near giving up on life – if you had any weight to lose, it’s melted off you with very little effort now. The narcissist will come back. They’ll always come back for a source of supply. Sometimes at this point it may take some fake encouragement such as threats to kill themselves if you don’t come back.
Other times it’s a little easier and they don’t need to threaten anything to get their source of supply back.
Once you go back, the narcissist will make it feel like you’re on an eternal honeymoon again.
Now that they’ve cheated on you, abused you, insulted you, harassed and stalked you – they will do something like take a photo of you while you’re out to dinner celebrating your relationship getting back on track, and before long you’ll see this photo in their wallet or purse. They’ll then say that people saw it and how they were saying how beautiful you looked. (Notice it will be image-focussed compliments)
Suddenly they’re lucky again.
And you’re feeling special again because you’re hearing:
“You’re stunning now – the guys can’t believe my luck! You’ve changed a lot since being with me”
“I’ve never felt this way in my life”
“You’re the most special person I’ve ever met”
“I’d risk it all for you”
And just like that – it’s as though phase 2 never happened. You were never devaluated. That other source of supply is long gone. You can trust the narcissist again as though nothing ever happened.
How does a narcissist know how to suck you back in?
There is a lot of push and pull during this phase in a narcissistic abuse cycle and it’s generally all for testing purposes.
Narcissists use their knowledge of the things you like (and fear) to hoover you back in. They will tell you elaborate stories for why they did things to convince you they’re not as you perceived (normalising their behaviour). And finally, they will literally give you the illusion that they are handing your power back (and handing you some closure) by telling you that they feel like they’re a better person with you.
And once again, you feel special (back to phase 1 in an instant!).
While you’re putty in their hands, they beg you not to take it away from them and ask for a second chance. They start to make you believe that they are actually scared to lose their relationship with you. They only just realised how truly special and important you are…
What happens if you get hoovered back in?
If you can’t get out of the relationship here – you’re not alone. I’ve seen the other side which is how I can give you a step by step on what happens at each phase.
Like any abuse cycle it will temporarily reset at this point – the amount of time it lingers back in phase 1 will depend on how much control the narcissist feels they have over you. So you’ll be love bombed again, only this time it’s more intense, even more possessive and a lot shorter lived (give it a month or two to burn out).
At this stage you’ll receive constant longing:
“Where are you?”
“When can I see you?”
The soul mate ideal is forced into the relationship.
In my case, my ex-boyfriend got me a lovelock – a padlock with our names on it and the date we started dating – locked on a wall for all eternity (or until I found a friend who could take it down for me, which the narcissist then claimed was theft and there would be repercussions for taking it back. Threats – no matter how bizarre, should be taken seriously and generally indicate you need to protect yourself).
The honeymoon phase isn’t made to last and before long the devaluation phase quickly comes around again – within days or up to a couple of weeks.
If you get hoovered back into the relationship with the narcissist, this is where they will introduce a couple more tools during this transition phase to add to the torture and subtly keep you more trapped than ever before.
At this point targets start experiencing what’s known as “baiting and bashing”.
Technique: Bait and bash
The narcissist will call you “beautiful”, “incredible”, “intelligent” in the idealisation phase – but at this point (the second devaluation phase) they transform these words to call you “ugly”, “crazy”, “jealous”, “stupid”.
Literally the narcissist is building you up just to dump you right back down again and they keep repeating this phase to affect your self-esteem, self-worth, cause exhaustion and confusion. It affects the target’s perception and ability to function. This stops the target from wanting to move in the relationship (including trying to get out of it) – because it’s so painful – and so they stay stuck for longer.
Once you’re stuck you will be exposed to more confusion tactics that are heavily dependent on creating doubt within yourself.
Your reality becomes distorted as the narcissist starts to gaslight their target as a technique used to cause confusion. It involves the narcissist presenting false information to their target, making them doubt their own memory, perception and often their sanity. In creating this confusion, the target starts to doubt their own thoughts and recollection of events – questioning if they’re crazy, if they’re the narcissist, if they created the terror of this relationship and somehow deserve the agony they’re stuck in.
