Narcissist vs Asshole: Healing After Divorcing a Narcissist (Part 2)


Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS’ Divorce etc… podcast, where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to to subscribe.

T.H.: Today’s podcast is all about healing from a relationship with a narcissist, whether the narcissist was a man or a woman. We’re welcoming back Ina Hansen from Live your Life Coach. We met her through a program of empowering women, and we’ve all kind of gravitated to each other. From her own personal experience, she’s made it her mission to pay it forward and help others heal from that type of toxic relationship. Welcome to the podcast.

Ina: Thank you. Thank you for having me back a second time.

Jessica: We really appreciate it. We felt like that conversation, initially, we were laughing when we first came up with the title Narcissist versus Asshole, but it really is such an important conversation to have because as we all acknowledge, people get divorced and there’s so much anger and resentment and animosity. Everyone walks around just throwing out these terms he was a narcissist, she’s crazy, and this and that. I mean, it really could be maybe he’s not a narcissist, maybe he’s an asshole, but being a narcissist is a very real and scary thing. As you’ve experienced and explained to us the last time, there are specific things that people should be looking out for and things that they can do to move past it and live healthy lives.

Ina: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

T.H.: My first quick question before we really get into the healing is how do you really know they’re a narcissist? Define a narcissist for us, because like Jessica said, people, are throwing around the word. I didn’t even know what the word was. I knew that my marriage was what my marriage was, which was not good, and how I was being treated, which was atrocious, but define narcissist so people are very clear this is a narcissist or an asshole I’m talking about.

Ina: Yeah, so I define a narcissist as someone who lacks empathy. It could be again, a man or a woman, but someone who lacks empathy, someone who doesn’t show any compassion towards you, and someone who is really stuck in a childlike state, who just it’s all about them. It’s constantly about them, and everything is self-serving around them. You can never receive feedback, and you can never give feedback to someone who’s a narcissist. You can never create resolution together. That’s another great indication. If you come to your partner with something that’s bothering you, or after an argument, they’ll just brush it off and say, well, it’s always you. You’re the crazy one. You’re the one that made me yell. There’s no interest from their side as to let’s solve this so we can move on as a couple.

T.H.: Is there always a component of gaslighting and power and control with a narcissist? I’m sure that there’s a fine line and people can’t really tell. I know that with abuse it’s about power and control, and certainly gaslighting is part of it when you really do become a victim, whether you know it or not. Are those three other telltale signs?

Ina: Yeah, for sure. But often when you’re in it, just like you said, you don’t know. You don’t know these words. You don’t know you’re being gaslighted. You don’t know that you’re being controlled often until either you start to heal or recover, or you seek help from a therapist for something. Then you start to understand what those words mean and you start to put it together. You don’t know. To really know, it’s just about listening to yourself and how do you feel when you’re in this relationship? Often when time has passed, you’re so in it because you’re trauma bonded that you don’t know anything different. You’ve just normalized it. This is just your life. But yeah, you are being controlled and you are being belittled. It comes in just so many forms. What’s so important to understand is that what happens to you it’s not your fault. No one deserves to be abused. No one. Everyone’s story is different, but what we all have in common is that we’ve been victimized and it comes in so many forms. Like I mentioned, it could be physical, it could be breaking or throwing things to scare you, not at you exactly but just around you to scare you to be mental, belittling like we talked about, controlling and being super intimidating towards you, or give you the silent treatment – that’s another big sign of abuse, just ignoring you and not talking to you, or financial abuse to really keep you stuck so you can’t go anywhere. And often, it could be a combination of all of the above. All of that is abuse, and that is just so important to understand that is abuse and you have experienced abuse.

