People who have never been in a relationship with a narcissist fail to understand why it takes so long to leave one.
Even afterward, we are sometimes left beating ourselves up over why it took us so long.
This is destructive and unhelpful.
Others ask the question because they were not emotionally involved. It’s easier to look at the issues in the lives of others from an objective standpoint and make principled statements about what should be done when there are no attachments to be considered.
We should know. That’s exactly how narcissists and psychopaths make their decisions about what they do.
We don’t do that, however, and most of the people advising us don’t either. They just can’t see what we see.
Neither can we explain it to them most of the time because we aren’t even able to explain it to ourselves. Just struggling for control of our own minds back is hard enough.
There are five stages (the Five Stages of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment) we must pass through psychologically in order to get control of our own minds back before we can leave. These stages involve an awareness that the relationship is abusive and acceptance leading to awakening that the relationship will not change and that we have the power to leave it and must take action to do so.
At the same time we pass through these stages and gain a new understanding of the relationship and of our own power to act within it, our view of our partners changes as well. It must change, in order for us to proceed through these stages and to finally act.
In fact, when we are stuck in one stage of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment, it is often because we are holding onto a view of the narcissist that we are unable to let go of.
Below are the five views of the narcissist that correspond to the Five Stages of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment and what those views represent.
Our Five Perspectives of the Narcissist
1. The Soulmate
This is our very first impression of our partners. It is the impression that we form when the narcissist inevitably begins to provide us with all of the targeted love-bombing and attention. He or she seems to accept us completely for who we are.
They like the things that we like and are able to anticipate what we need. Their attention causes us to feel as if they really see us.
He or she praises us and tells us they’ve never felt this way before. Our world expands to make room for the narcissist because the narcissist has feigned vulnerability which eventually wrenches the real thing out of us.
Then the first stage of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment is triggered after the first “incident” when our partners do something horrible and that seems impossible for someone who loves us so much, and we get our first glimpse behind the mask.
Because it conflicts with this Soulmate persona we formed of the narcissist and we are psychologically pressured by both the narcissist and our own minds to resolve the cognitive dissonance in favor of this persona, this leads to the denial that characterizes the first stage.
2. The Wounded Child
At some point, we can no longer hold onto this pure Soulmate image of the narcissist once too many instances of the horrific treatment have occurred. A new version of him or her emerges that combines the Soulmate persona with one that incorporates our understanding of him or her as more disordered than we initially believed.
This triggers Stage #2 of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment. We have likely been doing a lot of reading about narcissism online at this point, but it may seem too harsh or unreal to believe.
To soften the idea that our partner’s behavior fits what we are reading while rejecting the idea that the outcome is as dismal as it seems, we attach a flawed but optimistic spin on our Soulmate personal, one of the “Wounded Child.”
The Wounded Child persona dovetails with the narcissist’s psychologically abusive tactics such as gaslighting, blameshifting, and sympathy ploys. If there’s a cause, we think, then surely it can be remedied.
We hold out for change, and yet our confusion over how to resolve the continuing conflict of these two competing versions of them deepens with the new image of them, however.
3. The Mad Dog
At some point, however, as the relationship continues even the Wounded Child persona no longer fits. At a later point in the abuse cycle, the narcissist views us as the problem, because we are no longer a solid source of narcissistic supply.
We may be asking too many questions or demanding to be treated with respect. The devaluation at this point by the narcissist becomes so pervasive that we have come to accept that he or she is more than just a wounded child.
Once we progress to Stage #3 of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment, for the first time we will begin to accept that we can no longer ignore the fact that the narcissist is dangerous to our well-being and we need to stop trying to salvage things. The view we have of the narcissist shifts to that of the Mad Dog persona. A dog that has been abused and doesn’t trust humans may bite them when one comes near.
The narcissist is both wounded and dangerous. Yet what characterizes this stage is the fact that we feel as if we knew the narcissist before he or she became dangerous and feel helpless to abandon the relationship and accept this new reality as-is.
4. The Stranger
Only by accepting that all of the views of the narcissist we have had thus far are manufactured and not entirely accurate can we begin to break away. All of these views, as with all of the views of the relationship (as corresponding with the stages of enlightenment to the abuse), are illusions.
Entering Stage #4 of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment and beginning to see the narcissist as a Stranger is a turning point.
In the previous three stages, the narcissist was still in control. Narcissists are able to keep us in a state of denial, confusion, or helplessness by obscuring the abuse behind a persona they present to us to make what they do either acceptable or insurmountable.
This makes us willing participants in our own exploitation but without our own informed consent.
For example, seeing him or her as a Soulmate or mirror image allowed us to deny as an anomaly the other presentation of self after they engaged in the initial actions that conflicted with that view because we believed what had been presented to us at the outset.
Later, as the image shifted and the new persona became one of the Wounded Child, we viewed what had been done to us as mistakes or errors that could be corrected if we could only do the right things.
Finally, as we accepted that the problem was too deeply rooted for our early optimism to have been a realistic assessment of the situation, the view shifted to one of a Mad Dog, because we felt too defeated to escape.
Instead of the narcissist changing, we changed into a person who was a shadow of one we once had been, conditioned and afraid to make a move and trapped with the person whose fluctuating behavior could harm us in an instant.
Once we enter Stage #4 of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment, however, we come to realize that the person we have been in a relationship with is not at all who we thought they were.
They are not in fact– some combination of the soulmate, the wounded child, and the mad dog. Instead, they are someone else who is capable of doing the things they have done to hurt us either intentionally or incidentally, and we see this more clearly at this stage.
As we grow empowered in our own realization that we can and must change the course of the relationship ourselves, we become even more estranged from the narcissist.
They are foreign to us now, a Stranger, and that individualization from them leads to a desperation to break away from the danger we have observed for so long.
5. The Dead Agent
In the final stage of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment, we see the truth of the relationship for what it was, that they were always in it for themselves. This may not come until no-contact has officially been achieved.
The “Dead Agent” persona allows us to see through all of their words and actions. In espionage, a dead agent is one whose cover has been blown and he or she can therefore no longer be sent out into the field.
Although we might not yet understand all of the motives behind what they did, and although we may continue to have emotional responses to what happened, their gestures will seem empty and hollow.
* * * * *
The Stages of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment and their corresponding views of the narcissist are not necessarily linear. It is more likely we that we pass back and forth among them, and that they may overlap slightly before we even realize we have left one of the stages behind for good.
When we are in the relationship, we can’t see what’s happening. Once we do start to see it, it’s hard to wrap our minds around it. Once we’re out of it, we can’t explain it.
Our truth is that we did love them and we shared something special with them, but that they did treat us horribly. Both are true. What is also true, however, is that at different times, they have negated this version of events.
They contort between acting blameless and taking blame, being “sorry” and acting as if nothing ever happened, putting us on a pedestal and making us feel worthless. And all it really does is make us confused about what’s real.
This is their version of events.
That’s okay. Let them keep that delusion.
As we pass through the Stages of Narcissistic Abuse Enlightenment and regain a foothold in reality and realize how we were abused, we will begin to see them in a light that allows us to choose ourselves over the narcissist and their version of what happened.