By using this tool, the narcissist can verify that they have the target hooked through their disgraceful pathological lies and can carry out the next phase and cause mass destruction to their target’s life.
Phase 3: Discard
This is where the narcissist discards their targets and drops their source of supply in the most brutal way. Some of the things they do:
– Control by threats and fear
– Increased emotional and psychological dependence
– Punishment through anger, verbal and physical abuse, isolation
– Character assassination (ie. narcissistic smear campaigns)
– Discard (the narcissist moves on without giving closure, admitting the truth or taking any responsibility for the chaos and trauma they created. In fact: they’re proud of it)
If your narcissist uses triangulation in the devaluation phase, at this point they will start scouting new supply – and you’ll know about it. They will use this as a threat in the relationship. It can be something like – if you go to work, I’ll cheat on you.
As crazy as that sounds, that can sometimes be enough to make targets quit their jobs and end their career – further isolating the target – in the hope of keeping the person who is abusing them. If you’re not aware of narcissistic abuse and these clear strategies they use, then it’s easy to fall prey to this because at this stage, you may still be hoping the person will return to who they were to begin with.
Target response: Cognitive dissonance
Just as much as you can tell if someone is a narcissist from their behaviours, you can also tell a target from their responses to the behaviour and one of the common responses is cognitive dissonance. This is discomfort caused by holding two conflicting beliefs or ideas at the same time. Often the target convinces themselves to stay because they may be able to make it better, and instead of making it better they start exhibiting co-dependent behaviours with the narcissist.
The narcissist will fly into rages and then act as though nothing happened, before raging again. Again, this is a strategy used to normalise the narcissist’s outbursts so the target accepts their behaviour and stays in the relationship.
The target becomes exhausted and generally starts to realise the abuse at this point, and again goes in search of answers and desperately wants healing in their life, but they’re generally so lost they don’t know where to start.
The dangers of separation abuse
At this point in the relationship the target is at most risk because the narcissist sees no more purpose for them in their lives – or even in their world. This is where they use their mirroring and projection techniques in the most extreme ways.
As a target starts to take their first shaky steps out of the relationship, the narcissist begins to mirror their target – who is now exhausted from ongoing abuse and doesn’t actually know where their abuser ends and they begin.
Brainwashed, flooded with confusion and drowning in the wake of the destruction the narcissist has left behind without conscience, the target remains in agony as they defend the narcissist for their actions throughout the relationship, appear “crazy” and “obsessive” while trying to find closure or something that’s real to them.
People often believe that once a target is out of this relationship, they have left their home and have a restraining order in place with clauses that prevent contact – that will be the end of it. But it’s not over.
At this point the narcissist will try to regain control by beginning to stalk their targets. If they get caught by the target and they don’t find this act endearing in which case the narcissist fast-tracks back to phase 1 to keep their source of supply (a lot less effort than trying to groom a new source), the stalking turns to harassment and is enough to drive the target over the edge.
This third transition is a real test in the strength of the target’s character. It’s also an extremely dangerous part of their process and can often lead to homicides (either caused by the target or the narcissist) and suicides (as the target feels there’s no other way to escape). It is the part where your once calm and peaceful life now feels like it’s the set of The Hunger Games for the narcissist’s entertainment.
What it’s like to leave
Without sugar-coating it, I would say that leaving is terrifying and it’s a lot of hard work to recover properly from these relationships … but with the right support, it’s worth it!
The trauma these high-intensity relationships create actually leaves the target at greater risk of separation abuse (homicides) and can lead to suicide from exhaustion and fear that they may never get out of their situation and away from the narcissist. It often feels as though the narcissist will forever have control, particularly when they start to dominate the minds around them and impact their life from a distance. At this point the narcissist can affect employment and even take legal action as a way to maintain control.
