Six Steps to Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse
It’s taken me a while to write this article because in writing it I must admit some things I am ashamed of. There are good reasons that men are most often thought of as the aggressor in an abusive relationship but the truth is that abuse, in any one of its many destructive forms, is not gender biased. Men just don’t talk about it as openly, and that’s a shame because it gives people the wrong impression. We’re not supposed to admit “weakness”. We’re supposed to be strong. Invulnerable. As a man, I am somehow supposed to be immune from the same situations that women deal with far too often in relationships.
Although I understand how my own feelings of despair and self-hatred led me into a narcissistic abusive relationship, and how the life I lived prior to even meeting her had already taken a heavy toll, I really don’t know why I stayed there so long or how I came out of it alive.
I mean that literally. She was emotionally, psychologically, and physically abusive and I became preoccupied with my own death for a long time. I couldn’t imagine either a love like I thought I felt with her or a life with/without the constant abuse that replaced even the most mundane things like doing dishes, taking my son to school, or paying the bills, with either implied or direct accusation of failure, mistake, or incompetency that often led to being attacked with whatever happened to be close by or in her hands without ever once in those years realizing that it was her emotions and feelings of self-contempt I was carrying.
Hers, not mine. Her anger. Her rage. Her fault. Her blame. Her insecurities. Her abuse. Abuse that lasted as long as the door it could walk through was left open.
Ultimately, I did kill myself. Who I was, anyway. I tore myself apart by first unconsciously and then consciously peeling back every layer of who I thought I was, who she, and the life that led to her, made me into. I peeled and scraped until I got to the core, the child, what Jung calls the shadow, and offered it the love and compassion it learned to fear.
Since then I have spent even more time and effort lovingly replacing each layer with care. With intention. With a view of who I am meant to be always in my mind. With the love I had been denied. The love I denied myself because I believed I didn’t deserve it.
Love is the one thing you have never, and will never receive from your narcissistic abuser because they are incapable of it. Love is just a tool for them. A tool they use to get what they need. Try to understand that to them you represent only a source of energy called “narcissistic supply”, nothing more. They do not love you, they need you. They need you in the same way a person needs food or water or air and in the end they will devour you completely.
I don’t know how to give you the sum of my experience in recovering and rebuilding my life and I am not a therapist. I offer the following steps to recovery from my personal experience because they worked for me and because you need to do something. Now.
More than anything I hope they lead you to further discovery and, ultimately, recovery.
1. Get away, far away.
The very first and most important step to recovering from narcissistic abuse is the same first step you would take to recover from any addiction because that is what it becomes: Get away from your abuser. You and, if you can, your children. As far away as possible. Don’t bother with marriage counseling or therapy, a narcissist can not, because of the very nature of their defect, be “cured”. They are broken in a way that can not be fixed and they are breaking you in a way that justifies their insecurities and self-contempt.
To begin the process of healing you must first get off the battlefield.
2. Terminate all contact with them.
If that’s not possible because of children or legal situations then keep all contact to a bare minimum. Stick to single line texts and short emails that are direct and to the point and without the expression of emotions of any sort.
Never allow yourself to be sucked into any conversation even if it appears benign because a narcissist has only one concern in life, narcissistic supply, and everything they say or do, everything, is focused on maintaining that supply. The openly-insulting and aggressive abuser is the truth. That nice person, the one you call “good”, is the lie. There is no such thing as a harmless conversation with a narcissist.
3. Express your free will as often, and as safely, as possible.
Your experience has taught you that you do not possess free will, that you have no control over what you do or how you feel because whether you can see it or not the truth is that your abuser carefully stripped you of that control. Free will is the bane of a narcissist.
When you begin to discover that you actually do control your own life you will learn to respond rather than react and it will be liberating. Be careful not to get carried away by your new found freedom. It can be extremely easy to find yourself in situations you will regret later. And never use it to challenge your abuser because that is a battle you can not win. The stakes for a narcissist can be life or death.
4. Learn to love yourself.
You have been love bombed and gaslighted for the entirety of your abusive relationship. Never, no matter how sweet the memory may seem, never have you been loved by them and they have torn you down so much that you have forgotten how to love yourself or, as in my case, you were selected by them because you already lacked self-love.
Self-love begins with forgiveness. Forgive yourself for falling victim to their clever manipulations. You have done nothing wrong. You did not deserve this. Love yourself like you would love your child. Unconditionally.
5. Stop reading about it and act.
Something strange and largely misunderstood happens when we just read about a thing without acting: First, we desensitize and tell ourselves “It’s not so bad” or “At least it’s not like so and so”. In effect, we offer our abuser permission to abuse. We then convince ourselves that we can change our abuser or ourselves in ways that please them and we end up in a worse place than where we began.
Pain carries a message, don’t numb it, listen to it and accept that no one, not even the best trained psychotherapist, can help a narcissist because the underlying cause of narcissism is an inability to accept responsibility for their own emotions and shortcomings. Any narcissist who claims rehabilitation does so only because it serves their needs in some way and most narcissists will reverse roles when confronted with even the possibility of facing their defect. They will accuse you of being the abuser. And you will believe them. So will others.
I have no doubt that if my ex-abuser is reading this now she will immediately go on the offensive and tell horror stories to anyone she can, stories about how terrible I was, and people will believe her because narcissists can be extremely convincing and because I did eventually do terrible things. The abusers ability to transfer their self contempt is one of the most insidious and destructive elements of narcissistic abuse and many victims will tell you how they truly believed they were the problem. You are not.
6. Find help.
You don’t need to deal with this alone. You shouldn’t deal with it alone. Too many people have tried to go it alone and failed and things got worse. There are therapists that specialize in narcissistic abuse, support groups, online communities, and almost everyone personally knows someone who has dealt with this or is dealing with it now. Seek them out. Find support. Be support. There is an incredible amount of healing to be found in helping others.
I went through it alone and I can tell you this, it sucks. A lot. It is incredibly difficult and painful to perform surgery on yourself. Doing it carefully, kindly, lovingly, accurately, is nearly impossible without support.
The road of recovery is long and difficult. There is no magic pill that will make it all go away. But you can move past this and have the life you truly deserve. A life of your design. A life of unconditional love, genuine compassion, and unending hope.
It begins today.