One of the most difficult things about trying to explain relationships with narcissists is explaining even to ourselves why we don’t leave sooner.
What we often have not recognized fully and do not give ourselves enough credit for is that leaving them isn’t just physical. We must leave them in our minds as well. In addition to all of the difficult steps we often have to take to prepare our physical environments for a different life without them, our mentalities must be prepared for the loss. It does no good to move away, shut off our phones, focus on other people in our lives, tell others about what has been done to us, or return to or find hobbies to keep ourselves occupied if we haven’t left them mentally.
We are literally having to shift our perspectives of our narcissistic/sociopathic partners from what we thought was real to a new understanding in order to leave them. This cannot be done overnight and usually must be done while they continue to abuse and traumatize us.
We often also must do so while our brains are chemically addicted to the abuse cycle perpetrated by the narcissist’s actions. In addition, psychological trauma shrinks the hippocampus and pre-frontal cortex of the brain, activating our “fight or flight” response and making it difficult to make sound decisions that are not based on the drama-manufactured emotion.
I wrote an article on Eleven Things That Can Happen Before Going “No-Contact” and Meaning It. Those were things that I personally went through that I could only recognize after I left the relationship I had been in. Reflecting on the long period of time between when I had the epiphany that something was wrong with my ex-boyfriend and when I was finally able to get out for good helped me to understand why it had taken the length of time that it did for me to leave and what I had actually been doing during all that time. It helped me to realize that I had been trying to get out all along. I was pushing myself in that direction under unfavorable conditions even I didn’t fully understand until I was able to finally get away.
I can’t say that those exact stages or things that I identified speak for everyone, but I can say that if you are not yet in no-contact with your narcissistic partner, you are lost somewhere in that break-up/make-up period wondering how things will end.
Although it may seem as if you will never get away, or that the narcissist is in control, or even that you are confused about what you really want, there is likely a part of you that is working hard to save yourself.
Let it do its job.
In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help yourself get there. The stages I identified were more a passive recognition of what I was feeling and thinking.
In this article, I will describe active, conscious steps you can take to move closer to the finish line and faster. They are things that will not only get you there faster, they will make things easier when you get to the other side because you will be that much stronger.
If You Can’t Go No-Contact Yet, Do These Seven Things Instead
Don’t Be Hard on Yourself.
For all the reasons listed above and more, this is not easy. You are on a path to get out of this relationship and you can only be where you are right now. Don’t beat yourself up for not being farther along on it. You’ve had obstacles thrown in your path at every turn.
But you must keep going. You can and will get out and get your life back. Your partner does not maintain all the control, although that is what he or she would like for you to believe. If they did, you would not be reading this. You will get out and that part of you trying to save yourself knows it. Let it take over and don’t fight it.
Every time you read an article like this one or any of the other thousands out there about narcissistic abuse, you are retraining your mind to think differently about the relationship and staying on the path to your freedom. You have been brainwashed into trying harder and harder to earn the love of someone who cannot love you. Read the articles over and over, and let the part of your mind that wants to save you absorb it. Read them until it sinks in and you truly understand what has happened to you.
Talk to People Who “Get It” and Stay Away From People Who Don’t.
If there are people in your life who excuse the narcissist, who try to keep the two of you together or make you feel guilty or responsible either for not leaving or for trying to leave (for there may be people on both sides), try to avoid them.
Instead, talk to people who have had similar relationships like the relationship you are going through who can validate your experience and remind you that what you are going through is very real. It isn’t your fault, it isn’t your imagination, you aren’t overreacting, it is abuse. You are being slowly eroded, your own will was conditioned from the beginning, and it is making you sick. Again, you would not be here otherwise. Normal relationships do not make people feel this way.
Figure Out What In You Is Resistant To Leaving.
There is a part of you that’s stuck where you are because of something you still feel about your partner or the relationship. What is it?
Is it that you think you’ll never love anyone that way again or feel connected to someone the way you have to him or her again? Do you worry that maybe you’re wrong and he or she can change? Do you miss what they were like at the beginning and have been holding out hope that things can be that way someday again? Are you afraid of facing the fact that they never loved you? Are you sure that what you’re reading doesn’t apply to him or her and there must be some other logical explanation if you could just figure out what it is? Does it scare you to believe that someone looked inside your soul and used every dream and insecurity you had to extract everything good from you? Are you no longer sure of what a life without them would look like since they were there for so long or so intensely?