Love addiction plays a very big part in the target’s mind who has separated from this person who was once the most incredible person they had ever met. Would they ever meet someone like that again? The target experiences feelings of abandonment, loneliness and craving at this point. And it’s overwhelming!
Many targets put themselves in greater danger by not being able to resist the temptation for closure to their sick relationship. Often they go back to the narcissist seeking the truth. This action fuels the addiction to this highly toxic person. So if you’re seeking closure on your way out, it’s even more reason to hit the accelerator and never look back.
Recovery with low (or no) self-esteem
Often a target’s low self-esteem will stop them from following through with their decision to leave. They can’t see the trees for the forest – and they don’t trust themselves at all. As they’re discarded a target will often hold on more thinking no-one else will ever love them like the narcissist did.
If you are struggling with that feeling, it’s because the narcissist actually never loved you.
The way they treated you was learned from things they’d seen and heard. And THAT is what made your relationship so magical for so long – just as magic isn’t real – the relationship was also fake.
Instead of gaining hope from this, targets struggling with a low self-esteem will feel more despair. Looking ahead isn’t important, and they can’t see a future in the unknown blank space before them.
It’s no longer about finding someone new who can and will help them.
In fact, the best chance of a full recovery for a target in this position is to fill this big gaping void and try to end the pain and internal conflict, reversing all the damage the narcissist has done. The first step is to enter the fierce battle with withdrawal symptoms and deal with those while implementing No Contact.
Will a narcissist contact you during your recovery? It’s likely – the last thing they want to be is “forgotten – which is why you need to do everything you can to be strong with No Contact. Where you need to maintain contact you can implement other strategies such as the Gray Rock Method or Extremely Modified Contact.
A target’s symptoms in early recovery
The symptoms that targets experience are excruciatingly painful during the discard phase. Generally they will be emotional but often present as physical pain causing people to seek medical attention with little success in finding a remedy that helps.
For almost six months I suffered severe chest pains no one could assist me with or diagnose anything for because there was no medical explanation for it. Other symptoms a target can experience at this point include:
– Feeling torn and unable to comprehend what happened
– Violated: often recovery is similar to rape victims as you access the realisation that you never knew the person you were intimate with
– Suicidal thoughts (and even attempts)
– Self mutilation: Self harm/Self injury
– Feeling overwhelmingly lonely – a delayed experience from the narcissist’s isolation tactics
– Emotionally exhausted
– Panic (targets frequently suffer panic attacks)
– Highly strung/nervous
– Extreme anxiety
– Feeling obligated
– Completely trapped
– Low self-esteem
– May present obsessive compulsive behaviours and/or phobias
– Heightened senses and awareness
– Increased arousal (excessive emotions, problems relating, difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, outbursts of anger, anxiousness, panic attacks etc.)
– Overwhelming sense of guilt
– Significant weight loss (often underweight from stress)
– Significant weight gain (overweight as a result of comfort eating)
– Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares; avoiding (people, places, thoughts, loss of interest etc)
– Emotions include: shock, anger, fear and guilt
– Dissociate (the victim may compartmentalise their experience and appear detached from their emotions, body or immediate surroundings)
– Chronic pain
– Somatizations/psychosomatic illnesses
– Nausea/vomiting caused by distress
– Avoidance behaviour, feeling detached, sense of a limited future etc.
– Sleeping or eating difficulties
– Easily startled
– Stockholm Syndrome/Trauma bonding (the target may continue to defend the narcissist)
– Cognitive Dissonance
– Very uncertain of themselves/constantly second guessing themselves
– Difficulty making decisions
– Not trusting their own memory, perception or judgement
– Humiliation, shame, self-blame.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, seeking proper care and support is essential. It is particularly important that you receive real-time (face-to-face or online) support from someone who understands and preferably who has experienced narcissistic abuse to help you through at least the first few months of your recovery journey. If you don’t get proper support at this stage you will find your healing journey very difficult to do on your own. Reading articles and joining forums isn’t enough – you must seek one-on-one support so they can offer customised support for your particular experience. While we can identify with people throughout our healing journey, and narcissists use similar techniques to torture their targets – no one shares the exact same experience and the exact same emotions and responses to the experience.
