Recovering From a Narcissist




Jessica: Divorcing and recovering from a narcissist is a lot to deal with. There are different coping skills to master in order to move forward in a positive way, and doing the work to learn what works for you is a process. We want to help you through it. In this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast, we’re talking about top tips for recovering from a narcissist relationship. We’re the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We help you navigate your divorce and successfully move on with your life. Let’s bring in today’s guest.

T.H.: Hey everybody, it’s T.H. with exEXPERTS. Our guest today, I actually found on TikTok. We do find some initial connections with some really amazing people on social media, so there’s credibility to it. But we then spoke with Kimberly Weeks, narcissist abuse coach, and she is exceptional. We have brought her in today because everybody thinks they’re married to a narcissist, so we’re going to clarify if you are or not, does it really matter if you know or not, and the different stages towards recovering and becoming your own person out from under the emotional abuse, and that among other types of abuse that you endure when you’re married to someone who is a true narcissist. We so appreciate you being on Divorce etc… today, Kimberly

Kimberly: I’m so excited to be here, and you brought up excellent points, as it relates to are you with someone who is classified as or could be diagnosed with what’s called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. People use the word narcissist—

Jessica: It’s everywhere.

Kimberly: —loosely right now. It’s offensive to anybody who’s actually experienced narcissistic abuse.

Jessica: We talked about that. That is undermining—

T.H.: 100%. Because the amount of damage, and I know Kimberly also has suffered physical damage internally, and I definitely had emotional damage, it’s a journey. I mean, I still am cleaning up some loose ends all these years later.

Kimberly: Yes.

T.H.: But it’s a process. It’s not just the end of a marriage and the change of the way your family looks. It’s so much more. Kimberly, share with all of us.

Jessica: Yeah.

Kimberly: Yeah. I said when I signed my divorce papers, I went home and it felt like I had been hit by a bus. The impact of the divorce process, the post separation abuse that I experienced, the financial abuse I experienced, the stress of going through the marriage in and of itself, and what I call the pillaging that happens when you go through divorce—where they just start to try to level you and strip you of every bit of anything that is beneficial for you—I say it’s offensive because people use it like the word jerk, or he’s just whatever, or she is a jerk or whatever. Being with the person who is narcissistic, textbook meaning they could be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which of course has to be done by a licensed mental health professional, it is rarely done. Meaning there’s a small percentage of people who are actually diagnosed because people who are narcissistic don’t go to mental health professionals to get help.

Jessica: Right, so let me stop you there. Because I have been through this journey with T.H., and I understand it and I completely understand why it’s offensive. T.H. and I have talked about it before—the term is used too loosely. However, like you just said, so few people are probably really actually diagnosed. I mean, there are people who surely are correct with the idea that their ex could be. But if you can’t get them to a therapist, as T.H. had done inadvertently, by the way, with her ex—it was a fluke that he happened to have been diagnosed and that she was given those words early enough to be able to actually use that information to her benefit to learn how to get through the divorce. But how does a person know?

Kimberly: That’s a great question. There’s really two pieces to that. The first is there are 8 to 10 characteristics that every person who is diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder display over time. Those characteristics include having a grandiose sense of their own importance, very low to no empathy towards their partner or anyone they’re in communication with, personal exploitation of the people that are close to them, a person creating a duality—there’s a mask that they present to the public that typically looks like they’re a hero or savior, and then behind closed doors, they’re a monster. They are an abuser. I actually watched something on CNN today with a woman, a TikToker, and she was a parent advocate, but she was abusing her kids at home. It was on CNN today. I think she was convicted of two felonies of aggravated assault against her children, and they were removed from her care. All of that happened today. The person presents that they are just the most wonderful parent, the most wonderful spouse, and they’d do anything for their family. Behind closed doors, they could have people locked in closets, abusing them, sexually violating [them], all of those things. That duality is present. The person has a high desire for a fantasy life. They want the money, the fame, the high position, and all the degrees. They want the most beautiful spouse or partner. They want multiple children and want everything to look picture perfect, the whole white picket fence and all of that. That desire or chase for the fantasy life is a very delusional chase for a fantasy. To present an image—they’re very image driven people. Those characteristics include, as I said, manipulation, exploitation. When I say exploitation, they literally case people to determine what value you can bring them and how they are able to extract it from you with the least amount of cost to them at all. There are characteristics that every narcissist has. The first is looking at that—

Jessica: Do they have all eight though? What if someone’s like, “Yeah, they hit five of those things right off the bat that you just mentioned.”?

Kimberly: Five or more.

Jessica: Oh, five or more? That’s the requirement? Okay.

