The one thing that people write to me about most frequently is this: why can’t I let my ex go?
Believe me, I understand. I’ve written about this before. It took me two and a half years–longer than the time we actually spent in our relationship– for me to truly get out. And when the narcissist is gone, when you’re in one of those periods when you’re not talking, a deep longing for your partner to come back may remain. I once surveyed readers and asked them to describe what they had the hardest time explaining to their loved ones about the relationship, and the top response was why they missed their partners.
How is it possible to miss someone who has damaged your life and abused you so horribly?
It’s possible to miss someone who has abused you because love-bombing is abuse too. Love-bombing is a form of cult indoctrination, like brainwashing, and in this case it’s done under false pretenses. It’s just as much a part of the abuse that has been inflicted as any of the more obvious forms. This is difficult, yet crucial, to accept.
Further, the fact that we have a hard time accepting this fact that missing them is part of the abuse is itself also part of the abuse because it makes us vulnerable to being further abused.
Understanding and accepting that all of the stages of our relationship with the narcissist were abusive is crucial, because until we do, we can stay stuck in a hoovering phase, or even if we have gone no-contact, we can feel lost, disempowered, and without hope by what happened for years.
Therefore, yes, we must definitely go no-contact, but it isn’t sufficient in order to heal. There are two things we absolutely have to do to get over a narcissist and get our lives back: (1) “Go no contact” and (2) “Stop idealizing the narcissist and the relationship.”
It is my belief that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to do each one separate from the other. In other words, it is nearly impossible to stop idealizing the relationship before going no-contact because they consistently influence our thoughts while they are in our presence, and yet it is also almost impossible to go no-contact before stopping the idealization of the relationship because without being able to re-frame the relationship, we will have a mostly romanticized view of the narcissist and want to stay in it.
Nice trap they have us in, isn’t it?
Instead, to be completely free, what is more likely is that you will have to go back and forth between the two required steps until you find that you have put the relationship in the past and you are whole once again. During a short burst of no-contact, your view will get a little less rose-colored. Then when you make contact once again, you will be that much closer to breaking away for good the next time. And yet you cannot stop there. You cannot live in the past with the image of the narcissist intact as it is.
What do these two things really look like?
How do you get there (to the end)?
1. Going No-Contact
(or Going Grey Rock if You Have Reasons You Can’t Cut Off Contact Completely)
You absolutely must stop interacting with the narcissist in your life before you can even begin to recover, much less completely stop idealizing the relationship. Even though it is obvious, its importance cannot be understated.
You can’t leave the door open to be friends. You can’t leave the door open for them to get in touch with you with the idea that you “just won’t respond.”
You can’t look at their social media profiles or contact any mutual friends to find out how they are doing.
If you are still interacting with them, your life and your thoughts are not your own. You will not recognize how much they have an influence on what you are thinking and how you feel until they have been gone for a few weeks. They have penetrated every layer of your being and know everything about you. There is a pervasive fog that clouds your mind. Confusion may be your primary emotion. You may not even realize it until you have spent time away from them for a few weeks.
They split you into two people in their own mind with their actions, and thus you become two people in yours as well: the one that wants to believe in them and the one who knows they will never be good for you and will never change. They have been slowly draining you out of the one who wants to believe in them by conditioning you not to speak up. They have eroded your own will and slowly replaced it with their own and then tried to silence that other part of you that is trying to rebel against how you have been treated.
That part of you that wants to believe in them has been indoctrinated with their lies of love. It will try to keep you there, locked in a fantasy until you are drained of everything you ever were.
You must get away, and yet this is also why going no-contact is not enough.
Going no-contact is the fight for your right to control your own life and physical space. Gaining a realistic view of the relationship is the fight for your mind and thoughts.
2. Stopping Your Idealization of the Narcissist and the Relationship
How much time do we spend going over and over the relationship in our minds, like a “choose your own adventure” story playing out endlessly, where there’s that one path to the end that will give us our happily ever after if only we can find it?
We open door after door, but maybe somewhere in the middle of the story, we forgot what that would even look like. Maybe the story changed and we forgot how we wanted things to end. So much damage done, so many new leaves now heaped on top of one another waiting for us to turn over, we wouldn’t even recognize what season we were in anymore even if things did ever start to change.
Drowning in the pages of the story, we lose sight of what we are fighting for; all we remember is a dream of the past where, because of that person they once showed to us that seems now to have disappeared, we felt infinite love, and all we want is to feel it again.
This is what keeps us tied to them.
A lot has been written about going no-contact, yet I have seen very little written about this second step, of gaining a realistic version of the narcissist and the relationship. It is one of the keys to both staying no-contact forever and to mending ourselves so that we can move forward and out of their shadow. It feels as if little is said about how painful this process is or what we must accept in order to make it here. Yet this is what keeps people stuck.
We must see the relationship for what it actually was, not as the narcissist wanted us to see it. To do that, we must reframe how we see the narcissist, see the world through their eyes, and dismantle our view of what could have been.
Complete no-contact will be difficult before idealization ends, and yet idealization is difficult while the narcissist’s influence lingers. This is the paradox of a relationship with a narcissist.
This is why the hoovers work so well, and why we live in this purgatory for months or years. The initial attempts to break up fail because:
- We still miss what we had and have a hard time moving on. We get abuse amnesia and wonder if it was as bad as we thought it was.
- We may blame ourselves or wonder if things could have turned out differently.
- We’ll still struggle with the cognitive dissonance and wonder if they can change and if we should try again.
In other words, “no-contact” is pretty useless without a complete mental shift. We either still have the idea in our heads that it’s okay if they come back into our lives, thus undoing any progress we make when they are gone– or we keep them alive in our heads, negating some of the loss of their physical presence.
We have to banish them from our minds too.
Why Is It So Hard?
(This is the painful part)
- We have to accept that we were manipulated.
- We have to look back on our memories with them and think about the fact that they meant something different than what they seemed like at the time.
- We have to accept the fact that the narcissist didn’t love us the way we loved them.
- We have to accept the fact that someone could do something like that to us, that people like this actually exist in the world.
- It may make us feel unsafe and violated to know that someone was infiltrating our innermost thoughts and emotions and using them against us.
- Accepting that someone you loved so much could really have had no guilt about hurting you this deeply is bonechilling and disturbing.
- It’s like a death. Not only is the relationship over, we are grieving over the idea that the person we loved isn’t real.
You lose a piece of yourself too. You’re not exactly sure what’s in it– it’s a piece you never wanted to lose, but you have no choice. They’ve written their name all over it. Part of it contains your innocence. Part of it contains the last ties to them that they built through their constant contact and general penetration of your world. You have to let it go and leave it in the past.
But… with an understanding of how narcissists think, although it’s painful, there is light too. The light comes from the truth. You learn that the pain they caused was not personal, and that is a turning point that puts you on the path to healing.
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