Rise Above Self-Sabotage and Live True to Yourself

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So you finally broke free from the Narcissist.  You got your own place, initiated blunt-force No Contact, and depleted twenty-seven boxes of Kleenex in under a week.

I hate to break it to you, but that was the easy part.

Whether you were with your abuser for one year or fifteen, the harsh truth is that unless you do some soul searching and fix the issues that kept you with them, you run the risk of running into the arms of another manipulative abuser.

Those issues might include co-dependency, being too nice, or loving too much.  That doesn’t mean you are weak, it simply means that over your lifetime, you developed limiting beliefs and emotional wounds that  kept you hostage in draining relationships.  In most cases, the damage took root in childhood and grew over time.

The Basics of Codependency

Many victims of narcissistic abuse come from dysfunctional family dynamics where compliance was rewarded with approval, and non-compliance was met with anger and punishment.  They learned that their wants were unimportant, that other people were more important than they were, and the only time they were recognized was when they were giving other people what they needed.

Codependents suffer from low self-esteem and have a certain way of thinking, feeling and behaving. They typically operate from a place of insecurity and try frantically to hold on to the Narcissist using codependent behaviors. This includes enabling, coming to the rescue, care-taking, and accepting neglect or abuse. Generally,  codependents will do anything to “take care” of their partners in the hope that they will not leave—or that someday they will reciprocate.

Their current relationship dramas reflect the drama they were powerless to change as children.  They hold the belief that love means sacrificing for their partner and putting up with whatever their partner feels like doing. This is a set up for making the abusive relationship more important than they are. Generally, codependents feel consistently unfulfilled in relationships and are the ones who tend to get deeply stuck in a “possibility of salvation” loop with an abusive narcissist.

If this seems familiar, then making time to really explore these patterns and taking active steps to shift your approach should start to change your experience around these kinds of unhealthy relationships.

Where to Begin

It all starts with realizing you are not your negative beliefs. You are not your emotional wounds. These are all just the foundation on which you live your life.  However,  they can be changed.

1)       Practice Self Care

This can be as simple as choosing new restaurants that you didn’t visit with your abuser… to taking yourself to the movies, getting monthly mani-pedis, and taking up a hobby.  You deserve it.  Likely, you weren’t allowed to get prissy while under the Narcissist’s rule.  Begin getting dolled up in the mornings so you can feel better about yourself (if this is something you enjoy).  Learn to focus on your likes and dislikes, learn more about the things that make you happy and unhappy, and healthy ways to deal with the latter. This will help balance your emotions instead of keeping yourself in a state of high anxiety and resentment.

2)      Stop People Pleasing

In short, start establishing healthy boundaries, and stick to them.  Learn when to say no and where to draw the line.  Don’t let anyone bully you into doing something you don’t want to do.

3)      Let Other People Be Accountable for Their Own Crap

Stop feeling responsible for others’ thoughts, deeds, and reactions.  There’s a difference between giving someone support and owning their crap for them.  Stop doing that to yourself.  Set some boundaries, and you will start feeling like an individual again instead of an extension of someone else.

If people are offended by the new you, that’s their crap, not yours and they need to own it.

4)      Commit to Loving Yourself 

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” 
~ Gautama Buddha

People with poor self-esteem often suffer from a persistent fear of abandonment, believing that they deserve to be loved only for what they can do for others, rather than simply for who they are.  It’s no wonder, considering that this belief was planted in their head and nourished over the years.

Stop the negative self-talk!  You don’t have to do anything to create or deserve self-esteem; all you have to do is turn off that critical, haranguing inner voice, because that critical inner voice is wrong! Your internal self-abuse springs from illogical, distorted thinking.

Try this.  Each morning before you leave the bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “You are beautiful. You are strong. You are worth it. You are loved.”  Make it a daily habit.  Before long, you will start to internalize the affirmation and truly begin to believe it.

Have a success story you’d like to share about overcoming codependency?  Leave it in the comments section!