T.H.: What’s the benefit of knowing that your partner is a narcissist or not? I kind of know the answer for me. It made me feel like I wasn’t crazy and it’s almost like now I put my finger on why it happened. It’s like you have a cold and they can’t give you anything. It’s like, can’t you just call it strep and give me an antibiotic and call it a day? I kind of felt in my healing, and let’s start getting into that, I felt, oh now it’s making sense to me. That happened way before I started healing. I had to figure out how to get through my divorce without that power and control eating me alive. Let’s talk about that and why it’s important to know. Because does it really matter if he’s a narcissist or an asshole? I think it does in terms of the way you heal from it, but I’m curious what you think.

Ina: Yeah. I’m going to get a little science-y here because I think it’s really important to understand that there is a psychological reason why it is so hard to leave when you’re in a narcissistic toxic relationship. This might give someone who’s listening an aha moment by being like, oh, this is normal to feel this way when you’re in a narcissistic relationship. What happens is we experience something called trauma bond. We form a chemical bond to the person who abuses us and we become psychologically addicted to them. We develop this extreme sympathy and affection for the abuser. Our brain releases a feel-good hormone called serotonin when we’re in that love-bombing phase when we receive all this attention from the narcissist. It becomes really addictive, and it’s like being high and makes us feel good, worthy, and loved. Then when we get discarded, often after an argument, or if they leave us for a new supply, that happens too, then we release our stress hormone cortisol. That just makes us feel unworthy and not good enough. The amygdala that’s in our brain, which is responsible for keeping us really safe, enters this flight, fight, freeze, and fawn response. When we’re living in this repeated cycle of abuse, and we’re in this constant state of higher alert over an extended period of time, it just greatly affects our nervous system. We suffer from confusion, which we call gaslighting, which means that the narcissist’s an expert at manipulating us to get us to believe that we are the problem, and they’ll be the crazy one. We often feel depressed, we feel shame, we feel guilt, and low self-esteem, and suffer from anxiety and stress. In some cases that could lead to physical pain in our body and illness and PTSD. That’s really what happens in our bodies, and we can’t live with that. That’s just terrible.

Jessica: Once someone acknowledges, whether or not they really find out that their ex-partner was the definition of a narcissist or not, as T.H. said, they know that they were not in a good relationship and maybe they’re feeling some of the specific things that you’ve brought up, what are sort of the first steps in terms of being able to move past it because you have had this trauma bond and it’s so deeply ingrained in you? Now you recognize, okay, I need to get out of this. I’m going to be going through this divorce process, which may make the process significantly more difficult and challenging than if your spouse was not a narcissist. What can people do to be able to move on in a healthy way from that?

Ina: Yeah, recognizing that you did experience abuse is such an important step. Telling your story, release the shame of it, that makes it real so it’s no longer a secret. I feel when women do that, that’s really the first step that they’re ready to go down the path of recovery because you’re no longer holding it in. Then just as hard as you know, because I can imagine people out there thinking, oh my god, how am I going to do this? This is going to be really challenging. But just think of the consequences if we don’t heal and process the trauma that we have been through. And narcissistic abuse is trauma. If we just move on and we hope time will heal, which it doesn’t, it affects our entire life. They remain stuck in our subconscious mind and our body and our nervous system. We often keep attracting other toxic partners, so we keep self-abandoning, and we never learn what our root cause is and what it is that we have to heal within ourselves, and how to self-regulate and fill ourselves up so we don’t rely on external validation and keep finding these toxic people in our lives.

Jessica: So how can someone do that?

T.H.: Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask you. I know for me, I stumbled into therapy for it because I went to a therapist with him to figure out how to tell our kids that we’re getting a divorce. I’ve always been about going to the expert to get the information, regardless of what it is. I went to her and she pulled me aside to tell me she sees that he’s a narcissist and what that means for me. It’s less about him and more about, okay, we’ve got work to do to get you through this. I actually had a lot of trouble figuring out what I felt by putting it in words. I really did write a lot about how he made me feel when he came to pick up the kids, or when I got off the phone with him. I wrote down those words because it’s hard to figure out how I felt yesterday because you’ve been feeling that way for so long. Like, whatever, this is what my relationship with him is like. I feel like shit. But to really heal, she would say whenever you have an interaction with him, or he’s texting you, or whatever connection reach out he’s doing, write down the way you feel right then. Then we could use that as a starting point, because otherwise, I was like, I don’t know.

