Narcissistic Abuse Leaves Us Feeling Damaged
We live many years of our life with certain expectations about the integrity and intention of others. I don’t think any normal person regardless of their level of self esteem, expects to be so blindsided by and at odds metaphysically with the narcissistic person. Sure, self esteem issues may lead us to stay far longer putting up with a person who treats us poorly or is the root of our not asserting boundaries to protect ourselves, but narcissistic abuse goes far behind an assault on our self esteem. It attacks the fiber of who we ARE; our identities.
Think about this. Prior to meeting a narcissist, did you have any trouble whatsoever with YOUR identity? Did you know who you were? Did you know your strengths and weaknesses? Did you know what scared you or what you longed for? I can nearly guarantee that you had your identity quite together prior to a narcissist entering your life. One of the reasons narcissists target those they do, is to rob us of the good qualities that make us so “attractive”; not just our vulnerabilities or weak points. Our solid identities are their lifeblood.
Most targets are likeable people; reliable, dependable, lovable, stable and trustworthy. If we weren’t, we would not be so shocked and stunned to find how opposite a narcissist is to us and how the only way they could have possibly gotten close to us is by weasling their way into our heads and hearts via lies and manipulation.
Instead of returning to our previous selves in tact after the relationship ends, our identity is in a state of limbo; in flux and malleable which is very scary. While our core characteristics have remained the same, we’re suddenly needing to assimilate the new lessons and awareness into our selves going forward but we don’t find the experience a smooth, straight line or quick journey towards integration.
One is the Loneliest Number
Being on the receiving end of a person who lacks empathy shows a reality to the human condition that we didn’t want to believe existed. Watching people side with your abuser, disbelieve you and even worse, bully or smear you along with the narcissist is highly traumatic and isolating. It’s within our human nature or socialization to side with the crowd. The abuser gains momentum by getting to the crowd earlier and then playing up to them which is their perverse talent.
Targets have always connected with people based on truth and integrity. It’s shocking and defeating to have so many turn against you, even the one who said they “loved” you, for such an obvious lie, while you’re forced to stand alone and come to terms with the reality that “as long as you know the truth, nothing else matters.” That’s not an easy place to be in. We may find that we doubt ourselves due to the mob mentality because it’s so hard to stand on our own. When we’re escaping an abuser, we need validation and desperately want to return to “normal” but we find that our old normal is NOWHERE to be found.
We’re Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don’t
We know we need people, we know we shouldn’t isolate, but that’s all we feel the urge to do. Extending ourselves, risking, trying, trusting, analyzing, putting energy into others seems like an overwhelming feat, even after we’ve done a lot of work on ourselves to return to emotional health. It’s not always that another narcissist comes along, but they were so damaging to us and our interpersonal relationships that new ones seem formidable to participate in. The risks we’re willing to take with our hearts, minds, souls, and identity after the life sucking narcissist rips through our lives is far less than ever before. We can get stuck in a juxtaposition between wanting and not wanting people close to us. We risk pushing away people who can really be there for us because of the exhaustion and anxiety from our prior abusive experiences.
We Suffer Our Own Identity Crisis
We knew who we were before, why is it that we are having such a hard time successfully being ourselves now?
A person with an identity crisis targets someone who doesn’t and the target ends up experiencing one themselves. How does this happen? Lack of boundaries while in the relationship certainly explain why we give up who we are in order to try to keep the narcissist happy. (Yes, this is called codependency and yes, it is a requirement of a narcissistic relationship)
But why do we have identity issues once we are free?
We were defined and controlled while with the narcissist. We were further defined by others as the smear campaign was in full effect. We began to notice that the stress, abuse & mistrust and the toll it takes in every area of our lives. We feel weakened, less than, less capable, and more damaged. Which only reaffirms that who we formerly thought we were, is no longer showing up to handle things we used to be able to handle. Where we used to have stability, we now experience flux; sometimes severe and sometimes rapid.
Who are we NOW, then? Why can’t we be the same as before? Why did we have to change when we weren’t the person with the personality disorder?
It Feels as if Our Baseline Never Returns
Every new action or decision we take as a reflection of who we are is like starting all over again; relearning to Live. Be. Breath. Each new decision opens a can of worms and turns into a major overhaul of who we are. When your world views have been changed so drastically by trauma, it begins to feel like our “baseline” is a moving target or that we’re chasing the foxes tail. Just when it seems we’ve reached our place of stability, something comes along and shakes it up causing us to make changes when that’s the last thing we want to do is change something else about ourselves or our lives. It feels as if its a wound whose bleeding never stops. If it’s not some new way were dealing with our coworkers treatment of us at work, it’s the question of how much responsibility to take in a situation with inlaws, or other family members.
The identity and boundary work required after narcissistic abuse is daunting and exhausting. We feel the urge to sift through all the rubble just in case we miss something crucial to our never going through this again. We HAVE to show up to boundary challenges – or we may begin to notice how many people we’ve been tossing away, for valid reasons, but suddenly realize no one is there. We can get paralysis by analysis wondering if we did the right thing.
If before our lives were driven to meet goals in areas like finances, career aspirations or fitness and nutrition, NOW our goals focus on never being victimized again. The struggle to have power over our situation after such a random act of abuse consumes us, takes all our energy, all our focus and throws our lives out of balance.
We Have a Hard Time Seeing Results and Staying Positive
How long do we have to practice doing the “right thing” or making the right choices to live a healthy life before we start reaping the rewards and seeing the positive results of our continued efforts? Our newfound knowledge of narcissistic people carries over into our everyday lives. We suddenly notice how narcissistic the office gossip is, or that annoying supervisor that throws everyone under the bus. We want to run, escape, avoid them, yet the financial difficulties of making decisions to leave unhealthy environments catches up with us and causes anxiety. Or we worry about being seen as unstable when all we want is that every elusive, “healthy environment” or peaceful atmosphere.
While we feel that we’re drowning in our own ineffective efforts to regain our life and identity that we know realistically we’ll never have again, we’ll catch wind of the narcissist having the time of their lives, seemingly unaffected by the same abusive relationship that left us feeling crippled. (albeit they claim THEY were the abused ones) The constant realization of the injustice of the situation is enough to make us want to throw up our hands in despair and “give up”; whatever that means. We didn’t ask for this struggle, we didn’t want it and we certainly didn’t deserve it, yet here we are, asked to manage it and thrive.
Don’t let anyone tell you, you aren’t trying hard enough. If you have survived a narcissistic relationship with your thoughts in tact…YOU ARE TRYING HARD ENOUGH! Telling someone whose life was placed in a blender and pureed for an extended period of time that they aren’t trying hard enough to be positive or “get over it” is like restarting the blender. Yet again, it falls on our shoulders to take responsibility and set a boundary between ourselves and the person who stunts our growth by judging or pushing where we need listening and affirming, to say, “Ill do the healthy thing and cut off my only source of support”. While it’s smart and good for us, its just another difficult choice to deliver ourselves defeat and loss at a difficult time in our lives.
Recognizing the level of damage we’re still experiencing after narcissistic abuse isn’t heartening news. It’s quite easily, depressing and hopeless. But once you identify and feel the feelings in the aftermath of this abuse, it paves the way to overcome the damage and build the bridge back to a hopeful future, freeing ourselves of the affects of this abuse once and for all.