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n.b. says September 15, 2018

” not allowed to get prissy”. I can relate. When we first started dating,I always wore short shorts and later he told me I should ” dress more conservatively like other women ( insert comparing me to a group of women ) and whenever we went out and he saw women wearing a lot of makeup or dressed up,he would make comments about their makeup and/or clothes and talk about how whorish ,attention seeking and pathetic they were ( I quote). I told him I thought his behavior was disgusting,sexist and judge mental and he said ” well I’m glad YOU don’t look like that. This was a way of him trashing them to detract from his lust for them and to keep me in my place and make sure I downplayed my appearance as to not get attention from men. He also called me bpd,bipolar,delusional,codependent ,accused me of being promiscuous…basically any insult he could to project his pathology / flaws onto me and btw any time I called him out on his behavior he admitted to it except with sexual abuse / reproductive coercion..with that he would deny and lie away. He also would black and white compliment then insult . For example compliments on my clothes than later say I dress like white trash. I’m sexy then later im overweight ,body proportions are wrong etc. He had an obnoxious personality and wasn’t remotely attractive and the sex was horrible. I stayed because he was so pathetic I felt sorry for him and felt bad for abandoning him when who the hell wouldn’t abandon a pathetic creep like that. He made up crisises saying he was bpd and couldn’t control his emotions ( a lie) and that he was abused and molested ( lies ) to make excuses for his behavior and then used his therapy to say ” see ,im trying and im so much better”. He’s currently in politics and is the epitome of a alt right ,mgtow ,low hanging fruit scumbag. You are right about co-dep though absolutely BC we put up with way more than anyone should. Your articles have helped a lot.

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Anonymous says June 30, 2015

My son married a narcissist , they have two children, I challenged her on one of her lies, I paid dearly, she isolated my son from us but we also had to walk away. My son has now left her, he ,s got back in touch with us. he has admitted that she lies constantly, and she has given him low self esteem. He now has a job and a voluntary job on a Saturday , hopes to see the children on a Sunday if she lets him, he comes down to us sometimes and we go up to him. He is coming to terms with what his wife is capable off and trying to get back some control. We are helping him get back his financial status as she controlled everything and his name is on nothing. He hopes now to be in control of any money he gives her for the children and asks for prove of any bills . I hope their is a future for him now but her having custody of children will be the hardest hurdle.

John carty says May 14, 2015

when I read about codependency there always seems to be reference to the female being codependent and the male being the narcissist.I happen to be male and a codependent. because of the references to being beautiful and codependency being female related I feel a lot of these articles are self bias.and because I am codependent I feel not in portland because it seems to be a female thing as your article states and many other articles.maybe you could include everyone male and female in other articles you may write.I hope you understand where I am coming from I do not mean in any way to be demeaning. I read a lot about codependent see I deal with it I’m going to professional counseling over it. Some days are good and some days are complete hell.

    Kim Saeed says May 14, 2015

    Hi John! Thanks for commenting. I can only speak to my own writings, but when I first started my blog, I wrote mainly from the female perspective because that had been my experience. I’ve since incorporated more gender-neutral themes because a large part of my audience is male. In fact, I also work with male clients who are codependent. Codependency is not gender-specific…thank you for pointing that out. All of the self-care exercises in this particular article could be practiced by both male and female codies 🙂 Wishing you all the very best in your path to healing,

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Sq101 says February 12, 2014

I am learning…this really opened my eyes although I’m not sure how to fix it yet. I’m divorced twice both were emotional abusers longest was 15 yrs. After that one I dug into work and my kids, no time for myself for 5 yrs, then lost my job of 12 yrs which literally consumed me 24 hrs a day 7 days a week, I found my self a little lost, new job at 43 so tried a new attitude of ‘what the heck just do it’ since I over analyze and ran into someone I hadn’t seen since high school and the fire started..l have heard the term Narcissist over the yrs but it was just a word. I was taken in, emotionally and financially $$,$$$ and when I said this is the last $ I can give you (I was such a fool, I really believed his plights and troubles and wanted to ‘save’ him) then ‘bam’ I was thrust into not knowing if I was sane or not, he was constantly questioning me to the point I was questioning my own sanity, then came the triangle, then came the she’s crazy, she’s a stalker, ect. The same thing he said about his prior relationships (note I’ve read be careful what they tell you about the priors because that will end up being you too). I wound up on an anti-depressant because I thought everything about me was wrong. When he found out I was on depressants he called my son-in-law and told him i was on medication for mental illness so see I was crazy. He even came to my work and tried to discredit me with my boss, tried to get my cousin fired from her job at a bank because I exposed him for taking money from me. I am blessed that the people that know me know I am not that person that he is trying to portray me as, my boss who is an attorney came out of the meeting she had with him and said OMG what were you thinking, after 30 min I could tell he is a con and and a user, I am so sorry he did this to you. Well I’m sorry he did it too, now I am struggling to just get through the days, thats been 3 months ago and it’s the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing at night. I’m not sure I will ever, ever trust anyone again. I keep reading these things and how they hit home with me. For those who are helping get the information out there, bless you, it is a great service to those of us who think it’s all our fault..I’m learning.

