Whether your relationship with a narcissist lasted for ten months or ten years you can be sure that you did not come out of it unscathed. It can be difficult to remember what you even looked like before the emotional scars covered you. It can be even more difficult to believe that you will ever be free of them again.
If you don’t ever face the emotions and get past them you are likely to continue to be involved with narcissists in your life. While facing the issues is painful not facing them is deadly.
Healing Takes Time
I have been out of the narcissistic matrix for four years and I still have trouble trusting my own opinions, beliefs, and decisions. It sounds crazy but I also struggle with believing in the ethics of others in my life. It is sometimes a nightmare where I am unable to make a decision because I don’t know who is trustworthy, who has my best interest at heart, and who is telling the truth.
When I look at the time frame it seems that there should have been more than enough time to get over it, to heal, and to get a grasp on reality again. I sometimes get frustrated with myself because it is taking more time than I think it should. Surely if I was trying harder I would be further along!
The time it takes to heal from a narcissistic relationship is different for every person and it cannot be hurried. There is a process that may take a year for one person and a decade for another. There is nothing wrong with either timeline as long as it accomplished the goal of healing.
Sometimes You Don’t Realize How Beaten Up You Are
Shortly before my separation I was in the grocery store picking up a few things. I can remember standing in front of the lunchmeat trying to decide which variety to get. Not a big deal, right?
As I stood there time seemed to stand still. I my brain was swirling with the choice I had to make. Should I choose bologna or ham? Why not turkey? Olive loaf or pickle loaf might be nice…
The thoughts were like voices in my mind all telling me something different and I honestly could not make the decision. It was a simple thing, a choice that didn’t matter one bit in the long run and yet I stood there for thirty minutes paralyzed with fear that I wouldn’t do the right thing. Tears ran down my cheeks – I felt stupid.
In the years since I have thought about that a lot. I have come to the realization that I was as close to a nervous breakdown at that moment as I will ever be. My trust in my own ability to make good choices was completely gone. At the same time I didn’t trust other people to make good choices for me either.
It was a frightening and solitary place but it was a defining moment for me. In those minutes I decided that if things were going to get better I was going to have to take responsibility for my own protection. I decided that I was equally as important as the narcissist.
Many of us gave up our identities in order to maintain peace in our relationships. Rather than having time to do what we wanted we felt obligated to do the things that we thought the narcissist wanted from us. Even though most narcissists will say that they don’t have an agenda and don’t have a list of rules we often feel pressured to follow a prescribed playbook that we aren’t allowed to read.
Do you remember the scene from the Indiana Jones movie where the main character has to cross what looks like a deep crevice with no visual bridge? He takes one step, even though he can’t see the safest place to put his foot, then he takes another and another. At no time is he able to see his footing clearly but a misstep will send him to his death on the jagged rocks far below.
Living with a narcissist is not so different. You are never sure where to step so you focus intently trying to second guess what the rules are. One misstep will cause you to tumble into a pit of drama – worth avoiding at any cost.
After you are free of the relationship you still look everywhere for rules to define your life. After all, that is what you’ve been trained to do. At this point you have to begin to look forward instead of down. You aren’t on that invisible bridge anymore. You are in a spacious place where a mistake is fleeting and no big deal at all.
No Longer a Slave or a Possession
Once you are out of the relationship you’ll have trouble identifying what you want. I get frustrated with myself because sometimes I get hung on the choice between which television show to watch first on the DVR. I am afraid of making the wrong decision and incurring sarcasm, disdain or even wrath.
It doesn’t really matter which show I watch first, does it? Of course not.
Make intentional choices. If someone asks you which restaurant you’d like to go to answer them with a place not with an I don’t care. Make purposeful decisions, own them, and accept the consequences whether they are joy or disappointment.
Own Your Pain
That didn’t hurt!
Don’t be silly!
You are overreacting.
Accept that your emotions are valid. Accept that you were treated unfairly, deserved to be treated better, and that you were hurt. Pain is pain, it is yours. You weren’t overreacting, it did hurt, and you are not being silly.
Owning it is not the same as dwelling on it. You accept what happened, you accept that it hurt, and then you remind yourself that the circumstances of that pain are behind you. You are free to move on and respond with honest emotions. You are free to ask yourself, how do I feel?
Rehearse each incident as you remember it and accept that it hurt. I am terrible about making excuses about why something happened or how I was probably overreacting to it. If you want to get to a place of healing you have to admit what has happened and remind yourself of the truth.
Embrace New Things
Jump out of an airplane (with a parachute please), learn to ballroom dance, or take a pottery class. Find out what you really like to do and then spend time doing it. For years you’ve essentially been working to make the narcissist look good. Your successes haven’t been motivated by your dreams but by the need of your narcissistic partner to wear your abilities like an olive leaf crown that made him look good.
Now it’s time to try new things, sample life, and make mistakes. The really cool thing is that when you do make a mistake the entire world does not implode.
That’s always nice to know.
In a nutshell? Give yourself as much time as you need, acknowledge that you have been treated badly, and take every opportunity to get to know the real you more.
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Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons- Thanks to Martinak15