Surviving a Narcissist
Plus: Four tools to help you recover.
You may be asking yourself. Will I ever get pass this? How do you get over this? You may keep on thinking to yourself they courted me, wooed me, told my family that they never have to worry about me again. You keep on living in the past wanting what once was and wanting it back or reliving your hurt over and over. Never noticing that they had slowly taken control every detail of your life. Beating yourself up being angry about time wasted, the pain inflicted, the money squandered. You know it’s not good for you to hold on to this experience but you just can’t let it go.
I have felt all those myself. I survived an narcissist and so can you. I felt all those things myself. Keep reading and I’ll give you 4 tools to start helping you on your recovery.
Almost all people who have had a relationship with a narcissist voice similar thoughts and feelings about their former partners. As I said I understand this from a personal point of view because I also found recovery difficult. Even though I was no longer emotionally invested in my marriage, went through the divorce but the narcissist relationship inflicted a lot of damage. I started asking one simple question. “Why is it so hard to let go of this?” This question got me thinking about how we recover from losses, especially breakups of intimate and important relationships, and especially those which are long-term and involve marriage or living with one, even a mother or father.
Some of your recovery, has to start with the beginning. Whether if the narcissist left you or if you are the person who left and all that entails. Please know why you were left or decided to leave matters too. It’s one thing when you grow in one direction and your partner in another, and something else entirely if some kind of betrayal, such as infidelity, is involved, or you discover that your spouse is a closeted addict. The course of separation matters, too: Does it confirm the person’s essential decency and your knowledge of him or her, or does it reveal a person who is utterly foreign to you, a figure swinging a machete, someone you thought you knew but didn’t?
Let’s answer one simple question 1st.
What is narcissism?
Excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance.
Selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
Self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.
What makes a recovery from a narcissist different?
Dr. Craig Malkin, author of Rethinking Narcissism
“People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are often trapped in a constant battle between wanting you and pushing you away. Post break- up that means they’ll insinuate themselves back into your life—even if it’s just to fire off an insulting text message (“You need your head examined!”) or ask an infuriating question (“What did I do that was so bad?”). It takes two people to end a relationship and many narcissists refuse to leave without a fight. Translation? Continued re-traumatization. It’s no wonder so many of my clients panic when they see an email from their ex.”
Everything good you’ve ever believed about human beings is contradicted. Every thought you’ve had about loyalty, experience, and truthfulness is denied. Every trope you’ve heard about marriage, love, and partnership is hammered into silence. Every idea you’ve had about human connection is trashed by the narcissist’s behavior.
Here are four reasons someone is likely to have trouble recovering from a relationship with a narcissist.
1. It’s not what it seemed.
This may be the biggest one because what appeared to be about two people was
really only about one—the narcissist. Once you have acceptance of this truism, you will find yourself replaying what you thought was going on between the two of you and what was really happening. This is wounding you more, and it moves us right into the next point…
2. 20/20 hindsight is just misery.
Why didn’t we see the red flags? People always talk about them,, those signs that no intelligent person would ever miss but you did—spring up like popcorn during the breakup, when everything you missed before or was hidden from view is suddenly in plain sight.
Dr. Craig Malkin:
“One of the most dizzyingly disorienting experiences about uncovering layers of lies is that you end up questioning your judgment about everything, especially if you had a partner who covered his or her tracks by trying to convince you that you were ‘crazy’ or ‘paranoid.’”
I found this more devastating and more painful than anything else—realizing that I held my hand out and was led right down the prim rose path path. By connecting the dots and seeing how you just walk into the narcissist’s efforts to control and ultimately bilking you. By making you relive the emotional moments again and again, which doesn’t help you move on one bit.
3. Feeling like a fool.
Those of us who are insecurely attached or empathic, are the very people least likely to recognize the narcissist to begin with. We are also inclined to fall into the damaging trap of self-criticism, credit something bad in your life to be unchangeable and/or permanent deficiencies in your character, instead of seeing them as a series of mistakes or missteps that anyone could have made. It’s easy to fall into self-criticism. Especially in the aftermath of a run-in with a narcissist. You may think, “Only someone as dumb and gullible as I am could have been taken in by them” or “There’s something really wrong or missing in me that I didn’t see who they were.”
This kind of thinking is a serious barrier to your emotional recovery.
