Reflections on My 6 Years Post Recovery from Narcissistic Abuse
This week on Facebook, I’ve gotten a few notices for “My Moments” from 6 years ago.
6 Years ago, I was escaping an abusive relationship with a malignant narcissist. When I look at those pictures, I am flooded with many memories of what my struggles were at that point in my life. “Struggles” is the best word I can come up with to describe what was going on, because I truly was STRUGGLING; struggling to understand how to cope with what I was facing, struggling to understand what was being done to me, struggling to understand what kind of person could do what a narcissist was doing to me and struggling to reconnect with my identity in the aftermath of narcissistic abuse.
NONE of these struggles were easy, clear, or a straight line towards becoming healthier. We all have heard that struggles or pain in our lives signify great learning lessons and evolving character. None of my life experiences have represented this truth as much as the narcissistic abuse experience.
At the time, this abuse was VERY PERSONAL. My boundaries had been so obliterated by the narcissist, that I was the classic domestic abuse victim: self blaming, self loathing and trying everything in my power to “fix” what the narcissist said was wrong with me so that the loving feelings could return and we could be at peace once more. In hindsight, NONE of this was real. These were attempts by my abuser to escape accountability for his horribly abusive behavior. I was a scapegoat. My abuser used and perverted the concept of “love” and “peace” to control me. I wasn’t in a loving relationship at all. There was no love or peace that was going to return when I got my behavior to be good enough. To an insatiable and projecting narcissist, there is no “good enough”.
As a result of my abusive relationship, I struggled through 3 grieving cycles. One was to grieve the false relationship – the one that I was manipulated into believing existed. Secondly, I grieved the true relationship; the twisted, highly manipulative, abusive situation I found myself inexplicably trying to unravel myself from and finally, I grieved my relationship with myself; my identity.
What other experience in our lives can we honestly say encompassed 3 grieving cycles? Narcissistic abuse is so abhorrently different because we are dealing with a personality disorder, a psychopathy that is unmatched by other normal experiences with normal human beings.
My level of fear after ending the abusive relationship was directly related to the psychopathy of the person I let into my life. The narcissist that abused me, threatened my life and launched a legal smear campaign to defame me. All attempts I made to protect myself were met with disbelief and resistance because those who were in a position to defend me were manipulated and taken in by my abusers honed skills to manipulate, lie and confuse.
I had a great desire to not only protect myself from further harm but I was gravely concerned for all the potential victims that were sure to follow. I wanted to warn the next victim and protect her from experiencing what I went through. Ultimately you cannot save a person from themselves. However, all those who are destined to grow from this experience, will eventually see the light for themselves and find their escape. Trust this truth and respect the boundaries of others.
I’m happy to share that the woman who was targeted after me and I, have now had the opportunity to meet and discuss the details of our respective (back to back) abusive relationships with the narcissist we shared in common. We are both members of a club we never wished we’d become a part of. What has been most interesting about our discussions is the exact mirroring, manipulations and lies told to us by our abuser. It seems that some of the lies he even worked on and perfected to suit them to her, his new victim. Neither of us believe that what we experienced was love, but we concluded it was nothing more than the carefully orchestrated and targeted abuse by a rather psychologically disturbed narcissist.
Through my recovery from narcissistic abuse, I developed a focus that empowered me to rise above and overcome the struggles. I focused on myself. As a result of grieving the theft of my identity, I clung to the truth of the serenity prayer. It has been the core of my recovery, which states:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference
With regard to narcissistic abuse, I adapted the serenity prayer to say, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (the narcissist), the courage to change the things I can (myself) and the wisdom to know (have boundaries) between the differences.
Gaining knowledge about narcissistic personality disorder is only the first part of the recovery equation. It’s a formidable part, as knowledge goes a long way towards empowering us to gain clarity about this particular abuse. To understand a narcissist’s mentality, defense mechanisms and modus operandi help us articulate what behaviors were abusive and why. We discover through knowledge of NPD, that the darkness, confusion, chaos, toxicity and abuse belong to the narcissist not ourselves and that by a narcissist’s very nature, they targeted us and perverted the concept of love to trap us into serving their pathological needs.
