One of the most difficult things about overcoming narcissistic abuse is shifting the dynamic from dwelling in pain and ruminating on the past to gaining momentum that will launch us into a brighter future.
The pain is a natural response to the abuse, which broke our heart and in most cases destroyed our sense of self. So we are dealing with a lot.
The cognitive dissonance of two clashing ideas — one being the narcissist as our soul-mate, and the other our ex as a heartless oppressor — is at the root of massive confusion that is left over after the relationship falls apart. Many people that I speak to in my coaching practice, express an attitude of disbelief. How could she or he have done all these things? I thought they loved me!
It is important to remember that narcissists, borderlines, psychopaths, sociopaths, histrionics and any combination thereof, are not people who go from being normal only to switch into the disorder in moments of pressure of stress. It is called a personality disorder for a reason. This is who they are and how they are all the time.
Many partners of Cluster Bs are notorious at projecting their values and perceptions onto their disordered partner. Our traits of empathy, compassion and forgiveness run deep and make us question the motives behind the narcissist’s horrendous acts. So we give them benefits of the doubt. Over and over and over again, in essence enabling the abuse to continue and even escalate. Instead of resolving anything, our kindness coupled with rationalization of their behavior keeps the abuse cycle going.
So we finally awaken to the harsh truth and get away. Now what? Now the true healing begins. Initially it will feel like trying to climb a muddy mountain. We keep slipping and end up exhausted getting nowhere. But it only seems this way.
Each time we do a kind act towards ourselves, it adds up. The body and mind indeed do keep a score.
Eventually my small self-care practices began to gain momentum until months later I reached the tipping point. Eight months later I’m no longer pulled into the downward spiral of despair. Instead, what happened fuels my desire to be even kinder to myself, and to spread this information to others who are suffering with the mission to provide relief and understanding.
Below are the ten practices that I incorporated into my healing practice that helped me to overcome the devastation caused my narcissistic abuse.
In order for the healing to commence, you need to put a protective shield around yourself. If you can physically get away, that is the best. Any memory of the narcissist will keep triggering the pain, slowing down your recovery. So, block them on your phone, email, all your social media, etc. Get rid of any memorabilia reminding you of them. And for goodness sake, do not stalk their profiles!
If you are unable to physically remove yourself from their environment, look into a technique called ‘grey rock.’ The ideas is that while you interact with the narc, you remain emotionally and mentally disengaged, giving them nothing to feed on. Even though you may be boiling inside, do not let them see that. Once you are alone, let it all out. Cry, scream, cuss. Whatever brings you relief.
Another form of a boundary to start practicing is learning how to say no. It will help you build self-respect and true confidence. Your boundary is like a cell wall. It keeps nutrients in and toxicity out. Become very picky whom you let in.
GET THE TOXICITY OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM.
During the time you’ve spent around the narcissist doing everything in your power to please and appease them, you’ve been exposed to a serious mental disorder. It is extremely unhealthy to the mind of an empath. We took it in by doing what we could to ‘understand’ them and walk in their shoes. Narcissists know this and take full advantage of this empathic trait.
Now it is time to let all that dark goo out for health and clarity to be restored. One of the best things you can do is externalize it. Journal about what happened, talk to a trusted friend who ‘gets it,’ engage a therapist or a coach. Join a support group to connect with others who can relate to your experience. Externalizing will help chaotic, confused thoughts click into place restoring a semblance of order. It will help clear your slate from the debris.
Other forms of externalization include movement, such as dance, deep breathing, mind-body exercises like yoga, sweating, getting a massage. All this is helpful in metabolizing the toxic chemicals that have been generated during the devaluation and discard stages of the relationship.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRUTH & FORGIVE YOURSELF.
This step will begin to set your mind straight. You must accept the truth that this person was highly toxic and consciously hurt you. Realize you’ve been tricked, manipulated and abused! Your high pain threshold worked to your disadvantage, making them push you farther and farther with each abuse cycle. Seeing them as a reflection of you, obscured the warning signs and made them fly under your radar. Your best traits were used against you: empathy, desire to explore, openness, positive sociability, etc. (For more in-depth exploration of this topic, check out my video ‘8 reasons you fell into the narc trap.’) And finally, not realizing you were in a dirty game, you were outmaneuvered.
It was not your fault. Forgive yourself.
REALIZE THAT PART OF YOU KNEW.
But you disregarded it. This is a step where we begin to take responsibility (not to be confused with self-blame!) and do a rational post-mortem analysis of what happened.
Maybe you got a feeling in your stomach at some point early in the relationship. Maybe some things they said just didn’t add up. Look at that and ask yourself why you disregarded your intuitive hints. Was it because you really wanted to make it work? Was it because their words of admiration and acts of ‘love’ filled that void inside your soul, a void left over perhaps from childhood?
If you’ve never truly felt loved in your life, especially by your parents, it is very normal for you to seek a fulfillment of that love in your adult life. However, it is a huge vulnerability. Especially in the vicinity of a predator who can smell that love wound on you and be attracted to it the was a shark is attracted by the scent of blood.