Recovery: How to move forward
There are steps you can take to move forward and although really challenging in the beginning, if you stick to it properly, you will make a full recovery. Everyone recovers at their own pace but these suggestions may speed things up.
Sometimes you hit rock bottom before you can push off, but see how you go.
1. Decide to leave
First you need to make the decision to leave the narcissist, these steps will not work if you remain in the cycle of abuse by staying with them. If you’re looking for the truth or waiting for closure, save yourself the hassle and empower yourself to put as much space between you and the narcissist as possible.
2. Implement No Contact (NC)
Narcissist’s will still try to break down your boundaries even after you implement NC, but this is where you can take your power back. NC is difficult and not everyone is able to do it properly when they first attempt to put it in pace, there’s a lot of different things you need to consider to prevent the narcissist from getting back in – it’s not just about not taking their calls – here’s the steps:
– Change your number
– Block their emails (if this isn’t enough, delete your account and/or open a new account)
– Avoid mutual friends, where possible end friendships
– Emotionally block anyone who contacts you on the narcissist’s behalf or appears to defend them or their behaviour in some way (think of them as being tarnished with their toxins)
– Minimise time spent together – even if you have children together
– Move house and/or change jobs (if necessary)
Great – you’re half way there! You also need to avoid:
– Checking up on them (particularly on social media!)
– Reacting to anything they say or do
– Answering the door if they come over
– Accepting new friends on social media (particularly if you don’t know them)
– Thinking of them
– Allowing information to filter back to you
– Register information about them ie. a car sale, house sale etc.
– Waiting to implement contact – there’s no good time – embrace the present moment!
3. Avoid listening to soppy songs and the radio
This isn’t your typical break up. Right now you need to focus on positive, healthy, happy music that will inspire you to move forward. Make a playlist of music that makes you happy, but has nothing to do with romantic love (yes, it is a challenge). For example songs may include: Happy by Pharrell Williams, You Gotta Be by Des’ree, Good Feeling – Flo Rida, It’s my life – Bon Jovi … you get the idea!
4. Find a buddy
There are plenty of narcissistic forums and Facebook groups you can join online and get support – however I find a lot of these toxic places to sit for too long. A lot of people look back which holds you back rather than encouraging each other to move forward and some people don’t want to get better so they unintentionally bring their toxic energy to other people in what is meant to be a safe space: try not to let this affect you.
This is why joining Screw you, I’m choosing me on Facebook is ideal. While people share their experiences in this forum – they’re all mainly looking for ideas to help them move forward from where they are today. Use your experience to empower yourself and others and become more self-aware, if you don’t want to put the work in to recovery that needs to be done, then at least give space to those who do and are on the right path. Be responsible for the energy you bring into these spaces.
During my recovery I was fortunate to find a buddy from over the other side of the world and we’ve been friends ever since. The bond we have formed is as strong as if we had survived a hostage situation together. Highly recommend it!
5. Select a role model (from the movies)
Make a list of movies that you can watch that centre around the themes of bravery and courage and particularly where there’s a journey and some change involved. My choice was The Hunger Games and the character I chose to keep me strong and brave was Katniss Everdeen. I haven’t looked back! (Thank you Jennifer Lawrence for doing such an awesome job portraying this character!)
Other movies and shows that could help include: The Wizard of Oz (Dorothy), The Lord of the Rings (Frodo), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Buffy), Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones), Star Wars (Luke Skywalker).
Whenever you find yourself overwhelmed with doubt or what to do next, ask yourself what your chosen character would do in your situation.
6. Choose a recovery buddy
Friends and family are essential at this moment, or even just a colleague. Pick just one person you can count on to talk to about what’s going on, day or night. They may already know your story. It’s great if you have someone who knows and can just check in on you each day and assist you with your progress. Even if it’s for nothing more than to tell you how far you’ve come only months down the track.
