Recovering From A Narcissist: Three Steps To Get Your Life Back
One of the most sobering statistics amid COVID-19 is that domestic abuse killings during the UK lockdown have more than doubled. Counting Dead Women, the project that tracks cases of men killing women in the UK, are quick to point out coronavirus is not an excuse.
Instead, the lockdown has shown how common abuse actually is. Women’s Aid admits the statistics don’t show instances of controlling or coercive behaviour.
We have no doubt that lockdown has also been a trigger for more narcissistic abuse, especially where people can’t get away from their narcissistic partner.
Yet most people, who haven’t been in an abusive relationship, usually ask one of two questions. Why doesn’t the person simply leave? Why didn’t they see it coming?
Both of these questions lead to victim-shaming, placing the blame for the abuse squarely on the victim’s shoulders. As if they haven’t already gone through enough.
The problem with narcissistic abuse is that it takes so long to rear its ugly head. The victim is already well entrenched before they know what’s happening. You’ve no doubt heard the metaphor about a frog and boiling water.
If you put a frog in boiling water, it’ll leap back out. But if you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat? It won’t realise it’s being boiled alive.
It’s the same with narcissistic abuse. Thankfully, the good news is recovering from a narcissist can be done. Let’s take a look at why it’s so damaging, and what you can do to move on.
Why Is Recovering From A Narcissist So Hard?
It’s never fun when a relationship ends. Whether it was abusive or not, it can be sad or painful to let go, with a period of grief to go through.
But usually, you come out the other side and move on. It’s not so easy when narcissistic abuse is involved for one simple reason: Trauma-bonding.
This is the same process that survivors of cults undergo. It’s the traumatic bond you forge with the exact person who is causing the trauma.
How Does Trauma-Bonding Work?
Trauma-bonding works in a cycle. You begin with the ‘love-bombing’ phase of the relationship. The narcissist showers you with attention, compliments, or intense interest. It seems passionate and romantic.
But then the snide comments start. The attempts to isolate you from your friends. The control over where you go, what you do, and who you see. It’s the insults, the put-downs, the conditions on your behaviour.
Then you’ll have periods of relative calm. Here, you’ll think things have been ‘fixed’.
Until it starts again. This is also known as intermittent reinforcement and it’s designed to keep you in their thrall.
It means we misinterpret kind gestures as evidence that they’re not evil to the core. This makes it easier for us to hope, or assume, that they’ll change. This is why we forgive them time and again because we assume the ‘real’ them is the kind one. The nasty, manipulative side must be somehow brought out by something we’re doing wrong.
This leads to the conviction that they’ll go back to the way they were when you met if you just give them more love or more attention. If you do what they want, everything will be fine.
We end up craving these kind gestures, putting ourselves out further and doing more of what they demand. At its core, we’re trying to stave off the abuse and bring back the ‘hit’ we get from the kindness. If it sounds like an addiction, that’s because it is.
Recovering From A Narcissist Takes Time, Here's Where To Start
These following steps apply whether you’re still with a narcissist, or you’ve been in a relationship with one. You’ll also be able to apply some of the steps to friendships with narcissists since their tactics are very similar to romantic relationships.
That’s because people are just resources to narcissists. Whether you’re their “best friend” or partner, they seek only to use you for their own ends.
I’ve turned these three steps into a handy acronym – ARR.
Let’s check out what you can do in the coming days, weeks, and months to start your recovery. You may decide you want to seek therapy but this is a great place to start.
Accept things will not change for the better. I know it hurts to realise it but the ‘person’ you fell for is never coming back.
That’s because they never existed in the first place.
It doesn’t matter how long you stick around. Or how much you try to love them back to you.
Even if you did take them back, or they came back to you? You’d just get more of the same. If they come back in six months’ time, remind yourself they cannot and have not changed.
Often, one of the hardest things to accept is actually loss. You need to grieve the potential you felt the relationship had. Save that hope for someone who deserves it.
I have an extra recommendation for you around dating again at the end of the post.
Next, release your feelings of guilt about the relationship. Again, I know this is hard. It’s easy to look at your situation and wonder how you didn’t see it coming.
You might be wondering, ‘Why did I fall for it?’
Don’t feel guilty. It’s commendable that you wanted to invest in the relationship. Being vulnerable and open is a good thing. But again, you need to save that for someone who won’t use it against you.
Take ‘Release’ one step further and release the narcissist from your life. If you haven’t already, remove them from your social media platforms. Block them wherever you can. Delete their texts, their phone number – everything.
This also works for narcissist friends. It may also give you a strange sense of satisfaction if you do this quietly while they’re giving you the silent treatment.
Now you’ve accepted it was a fantasy, and you’ve released them from your life. The final step is to recognise what you can take from the encounter.
Believe it or not, the ‘fantasy’ of the relationship actually gives you a good idea of what you ARE looking for. The positive parts of the relationship are a good indication of how you want to feel with a partner. It also means you know what needs you want to have met in future.
This has two benefits.
1. You can now focus on healthy relationships that meet those needs.
2. You also know which of your buttons the narcissist pushes.
They might promise to meet those needs if you behave a certain way. But when you know how they’re manipulating you, you can spot it when they try it again. You’ll know when they’re trying to use your desire for love against you.
It’s important to be forewarned against this behaviour. This leads us on to the next step after you’ve worked through ARR.
Learn to See Narcissists Coming
We talked earlier about how it was important to accept the identity you fell for wasn’t the real narcissist. Truly accepting that is an important step in your recovery.
But a sustained campaign of gaslighting can destroy your faith in your own judgement. You may worry that it’ll happen again, or you somehow ‘chose poorly’. Even worse – perhaps you ‘manifested’ them. (If that’s you, stop right there and check out our blog post about manifestation and narcissism).
Therapy can be a great process to start your healing journey – if you get the right therapist.
Yet therapists won’t teach you what to look out for. This is why it’s important to educate yourself and learn how to peer behind a person’s social mask.
Once you do that, you can spot the narcissists with ease and keep them at arm’s length. Or, preferably, as far away from you as possible.
Our Identify & Disarm Narcissists & Manipulators course gives you everything you need to do this in just one interaction. You’ll know if the person across the table on your next date is being genuine – or if they're looking for their next target.
This weapons-grade communication training was developed in partnership with Chase Hughes. He’s the man who trains military intelligence operatives so you’re in the best of hands.
Click below to learn more.