Things are so hard for survivors of narcissistic abuse because
Being in a relationship with a Narcissist is never easy. Nor is leaving one. But breaking with the old beliefs and feelings that are part and parcel of every narcissistic relationship is the hardest thing of all. Especially since, half the time, you might not even be aware of how deeply ingrained those beliefs and patterns have become and how profoundly they continue to impact you. Ridding yourself of them is central to your healing. So, that is what I want to look at today.
Negative beliefs generated in a narcissistic relationship
One distinctive feature of a narcissistic relationship is the weight of negative beliefs that it generates. You learn to feel negative about:
- Your alleged inability to survive without the Narcissist
- Your values and abilities
- People in the abstract
- What you can reasonably aspire to
- How you can expect to be treated
- What the future holds for you and
- The degree of success, fulfilment, security and happiness you can hope to achieve.
How Narcissists teach you your place in the world
All Narcissists have a worldview that they impose on you. That is a key part of how they maintain their control over you.
They teach you that your world is and always will be a bleak place. According to their narrative – which is, admittedly, more than a little self-interested – they are your best hope.
Absurd though that claim is, Narcissists brainwash you into believing it.
How do they do it?
It is almost as if there is only a finite amount of credit to be shared out in the relationship. At the start, they may extend a fair amount of that credit to you. However, the longer the relationship goes on, the more they wrest that credit away from you and concentrate it all in their own hands.
After every row, disagreement, or failed expression of your opinions – because why would they ever want to hear yours? – they let you know how much further your credit has sunk. The constant trauma means that you feel too confused and crushed to do anything other than internalize their valuation of you.
The nightmarishness of a narcissistic relationship
Over time, living with a Narcissist becomes increasingly nightmarish.
Sadly, the nightmare doesn’t just fade away once your status changes and you are no longer in the relationship with them.
Instead, the beliefs that they taught you about yourself continue to shape the way that you feel about yourself, as well as the ways that you feel you can and cannot show up in the world.
How does that play out in your life after the allegedly intimate relationship ends?
You can learn about Narcissism, read the right books, embrace positivity and do a significant amount of personal development work…
But the key indicator of whether or not the nightmare has faded away – and the Narcissist’s influence over you has dissipated – remains how you feel.
Things are so hard for survivors of narcissistic abuse because…
Things are so hard for survivors of narcissistic abuse because survivors are left carrying so many agonizing feelings.
When I left my horrible husband, having just discovered that he was abusive, I had all kinds of feelings swirling in my brain. Those feelings included:
- Outrage that I had tolerated so much for so long
- Shame that I had been so stupid and stayed so long
- Mortified Comparisonitis that other women had a husband who loved them and I didn’t
- Deep anxiety for the future
- A longing to turn back time and feel loved by the man who really did NOT love me
- A desire to show him (and myself) what a mistake he was making by rushing into a new relationship (with someone who was an upgrade in every conceivable way: looks, achievements, intelligence, finances, manners, popularity, devotion, yada, yada yada).
Worse still, it felt to me like I was the only person in the entire universe living in such a black, emotional hole. At the time, I couldn’t possibly know that these are the feelings that every survivor is left with as a consequence of the level of abuse that they have endured.
I actually pictured myself driving my snazzy new Mercedes sports car with a diamond the size of a cherry tomato on my finger, looking for all the world like a Lady Who Lunched, while writing an endless series of meaningful novels….
None of that ever happened because I did a reality check before I attempted to start off on my Revenge Life.
The reality check
I was depressed, anxious, broken and just about smart enough to realize that I could easily make the same mistake again. Above all, I was terrified of people – potentially eligible men in particular, but the world in general.
Because my narcissistic ex had brainwashed me into believing that the world was awash with people who were just as nasty and devious and manipulative as he was.
He taught me to believe that they would all echo his judgement and treatment of me.
He taught me that I was incompetent and powerless.
He taught me that nobody else would ever want me or love me as much as he did.
With all of that firmly lodged in my brain, I had good reason to be terrified, right?
The war after
It is precisely because of this indoctrination that things are so hard for survivors of narcissistic abuse. On the one hand, your ex does not have the grace to just bow out of your life and move on. Instead, they feel duty-bound to wage war on you for the foreseeable future. On the other, you continue fighting that internal battle with the negative beliefs that they have installed in your brain.
Surviving a Narcissist requires you to fight a war on two fronts, at the same time – when combat is anything but your happy place. (For the Narcissist, on the other hand, waging war puts them in the zone.)
Which is worse, the external war or the internal war?
I believe it is the internal war because anyone or anything can trigger your feelings of attack and worthlessness – feelings which only serve to maximise the impact of their “conventional” warfare. Think, if you will, about Putin trying to destroy the entire infrastructure of Ukraine as his last hope of winning. That is exactly what a Narcissist attempts to do to the foundations of your sense of self.
So, please, don’t ever blame yourself because you find it hard to recover from the narcissistic abuse that you have been through.
It is hard.
The Narcissist designs it to be as hard as they can possibly make it.
How can you make it easier for yourself?
What can you do to make it easier for yourself
- Lower your expectations of how you should be feeling and where you should be along your path to recovery. Your recovery is not a competitive exam that you have to pass within a limited period of time.
- Stop focusing on the end result – being awarded your (mythical) Recovery Diploma from the Free Judgmental Advice brigade. Focus instead on the process. The pain you have to go through is unbearable. Nobody should have to go through that pain and most of us who do find that we come through it as a fuller, richer, wiser – and happier – people than we were before. We use that pain as a springboard for our human growth. Reaching that point can take some time. But it is very rewarding when you get there.
- Be resolutely, unconditionally kind to yourself. Blaming and shaming doesn’t work for you so you really do have to stop treating yourself the way that the Narcissist treated you.
- Ge the support you need Not prioritizing your own needs, left you vulnerable to a Narcissist. Learning to honor your own needs will be the best and most loving thing you can do for yourself.
- Stop paying attention to the people who don’t know or don’t care. It really is time that you learned the art of selective listening and association. Some people just don’t deserve to have your ear or your time. If being around them leaves you feeling bad, you can’t have them around you.
- Focus on self-discovery You lost yourself in your narcissistic relationship. Now, you need to discover who the person in the mirror is, what she likes, what she could feel passionate about, what she doesn’t like. If you start from the place of not knowing, take that as great information and start exploring. Self-discovery definitely gets to be more fun as you go along.
Your hero’s journey
Objectively speaking, things are so much harder for survivors of narcissistic abuse than they are for most people because of the disempowering process of indoctrination that survivors have been through.
Your awareness of how that has affected you, coupled with showing due care and concern for your own feelings, can make the difficult challenges that you have to face feel far more manageable.
All survivors of narcissistic abuse are faced with challenges that nobody should have to be confront. In the course of working through them, survivors go on their own hero’s journey. While you might never have chosen that journey for yourself, the day will come when you will feel justly proud of the amazing woman that you have become as a result of it.
If you struggle to believe that you are – or could be – on your own hero’s journey and would benefit from the support of a community around you and access to the tools to kick start your self-belief, then check out my Break Free Membership.
Hard can feel impossible but it is no such thing. If you managed to survive a narcissistic relationship, you can surely thrive after it.
Trust that you are so much more than the Narcissist ever wanted you to believe and you will come to see it in your life.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
The 5 Simple Steps to Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
Over the next 5 days, I'll send you some lessons and tips that I've found have really helped women to heal from narcissistic abuse. Starting with the basics.