Coming out of an abusive relationship of any sort is not easy. It can take years of counseling, reprogramming, and struggle to break the old habits and ways of thinking. Although some narcissists are quite physically abusive it is rare. They usually prefer to use verbal, financial, sexual, and other forms of abuse that are less obvious to the outsider. Remember, they must maintain their outward appearance at all costs.
What you’re left with, rather than physical scarring, is a sort of litany of loathing on a continuous loop that runs in your head 24/7. Long after he has moved on to reinvent himself with a new source of emotional energy you are battling ghosts from your past. It’s time to make yourself believe it’s really over.
That ship has sailed.
The Sex Tape
I was talking to a friend the other day who had been in a narcissistic relationship prior to her second marriage. Like many women, she stuck it out far longer than she should have – for her children and her personal beliefs about marriage. She was the primary breadwinner in that relationship, a professional in her field, and a really sweet person. If you met her you would adore her – everyone does.
Her husband is a responsible, kind, hardworking man who has, like many men stepping up to the plate that the narcissist abandoned, taken on both her and her kids without looking back. He very obviously loves her and the kids.
That continuous loop I was talking about plays in her head and it’s all too easy for her to misinterpret things that happen in normal relationships. She was sexually neglected and, as you can imagine, her confidence has suffered. She and her husband are in midlife, a time when your sexuality is in total flux. When her husband isn’t as amorous as usual she doesn’t blame age and hormones. She blames her perceived undesirability. She was told she was unattractive and undesirable for so long, and blamed for long periods of celibacy, that her automatic response is that it’s her fault and she has failed.
The Inadequate Tape
I have another friend who is working on her exit strategy. One of the things she is doing is finishing her degree so that she can walk away and be able to care for her children. She is constantly barraged with a volley of negativity about her inadequacies as a wife, a mother, and a human being and yet she is maintaining a high GPA, taxi-ing kids to and from school, keeping house, and doing all those mom things that we do every day.
The other day she had one of “those” moments. She decided that she couldn’t accomplish what she was trying to accomplish and didn’t see why she should keep trying. She ended a long tirade of self-depreciating words with the statement that she shouldn’t expect to be happy anyway.
The Don’t Tell Me What to Do Tape
I suffer from both of those tapes at times but my usual battle is with feeling controlled. I don’t like to be told what to do – that’s just part of my temperament. I had a lot of leadership qualities in my younger years and I think that makes you less likely to handle direction gracefully.
Having been controlled financially, emotionally, sexually, and every other way for 30 years I REALLY don’t like to be told what I should and should not be doing. I hate feeling like someone is controlling my schedule or the way I handle my money. If any small thing sets of the emotional manipulation alarm then the self-protective, don’t tell me what to do loop begins rolling and my walls come up.
You Never Left the Relationship
Here’s the thing – if you have one of those, or similar, loops running through your head then for all intents and purposes you’ve never left the relationship. The narcissist, ex or not, is still in control of you. He may even be controlling numerous aspects of your new relationship.
If you never leave the relationship emotionally you might as well still be married to him. Damage is still being done, you are still being held back, and he is still winning. Whoever said that there is no winner in a divorce was never married to a narcissist!
Since you were exposed to an arsenal of abusive tactics by your narcissistic ex it’s hard to say which loop will start playing at any given time. It doesn’t really matter – they all work to pull you back in to an unhealthy state of mind that ultimately spills over into every new relationship that you have.
Healing comes with time and careful attention to learning to break unhealthy patterns. Be good to yourself.
Photo credit Tetra Pack
There are steps you can take to break free from those unhealthy thought patterns.
Get Alone Time
This can be difficult but it is imperative. When you’ve been in a narcissistic relationship you learn to discount your impressions, perceptions, and feelings. You end up depending on others for clues about how you should be feeling. You constantly read your environment, even if you don’t realize that you are doing it, and formulate the proper response based on how you think others are feeling.
When you are alone there is no one else influencing your emotions, thoughts, or response. If a scene in a movie makes you cry you can label it “sad” since there isn’t anyone to tell you that you’re being silly. If you want to listen to a particular kind of music, turn the heat up to 90, or dance you are free to do those things. Alone time allows you to learn to have personal preferences.
Words have power. The narcissist uses words to break down his victims so he can feed on their emotions. Think of a spider injecting its victim with a venom that breaks down its insides so the spider can suck out the life.
You need to surround yourself with people who give you positive words to counteract the poison that has been being injected into you daily. It doesn’t diminish you if you have to ask them for words of encouragement.
It’s difficult for some people to share their feelings but encouragement can be learned. Most victims of narcissistic abuse are starved for words of affirmation and encouragement. If no one else will give you the words you need speak them aloud to yourself.
And, if you know someone who has been in a narcissistic relationship remember to give them a copious amount of praise:
- You are so good at ____________.
- You are beautiful.
- You are fun to be around.
- You are kind.
- Thank you so much for ___________.
- I love you.
Get Involved in a Support Group
When you are the victim of any sort of abuse it makes you feel alone. You are not. Millions of people have gone through what you’ve gone through and come out on the other side. A support group can make all of the difference in your healing.
Try to find one locally by doing a web search for Narcissistic Support Groups. Get involved with one so that you have real people who’ve experienced what you’ve experienced and understand. Also take a minute and join First Wives World today. Talk to others who have been where you are and are recovering. Knowing that you’re not alone is priceless.
Lead Image Courtesy Flickr's Creative Commons, User: Bradley Gee