These are just possibilities. Ideas. Thoughts that have run through my head at different times. Things I’ve seen other people say. Maybe you relate to them, or maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, you will have to start coming to terms with the fact that your own fears and doubts are hurting you. They were programmed into you, and yet they are turning you against yourself. Remind yourself of this over and over and focus on the things about your relationship that provide evidence of the opposite of what you fear (for there is always something) to start motivating you to harden your heart to their empty words.
Use Time Apart to Your Advantage.
If the narcissist gives you another silent treatment, use it to your advantage. Don’t chase after him or her. Try to do things that you enjoy, even if you have to start small with twenty or thirty minutes a day of an activity you used to do before you met him or her. Call up an old friend. Go out and take a walk. Pay attention to how much calmer you are without them around. Really focus on your body.
No eggshells? Good. No wondering if they’ll keep their plans that day or not? Great– you have the day to yourself to do what you want. No random accusations or verbal abuse? Wonderful… as it should be. It actually probably feels rather strange, doesn’t it, to not have to deal with their abusive nonsense–which is outrageous if you think about it.
But try to relax into it. Doesn’t it feel good? Think of their silence as an opportunity to get a feel for what your life will be like without them. Enjoy and celebrate the peace. They are teaching you how to live without them instead of punishing you and they don’t even know it. The joke is on them.
Challenge the Narcissist.
Now that you have had a taste for life without them, don’t let them get away with the crazymaking they try to pull when they come back. If you can manage it, when they accuse you of doing something, say something abusive or play mind games, don’t argue with them, just say, “I don’t accept that behavior anymore,” or “You know that’s not true.” Say it as calmly and with as much conviction as you can, look disinterested, and walk away or change the subject.
Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don’t. When they do, it can be like watching a balloon deflate. When they see that one of their old usual lines stops working on you, they sometimes stop saying it. They knew it wasn’t true all along.
Even if they don’t see what is happening, it’s still empowering. You’re doing it more for yourself than for them. You are forcing yourself to stop caring what they think or do. You may not feel it at first, but do it enough times and you will. You are breaking the spell. They’re losing power over you.
Don’t Let Them Make You Nostalgic For the Good Old Days.
When they can’t bring you down, they’ll try to promise you the world again and tell you how great things will be if you’ll just give them another chance. You’re almost free. Don’t fall for it. Do you see them with different eyes yet? Keep repeating these steps and you will start to do so, and then this trick they pull will stop working.
One of the last times I ever saw my ex-boyfriend, I remember how foreign he felt to me and it brought tears to my eyes. I turned away because I didn’t want him to see. And yet he did. Of course, he did– and leaned in for a better look. The corners of his mouth turned up as if it was amusing. Emotion. His lifeforce. I felt as if he was gawking at me and I physically turned my body away and tried to stop the tears.
“Are you crying?” He tilted his face forward around mine so I could see him in the light from the streetlamps.
“Yes… but it’s because I used to love you so much.” I couldn’t help that memories began to wash over me. It wasn’t so much the images flooding through me that were having an impact, but the feelings that accompanied them. I was nearly trembling with the emotional memory of how much I had once loved the man sitting next to me. “And I don’t feel it anymore. It just makes me sad.”
I wanted to burst into tears at the loss, not so much of him, but the loss of that part of myself that had loved someone that much. It felt like such a tragedy, such a waste. I remembered the nights I would force myself to stay awake as long as possible just so I could watch his face while he slept. And now I felt nothing in his presence. He was a stranger. This is what I was talking about earlier– that fear that I would never love someone that much again, that grief over missing that love I’d had for him. They can never understand something like this. They can’t understand what they lose by mistreating us.
Now he was just sitting there feeding off of my emotion. He tried to tell me about how we would have a sequel, and remind me of all of our good times, but it was too late. I had blocked that door in my heart.
Don’t get abuse amnesia. Don’t let them make you forget what they themselves are going to miss out on by mistreating you. It’s going to be their loss.
This is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. You’re fighting a battle in your head and you just have to keep going. They don’t have the power– they just want you to believe they do. It’s all yours to take away from them at any time whenever you decide that you are ready.
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