The word “narcissist” has become a very popular term to describe a person whose behavior is causing their partner extreme anger and frustration. But not all of those people are actually narcissists – some are just assholes with narcissistic tendencies, and lots of people get caught up in just defining anyone with certain behaviors as a narcissist. That said, it is so important to understand that narcissism is real and often scary. It leaves the person who has been victimized with trauma that must be healed, in order to break free and live a healthy life.
I define a narcissist as an individual who is stuck in a childlike state and lacks empathy and compassion towards others. Someone who is self-serving and demands that everything revolves around them. A narcissist can’t receive feedback and doesn’t have any interest in finding a resolution. They take no ownership or responsibility for their behavior. Other people’s feelings and opinions are not heard or welcomed unless you are mirroring theirs. You are constantly blamed for their outbursts and extreme reactions.
In a narcissistic relationship you are being controlled and gaslighted, which is when a person is manipulated into believing they are the problem and maybe even crazy for thinking the thoughts they have or questioning certain things. Oftentimes, a person that has been in a relationship with a narcissist doesn’t even have the words to describe what they’re experiencing until they start to heal and recover. It’s very common for people that are, or have been, in relationships with true narcissists to have become “trauma bonded” and have normalized the relationship and their life.
Narcissistic abuse comes in many forms. It can be physical or breaking and throwing things to scare you. It can be emotional abuse like belittling, acting intimidating, or even silent treatment, which is a big indicator of mental abuse. The abuse can also be financial control, in order to keep you stuck and make it harder to leave. Often it can be a combination of all of the above. It’s all abuse, and it’s critical for anyone that has experienced it to understand that what happened is not their fault.
While it may seem easy to judge other people’s situations from the outside, or think someone should leave a relationship, there is a psychological reason why it is so hard to leave when someone is in a narcissistic toxic relationship. We form a chemical bond with the person who abuses us and we become psychologically addicted to the individual, developing extreme sympathy and affection for the abuser. Our brain releases the feel-good hormone serotonin when we are in the “love bombing phase”, or receiving “love” and attention from the narcissist. It becomes highly addictive, which makes us feel good, worthy, and loved.
When we get discarded by the narcissist, often after an argument, our brain releases the stress hormone cortisol, leaving us feeling unworthy and not good enough. The amygdala in our brain responsible for keeping us safe enters the “fight, flight, freeze and fawn” response. Living in this repeated cycle of abuse, and experiencing an overwhelming to our nervous system over an extended period of time, results in a myriad of negative emotions – depression, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, anxiety, stress, and brain fog. For some victims, it can lead to physical pain, illness, and PTSD. We can’t keep functioning with built-up trauma in our body, which is why healing is so important.
The important thing to remember for anyone coming out of a narcissistic relationship is that it wasn’t their fault. Narcissists are notorious for being able to hide a lot of their toxic traits. But once someone is out, it’s their responsibility to recognize what they experienced, which is a crucial step. Acknowledgment helps release the shame and sharing stories can help themselves and others. Learning to process what they went through is the way to help them recover and break the cycle.
If someone does not take the time and steps to heal from being in a narcissistic abusive relationship, certain feelings remain stuck in the subconscious mind, the body, and the nervous system. One might go on to unconsciously attract other toxic partners. It’s imperative to learn how to self-regulate and fill oneself up so they don’t rely on external validation.
Everyone’s healing journey and the process will be different and it can seem very overwhelming and scary. Where do you start? And what do you do? Take small little steps. Be gentle, patient, and compassionate with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Take care of your body. Eat nurturing foods. Rest. Writing your feelings and emotions down can be very healing and a great release. It can help you let go of the anger towards the narcissist, who doesn’t care that you are angry. Learn to detach for your own sanity. Build your self-esteem to feel better and stronger. Develop firm non-negotiable boundaries, because narcissists don’t like boundaries (for example, the narcissist has just exploded over something and blamed his outburst on you. Your reply: (Stay non-emotional): “You can’t talk to me like that” or “I’m not listening to that”, and end the conversation. Remove yourself from the situation using very few words). Seek support from a coach or a therapist who has experience with narcissism, and look into incorporating EFT into your sessions. Another option is to find a self-guided program to recover from narcissistic abuse. (A word of caution: avoid the many Facebook narcissistic support groups when you are in the beginning stages of healing because the heartbreaking stories can keep you stuck in a victim mentality.) Join a Meetup group for survivors of narcissistic abuse, which is often guided by therapists or real-life experts.
You are putting yourself back together, but know the person that you were in a toxic relationship with is not the person you are going to be on the other side. Healing is not a destination to be reached. It’s a lifelong journey.