Reflection on a Long Road of Recovery

The end of the year and beginning of the New Year is an opportune time to reflect on our progress in recovering from narcissistic abuse.

What have we learned so far?

1. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is tremendously cookie cutter and predictable 

If it weren’t so, we would not relate to the stories of others who have had narcissists in their lives. Their stories would be foreign to us. Instead, when we discuss the traits of a person who possesses a malignant level of narcissism, we sit, nodding our head in unison. Recalling events from our own lives that resonate entirely with the words of others as they describe a text book case of narcissism.  We’ve been lied to, cheated on, used, manipulated, verbally chastised and name called, threatened, and blamed for everything that goes wrong in a narcissistic relationship. We’ve been smear campaigned, falsely prosecuted, legally abused, abandoned and conned out of fortune, family and our very identity. This abuse is hideous and its perpetrated by text book predators, who possess no conscience, no sense of remorse, and no care or concern for who they damage. For people who pride themselves for being so “special, unique and irresistible” they sure are unoriginal and predictably boring when it comes to their persona.

2. Support from our loved ones is hard to come by

Those we expect to support us in the aftermath of this abuse are not as available to us in our shock and pain as we would “assume” they would be. What’s worse, is that not only were we isolated by our abuser, we learn afterwards that many of the people we’ve surrounded ourselves with have the same type of “selfish” behaviors that we witnessed with our abuser. Some of our previous friends or supporters now support our abuser or won’t validate our abuse because of their own denial about the narcissist’s true personality. Instead of having our ready made support system there to help us step up and away from our abuse, we find ourselves back in the mire of abuse and needing to do additional housekeeping because of the narcissist’s ability to dupe others. We have to entirely disassociate with anyone who continues to believe the mask of the narcissist.

3. The need for validation is real and can be found in other survivors 

We’re not fully aware how much we need to be validated  as a result of this abuse. Many of us were previously self-validating and esteemed and find it hard to believe how “needy” we feel for requiring so much validation from others after we leave. The reason for this is clear however; the narcissist is entirely INVALIDATING. As a byproduct of brainwashing and control, targets are left blaming ourselves for the breakdown of an important relationship where in the past, we had no trouble sustaining them.

Boundaries are non-existent in narc relationships because the narcissist doesn’t believe that you exist as a separate person. They think nothing of telling you who YOU are:  “selfish, unlovable, pathetic, ugly, slut, insensitive” all the things narcs themselves are, but their abuse doesn’t mind that reality as long as they’ve got someone close to them that is willing to accept the blame and shame.

Finding other survivors who are also committed to telling the truth, sharing the details of our abuse and moving forward towards healing are those we find to be cathartic and validating of our own experiences.

4. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries are our friends

As a product of my upbringing with a narc mom, its no surprise I struggled having boundaries my entire adult life. (Not blaming, just stating a fact) I was a perfect sitting duck to a boundary buster and so are many of you.

After the abuse is all said and done, it is highly apparent that our need for boundaries and being a tough gate keeper in our own lives is one of our primary responsibilities for being a healthy adult.

I never understood a good working definition of boundaries. I heard of them, I thought I knew what they were, but not until mine were entirely obliterated by a skilled predator, would I come to understand how boundaries function in my day to day life.

My lay person definition of boundaries can be described in two ways.

1. Boundaries are defining lines that show us what we are responsible for. They are invisible fences that separate 4 areas of your life from others:  Feelings, thoughts, words and actions.  What we think, feel, say, and behave like is OUR business; the only things we have any control over.  Subsequently, the feelings, thoughts, words and actions of others are THEIR responsibility (not ours).   When our boundaries are clear to us, it’s easier for us NOT to accept the blame (responsibility) that a narcissist uses to project their feelings, thoughts, words and actions onto us.

2. Boundaries are rules of conduct that we expect in order to allow a person to occupy our life in any capacity.

For example, if you decide that cussing during arguments (verbal abuse) is a behavior that you won’t tolerate because of the way it makes you feel, this is your boundary. When someone crosses that boundary, you will feel anger. How you handle your anger and the boundary violation is your responsibility. You may put the person on alert in the event you hadn’t clearly communicated in the past that you won’t tolerate this behavior. Once you have communicated clearly, and that person chooses to violate your boundary again, it is your job in protecting your values and how you believe you deserve to be treated, to hold the person accountable for crossing the line.  You may tell them that you will no longer be in a relationship with them. You may decide to immediately distance yourself emotionally from a relationship that involves any intimacy with them.