It’s one thing to take responsibility for mistakes you made—deciding to mollify
your partner, being hesitant to leave when you knew you needed to, handing out second, third, and fiftieth chances—and another to beat yourself up for connecting with him or her in the first place. Women who self-criticize are more likely to ruminate and get caught in a cycle of repetitive thoughts, which also get in the way of recovery.
Dr. Craig Malkin:
“Self-blame is shockingly common in people who’ve left a pathological narcissist. If you tell yourself you’re the problem, all you have to do is change and you’re finally free of the pain. This is a handy bit of self-deception when your partner has no intention of changing, but one that completely erodes your self-esteem.”
4. You feel completely powerless.
Realize narcissist self-regulates by feeling powerful and in control. To be able to do that, he or she needs someone to push around, which is why it’s impossible to stop the narcissistic train. When you’re robbed of a sense of agency in one important arena. When you’re in a defensive crouch and unable to be proactive, it’s very hard to stay emotionally balanced and in control in other parts of your life, except in superficial ways. Yes, you’re getting out of bed, doing your work, and paying your bills, but much of the time you’re on auto-pilot. That gets in the way of recovery. As do financial anxiety, fear, and a host of other unpleasant emotions.
4 Tools You Can Do to Speed Up the Recovery
Recognizing how damaging and totally distressing your experience has been is the important first step.
1 person wrote me:
“You must take care of yourself like you are recovering from a really bad illness. Surround yourself with positive things. Try very hard to not let your anger, resentment, and hurt destroy you. It will eat away at your insides and turn you into one big ball of rage. When you experience this depth of betrayal from someone you thought you could trust with your life it cuts you to your very soul. I made a conscious choice to get through it by sheer willpower. I decided I was going to rise above the ashes and come out on the other end, stronger, and with my dignity.”
You can use specific tools to try to get off the emotional rollercoaster and to make sure that the experience doesn’t shape you in ways that set you back.
1. Use NLP thinking.
NLP thinking involves a logical, systematic, deliberate, and future-oriented analysis of information and calculations of possible costs and benefits of actions. As you think about the events and experiences of the relationship, ask yourself why you felt the way you did, not what you were feeling. Research shows that understanding your feelings will permit you to label them more precisely and allow you to manage your emotions more effectively. Try to see the events from a distance or imagine that they happened to someone else. All of these distancing techniques—and making sure that you are asking. What can help you stop reliving the moments and prevent emotional flooding.
Journaling and writing about experiences have been shown by many studies to help an individual develop greater understanding and a more reasonable narrative of life’s events, but be aware that writing about divorce or breakups may trigger you into going into old habits and reliving the events. Starting you reliving the events. Make sure you use NLP thinking.
2. Personalize, don’t generalize.
People become embittered and armored because they wrongly extract the lessons learned from the behavior of one individual and apply them to all individuals—or all men or women. If you hear yourself saying things like “All men are control freaks,” or “Women will do anything to get their way,” stop and remind yourself that you are talking about one bad apple, not an orchard.
3. Practice self-compassion.
It’s easy to either find yourself hosting the pity party of the century or submerging yourself in an ocean of self-criticism. Instead, work on developing self-compassion, here is a three-step process by Kristin Neff :
First, instead of judging yourself, be kind and understanding. Rather than berating yourself for being stupid enough to get involved with a narcissist in the first place, be gentle and understand how it was that you mistakenly thought the person was someone else.
Second, see your experiences not as unique but as part of the larger human experience—meaning that anyone could find themselves in these circumstances. As my grandfather used to say, you are neither the first nor the last to live life imperfectly.
Third, be aware of your painful feelings without over-identifying with them. She uses the buzzword “mindfulness.” I find it more useful to keep the idea of cool processing first and foremost in your consciousness—permitting yourself to be fully aware of your feelings while maintaining enough distance that you don’t relive them.
4. Take the high road.
If you are unlucky enough to be involved in an ongoing conflict with your narcissist, fight the urge to engage and strike back, especially for example if you are in a custody battle. Don’t answer badmouthing, keep a record of it. Trashing him or her publicly will make you momentarily feel better, but it also re-engages you—and that’s exactly what the narcissist wants. If you don’t react, the puppeteer can’t pull the strings
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare, as you work through recovery. The pace may be slow but you’ll get there keep the goal in mind. I always say with my clients a “inch by inch is a cinch but a yard by yard is hard.