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!