The important aspect of boundaries to understand is that as you begin to enforce your boundaries, the quality of your life WILL improve. Not only will you have people who can respect your rules of engagement, you will also have a new found respect and trust for yourself for taking good care of yourself.

5. Our clarity and perspective returns but our radar for narcissists and other sociopaths remains on high 

We SURVIVED! Now, we are very aware of the underhanded, manipulative techniques of abusers. We can see it from a mile away.  When we get the opportunity to get a birds eye view of the narcissist that abused us, we will see with such clarity, all the signs of narcissism that are there just as when they abused us. Only now, without the duping and love bombing by our abusers, we’re able to see them without rose colored glasses as they go through the motions and stages of abusing others: The charm and romanticizing during the “valuation” stage, the abuse of course is hidden (devaluation) and specialized for the targets themselves alone with the narcissist as they project and tear them down, while on the surface the narcissist pretends to be a “caring, sensitive, “good” person”, and finally when the discard comes, we witness the confusion and self blame of the target as they struggle to escape, and how quick and easily the narcissist moves on to romanticizing new supply.  Just as the narcissist’s personality is text book and cookie cutter, so is their abuse.

Our alarm bells are louder and we are responding to them. We notice that now we have an instant and natural aversion to people that are overly self involved, self promoting, non reciprocal and/or unempathetic.

It is evidence of our growth, self respect and self trust when we are able to respond to our gut instincts about the danger that exists in a narcissist and other sociopathic creatures.

6. Our triggers are becoming fewer and far between 

And thank God for that! It’s not that they no longer exist, it’s just that we are not responding to them in such a heightened sense. It’s my belief that the time, distance, clarity and forgiveness have something to do with that, but our confidence and mastery does as well. It seems that not many have gotten one past me in recent days and I imagine that’s the same for you. It’s a nice feeling when we “catch” them, isn’t it? We realize that being prepared short circuits the auto response to a would be attacker. If we don’t fear a narcissist, it seems we also don’t get triggered by them or worse, hooked in.

Going for days, weeks or months without being triggered by something the narcissist did to abuse us is an amazing milestone. It signifies that we’ve assimilated the experience into our areas of mastery and are prepared for future and well managed encounters with this destructive kind.

It’s important to note that at this point in my own recovery, I am not aware that the triggers ever completely fade. It’s a hopeful thought to imagine that’s true. But I don’t need that to be happy now.  My narc mother has been deceased for 27 years and there are still triggers for me at times for things I’ve long forgotten. I handle those moments by letting them pass through me. I accept the reality that my abuse was not my fault, it impacted me and from time to time for the rest of my life, I may experience an “after shock” so to speak and that’s ok; I know I can handle these emotions with relative ease.

7. Our lives, identities and ability to feel, trust and experience life returns 

I don’t know about you…but one of my biggest fears during the recovery of this abuse was that it was always going to eclipse my identity. No matter how many times I tried to scrub myself of the smudge that I felt he left on my soul,  I felt that I wasn’t able to completely remove it.
For me, forgiveness (and meaning it) helped me get past that “stuck” state and wipe the emotional slate clean.

It was a personal decision I made, that I had to make a hundred times. Every time I’d remember with anger or think something I was uncomfortable with towards my abuser, I asked God to help me forgive them again. And again. And again. But once I got to that place where I felt the hatred gone from my heart, and where I prayed in sincerity for my abusers healing, I realized that I no longer felt “tied” to him or his abuse in any form or fashion.

Then, is when I realized all the color came back to my life. Im not saying forgiveness is necessary for YOU to achieve that, but I am saying it was personal to my own journey that I work through that step to my own freedom to love my life again.  In my own identity, forgiveness was something that I needed to incorporate.

How do you know you’re healed?

When you stop comparing every new person and or situation to your abuser, you know that you’re willing to see the world through new eyes. When you stop talking about “it” as much. Or if you’ve gone on to pay it forward and talk about it with others, you rarely talk about your own story.  When you’re able to feel and regulate your emotions and experience a very stable level of feelings without much interruption or variation of moods. (baseline) When you risk putting yourself in the position to trust others, you know you’re relying on and trust yourself. When you validate your own thoughts and feelings or mildly check them with others if it’s a big enough decision, when you speak up, assert your needs and boundaries and are willing to risk having to boot someone out, you know you’re pretty healed. When you feel your own esteem and strength.  When you can laugh at the situation, see the utter pathetic humor in it, there’s something comforting about that level of acceptance.