    Kim Saeed says February 16, 2014

    I am so sorry that this happened to you, and I can also relate. My Ex did a lot of the same things…taking my money, the smear campaign from hell where he tried to convince even my own family that I wasn’t a good person, but I am in a much different place now than back then, and you will be too.

    Please practice extreme self-care. Even little things like guided meditations for 10 minutes, encouraging yourself in the mirror, pampering yourself with mani/pedis and giant ice cream Sundaes. I know we aren’t supposed to indulge in things that are unhealthy, but as long as we don’t make a habit of it, a little treat here and there can be just what we need while in recovery. If you have a Reiki healer in your area, make an appointment as soon as you can. Just tell them you are healing from an abusive relationship and let them do the rest…

gracielynne62013 says February 5, 2014

Great post as usual. I remember when my daughter came into my bedroom as a little girl and she told me she got a bad grade on her Geography test. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and then I caught myself and realized that I didn’t need to take her shame. What i needed to do was help her do better by tutoring her and remove myself from being so caught up in my children’s accomplishments or lack of the same.
She has done well in school and life and I have learned not to wrap my identity around their successes or failures.

    Kim Saeed says February 5, 2014

    I struggle with this, too, Gracie. I have two older sons in middle and high school. My oldest lives with his dad most of the time, so I don’t get to have any concrete influence on his behaviors such as school work. I can only talk to him about it and hope he makes good decisions. In the end, he will learn lessons along the way as we all have.

    Thank you for commenting. It’s so good to hear from you 🙂

navigator1965 says February 4, 2014

Excellent post, Kim. I must confess to being curious to see if research ever reveals differences between male and female codependents.

Astrid says February 4, 2014

Hi Kim,
I can relate to this. I must also agree with Beth that most women probably develop some maladaptive beliefs in childhood. In schema-focused hterpay, which I follow, there’s this ideaa that, like you say, children learn one or more maladaptive schemas or patterns as they grow up in (even slightly) dysfunctional families. Whether this leads to codependency or other maladaptive adult patterns, depends on the person’s temperament and other factors. This theory, by the way, not just says that codependency is a maladaptive schema, but so is narcissism and so are many other patterns found particularly among people with personality disorders. I am not saying that narcissistic abuse victims have a personality disorder themselves. After all, many people who can’t be diagnosed with PDs, have some maladaptive beliefs. My husband even said that anyone could benefit from schema-focused self-help. He is not a narc for clarity’s sake; he is entally healthy for the most part.

Fellow Survivor says February 4, 2014

Hi Kim,

I think there is a fine line between co-dependency and just being a kind loving husband or wife. I think the Ns pick kind empathic spouses that believe in marriage as a lifelong commitment because they know they will stay and put up with the crap.

As more and more episodes happened when she clearly did not care how her choices were hurting me I began to slowly shut down until in the end I was almost totally numb towards her. I remember telling her one time ” you either know what you are doing is wrong which makes you evil or you don’t know what you are doing is wrong which makes you clueless”

What penalty did she pay for her bad behavior? Really nothing for years. At best I would ignore her for a couple of weeks and then be lured right back in because of sex. In the last years whenever she would leave on her trips against my will I would just stop taking care of the house. I let the yard die by not watering which saved me from mowing by the way. I wouldn’t water the inside plants. I flat out told her one time ” you are just using me” and she said yes she was. At that point I stopped trying to make her happy by serving her. Because I would not longer blindly serve her she discarded me.