Jessica: So was everything that you wrote down always just a negative reaction?

T.H.: Yeah, but it helped her figure out what the triggers were for me. Ultimately, it took a few years, but I was able to identify most of what was coming at me as noise and to just find the fact and not even let the other words in. It took a long time to do that because everything was let in and then I would go to the gym for three hours. All I would do is push it aside and then it would just grow like a monster inside of me because I wasn’t actually dealing with it. I actually remember I was going to the gym so much, and I was jumping rope, that was my thing at the time, that I had stress fractures in my feet. I’m a little extreme sometimes. Anyway, my trainer took my jump rope away from me and kicked me out of the gym. Then I went to the therapist and I was like, I hurt my feet. She goes, great, so now can we work on you? You can’t go to the gym, you can’t really walk, and so are you ready now? You beat up your body on the outside and the inside. Really, what are the first steps? I mean, what ultimately worked for me was writing it down so that I could see on the paper, holy shit, this is really happening.

Ina: Yeah, I mean, that’s a beautiful way to do it. For everyone, it looks different. Writing for me was really big too. I remember my therapist said to me in the beginning, but what is this anger doing for you? How is it helping you? I literally wrote down 40 pages in my journal as to what being angry at my narcissistic ex was doing to me. It wasn’t helping me, right? Writing it down is a great way to first of all see it on paper. You can either show it to your therapist or your coach or whoever it is that you find that is a great match, that you feel truly understands you and that you feel you really click with and can help you. Some people choose to heal on their own. I did that and I did a lot of research while I was still living in the same house as the narcissist. I just wanted to feel better. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of my marriage. I had no idea. I just knew it was going to happen one day. By me doing it, I found programs that worked for me. I just studied the heck out of it, and I became a narcissistic specialist. I understood that I really just had to learn to build my self-esteem. You can do that, and it sounds like you did a great job of that too. But even if you’re still living with this person in a relationship, build your self-esteem so you can learn to detach from this person and not take everything in and not take everything and so personally. Boundaries are so important, and narcissists don’t like boundaries. But once you start doing that, they again lose interest and what it is that you really have to say or do.

T.H.: So give an example of setting up a boundary. Give us a situation.

Ina: Let’s say you’re still living in the same house and the narcissist comes storming in the door and explodes over something that happened, that usually has nothing to do with you, but they bring it all up for you. They turn it around and twist it to make it seem like it’s your fault. ‘You made me explode because of what you said last night.’ A boundary would be, ‘You can’t talk to me like that. I am not listening to that,’ and then literally leave the room. You’re never going to win an argument with a narcissist. You’re never going to get him or her to say, ‘I’m sorry, let’s talk about this.’ The fewer words, the better, ‘You’re not going to talk to me like that,’ and then you walk away. You remove yourself from the situation.

Jessica: I feel like all of these tips are so important. It’s obviously progress and work that people have to do. Is it realistic that many people will be able to do this without therapy or without help in some way? I don’t know…it seems scary.

Ina: It seems scary because you don’t know where to start, right? To have a therapist, to have a coach, to have someone that specializes in this, and a lot of people have a program or they have a protocol that they follow, or they have something that they say this is what helped me or this is what has helped many of my clients. If you find someone that you can identify with, and you really fully trust, because trust is so important, right? You start small because it can seem so intimidating, that we’re like, oh, forget it. I’m not going to do this because it’s something I just can’t do. Where am I even going to start? But you can. You can start and also just little steps at a time. Just like T.H. was saying, write things down for instance, if that’s what works for you. Research how to heal from narcissistic abuse, or find someone that you relate to let’s say. Find a therapist that understands narcissism and really take the focus off the person that is abusing you and onto yourself.