Kimberly: Yeah, so that’s the first thing. And the other thing is a pattern. It didn’t just happen with you. You can go back to every interaction they’ve had with someone close to them, whether that’s a business partner, whether that’s somebody in their family system, a parent, a sibling, whether that is previous relationships, and you’ll see the same pattern of behavior. That pattern of behavior actually has a cycle, okay? It’s actually three things. It’s the DSM-5 criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is a pattern of behavior over time and is the presence of a cycle of abuse. That cycle of abuse includes a love bombing phase, where they pour so much attention on you that you almost think that you found Prince Charming. You didn’t realize what you were actually finding was Prince Harming. You weren’t finding Prince Charming. But you get love bombed. You get so much attention, gifts, and trips. They pour it out. You think that you’ve hit the jackpot. That’s the first stage of that cycle of abuse. The second stage is called devaluation. It is when they literally go from giving you all their attention to none of their attention. You start chasing it because you don’t understand. Your mind is disorientated and you don’t understand what’s going on.

Jessica: How long does that take from the beginning part to that? Just for people out there, because look, I mean, a lot of our listeners are also people who are getting divorced or have been divorced and now dating. And so it’s like, you meet someone and they’re great—

Kimberly: First of all, if you’re paying attention, you will see signs within the first month.

Jessica: The first month?

Kimberly: Within the first month.

T.H.: You have to trust your gut though. You have to trust your gut.

Kimberly: You have to know your gut.

T.H.: You have to know your gut and you have to listen to it. But I want to step back one second because I literally was typing out each of the characteristics that you’re writing. It’s extremely upsetting, but my ex literally fills all eight.

Kimberly: Yeah.

T.H.: Literally all eight. I never heard the word narcissist before he came with me—because he was being super nice when I found out about his engagement. I brought him to my therapist so that we would know how to tell our kids. He was doing whatever I wanted. “I want to live in this house.” “Okay.” “I want to go here.” “Okay.” “I want to do this.” “Okay. Okay. Okay.” It was almost like a honeymoon.

Kimberly: Yes.

T.H.: He left, and she pulled me back and she goes, “T.H., we need to have a conversation. He is a narcissistic sociopath. Do you know what that means?” I’m like, “No. Is he like a killer? Like, sociopath? Like, no.” We spent my therapy—she said, “Your divorce, it’s going to suck.” It took four years. He took me through the court for four years to prove that I’m not educated, that I’m not a good mom. We hired every expert. It only dragged on for four years because he was trying so hard to make me look bad.

Kimberly: Yes.

T.H.: And then in the end, he couldn’t, right? But all of these things—and yeah, so that really made me pause. I feel like, oh my God, I’m a little nervous about this podcast right now.

Jessica: No, no, no, but as T.H. is saying that, I mean, one of the things that we have spoken about, that I know that you are going to be able to add levity to, is the idea that everyone who finds themselves in a relationship like that then has a period of like, “Oh, my God, how did I even? How could I not have seen that? What’s wrong with me?” Talk us through that. Because I mean, despite the fact that people are using the word very frequently and very loosely, it is a real thing. It probably does happen more often than people would expect. So how do you not blame yourself?

Kimberly: You know that question is what I sit with every client who I work with. The awareness that you were not aware is a very hard pill to swallow.

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

T.H.: Yes, it is.

Kimberly: It’s the understanding that you didn’t understand what you saw. It’s not that you didn’t see or hear things, it’s you just didn’t know what it meant. Until you have this kind of experience, most people don’t go around with a radar that people are massive manipulators. They don’t think that way, because they don’t think according to con artistry, which is really what narcissist do. They are professional—and when I say professional, in their own life in any way—con artists. They are fooling every person they communicate with, including their children, their parents, all of it. If you do not have that kind of mindset or heartspace, you do not understand what is happening when it is happening to you.

T.H.: It is a slow burn, though. Because I sometimes feel like I have to go back and ask Jessica and my other friends, like, “Was I happy?” Because at a certain point, I put up so much armor that I couldn’t feel anything, because if I could feel it, then it would hurt. So if I didn’t hear him, then he couldn’t hurt me. Okay, be in California for four years, I don’t care because you can’t hurt me. But that’s not a good role model for a marriage. I shouldn’t be a single married mom. None of those things are how I wanted my life to be. But I was in survival mode. I went from like, vivacious, happy, young college “Let’s go New York City” to a shell of a woman.

Kimberly: Yes.

T.H.: And it really took all of 13 years to get there. I don’t recognize that woman. I’m sure you feel the same way too. But then you get to a point where you have to just accept it.

Kimberly: Yeah, yeah. And that’s—

T.H.: Right? I can’t change it.