I think for a while my behavior was not co-dependent but just a good way any man should treat his wife. When it became apparent that there was no reciprocal loving treatment in return I stopped being nice. She knew she was hurting me but she just didn’t care.

    Kim Saeed says February 4, 2014


    I think each case is unique. It seems from what you’ve told me that she hid her true self for several years before your realizing she was manipulating you.

    And once you stopped doing her bidding, the marriage died and she’s gone on to use someone else.

    Not every case of Narcissistic abuse involves a codependent, but most do. Every marriage has its shares of ups and downs, and there are phases where one or both partners might behave selfishly, but codependency comes in when one of the partners is a cruel, manipulative taker, and the other partner scrambles around doing whatever is necessary to keep the abuser happy.

    Initially, the codependent chooses someone who is needy because that’s how they derive their sense of self is through care-taking and coming to the rescue. But, they forget to take care of themselves and at some point, begin to feel used and frustrated.
    Sometimes, the codependent gets tired and may start to slack, and the abuser rages, and the cycle starts anew.

    Sometimes codependency sneaks up on us when perhaps it wasn’t the original dynamic. It happens when one of the partners exploits, manipulates, and takes advantage of another’s generosity and love to get what they want.

      Fellow Survivor says February 4, 2014


      So true about running around trying to please her and keep the peace. I can think back now on how i apologized for her behavior. It was ridiculous. As in the case of most of these relationships when the abuser is getting everything they want life is grand. Never challenge, never question, and of course never ask that your basic needs be met by the abuser. That’s when the crap starts.

      So in the beginning I was the pleaser fixer and I thought that is just the way a man treats his wife. And it is, but when it is taken advantage of with no reciprocation that’s when the division starts.

    Kelly says February 4, 2014

    I agree with much of your statement. I do not want to be in a relationship if I can’t do the things that a spouse would. I was unfortunate in that i was abused in many ways, and tried my best to make things better. The worst part is knowing that it will be near impossible to ever let anyone in again, far worse when you have children. Glad you survived! Good luck!

      Kim Saeed says February 5, 2014


      I am sorry for what happened to you. It’s hard when you try everything you can to make things better and in the end, it means nothing.

      The difference is that Narcissists will never appreciate the good things we do for them, whereas a “normal” human being would. I say normal to simply mean one without a disorder.

      You know, I was thinking just yesterday…the Narcissist is disordered, but when they are through with us, we are the ones that end up with PTSD, effects of Trauma-Bonding, crippling trust issues, and so on.

      The good thing is that we can rise above all of that. There are many good people who can teach us how and various methods we can use to recover and maybe even be in a better place than before.

      Good luck, and thanks for stopping by.

bethbyrnes says February 4, 2014

As I read this Kim, with your usual apt descriptions and insights, I wonder though if this isn’t a general description of childhood for all women? What woman wouldn’t fit this description? I think it is rare for little girls to be anything but people pleasers and to feel they are second-rate. There are exceptions, but I think this is a general problem for all of us. What are your thoughts or research on this?

    Kim Saeed says February 4, 2014


    I think for many women in our generation, it was easy to develop codependent behaviors because our parents and grandparents came from the old school where girls were to be seen/not heard, be overly polite, be submissive, not complain, and turn the other cheek. By all accounts, those were the traits of a “true lady” when I was growing up.

    That probably explains my rebellious attitude toward authority figures, especially when they have no business being in an authoritative position. But alas, I’ve always fallen prey in romantic relationships.

    Anyhow, because of the limiting beliefs we take in as a child, they usually lead to our:

    • Believing we need a knight in shining armor to save us from a life of single hood.
    • Believing we cannot express our feelings because we won’t be accepted by society.
    • We never learn to set healthy boundaries.
    • Consequently, we often end up in a relationship whereby the other person is mentally, emotionally, or physically unavailable.

    So, to answer your question, yes. It’s very possible for little girls to grow up adapting codependent behaviors simply based on how they are raised.

    I have a feeling, though, that a large percentage of the current generation is headed in the opposite direction.

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