Jessica: You’ve done a lot of this work, and then you said you have a program that you’ve created to help people get through this. What are some of the things that your program offers people in order to be able to move on from this?

Ina: Yes. What I found is I really needed a somatic tool as well, because what happens when you experience trauma, it really goes into your subconscious mind. Talking about it can be great, and therapy can be great. What I do is I use an integration of somatic therapy called EFT and I also use coaching. EFT really helps rewire your brain and lowers your cortisol. It releases anxiety and then regulates the nervous system because our nervous system is shot after going through all this abuse. We can really access what’s in our body because often we have no idea what’s hiding in there. It could be so far in there from our childhood, from past experiences, or past relationships. Once we’re able to really access it, then we can really release it afterward. I have found that a combination of talk and also using a body therapy at the same time is just so powerful in order to get through all the different stages of healing enabled. I call it, ‘to recover, rediscover, and reclaim yourself,’ because most of us just feel so lost afterward and it’s like, what do we do?

T.H.: What do you think about all of these support groups? They call themselves that, especially on Facebook. I’ve joined almost every divorce group on Facebook, so I can find the ones that are not toxic. I would say another piece of advice to people is what not to do, which is don’t engage in conversation that’s focused on the toxicity and has negative energy in it because all that’s going to do is fuel all the shit. That’s just going to have you running around in circles, I think. I just feel like those are not ones that I would recommend to people. But there are other support groups that are free resources and do offer some kind of a support program like that. What do you think of these for people who have a limited budget? Therapy’s not always covered by insurance, and it’s only once a week. Maybe you need to talk to people who get it every day? So what do you think about that?

Ina: Yeah, I agree with you. A lot of the Facebook groups, even though they have moderators on it, and they say anything negative, anything that’s too–that screenshots of what your ex has sent you, for instance, comments like that, what that does is even though it’s not your story, it pulls you back into that victim mentality. It keeps you stuck, and it keeps you thinking. No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to get away from that. Those support groups, for me, I found them just not to be helpful. It was just it was too much blabber, it was too much noise, it was too much repeatedness over and over, and toxicity over and over again. Not that I wanted to ignore it, but I wanted to put that behind me. I wanted to focus on me and how I could empower myself and move on from this and create strong boundaries. There are a lot of Meetup groups and I’m actually working on creating sort of Meetup a couple of times a month even, for women that have experienced narcissistic abuse and for everyone to be able to tell their story. I sort of want to build it up like Al-Anon in the sense that everyone gets four minutes just to talk about your story to get it out. But there’s no feedback from other people because I think we all mean well and we all want to share our stories, but often, you can take on the other person’s story or give them advice that they really don’t need, or it makes it worse. They go, oh my god that happened to me too. You know what he did for me in court? This is what he did, and took my kids away. So when you’re hearing all of that, it just makes you freeze even more. Like I mentioned, the first step in terms of healing is just to tell your story to a group of people, or just one person who believes you that you trust and who believes you and who will listen to you and just sit with you. They don’t have to say anything. They don’t have to have the advice or have the resources that you need. But just to be able to share what it is that you have been through is just such an important part of healing. That’s really important to do.

Jessica: We feel super strongly about that, obviously, even with everything that we’re doing through exEXPERTS to be able to give people a platform to hear other people’s stories and be able to relate to it and know that there are other people that have gone through very similar situations, even if it’s not exactly the same. They’ve made it through and therefore it is humanly possible to do with the right kind of support and the right kind of resources. Thank you for creating what you’ve created to be able to offer people a way out to be able to find how they can be their strongest self and be able to move on in a productive way. Because it certainly sounds like when it comes to this type of stuff, being able to–I don’t want to use the word commiserate because it has such a negative connotation, but to be able to discuss your stories and be able to hear those things from other people just builds the community even stronger, and I think it’s helpful for everyone.

Ina: Yeah, and also just to be validated, right?

Jessica: Exactly.

