Step into the funhouse.
The key feature of narcissistic abuse that distinguishes it from other types of abuse is the narcissist’s intricate construction of a false reality to manipulate people in social and romantic relationships.
In the funhouse, when you catch a glimpse of yourself in one of the mirrors, you will recognize yourself, and yet you will look nothing like the person you once were.
You recognize the illusion for what it is, you see the distortion staring back at you, and yet it’s not your universe and no matter how many mirrors you stare into, none of them reflect anything back to you that you can trust.
Because the narcissist can only live in a distorted reality. In this reality, things make perfect sense to them, because it is the only reality they know and they are always the center of it, and yet it is a selfish and self-absorbed one.
While we’re in it, it’s difficult to see all of this and even immediately afterward, when we’re still putting together the pieces of what happened, it’s not easy to understand. With time, however, as the relationship begins to fade in the distance, there are some realizations that begin to rise to the surface and empower us as our own consciousness comes back around to take control again.
The Things You Either Won’t Know or Believe at First, But That Will Sink in Later
1. Yes, it was as bad as you thought it was.
There were many times during the relationship when you likely had abuse amnesia, a dangerous form of psychological denial that our brains use to protect us from a situation we aren’t able to leave because of the connection the narcissist had formed to us.
Even after the relationship ends, there may at first be times when you will look back and wonder if it was as bad for you as your desperation was screaming at times.
Yes. It was.
As you pass further in time from the relationship, it will feel more like a dream than a reality. Instead of wondering if it was as bad as you thought it was, you will begin to wonder how you let it go on as long as you did.
This is because the emotional intensity has begun to fade away. When we are not emotionally involved, things look clearer, however, that doesn’t necessarily make them so. We just understand them from a different point of view.
Don’t succumb to the danger of shaming yourself for not being an “outsider” to your own relationship. You walked in your own shoes– you were there! You know what it was like. Please take this opportunity to have empathy for yourself. You know why you let it go on. Don’t ever forget that feeling.
Now is the time to learn from it. More on that later.
2. The narcissist is not two different people or a troubled person who just occasionally has bad days.
This is dangerous magical thinking that kept us stuck in the relationship for as long as it did and can keep us mired in confusion even after the relationship is over so that we don’t move on.
It’s the cognitive dissonance of trying to figure out exactly who the narcissist actually is: How can two people have seemed to exist in the same body? How can someone have been so kind and yet also treated me so horribly? How can someone have acted so loving and then said and done things to me that I never expected to ever experience in my life from another person, especially from someone who claims to love me?
The idea we must come to terms with is that their primary goal is always to act on their own behalf and extract what they want from others in every social situation, including romantic relationships. Narcissists are manipulative people whose behavior is self-serving and bound to be hurtful, but sometimes doing nice things for you served a purpose.
It’s not confusing at all when we understand this.
3. There will always be some unanswered questions and at some point, you have to let them go.
Because of this cognitive dissonance, for a long time, you may be stuck thinking about particular situations when he or she did or said something.
What did it all mean? You’ll be putting things together that you never put together before and some things might never fit together in a way that makes complete sense.
What we would have done and what they did will always have been different. Not only that, but the inconsistency of their behavior in the context of what should make sense given what we know now should be a testament to the fact that they are not acting rationally and they live in a reality that is always changing according to their needs in a moment– whatever will allow them to get what they want at a given time is what they will do or say.
Did they pretend to love me or did they actually love me? What difference does it make when their actions overall were anything but loving, when ultimately, that arrow turns into a boomerang in an instant when we don’t behave as they wish us to behave.
The only predictable thing about their actions is their own disloyalty to everyone except themselves.
They’ll go through any ritual, say any words, to try to convince you it’s real. But behave in ways that make those actions actually mean something, to give you something you can trust behind those words and rituals?
This is why we were always anxious, always uneasy. They continue to provide their verbal shadow puppets, yet there’s never anything underneath. It’s madness to us– why spend so much time building shadows? Why not just build the real thing?
If they wanted what we did, time spent building the real thing would be well-invested. But to them, their way makes sense because a life in the shadows enables them to live secret lives undetected.
Then when it’s all over, we just want the light to illuminate the real world again so we have something true to stand on.
At some point, the realization we have to face is that they kept us confused plugging away at these emotional puzzles when we should never have been confused in the first place.
When someone loves you, there should be no confusion. There are no shadows.
So answer the major questions but let the smaller ones lie. Those are the ones they used to keep us trapped in the relationship. They can never be answered.
4. There was nothing you could have done to change the outcome or save the relationship.
Once you read enough about narcissism, put enough of the pieces together and have enough distance from the relationship, you see how nothing you did could have made any difference.
There were times when you may have fooled yourself and beat yourself up about some of your own actions throughout the relationship.