Looking at ourselves, the next step in recovery takes TREMENDOUS courage. It’s my opinion that as targets of abuse, we are very reluctant to take on yet another project of fixing and changing ourselves mostly out of sheer exhaustion. We are tired of being told we need to change, adjust, bend and compromise who we are. Yet, it is this very process of focusing on ourselves that we need to rescue ourselves.
To be honest, at a certain point in recovery I became very averse to talking about narcissism. I was tired of talking about “them”. I didn’t want my future to be so deeply connected to that one horrible example of humanity that it precluded me from enjoying the other 99% of the population who weren’t psychopathic monsters.
My struggles began to transform into life lessons learned. When you’re completely broken down by a narcissist, there’s really no where to go but upwards. I took a look at the rubble that laid before me (my former identity) and said to myself, let’s start here. I picked up each piece of myself I saw shattered. The first thing was my unloved, hurting self. I scooped her up and held her. I nurtured and loved the vulnerable person that had been betrayed. I let myself cry, throw a fit, get angry, and fume. When I spoke in the critical way the narcissist spoke to me, (internalized critical voice) I silenced it. I made a conscious choice to speak kindly to myself. I gave myself such exceptional self care and nurturing that it evolved into feeling like I was worth that love and care.
The more loving care I showed myself, the more my worth increased and the more my worth increased, the more it increased the message to myself that I was worth protecting. Think about that for a moment. How often are we taught as children, especially if we were raised by narcissistic parents, to protect ourselves? You cannot be simultaneously exploited and protected at the same time. The concept of protecting myself blossomed in my life. I parallel protecting myself and my worth with that of a valuable worldly asset. Not many of us would leave a million dollars laying on our porch at night, but how many of us with a disconnected sense of value would freely allow a narcissist into our lives? There’s a real threat of danger to letting a disordered person near us. Once we learn that danger, we begin taking the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and in turn our sense of self worth increases.
As our actions to protect ourselves become a hard and fast rule (boundary), another life supporting concept emerges: TRUST. One of the greatest losses in narcissistic abuse is the shattering of trust; trust of others, of humans in general, of world views and trusting ourselves are all shattered by a narcissist’s abuse. Through recovery, our fear is extinguished by the little risks we take towards trusting again. When we assert a new boundary, say for instance, standing up to someone who’s intent is to use us. Saying, “No” challenges our fears of selfishness and our desire to please others and gain their approval. By asserting boundaries, we begin to trust ourselves again. We realize that we take protecting ourselves seriously. We realize that even if a person charms their way through our first line defenses, we immediately give them the boot when we identify what’s going on. Our trust to take care of ourselves and perform the right action to keep our circle clear of toxic people increases every time we make the choice to follow through on what our boundaries are.
When you trust that you can count on yourself to discern and deal with undesirable people, you start to release the fear that you are unsafe; that the world is full of bad people who are out to do bad things to you. You accept that, yes, bad people exist, but you trust that you’ll know how to deal with it when they show up – but you don’t live your life as if there’s a monster living under EVERY rock. Guess what? When you begin to live, trusting yourself….Great people show up. In fact, more great people show up that you can trust than do those who are out to harm you. Whether that is a manifestation of our beliefs or trusting ourselves, I can say definitively that self-trust results eventually in trusting others.
I’ll leave the conversation here; while there are a multitude of other struggles that I’ll discuss in later posts, the crux here is that the nature of my recovery turned a corner once I focused on myself and learned to trust myself after having been a victim of narcissistic abuse. I encourage you to not let a narcissist steal one more moment of your peace. Take care of yourself, deeply. You are worth it. Your exceptional self care will transform your journey from merely tending to your hurts to truly loving yourself on your journey to becoming, valuing and protecting the person who you are meant to be.