I have gone a little off-piste here in this blog post, given I normally waffle on about writing and books. But, that’s ok. It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to…There’s a song in that, somewhere.
Following my own experience with this subject and the Mental Health issues I faced afterwards a few years ago, it’s probably no surprise to anyone reading these words how strongly I feel about it. I have spent the last year advocating for Mental Health causes and awareness, particularly in dealing with Narcissistic Abuse in a relationship and my recovery journey from its effects. I’ve made a lot of good connections in Support Groups, attended a lot of Seminars and learned a great deal. I want to share this because I feel I can do some good. And if this post reaches just one person and helps them to see their way through their own experience, or offer them some hope, then it’s surely worthwhile.
“You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo.”
I’m glad to say I’ve been able to offer some help and guidance, in so far as I can, for many walking wounded who sadly are just a little bit further back down the road from me. Souls right now, who can’t tell up from down, and are living in (give or take) the same purgatory, I was. For these people, they have not yet been unplugged from the Matrix. They’ve stumbled around in desperation through the detritus of YouTube and Google for self-help information, just as I did. They’re looking for answers and guidance, just like I was. Looking for sense. For salvation.
For confirmation.. that they’re. NOT. crazy.
I want to point out at the outset that I am not a Qualified Therapist nor have any formal Academic Qualification in this field. What I am; like many people, is a survivor of a relationship with a Narcissist. Some refer to Narcissists as devils. If you have ever been in a relationship with a Narcissist you may well be nodding in agreement as you read this. To those that haven’t (and I salute you) that may sound operatic and rather grandiose, but the term is not without merit. In that case, my devil came to me with beautiful blonde hair and the bluest of blue eyes. What lay behind those eyes was not beautiful.
Why do I feel this way? Why do I miss someone who treated me like garbage, hurt and humiliated me again and again, repeatedly lied, breached my trust, abused me emotionally and financially and then blamed me for everything at the end?… And of course… the great, quintessential question. Why? Why did they do this to me?
I don’t love them anymore, but neither do I feel relief now they’re gone and out of my life. Why can’t I sleep? Why is my self-esteem, nervous system, energy and self-confidence shattered and affecting my ability to forge new relationships? Why do I suffer brain fog, rumination and flashbacks of it all, even though I don’t want them back and never want to see them again. Why have I reacted so acutely to someone so very bad for me when I have not reacted to previous breakups like this? Why can’t I just fucking move forward with my life? I should be happy they’re gone and people keep telling me I should feel so. Why do I mourn something so toxic that caused me so much pain? Am I turning into a zombie?
Sadly, these are all, all too common reactions to Narcissistic Abuse. Although the variables differ in relationship experiences with Narcissists, there is a common thread that you can pick up on, just as the devastation they leave on their victims has a design or footprint and common trends in how that manifests in survivors.
Narcissism is everywhere. One might say it’s a side effect of Social Media culture, where look at me, please like and validate me and agree with everything I say, and God help you if you don’t has a sinister undertone to it. You could make a case that Social Media gives a platform to Narcissism in some ways.
Narcissists are very much like hard-boiled candy sweets. They come in all different shapes, colours, sizes and guises. They taste differently, they’re full of sugar and calories, but we eat them anyway. They will rot and break your teeth. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, then you’d better buckle up. The Captain just switched on the fasten seatbelt sign…
Hicks: “So, what exactly are we dealing with here?”
Ripley: “Well, I’ll tell you what I know”…
So when we say Narcissist, what exactly does that mean? What are the characteristics of a Narcissist and how do I spot one?
The term Narcissism originates in Greek Mythology, The youthful and handsome Greek God Narcissus rejected the advances of the Nymph Echo. This caused Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Narcissism, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Mental disorder that sits amongst a range of Personality Disorders in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance/entitlement and an almost uncontrollable urge for admiration, attention and validation. Narcissists usually have a footprint, too, they do not just wake up one day and have become Narcissistic. NPD often manifests itself in childhood or teenage years and there are various different triggers for it. They often have a history of troubled, disastrous relationships, both personal and professional in their wake, (that they often go to great lengths to hide from the next source of supply) and a severe lack of empathy for anyone but themselves. They’re highly manipulative, either overtly or covertly, charming, ambitious, driven, entitled and have tempers and prone to sudden and explosive outbursts. They can’t handle criticism in any form leading you to feel like you’re always walking on eggshells around them. They’re ALWAYS right, about everything and NEVER take responsibility for anything. EVER. And they’re totally ruthless.
So, now we’ve got some of the Freud out of the way, what do I look for if I think I might be dealing with a Narcissist and how does that translate to dealing with the aftermath if I become a victim of one?
Most people with experience in this field, notably qualified Psychologists or people with years of experience within this area often refer to the Red Flag System as an essential guide on how to determine if you’re dealing with a Narcissist.
So whilst you can apply the formula already mentioned, you can educate yourself and at least understand what you’re dealing with to a better degree and learn the difference in the types of Narcissism and how that manifests in their behaviour, what good are red flags that start waving before your eyes all over the place if you’re not going to act upon them. Right?
What I’ve found is that most victims of Narcissistic Abuse knew; at least to some degree, and were self-aware, when they were in the middle of it all, that something was just not right. With the other person. With the relationship. With everything. Something nondescript. Something they couldn’t quite put their finger on at the time. This includes my own experience. And most people had no idea they were dealing with a Narcissist at the time they were in a relationship with one. That awakening comes in the aftermath.