This journey has been a long one; it was the hardest lesson I’ve ever faced.
But I can say this: it’s gotten easier. Its a lesson I wish I hadn’t learned, but it’s one I’m thankful that I was able to find my sails and navigate; Thank you God and thank you to the support of our ANA family!


Posted on December 28, 2014, in Narcissism. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Hello
    I have recently seperated from my sons father .I experienced exactly the things you have expressed and am still trying to find support .
    It is so true ,that it is very hard to come by .
    Unfortunately, I share custody of my 12 year old son with my ex. Although I spent lots of money on a lawyer to try and avoid my son being exposed to abuse any longer , My ex lied in court and got half custody . He actually showed up attempting to get full custody after years of having no time for our son . He has smeared my name all over our town . He is a very convincing victim . I am exhausted mentally , physically and spiritually . He always seems to be a step ahead of me , no matter how hard I try to protect us .
    Can anyone tell me where exactly to find support and others who understand how truly horrific this experience can get.
    Thank you so much for writing about this!


    • I do not share your exact set of circumstances but still lie awake at night reflecting on those who smeared me relentlessly (starting with my mother). In fact, because of her, undoubtedly, my life is a mess. I can relate to your mother’s hate towards her own children. Mom was diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). They cannot love…anyone.

      But what I really want to discuss:

      My husband’s brother and his wife have relentlessly pursued our lifestyle. Even a psychic (I happen to believe that some of them are ‘spot-on’) mentioned their attempts to ‘morph’ into us (mirroring is another word that is used).

      Unfortunately for us, their ‘Freedom of Worship’ church moved to our town, and they ‘quit’ attending the one much closer to them to attend this new one right down the street from us. Over the years his brother managed to ‘finagle’ a lathe from my father’s former textile mill (for his own work-at-home attempts), a Monte Carlo that I had owned (for one of his friends), and several other attempts were made (like trying to move next to us), and they just love ‘dropping’ stories about their trips and whereabouts, full knowing that these places have been our vacation areas. They don’t come right out and mention it…they just start talking about what they did, saw, and experienced in a particular area that we frequented. I find it disgusting and very strange.

      As if that were not enough, now that they attend their church in our town, his brother also managed to get a job in our town, just a few streets away from us. Like vultures, I feel them breathing down our necks, and they are probably conspiring to own our house one day (or at least buy one in this town).

      His brother never met my mother but showed up at her wake…and it was not to offer sympathy or support. He went down the ‘family line-up’ (whatever the remaining family of the deceased is called) glaring at every one of my sibs (and I know why). His mother was not at all accomplished in life, and never graduated from high school, having been pulled out of the 7th grade (while her sister became a successful nurse).

      The write-up on our mother was not ‘braggy’…it just stated the facts. She was the recipient of the Maplewood Award for writing in high school, she was offered a scholarship (but in lieu of no funds, they gave her a set of books), and she attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ.

      My brother-in-law never showed up for my Dad’s wake…never went to his own brother’s (my husband) hospital bed after my hubby suffered an aortic aneurysm. Oh…but the whole family (minus the sister, who has become ‘wise’ to this evil brother) went to a town out in western Mass. when the oldest brother was on his deathbed. It depends on who you are and whether you ‘hit their radar screen’, which of course, we never do (and do not want to do).

      The parents of my husband’s family (MIL and FIL) did not attend either of my parents’ wakes/funerals…but showed up at my maternal grandmother’s (whom they never met). How strange is that? I can see them kneeling in front of my grandmother’s casket even now…no excuse for their behavior at not attending my parents’ wakes. They interacted with them several times over the years! A counselor suggested that they did not want to attend my parents’ wakes because of the socioeconomic divide…they would have felt terribly out of place and embarrassed about their circumstances.

      It is the strangest family I have ever met. Unprincipled. Unschooled. Uncouth. Unbelievable. Strange.


  2. I must say you are a remarkably attractive woman. Is it possible that your mother was jealous of your appearance? Our less attractive mothers were known to try to ‘clone’ us (my mother forced me to perm my hair to look just like hers…I was 13 years old at the time). My father supported her in this. Other kids in my class were starting to date. At 24 years old I had a boyfriend who confronted my mother about my looks. He told her, “Your daughter is sexy and beautiful but you are not…” in order to get her to see herself …I felt bad for her at the time, but she did realize what her behavior toward me looked like after that.