7. Create and action a self-care plan
Self-nurturing is essential once you get out of this relationship. Making regaining your self-trust and accessing self-forgiveness in the early healing stages will be critical to your ongoing wellbeing. Make this your top priority!
During this stage, spend time learning what makes you feel good, what you can do to make yourself feel special. The aim is to fill the void the narcissist created and left behind, and discover the things you really like again – right down to your favourite food and colour. Even if it means first changing this so your narcissist doesn’t know a thing about you (and therefore can’t suck you back in) and then spend time re-establishing these things.
It is also recommended that you get back to nature and exercise regularly. Create a decent self-care plan that you will stick to, or if you would like to work with me to create one, you’re welcome to work with me one-on-one and we will create on together. To do this: contact me.
8. Accept and maintain a forward focus
If you have dated a narcissist, everything good you came to know about that person was a lie, and unfortunately the only way to move on is to accept this. Accept that the narcissist doesn’t have the ability to love. Then consciously encourage yourself to look ahead and look after yourself for a while.
I highly recommend you don’t date (and resist the temptation of dating) for at least six months to a year following one of these relationships and I explain why in more detail here. During the early stages of healing working towards accepting that the horrible ugly person you’re seeing is their true self and focus on what you want from life now. Not sure what step to take next? Contact me.
9. Ask for help
Make an appointment with someone who will understand (and not judge) your situation. It’s really important that you don’t get triggered as you are healing, particularly if you are trying to implement NC. Make sure you protect yourself from this and have a strategy in place if you do get triggered.
There are specialist psychologists in Domestic Violence that you can find by a simple Google search, or it’s really useful if you can find a wounded healer to work with – someone who has experienced this first hand because they’ll be able to guide you to a better place. I have a positive and forward moving approach and am passionate about taking a holistic approach and natural therapy. I’ll also help you find the best ways to embrace your pain. If you’d like an appointment, please contact me.
I’ve walked away – now what?
It’s important you take these steps as soon as you can the moment you acknowledge that you are in a relationship with someone deliberately hurting using the narcissistic abuse or domestic violence cycles.
Dr Phil says you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, so the second you identify with this post, and acknowledge your experience, is the breakthrough moment that this is your opportunity to change and transform from this situation that’s kept you stuck and trapped. All your beginning steps are here.
Healing does take time and you may not get all the steps perfect the first time, sometimes we learn the hard way when trying to move forward. The trick is to be patient with yourself. Remember, persistence and patience are the best gifts you can give yourself when healing.
Talk to people
You’ll be surprised how many people have had similar experiences or can relate or identify. Always remember that no matter how much the narcissist has hurt you, once you escape the relationship and the narcissist has dissolved from your life, that you will never have to experience anything as painful as what you suffered while you were with them again. Just get through this. Small steps. Keep looking forward.
You have dodged a bullet – well done!
If you survived to this point, consider your situation as the lucky escape – even if you had to lose along the way, you will also gain too.
Are you recovering from narcissistic abuse?
Please share your experience in the comments.
Need more help?
The After Narcissistic Abuse website is a fantastic resource of information as well. Despite encountering a lot of these signs during the relationship, there was nothing anyone could do to change my mind about the narcissist – I loved him and I thought he needed my help. I was brainwashed and trapped by the tools he used to enhance my addiction.
Looking back, I trusted him – even though I knew he was lying – I couldn’t prove it so I continued to doubt myself because of the ongoing abuse and the way he abused me … I just kept trusting him over my own instincts. Until one day, he lied to law enforcement as a way to entrap me more. That was the day I was pushed to the brink and I consciously chose recovery over going back and trusting the narcissist.
Need more help? I’m a qualified life coach who specialises in recovering from failed, toxic and abusive relationships, whether they’re career-related, family-related or romantic. Contact me.
Photo credit: Alba Soler Photography via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND