Like most people, I always dreamed that one day I’d meet the person of my dreams, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Until my seemingly perfect life fell apart, when I discovered I was living with a narcissist.
The beginning was like a happily ever after story (thanks to love bombing). But you probably guessed… It ended really badly. My partner soon became controlling, manipulative, spread lies, gaslighted me and was abusive (emotionally, financially, verbally and by the end, physically).
Nowadays people easily throw around the expression and easily label people—narcissist! But what is it really?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined by The Mayo Clinic as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Everyone has some degree of narcissistic traits, but when those traits impair a person’s personal, professional, or legal standing, it is diagnosed as NPD. Approximately only 1–5% of the populations suffers from NPD and it’s hard to diagnose because they are masters of showing you what you want to see, so they easily trick the professionals, too.
Narcissists tend to have a “preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love,” and also try to associate with people they believe are unique or gifted in order to enhance their grandiosity. So they can be extremely charming, charismatic, and affectionate in the early stages of courtship, aka love bombing. But a narcissistic partner has difficulty really loving someone else. They are so focused on themselves that they cannot really “see” their partner as a separate person and they do everything to turn this person into an “extension” of themselves and only see the partner in terms of how they fill their needs as they completely lack empathy for everyone. That’s exactly what happened to me. I felt lonelier in my relationship than ever before and the whole relationship drained me. I felt like I was just an accessory to show off and all my needs and wants were completely unimportant. Narcissistic partners act as if they are always right—or even if they sound as though they’re just suggesting an alternative point of view, they are intending to change your mind in the end. They are often very good at manipulating and gaslighting to make you doubt your own opinions and needs. Or they assert that they know better and that their partner is wrong or incompetent. This often leaves the other person either angry and trying to defend themselves or identifying with this negative self-image and feeling badly about themselves. Either way, it is a constant battle, which makes you exhausted on every level, and most people suffering from a narcissistic partner don’t even know what they are going through.
The relationship with a narcissist is only about them but healing from the abuse is about YOU
As every narcissist is different, and as an individual we’re all different, healing might look different for you, too if you experienced narcissistic abuse in your romantic relationship. Most of the people (including me, on my healing journey) experience healing in 4 main stages.
The first stage was recognizing that I was in a relationship with a narcissist and learning as much about NPD as I could. I joined groups where I could share my story with other individuals who suffered the same and who can give each other advise and support when needed. Know that it is completely okay to ask for help or sign up for therapy. I too had to visit a psychologist who helped me to rewire my brain after three years of gaslighting and used hypnotherapy to regain my belief in myself and my own worthiness. Don’t sit alone and separate yourself from others, even if you just reach out on the internet or just read about the topic, it is a great help to make the first step on the way of recovery. And you deserve to heal.
The second stage involved completely separating myself from the narcissist and taking my energy back. Which was one of the most difficult tasks, as he (being a grandiose narcissist) kept following me around, found me wherever I moved and as I discovered lately, tracked my phone so he knew exactly what was happening with me, who I was talking with and where I was going, so he could show up. I am lucky because we don’t have kids, but many people share their custody with a narcissist co-parent, so it might be harder to cut yourself from them. Going “no contact” and learning the technique of being a “grey rock” was very helpful for me. Always make sure you’re safe.
The third stage means recovering emotionally and repairing the core wounds that attracted me to the narcissist. Most of the people who end up in a romantic relationship with a narcissist are children of narcissistic parents and learned to accept this behavior as normal, so they might even seek it out as it is what they got used to as growing up. Many of them show codependent tendencies or already have low self-esteem so they are easy prey for the narcissist. As I looked back on my previous relationships, I could see the road that lead me there and it was inevitable. Until I learned what caused me to get attracted to this kind of people and did the shadow work to heal these parts in me, I wasn’t able to attract other kind of men into my life. (Luckily this has changed since then.)
The fourth stage (which I think is the most overlooked yet most significant) is about recreating myself. A narcissist doesn’t just break your heart, they break your spirit so when I left the relationship I felt like I was nonexistent. I am in this phase at the moment and as exciting it is to rediscover who I really am, as hard it is the same time. Many of us would like to go back to that version of us who we were before the narcissists (me—a cheerful, loving, free, easygoing, confident, brave and friendly, open hippie chick) but that person doesn’t exist anymore. What is coming is a brand new version of ourselves which we have no idea about—but she is stronger and greater than any version of us before. Which can be frightening at times but it is all part of a great process of becoming something brand new, even for me.
There is no exact guidebook which will tell you how to heal. It is a long process and you have to work it out for yourself (with help of others). I recovered from the heartbreak and trauma of the relationship, but I still had an unshakable insecurity and I really didn’t know what to do about it. Make a commitment to yourself to recover from narcissistic abuse. I was going through the second and the third phase while lockdowns happened, so I spent all my time on working on myself. I barely left the house and met almost nobody but spent all my free time on developing a new yoga routine, meditated twice a day, started journaling, shadow work and inner child healing and tried out many practices to recover my body, mind and spirit from the trauma. I still keep to most of the routines I picked up along the way of healing myself.
Recovering from narcissistic abuse might take a long time (for me it’s over four years and I’m still leaving behind old coping mechanisms and still building my new self) but it is worth it. You are worth it. You deserve to live a happy, healthy and joyous life where you can be the most amazing, loving version of yourself—free from any narcissist in your life.
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Photo: Siera Nicole NarVaeth via Unsplash