Ina: To have someone go, yeah, you’re not crazy. It’s normal that you feel this way. You feel this way because your body has been through X, Y and Z. On my website too, it’s called a discovery call, and I offer that to anybody. I would love to talk to you for 30 minutes, and sometimes it goes over, to really connect with somebody. Sometimes you just need someone to connect with [totally] that can understand and has been through it. That’s really what I do is just to listen and to connect and see if there’s anything I can help these women that have been through what I have been through. So yeah, I really get them.

T.H.: I would also say that certainly being in a relationship with a narcissist is among the most extreme, or any form of abusive relationship is very extreme, but the tips that Ina has mentioned in this podcast really relate to any kind of breakup where you’re stuck and in a bad place. I would say the biggest thing that I struggled with was being kind to myself through the healing process. Why isn’t this going fast enough? Why aren’t I feeling better? Go, go, go. Let’s go, go, go. It totally doesn’t work like that. And that’s very difficult for me who is a go, go, go, girl. Slow the fuck down, and rest, and maybe take a nap and do self-care. It’s so important. You’ll go and you’ll join groups and stuff, but stuff that you can do for yourself for free, be kind to yourself and forgive yourself. You’re not perfect. No one’s perfect. It definitely takes time. This is not an overnight thing,

Jessica: People, that’s the important thing. It’s almost like if someone’s losing weight and you’re looking in the mirror every day and you’re like, I haven’t lost any–nothing looks different, I look exactly the same. But the thing is that where you are on one day versus where you might be a month later, on a daily basis, you may not feel like it’s a significant change, but it’s noticing the differences from one place to another.

T.H.: There’s a great commercial with this guy at the gym. He’s got his headphones on, he’s got his water bottle, and he’s in his gear. He walks into the gym, he gets on the scale, and then he runs around the track super fast. He’s out of breath, he gets back on the scale, and he’s like, fuck this. [Laughter and discussion] It’s so funny. I wish I remember whose ad that was, but it’s resonated for a long time. [But it’s true] Because I get it. I’m like, I haven’t lost weight yet? I just ran around the track!

Ina: Yeah, and I’m so glad you brought that up T.H. because being that’s part of what I go through as well with my program is just learn to be kind to yourself because when you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re not kind to yourself. You lose all track of that. So how do you get back to being kind to yourself? How do you take care of yourself? Listen to your body, right? Eat good foods, foods that are good for you. Rest, take care of yourself, and learn to figure out what it is that you really want. There are so many stages to recovering, but that is such a big part of it. It’s almost like you have to put yourself back, the little pieces. And the person that you’re going to be afterward is not the same person that you were before you got into the relationship.

T.H.: Hallelujah.

Ina: And hallelujah for that because often that’s even better. Because when you have healed, you have healed all this stuff that you didn’t even know you had. If you do the whole healing process, from your childhood, from your experiences, and you get to understand why you were attracted to this person that treated you that way. You didn’t know any better at all at the time when you were in it. Be compassionate with yourself, like I said. But now when you know better, it is your responsibility to heal that and to get yourself better, and to break that generational trauma that has been in your family. You can heal and you can live. I mean, you and I are an example of it, right? And if you don’t mind, I found this quote that I live by, and I think a lot of women could probably relate to that and men. I don’t know who wrote it, but it says, ‘You can be healing and feel broken at the same time. Healing isn’t a destination we reach where we’re perfect and at peace all the time. Healing is a journey that involves accepting and embracing ourselves as we break as we heal and as we reconstruct.’

Jessica: Yeah. That’s really meaningful.

T.H.: I love it. It’s true.

Jessica: Yeah, totally. Well, thank you again so much for the first part of Narcissist versus Asshole, and then the very important part of being able to move past it and healing and move on with better lives. For everybody listening, there of course on our site is an exEXPERTS page with all of Ina’s information and links to the course. You can find out more about that, and feel free to reach out.

Ina: Thank you so much for having me and having this really important talk. Thank you.

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