  3. Thank you for your insights…I have tried everything possible for the last 10 years of a 30 yr marriage using every CoDependent survival strategy at my disposal to deal with her constant de-valuing, gas lighting, character assassination & many of the documented Narcissistic emotionally abusive behaviors. What I find particularly disturbing was how we had therapy & personality tests on both of us as part of marriage counselling and they exposed her strong covert narcissism and my Codependency…I read about all the Narc strategies 10 years ago but I went into denial and compliance patterns (Codependency) as a coping strategy. Big mistake and I paid a huge price. I thought it was the right thing to get my 5 kids raised and I thought I loved her but the truth was that I just couldn’t face reality…The reality that the woman I loved was a full on narcissist and didn’t love or care about me. That was all my decision and I paid a huge price because in the end my therapist and all those books on Narcissism were right. They really don’t care what they do to others and they can’t be reasoned with and they won’t change…ever because after all, nothing is wrong with them it’s all you. When in a relationship with a narcissist denial is a poor strategy when compared to simply facing reality and truth….sooner or later we all have to face it anyway. The one thing I have to say is that the CoDependent/Narcissistic pairing works because both parties can always agree that the problem never has anything to do with the Narc. They are always blameless. The other amazing thing for me is that when you read up on narcissism you realize that they are very predictable….I can read all about my ex wife in great detail under COVERT Narcissist. Differentiating between covert and overt narcissism is important because they are similar but not the same. For me understanding that this fairly common Codependent/Narcissistic relationship is totally destructive and the only real solution is to get out and run don’t stay in and avoid the truth. They are not capable of empathy, reason compromise or honest self-evaluation.


  4. I read and reread the predictability part above and I have to add; she fit it to a tee. She had to have researched narcissism herself. She did everything in the books. She told me that she scapegoated me. She told me that she raised everyone in the family to hate me. She knew about no contact, she was ready for it. She followed the traits so closely. She gave me family heirlooms and then took them back. She took the gifts I gave her for birthdays and Chrstmases and gave them away then told me she did that. She followed some of the literature so closely. She said she found the subject of narcissism in a psychology textbook. She knew what she was doing all along. She didn’t want me to have a family and now I don’t. She planned it since my birth. She raised me on the idea that I was one level above retarded. I just recently found out I my IQ is in the Mensa are. I don’t understand that kind of hate. I don’t understand how you can give birth to 8 children and hate every one of them. My sisters and brothers are so abusive to their children and spouses it’s sickening. I understand on an intellectual level but I don’t understand on an emotional level. My heart does not understand. My moral scope is damn confused. The things she did to me psychologically growing up is so traumatic and scary. But it happened to me alone and no one believes me. My sibs, aunts, cousins, none of them believe me. I’m all alone until I found after narcissistic abuse. When the anxieties and nightmares return I come to these pages and I find solace. Keep writing. Don’t stop.


    • I can so relate to your post. All my relatives are down on me. It has gotten to the point where I deny that they exist…to myself and others.


  5. Thank you!…After 17 long hard years I was able to get out. I educated myself on this sociopath and his behavior and finally got the strength to do what I needed for myself and my children. Yet while feeling empowered, I still did not understand why after getting out from under his thumb, I still felt lost and inadequate. This article and the others you have written have brought me clarity and peace…finally!


  6. I tried to leave a comment a few days ago about how this post touched me and not sure why it wasn’t posted. Anyway, I’ll try again. I found this post to be so beautifully written, particularly the last section about how forgiveness or at least an attempt to forgive can help you recover from a relationship with a narcissist. For me as well, it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever faced – to recover and shake my own personal addiction to this unhealthy relationship and to this person, who conned me time and time again. I too have struggled with thinking that I’ll never be the same person as I was prior to my relationship – this post helps me have faith that the color will also return to my life one day. I just finished reading a book called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. It is based on Buddhist principles, but I think those principles and ideas can serve anyone of any ideology. The idea of accepting emotionally painful situations and forgiving and loving yourself in the process and eventually forgiving others who you feel have done wrong by you. Thank you so much for your work and your writing to help others who have encountered narcissists in their lives.


  7. This is so beautifully written – your journey is truly inspiring. As with you, my involvement with a narcissist and the resulting emotional and psychological injury is the hardest experience I’ve ever faced. I just read the book “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach and much of what you say here is echoed in the book. For many of us, it’s hard to imagine getting to the point of forgiveness. But even the act of trying to forgive and asking God or the universe or a higher power to help us forgive will likely help us heal in the long run. Thank you so much for sharing.


  8. I agree with everything here and it’s so useful to see it written down and hear it from someone else too.


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