Kimberly: Right. I think a part of the acceptance, T.H., is accepting that you did the best with the information that you had at the time. You made decisions based on your heart. You made decisions based on what you stepped into that marriage for—your heart, your desire, your goal. You did out of your personality. They have a disorder. But out of your personality and out of your desire for the commitment in that relationship, you did the best you had with the information that you had at the time. That to me is an acceptance that is, if the narcissist minimizes your capacity to trust yourself, the desire or the ability to trust yourself, again, is the same kind of slow transition. One of the seasons that I take clients through is called a season of self discovery and development. You have to learn yourself again.

T.H.: Yeah, and you’re not going to be the same as you were before you met, that person.

Kimberly: You will never be the same.

T.H.: You’re never going to be the same. And you know what, though? That’s okay, right? I mean, I know so much more now. I’m so much more confident. I can see things and I hear things that I denied myself from seeing and hearing before. You know what? It’s not hurting me anymore because you get to a place where that person doesn’t have that power over you anymore. We’re just going to pause for one quick second. Because when Jessica and I were divorcing our exes, we hoped someone would take us by the hand, please, and make sure we didn’t make any mistakes with our kids, dealing with our ex, dating, friends, money, you name it. So you’re in luck because we built, in addition to exEXPERTS, a Divorce Rulebook. We share what we wish we knew back then so you don’t make the same mistakes that we did. If you want your copy, all you have to do is visit It’s all right there for you. Also, there’ll be a link in the show notes. You don’t know what you don’t know, but the exEXPERTS do.

Jessica: So, Kimberly, let’s now take the next step to move forward. We were saying in the beginning, we’re going to be talking about the tips to be able to move through the recovery process of having been in a marriage like this. Help us out. Where do people start? There’s so much, I hate to say it, emotional baggage in a situation like this. How do we work through it?

Kimberly: Yeah. Well, the first thing I take clients through is called a season of safety, because your nervous system and your body is reeling from the impact of what you just went through. And so I take them through what’s called a no-holds barred season of safety. In that season, we eliminate known stressors, abusers, and environments that are toxic for that person. We literally go through every part of their life so that we are creating a different ecosystem that they’re living in—it’s just like putting a cast on an arm if you break it—so that their bodies have a chance to reset. When I say no-holds barred, I mean, if there’s going to be any kind of interaction with somebody that is going to cause a retriggering of what they just went through, we’re not doing that in that season. That season is different for every person, depending on how long you were in the abuse. For some people, it could be six months, a year. For other people, it can be—mine was four years of a season of safety. That’s the first thing. You got to get to a place where you’re not consistently triggered all the time from things going on in your life. That will require minimizing some of the stressors in your life as well. We really talk about what’s your awareness: am I with a narcissist? Am I in a narcissistic relationship? We take them then through a season of safety where they can get a community of care. They start doing appropriate self care. That could be going to, as I had to, because I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease coming out of my divorce, you may have to be going through doctors and doing special things with your diet and putting in exercise, which all of these things are very difficult when you feel like you just got hit by a bus. I say that with an awareness that these things require some support for people who are coming out of narcissistic relationships that you are going to have to put into place during that season of safety, some things that help rebuild your body and your mind and your ability to feel safe within yourself and begin to trust yourself again.

T.H.: I just want to say that it does take time, and you will make mistakes. You will still potentially date somebody who has some of those traits and trigger you. Like Kimberly said, you have to know your gut and trust it, because you’re going to be like, “Wait, this doesn’t feel good.” Be grossly aware of what’s happening. Don’t overanalyze the whole thing—I want you to go and have fun. But if you walk away and you’re feeling kind of yucky again, don’t forget that you felt yucky again. I also want to say, as Kimberly takes us through all of this, she and I are shining examples that your life will be great. But it does take work, and it is so worth the work because now you can live your life to the fullest. I don’t want you to be discouraged by what we’ve said so far. Just use it as a guide for the opportunity. She’s literally laying out a roadmap for you to follow. She knows it works and I know it works, because we’re happy, and we’re free, and we’re great, and we’re not sick. Knock on wood.

Kimberly: Yeah.

T.H.: Yeah, but not from this.

Kimberly: Some people ask the question, and you asked it also, how long does this take? It will take as long as your body needs. I am almost seven years post divorce and there are things happening in my life this year, it’s almost like I’ve hit this different level of healing and awareness of myself and trust for my intuition and reading of situations and people. That’s for me. Somebody else, it could be three years. Somebody else, it could be longer. But the commitment I ask my clients, if someone’s going to sign up to work with me as their coach, the first session, the commitment I ask them to make is the commitment to themselves, as long as it takes. As long as it takes.

Jessica: I was going to say it’s so important for people also to know what you were saying, that it is different for everyone. Your process is different. Look, even if you are someone who you can relate to a lot of this, but maybe your spouse was not technically a narcissist, your process is your process and no one else can rush you through the healing time that you need when you’re going through divorce. It’s traumatic no matter what. But there are certain circumstances like being married to a narcissist that can in fact make it more traumatic. That’s why we’re focusing on this because it’s extenuating circumstances for people who are going through it. So Kimberly, after the season of—

Kimberly: Safety.