This is significant. It’s significant because it holds insight into why you didn’t pull the trigger and act, when Red Flag 2, 3 and 4 started waving wildly in front of your face. Some call it intuition or the inner voice and it speaks to you for a reason. Don’t just ignore it. Forgive yourself now for not listening if you did. Your Intuition will forgive you back.
Turning to recovery, the bad news is that there is no off the shelf treatment for dealing with the after effects of Narcissistic Abuse. Dependent upon the variables of your experience, you most likely will be suffering from a form of Complex PTSD when the relationship ends. This can even take the form of an abrupt discard from the Narcissist which may just be two days after they have referred to you as the “love of their life” too. Or perhaps you just flipped at the end or realized you can’t do this anymore and you’re done. This is extra grief on top of the regular and perfectly normal painful emotions both parties of a relationship ending would experience, where there is no toxicity of Narcissism is involved. You get that too, I’m afraid. Sadly, your brain isn’t yet wired to know the difference. That enlightenment, comes later too.
Okay. It’s going to be a long haul and it’s going to be hard. But it will get better, with work, bravery and patience. I promise you that if you invest in confronting the experience, you will come out of the other side a wiser, stronger person and more empowered than you ever thought you could be. But you will; in all probability, have to go through hell to get there.
The milestones for recovery from Narcissistic Abuse can typically be laid out in the following way:
Grief -Allow yourself to grieve and mourn. Despite the hell you’ve been through and the humiliation you feel when the Narcissist’s mask finally slipped and you discovered who they really are, cut yourself some slack. There will have been some good moments, without question in amongst the chaotic rollercoaster. These are the things the Narcissist relied upon to keep you addicted to them, remember and most Narcissists specialize in manipulation and are accomplished, pathological liars. Remind yourself that the relationship was real to you and you lost something you thought you had. Something you thought was real. Your feelings were genuine. And you were conned.
Coping -In the immediate aftermath, your emotions will be scrambled and you will be feeling a lot of different things, ranging from sadness and total confusion, to self-loathing, absolute rage and despair. And sometimes all at once. You have been effectively brainwashed to believe everything is and was your fault and that the Narcissist is the innocent victim. It’s absolutely crucial you reach out for help and have a support network. Even if it’s just a friend who is prepared to listen and let you cry it out, which all friends worth their salt should do for you. You may have to do the same for them one day. You may need to speak to your GP and discuss if medication in the short-term may help you cope, and get some short-term aids to help you sleep. Regular sleep is a vital component of helping you recover emotionally. You may need to take time away from work or reduce your hours. I would also really recommend that you also consider professional help from a Therapist or Counselor who has knowledge of Narcissistic Abuse symptoms and Treatment techniques. There are some very good references included at the bottom of this post and links to reputable and qualified Clinical Psychologists who offer insight on Narcissistic Abuse, complex PTSD and Recovery guidance.
Education– Learn about Narcissism. You will find it an uncomfortable, maybe even hellish experience and it may bring back a lot of painful memories, but it’s vital to helping you unscramble your emotions and help validate you that you’re not crazy. I guarantee you that thought will be one of the most prominent and most worrying anxieties you will have, right now. “Am I crazy?” There is a wealth of knowledge available from qualified Professionals, including Seminars/Webinars, TED Talks and Vlogs which can help you piece together what is happening to you in the context of your own experience.
Distraction – It’s crucial you try to mitigate rumination and bad thoughts when they first occur, so you have a better chance of stopping them taking hold. So force yourself to take on a new hobby or craft. Exercise at least once per day, even if it’s just a short walk in the open air. Walking also helps your mind heal. Learn to breathe properly again, and breathe slowly. Occupy your mind with other things and don’t spend too much time alone with your own thoughts.
Action -This one is the most important of all. GO NO CONTACT. It’s imperative you break all forms of contact with the Narcissist, even if they come trying to hoover you back in at a later time. NO CONTACT means exactly what it says on the tin. And.. it’s forever. There’s just no way around that. I was lucky in that there were no children involved in my case, so a clean break was easier, but if there are children involved in the relationship, then your contact with the Narcissist should be absolutely minimal, and solely related to the children and nothing else.
Healing – Healing is the final part of the journey and in many respects the stage I’m still currently on. Healing takes time and is a different road for everyone. With time comes perspective. With learning, comes knowledge and a deeper understanding. Not of Narcissism or the perpetrators of it (which is unfathomable) but of yourself. If you can gain insight as to why you made the decisions you did, forgive yourself for your mistakes and promise yourself you will learn from it and never repeat those same mistakes again. This will be a massive gain for you. And crucially, it’s where you find your closure.
The very definition of Stupidity can be best described as repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different result. There’s wisdom in that. You will become wiser, I promise you, if you are brave and confront it all, head on. You will make more mistakes as you go forward in your life. But if you really apply what you’ve learned, you will never expose yourself to another Narcissist in that way, ever again.
What you will also discover, in the many long hours of procrastination, crying, hurting and painful anecdotes you hear and read from others suffering on the same pilgrimage as you, is that despite all their Machiavellian Intricacies and the exotic Pseudo-Psychiatric terminology used to describe their behaviours and analyse them, Narcissists are not devils. They are just sick people. They are empty, vacuous husks with holes where their hearts should be. Holes that can never be filled. Not by you, not by anyone, least themselves. You cannot fix them and you cannot save them. They just don’t understand, care, respect nor even recognize your feelings, needs or boundaries and never will. Even if they wanted to. They will never be able to forge genuinely loving and meaningful relationships of any value with anyone that isn’t either financially beneficial to them or meets their needs of supply in some other way.
You can. And they hate you for it.
So. Stand up straight and take a deep breath.
Step up. Be brave. You’ve got this.
This is ground zero. This is where you start.