Enmeshment – Separating Ourselves from the Narcissist
What Was Meant for Evil, God Uses for Good.
This post isn’t to glorify or laud the narcissist that intended to harm us with praise for helping us change. Not at all, in fact, this post is a testament to the power of the human spirit lit on fire, determined to heal itself and move past a traumatic encounter with a person who’s sinister character FORCED us to change.
Enmeshment is different than two people being very close. Close relationships are a wonderful part of life and often allow for appropriate independence within the relationship. Enmeshment, however, becomes a problem because the individual involved loses their own identity. Narcissists prevent the autonomy we need in order to grow emotionally and individually.
These days, I am very much separated from the narcissist that abused me. I’ve gone on to forgive them and separated their character and actions from my life and core values; which freed me to do the recovery work necessary to regain my identity.
It was not without struggle, dismay, desperation, darkness, loss, and a complete overhaul of my worldviews not to mention a great deal of time and hard work. It’s not EASY to dig into your own defense mechanisms, weaknesses, and distorted thinking to identify the parts we play not only in allowing a narcissist to take hold of our spirits; sometimes long after the relationship has ended, but to pick up the pieces and work through all the damage they visited on us.
One of the most fundamental issues to work through upon gaining our freedom from narcissistic abuse is separating the boundary enmeshment with a personality disordered person. The insidious projection of their flaws and manipulating our core values to take on the responsibility a narcissist can’t own causes us major identity confusion and boundary problems.
“The person with a personality disorder who has at their core, identity confusion, causes those they abuse to have identity confusion as well.”
I’d always heard the term, “Narcissistic fleas” used and didn’t fully understand what others meant when they said, “If you lay down with a narcissist, you catch their fleas”. Now that I understand enmeshment, projection and boundary confusion, it’s so clear to see how those closest to the narcissist, who’ve been controlled, manipulated and projected upon begin to question, doubt and see in themselves, the traits that belong to the narcissist.
The task required after leaving the abusive relationship is to SEPARATE OURSELVES ENTIRELY. Not only do we cease communication through no contact and physically keep ourselves distant from an NPD, we must mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually separate as well. Boundaries become the separation vehicle by which we distance ourselves.
Let’s take a closer look at the areas that require separation after narcissistic abuse:
- Your Emotions:
Remember how we weren’t allowed to feel with a narcissist? Remember how we were either told explicitly or the narcissist implied that it was not okay to share your genuine feelings with them? Remember how you were punished with judgment, shaming, the silent treatment, a smear campaign, false prosecution, gaslighting or other forms of abuse for simply being genuine about how you felt? These abuses are what causes us to have trouble with our own emotions.
We have to re-learn that it’s ok to feel, to identify the emotions we have, to sit with them and allow them to pass through us without fear that we’ll not be able to handle them or that we’ll get in trouble for feeling and expressing them. Our feelings are NOT dangerous or harmful to others and do not make us the “crazy people” the narcissist said we were.
Feelings are indicators and guides to our inner selves. Feelings show us what’s important to us, what makes us human, vulnerable and imperfect. Separating from and owning our feelings after narc abuse reconnects us to what makes us human and who we are. Our authenticity is expressed through our feelings and we have the God given right to experience them.
2. Your Thoughts:
We need to get that narcissist OUT of our heads. Narcissists are very forceful and controlling when it comes to their opinions of things, always having to “be right” and shoving their versions of reality down others’ throats. You just aren’t allowed to have an independent thought with these folks; it’s too much of a threat. Their shanty house of cards can easily come tumbling down when someone challenges their view of things so they’re heavily invested in getting those around them to acquiesce. (Brainwashing)
Guess what? After you leave them, YOU get to decide what’s true and right. You get to think for yourself again. One of the first healthy things we do for ourselves is to regain our own sense of reality and independence through getting in the drivers seats of our thinking again. Its incredibly empowering to tell the story of our abuse, with all the truth and details that we were not able to express when our oppressor was in the picture. The more we tell our stories, (and WE KNOW they’re true) the less we care who else the narcissist has convinced to see their version of reality.
Seeing others buy into the narcissists fabrications and twisting of reality only illustrates for us the control, manipulation and abuse they perpetrate from an outside perspective and gives us a sense of gratification and empowerment that we are no longer being brainwashed by them, while clearly others are.
