There are two basic steps to recovery from narcissistic abuse, and they are taken both within and after a “romantic” relationship with a personality-disordered partner.
The first step likely occurs while you’re still entangled in the relationship, or perhaps during a discard while your head is spinning (again) and you’re wondering what happened (again). The second step happens sometime after the relationship is over.
While the first step is an event–the culmination of a painful process called “narcissistic abuse”–the second step is a process that leads to prevention of future abuse.
Experience and Knowledge Lead to Awareness
Step One is gaining AWARENESS of just how disturbed (and disturbing) your toxic ex really is (and was, and will be) and how much damage he or she has done during your weeks, months, or years of relationship.
In all likelihood, your abusive ex-partner…
—lied to you repeatedly;
—pretended to be what you said you wanted early on;
–set you on a pedestal, only to knock you down repeatedly;
—consumed your time, energy, and resources;
—prevented you from pursuing other life opportunities, hobbies, and interests;
—isolated you from your friends and family;
—twisted your reasoning ability in crazy-making ways;
–made endless “future promises” that they would change (but never did);
—triangulated you with other possible relationship (or affair) partners, or with their exes;
–inflicted passive-aggressive jabs and guilt trips onto you;
–made false accusations and/or threats against you;
…and so on.
Step One includes learning–perhaps while still trying to function within the relationship–that this sort of behavior pattern likely means change is next to impossible and your efforts to maintain this disruptive relationship will likely never bear fruit for long.
It means recognizing that, despite your repeated attempts to change yourself or your partner, the primary change that’s happening is the loss of your own sense of self, independence, and vitality.
In other words, you are sacrificing yourself in the relationship, not for some greater future reward, but for NOTHING. Your efforts to maintain the relationship are effectively allowing a dysfunctional person to continue to be dysfunctional, but without suffering the natural consequences of his or her dysfunction (which would be perhaps the first step in their own healing, if it were possible).
Instead, YOU are suffering for them—enabling their continued dysfunction, even while enduring their abuse. You’ve been acting as a buffer between your abusive partner and reality, and all the rest is just the collateral damage from your own well-meaning, but pointless, self-sacrifice.
This can be a hard pill to swallow because it effectively means giving up hope on both the relationship AND your abusive partner. Once you’ve realized, however, that the person you thought you loved was merely a phantom conjured up by your abuser in an effort to “hook” you through your heart and manipulate you–THEN your radical acceptance of the truth about your partner puts you one step out the door.
Taking Responsibility Leads to Having Boundaries
Step Two is taking the RESPONSIBILITY to search through the rubble of your previous life; gather up what you need or want to keep from the past; tend to your wounds; comfort yourself in (hopefully) healthy ways, and evaluate your relationship experiences.
Throughout this process, you can finally learn—as a result of your abuse–exactly where your personal boundaries are:
what sorts of behavior or “treatment” you’re willing to allow from someone else, what words and actions you won’t tolerate from someone else, and how far you’ll let someone else enter into your rightful domain.
You gradually become the King or Queen of your jungle, so to speak, instead of allowing weeds and vines from someone else’s jungle to encroach on your own.
At some point in recovery, you realize that if you’d had these boundaries to begin with, as soon as your abusive ex started his or her shenanigans (early on!), your boundaries would have bounced the ex right out of your life. This would have happened with very little effort from you; very little consideration for why he or she is abusive; and very little FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt) to make you question your boundaries and maybe even return to the abusive relationship.
Step Two in recovery means learning where your boundaries are and how to hold them when someone challenges them. First, you decide them. Then you practice them. Then you adjust them as necessary, in response to your experiences and interactions. You don’t adjust boundaries to placate other people. You adjust them as you discover what’s important and what’s not important to YOU.
Doing this will make them more solid. The more wiggle room your boundaries have, the more easily they can break.
Let your personal boundaries be an expression and extension of who you are. Define them, and let them help you define YOU…or, rather, let your boundaries show you who you really are.
Recovering Yourself after Abuse
Recovery from narcissistic abuse is possible, but it can be a lengthy process. This is no surprise; after all, the abuse itself was a rather lengthy process, too. Just as there are some predictable stages to the process of narcissistic abuse, so there are also some predictable stages in the process of narcissistic abuse recovery.
Ultimately, we suffered abuse because we trusted the wrong person, partly because of our lack of personal boundaries. Healthy boundaries prevent personal violations (such as those collectively described as “narcissistic abuse”), and they are a result of having awareness and taking responsibility.
Although everyone’s experiences of narcissistic abuse and recovery are individual and unique, what you recover in the end is YOURSELF–a stronger and wiser self who is much less susceptible to being targeted and victimized ever again.
Narcissists don’t have the ability to connect with you or feel remorse (even though it often feels like this in the beginning). Instead, over time it will feel as if your spirit is slowly getting sick. This is why relationships with narcissists are often referred to as “soul rape”.
If you know you need to purge the horrific addiction and devastating emotional and spiritual contamination from a narcissist, then please consider The Break Free Program. Healing is a process that can open up some truly transformative revelations and opportunities when we give ourselves the chance to recover and thrive.
You can find out more about The Break Free Program by clicking this link.
I look forward to answering your comments and questions below.