Jessica: Safety.

Kimberly: Mm-hmm. You are in the season. You are in a different season. It’s a self discovery and development season. I call it that because many of my clients and many people who find themselves in narcissistic relationships have some unprocessed childhood things that they are now being confronted with in their adult relationship. And so some things in terms of your understanding of yourself, or your ability to function or process information in a certain way never gotten developed, you’re having to go through a self discovery process again of this new person that you are becoming and the boundaries that are needed to protect him or her. But you’re also having to go through developing some things, developing your capacity to know where your limits are, where your boundaries are, what makes you feel good, what you like, what you don’t like. That has to be developed. It happens in childhood—we go through early childhood development—but because some people experienced trauma in their childhoods with their families of origin, those things never got developed. But they can get developed.

T.H.: And it’s actually fun.

Kimberly: It is fun.

T.H.: It is fun to discover new things about you yourself and be brave and dip your toes in the water and be like, “Wow, I really liked that,” or “Wow, I really fricking hated that.” But at least know what you like and what you don’t like, and how you’re feeling about all of it.

Kimberly: Yeah. Yeah, and I love that part of coaching because what I get to see is what a person can do when they feel like they’re in a safe relationship—what comes out of them when they can explore, when they can make mistakes, when they can try things, when they can do different things and figure out for themselves what lights them up and is life-giving to them. That season of self discovery and self care and awareness, all of that, that’s your next season. Then typically, people go on to a fourth season called the advocacy season, which is what you all are doing, where you take all of what you are doing in your personal work, and you start either educating yourself about it, creating things that help walk other people through what you just walked through, so that nothing in the experience gets wasted. It’s almost like reaching back and helping yourself because you didn’t have someone to walk that way through it with you. As a coach, that’s what I do. That’s what I do every day. I’m an advocate for people, and I work with men, I work with women, I work with people of different genders, different sexual orientations, different faiths, different backgrounds, people who experienced this in workplaces. I’m going to be in the Trauma Super Conference next month. It’s totally workplace narcissistic systems. Everywhere that it occurs, I am an advocate for people walking in the freedom of their authenticity. I say that my purpose is to dismantle the patterns, principles, and practices of systemic and interpersonal abuse. If I’m going to be signing up to do something, that’s what I’m going to be doing. Divorce is probably the most catastrophic. It is up there with what they call ACEs, adverse childhood events. But it’s also adverse events for the adults that are walking through divorce. It is very traumatizing. People can absolutely not only recover, but they can discover themselves and become a thriving example for other people, that you really can live the life that you want to live facing these things.

T.H.: I didn’t even know I wanted to live this life like this.

Jessica: Right?

T.H.: I didn’t even know this was a thing. I saw it on TV on a soap opera like General Hospital. I didn’t know. My parents are very happily married. But for myself, I never saw my potential. Only just in the last few weeks, I finally feel like I’ve arrived. That’s such a cool thing. I also believe that all the podcasts that we’ve done continue to support me in my own healing and moving forward.

Kimberly: For sure.

T.H.: So all the stuff that you do, Kimberly, and it doesn’t hurt Jessica either to hear some of these things, you don’t have to have been through this to benefit from many of these steps. The one I can’t get rid of is my mother, right?—so, how to have a relationship with your mother, even though I married my mother, basically. You know what I mean?—so, setting different boundaries, and new rules, and all of that. Everybody, Kimberly is so exceptional. You can hear by the way she articulates everything it’s super easy to understand. It may not be easy to see yourself there today in this moment, but like I said before, you can definitely get there because of people like Kimberly and what we’ve created in exEXPERTS to aggregate the information and really help you help yourself, because we know better now. I just really applaud you for everything you’ve done and where you are now. If you guys aren’t watching on video, she looks spectacular.

Jessica: She really does look gorgeous tonight.

T.H.: You just want to stand around her. But we’re not because we’re speaking on Zoom.

Jessica: But the messaging is just really so important. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for a short period of time or if you were in a situation like this for a long period of time; the process is the same. It just, as Kimberly said, is going to take different amounts of time. So give yourself the grace to have patience to be able to do the work and get to a point that you want to be. You may not be able to see it, but you can do it. And so thank you so much Kimberly for bringing all of that information to people because it’s an issue that we talk about enough, like often enough, because it is so difficult for people to deal with. We appreciate you being here and bringing all of your knowledge and expertise. For everyone out there listening, if you enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, let us know by taking a moment to subscribe, rate, and review. It helps us out and it helps others going through divorce to find us and the resources they need. For more about Kimberly and her coaching, check out the show notes. And of course, as always, share this episode with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.

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