Regaining the skill of thinking and deciding for ourselves grows each time we exercise our right to think for ourselves. Each time we define our reality and experience and set boundaries around what we will and will not accept in our lives, we get stronger in our thinking and further from the predator who stole this right from us.
3. Your Self Concept / Identity
Oh the joy and freedom that comes from no longer letting ourselves be defined by someone outside ourselves, especially someone whose perspective of us is NOT based in reality, but instead results from their own defense mechanism to avoid shame.
We were called crazy, insecure, stalkers, weak, can’t let go, selfish, users, cheaters, liars, sluts, control freaks, etc. Every disordered facet of the narcissists character was used to identify us so frequently that we actually begin to doubt who we really are and begin to believe the narcissist is conveying a “fact” about us.
It’s insidious, crazymaking, confusing, blaming, shaming and downright abusive. Whether the narcissist knows they’re using this to cast off their shame is not the point here, it’s that we succumb to the weight of blame and projection by trying to show our love, please, and fix the problems the narcissist is telling us is within our ability to do so.
There is no way to stay in close proximity to a narcissist and not be impacted by these severe and frequent boundary violations. We acquiesce to survive.
Learning who we are again without hearing the narcissist’s voice inside our heads telling us how we’re “not this or that, or we are unlovable, insecure, etc.” is one of the long lasting and most difficult to overcome, effects of this abuse.
We must RE LEARN every aspect of who we are and independently decide if it’s 1) true about us and 2) effective or ineffective in our lives. Narcissists target very good qualities about us: our ability to love, our authenticity, our natural confidence and ability to connect with others. Targets are responsible, sensitive, well liked people in most every aspect of our lives. It’s not an act, it came naturally and we’ve enjoyed the relationships that have developed as a result. What once was attractive about us to our predators, becomes the thing they will envy and seek to destroy. They will systematically replace all our goodness with their cast off badness and will shield themselves against truth by believing we are who they say we are. This is their problem, not ours.
By defining and sitting in realistic appraisal of ourselves we form and own our self concept. We take back responsibility for being who we are; not who others say or believe us to be.
Really give yourself the time in this area to develop a firm grasp of who you are. Take quizzes, journalize, talk to old friends who you trust, who’ve known you a long time, pray, and live by trial and error, the joys, passions and driving force behind who you are. Rediscover what makes you come alive; what makes you smile, laugh and feel like yourself again. You WILL bounce back. Your identity will re emerge, only this time, you will have the knowledge and desire to care for and protect the valuable person you discover.
4. Your Actions, Character and Integrity
Once you separate your identity from the character assassination the narc puts you through, you really have a good basis to evaluate what you did or did not do during the relationship.
This boundary separation isn’t to beat up on ourselves further, but to OWN the ways we’ve behaved during and after the relationship that is ours to own. The greatest freedom comes when we can fully take responsibility for the things we’ve done because it enables us to change. Why doesn’t the narcissist ever defeat their character issues? Because they can’t when they can’t take responsibility and own their problems.
Boy did I act out and do some ridiculous things while I was involved with that narcissist. I got involved with him in the first place when he and I were no match for each other in the slightest, I fought with him to hear my feelings, when my core values have always rendered me non-confrontational, I expressed my mistrust of him in ways that gave him the opportunity to tell me I was insecure and damaged, I exposed him without considering the consequences that exposing his greatest fear would enrage him and bring on my slaughter, I allowed myself to become isolated, I eschewed other relationships that were healthier and I stuck around while my pure heart, love, innocence and identity were demolished. We look at these things out of ownership and self actualization. What we don’t acknowledge, we can’t change.
It is a sign of our character that we have the ability to be honest about who we are; right, wrong or otherwise and have the empathy to notice that our behavior impacts others sometimes negatively and it is our job to fix those things. Being honest when it is not comfortable to do so, re-establishes our character strength. We as targets, live by integrity, principles and morals that are greater than ourselves. We owe things to other people and we owe things to ourselves; to behave in a civilized manner and when we haven’t, we man up and admit our wrongs.
This ability to be responsible for ourselves is the saving grace that will get us back on our feet again after narc abuse. We know that no one is coming along to save us. The narcissist isn’t going to give us closure, an apology or take action to rectify where they screwed us over; not in the least.
We must separate every aspect of our lives from that of our abusers, we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get on with the business of living our lives, feeling our feelings, thinking our thoughts and acting with the integrity and character that we’ve possessed our entire lives.