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Healing from Narcissistic Abuse: What Not to Do

Healing from narcissistic abuse is a process and there are many stages on the way to recovery. 

To leave a narcissist, it takes having some realizations about who your partner is and what is happening in your relationship. The journey toward healing then takes having additional realizations that you just can’t have while you’re still under the influence of a pathological partner. 

There are things that can hold us back from having these realizations we need to heal. Below are seven things we should try not to do so we don’t get stuck on the way to a full recovery. 

figure with an umbrella reflected in puddle

What to Avoid as You’re Healing from Narcissistic Abuse

It can be tempting to do these things. Sometimes not doing them is painful and it feels easier to just shut off that pain. 

Other times, we may not recognize consciously we’re doing them or we may not realize how harmful they are because we’ve absorbed messages from others around us. 

As you read, question whether you’re doing any of these things, how they’ve served you as you recover, and whether changing them might move you forward in your recovery.     

To reach a full recovery, you will want to avoid: 

1. Hanging Around People Who Don’t Support You

People who haven’t been through a pathological love relationship with a narcissist or psychopath don’t understand what we’ve been through. That’s okay–as long as they still support as we leave one and then recover from it.  

Supportive people should be empathetic to what you’re going through. That means they shouldn’t judge you. 

They also shouldn’t project what they think they would do if they were in your shoes (we know they wouldn’t). 

They shouldn’t give you advice unless you ask for it or tell you what to do, or make claims about who they think you are or why they think you’re feeling how you’re feeling. 

Supportive people listen to how you’re feeling. They may not always be available to listen 24/7 because they’re human, however, giving you the benefit of the doubt and accepting you and the situation for what it is should just be basic. 

You don’t have to convince anyone to love and accept you. If they’re actively saying harmful things, get away from them.  

2. Suppressing Your Emotions

The roller coaster of emotions is one of the most painful things we will likely ever experience. It’s tempting to do anything we can to try to shut off the spigot.

Doing so will only prolong the pain, however.

When we sit with that pain, the intensity does begin to fade over time. I don’t know the biology behind why that happens, but it’s as if by allowing those emotions in, we desensitize ourselves to them. 

Eventually, new ones start to take their place. It may seem difficult to believe, but we may start to feel amusement at the ridiculous things our partners did.   

3. Beating Yourself Up If You Responded to a Hoover

Narcissists are great at pushing our buttons. They learned how to control us and conditioned us to respond when they pulled out various tricks.  

They have a habit of popping up weeks, months, or even years later with a hoover attempt and we may get caught off guard. 

Maybe you ended up in a web of conversation you didn’t want to get involved in. If you found yourself in a place you didn’t want to be, just recognize that this is another game they play. 

Either end the game as soon as you can or, if you can’t end it, at least understand what happened and go easy on yourself. 

It’s going to happen even sooner that one day there’s nothing they say that you care to respond to when you truly realize you have all the power or they wouldn’t keep contacting you. 

4. Blaming Yourself for What Happened

Speaking of going easy on yourself, don’t get caught in the trap of blaming yourself for things that happened while you were in the relationship.  

There’s all kinds of blame others may want to heap on you and you will start to heap on yourself.  

“I should have known when I first met them.”  (Why?)

“I should have recognized the red flags.”  (You sure about that? More on this below)

“I should have left sooner.”  (There are about two dozen reasons you didn’t and none of them say anything about you or what kind of person you are)

“I shouldn’t have responded to them the ways that I did.”  (The volume of things we could dump into this “shoulda” statement is so large, it practically means we’d have to be superhuman–or a psychopath)  

It keeps going, but we have to understand the psychology and sociology behind what happened in the relationship to truly understand what occurred.

The guilt and shame we heap on ourselves can never bring us to a closure that will complete our recovery. 

5. Assuming You’re Codependent (or, if You Are Codependent, Attributing the Situational Dynamics of the Relationship to Your Codependency) 

The idea that you’re codependent assumes that there were qualities about you prior to the start of the relationship that made you attractive to the narcissist and made the narcissist attractive to you. 

It implies there was something inherent in you that may have led you to enter the relationship and to stay in it.  

This may be true for you. Of course some people re-enact past patterns in their relationships. 

There is a crucial missing piece in our understanding of what happened in the relationship, if we haven’t taken situational dynamics into account. 

What do situational dynamics mean? It means we haven’t fully taken into account the factors outside of ourselves that affected our behavior in the relationship.

Rhonda Freeman, neuropsychologist, says, “Narcissistic abuse is about the pathology of the narcissist damaging the well-being of their partner. There is no one who will do great in these relationships – not even the securely attached. Why? Because narcissists have a disorder of impaired social neuro-networks of their brain. That is the key to the problem. The survivor is having a reaction to the narcissist’s limited emotional system.”

What are situational factors?

An example of a situational factor is how psychological manipulation can coerce a person to violate their own morals and values. This coercion can occur in a lot of different circumstances.  Most people tend to react the same way, regardless of their personality or background. 

Other important factors include isolation and our level of conscientiousness.  What was happening in our lives at the time we met our partners is also a crucial factor.  The chemical trauma bond we develop to the narcissist is also very important.

These factors help to show how we how we change over time through our interactions with the narcissist and become more compliant and dependent. 

If codependency was the only factor necessary to explain either the narcissist’s attraction to us or why we could not leave, there would have been no need for the narcissist to deceive us.  He or she also would not need to psychologically manipulate us and break us down to make us compliant, as the codependency with which we supposedly entered the relationship would have been enough on its own. 

It is our compliance that made us valuable. That compliance was induced in us gradually.  

Without understanding how we were changed as a result of the relationship, we can’t recover from that change.    

6. Forgetting to Grieve

It wasn’t just the relationship you lost.  You were placed in a situation where pieces of you were taken under false pretenses.

You didn’t ask for this. All you wanted to do–all you tried to do–was love someone. 

Yet the narcissist stole things from you. You lost those pieces of yourself and you’ll never get them back. It’s unfair. It’s tragic.  Nothing about this makes any sense.  

As part of not suppressing your emotions, you’ll have to grieve, but one of the things you’ll grieve for is you:  your innocence and your view of the world.  

It’s okay to grieve those things–in fact, you’ll have to in order to become the “you” you’re now meant to become.

7. Letting What Happened Steal Your Core Values From You 

Sometimes people write to me and say, “Because of this relationship, I’ll never be the person I used to be.”

The statement is usually written with regret, sadness and sometimes anger. 

Yes, again, something was stolen from us.  We were forced to change when we didn’t want to.  We were exploited so that someone else could take those things from us.

It’s true that we are forever changed by the knowledge of our experience because we will never again be able to see the world as a place where people will do the right thing if given the chance.  We have seen that some people don’t care that they cause others pain and even enjoy the pain they inflict on others.  It’s an ugly truth to face. 

We can maintain our core values, however, by reconciling this knowledge with the fact that most people are not like this.

It is an act of both resilience and of defiance to maintain our trust in humanity despite the abuse we suffered. 

Not going back to the way we used to be is not possible because we are not who we used to be.  Yet we also cannot stay stuck where we are–wishing we were who we used to be. 

Instead of compartmentalizing who we used to be from who we are now, we can integrate our new knowledge with our core values to become our best selves.    

This means developing the strength to move forward into a future that truly leaves the pain of the relationship with the narcissist in the past where it belongs. 

 

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References

Freeman, Rhonda. n.d. “3 Possibilities to Consider Before Assuming You’re Codependent.” Neuroinstincts. Retrieved at https://neuroinstincts.com/codependency-narcissistic-abuse-the-brain/

Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.

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