Your intuition is your friend. The more you listen to it, the stronger it will get. It may be really difficult to connect with your intuition in the aftermath of the abusive relationship. The reason for it is that we become hypersensitive to our environment due to the PTSD. It can be difficult to tell what is a real threat and what isn’t. If this is something you’re going through, it may be a sign that you need to remain in a hibernation mode in order to heal. Also, it is okay to err on the side of caution for some time and avoid questionable characters and situations. For more on how you can get your intuition and self-trust back online, check out my recent video on this topic.
The period of overcoming and healing from narcissistic abuse is an exceptional opportunity for growth. This is because now we have an unimpeded look at our vulnerabilities. This is not easy to do, which is why most people never get this deep and instead remain stuck in more-less the same modus–operandi for majority of their life, even while desiring change.
But real change can only occur as a result of deep work. A key to this work is self-inquiry (included as the fourth niyama in Ashtanga Yoga). If enlightenment was ever on your list, know you now have a leg up. Awakening from the prison bond of narcissistic abuse is a potent form of awakening.
Here are some examples of perhaps what you are discovering as your greatest vulnerabilities that keep attracting manipulators into your life:
Need for security — likely a flashback to childhood, a symptom of fatherly neglect. One of the most fundamental roles of the father is to instill in his child a sense of self-protection by demonstrating it in his actions. Lack of this makes us set out into the world with an impaired sense of security.
Need for adoration — often a symptom of not getting enough nurturing in childhood and instead being brushed aside. Ignorance from parents can later manifest as low self-regard and a lack of confidence. This puts as at the risk of biting the predator’s hook the moment the sweet nothings begin to roll off their tongue.
Need for acknowledgement — whether of our attractiveness, intelligence, significance, etc., many of us walk around with empty buckets and a nagging sense of feeling ‘less than.’ What’s ironic is that it is often the case even if we have many accomplishments under our belt. This is because the sense of feeling insignificant or unimportant doesn’t dwell on the surface. It is lodged deep inside your subconscious. To get there, requires learning to persistently give acknowledgement to yourself through mastering the art of positive self-talk. The amazing thing about this is — once you grasp it, you will cease your dependence on anyone else’s opinion of you. It is the key to true freedom.
HEAL YOUR INNER CHILD.
Taking a trip back to childhood is a necessary component of healing if we want lasting results. It will create a sense of inner cohesion, eliminate much unresolved pain and restore deeper connection to self-trust. The little one inside you needs your help. They need you to see them, hear them, love then and guide them. There is no better person I could recommend here than the work of John Bradshaw. His ten-part video series titled ‘Homecoming’ was instrumental in getting me out of a dark hole of despair and into a sunshine bathed meadow of innocence where my little girl and I got to really connect. This time for good.
SHIFT YOUR FOCUS.
There will be a long period of time where you will feel pulled towards the past. It is cognitive dissonance and trauma bond at work. It is a sign that there are still things you need to understand and emotions to process. It is absolutely necessary to continue this work, but instead of letting the past steal your present moments, set aside dedicated time to do just that.
Meanwhile, practice staying mindful in the present and thinking of the future you’d like to create for yourself. Resurrect your dreams, maybe even give them an upgrade. Having a sense of purpose in life and things to look forward to helps us overcome the pull of the trauma and launches us forward. Knowing your ‘why’ is a good place to start. It shifts you from being a victim to becoming the hero of your life.
For starters, know this — healing from narcissistic abuse will make you a more integrated, whole, aware and self-loving person. It can be a gift. What you do with it is really up to you.
As I mentioned above, the inner quiet voice is your best friend. Even, and especially, while you are in the midst of chaos and pain, it can help navigate you out of suffering. There are many reasons why we experienced narcissistic abuse. Many of those reasons were outside our control. The world is full of manipulative characters who live to fulfill their own agenda. Now it is time for you to take your destiny back in your hands.
You can practice listening to the voice by asking yourself: how do I feel now? If you are faced with a choice, always go with the inner feeling. If you feel relaxed and open, the answer is a yes. If you are on the fence, it is likely better to hold back.
The inner voice of your intuition will help guide you to your new life in which you are have more control because you now know yourself and what you want much better. It is a life full of possibilities and harmony where your inner desires and outside manifestation can finally match one another.
ACTIVATE YOUR VAGUS NERVE.
Being in an abusive relationship made us constantly dwell in a state of hyper-vigilance, even if we were not aware of it. Even during the highs, the intensity of the relationship made it seem like we are on a roller coaster ride. Other times, we were walking on our tip-toes not to disturb the abuser.
All this overstimulated our sympathetic system, pumping chemicals of stress into our bloodstream. It is one of the reasons we were so exhausted while in the relationship.
To override this, we can activate our parasympathetic system, switching from fight or flight to rest and digest. How to do this? Activate your vagus nerve. One of my favorite way to do this is by practicing deep breathing, taking cold showers and laying on my right side. Here to inspire more ideas, I provide a link to an article that goes deeper into the subject and offers a plethora of activities to help you quell your anxiety.
Whether you get upset at yourself because you slipped up and fallen right back to the pit, or get frustrated that you are not making faster progress and instead crying again, please be kind to yourself. This healing requires deep work and deep work requires time.
Every one of us has different rhythms, has gone through different, though similar, experiences and therefore will need more or less time to heal. But know one thing, no matter how long it will take you, with persistence and commitment to yourself, you will get there. One step at a time. It is simply inevitable.