If only I hadn’t questioned him so much about that or been so suspicious, it wouldn’t have started that chain reaction. If I hadn’t gotten so upset and just stayed calm after I found out about [x]. If I hadn’t reacted to what he said to me that night the way I did. Then he wouldn’t have cheated again/broken up with me/yelled at me/called me all those things, or that time would have worked out when he was trying to show me he changed and…
- Did your partner lie extensively about his or her past?
- Was your partner involved with other people from Day One?
- Did your partner cheat on you with others, and in ways that indicate elaborate multiple long-term lives, such as engagements, moving in together, having children with, or otherwise have long-term relationships with them while also being married to, engaged to, or living with you?
- Did your partner belittle, shame, monitor or try to control who you were friends with or where you went almost from the very beginning– maybe at first with concerned comments but later with more cutting and devaluing comments or even physical or financial abuse?
- Did your partner lie about you to other people or betray your trust by using things you had told them or had said during the course of the relationship to make you sound like a horrible person, leaving out the context, to try to turn people against you or gain sympathy?
You tell me. When did the problems start?
Every relationship has problems and no one is perfect, but I can bet that you entered the relationship with honest intentions and a true willingness to give all of your devotion to it.
When did the narcissist ever do that?
How was it ever supposed to work?
The narcissist was a narcissist before he or she met you, and is an expert of convincing partners that if they overlook all of the bad behavior or if they hadn’t started asking about it or questioning it, or if they hadn’t done some silly thing, the relationship would have taken an entirely different track from where it ended up!
How would that ever have been possible?
The narcissist is doomed to repeat this cycle. You are not. It’s sad because we loved them, or at least a part of them, but the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can stop feeling responsible for something that isn’t our fault. It’s misplaced.
5. You can’t stop the narcissist, change the narcissist, warn the next person or the people in the narcissist’s life.
This has to be the clearest case of “cutting someone off” we may ever have had to do in our lives.
The only way to truly save ourselves, however, is to do exactly that. The realization that it is the best thing may not come until later.
It will finally sink in after we go through the roller-coaster of emotions, get angry on behalf of ourselves, feel the anxiety fade of having been in the relationship, and see the much bigger issues that the narcissist brought into the relationship and then imposed on our lives.
We realize that the best thing for ourselves is to just let all of it go. Not just the unanswered questions, but everything about him or her.
We have to stop wondering about their lives, stop wondering about who they’re with and whether we should try to warn them or talk to them, stop lamenting the past. Just stop.
No change is going to happen.
Let them be. Leave them to their own destiny.
6. All the things the narcissist put in your head about you are wrong.
I saw this written somewhere else once, and it’s absolutely right: someone who is abusing you and intentionally trying to control you does not have a coherent view of you. It is being filtered through whatever distortion about the world in general in their own mind compels them to abuse you, and, therefore, anything they say about you is distorted and inaccurate.
So all those things the narcissist said about who you are, what kind of person you are, your value in relationships or how much you can be loved are not just lies, they’re the demented ravings and projections of someone who cannot keep another person in a relationship without trying to tear them down or make them dependent in some way.
Remember, narcissists want beautiful, smart, loving, and caring people who amplify their own image and make them feel special. They just don’t want you to know that’s what they think of you because they’re afraid of you.
They were always afraid you were going to leave or outshine them, that someone else would see how wonderful you were or that you would realize how bad they were for you and walk away.
Well, guess what?
7. Not everyone is like the narcissist, but also not everyone deserves your forgiveness equally.
It may be easy to write other people off too in the aftermath of a relationship with a narcissist. For a time, we may lose our faith in all of humanity as we realize there are people who will look us in the eyes and lie blatantly for years about the most intimate things in life, who have no qualms about hurting us in the most brutal ways one person can hurt another.
We are used to being able to give people the benefit of the doubt and to forgive. Now, because of our new knowledge, our way of the world may change and can cause us to want to withdraw.
One of the things we will have to further recognize, however, is that not everyone is like the narcissist– we just have to take our new view of the world and figure out how to apply it so that we know who deserves our forgiveness– or even who deserves to be in our lives in the first place.
8. You don’t need the narcissist. Your life is actually going to be better.
The narcissist became an all-consuming part of your life for so long and implanted the idea that you couldn’t live without them.
Don’t buy it.
I get it. After they leave, there’s that feeling of freefalling with no safety net.
The relationship has actually provided us with an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. It provided the opportunity for us to learn about the limits of our capacity to love and trust, to establish the boundaries of what we should tolerate, and to learn what it was about ourselves that the narcissist was able to exploit so that we can ensure it never happens again.
We have been provided with an unprecedented opportunity to grow, to level-up. While it may be painful, the beauty of what it was the narcissist saw in us in the first place has not disappeared, but can actually blossom with a new understanding of ourselves going forward.