Legions of people who’ve endured narcissistic abuse hold the mistaken belief that choosing to leave a toxic relationship is the hardest thing they will ever do in their lives.
In fact, I once believed the same thing.
But, the truth is…it’s what comes after that’s really the hardest. The self-blame, the cognitive dissonance, the tendency to believe in the charade that the toxic Ex puts on.
What about you? Are you drowning in misery? Are pain and doubt your faithful muses?
Here are five ways that new abuse survivors torture themselves. See how many apply to you (and discover how to avoid them.)
New survivors often set wildly unrealistic recovery goals for themselves.
They hope that listening to a few meditations, seeing a therapist or coach a few times, or joining a yoga program will bring about quick healing.
They scour the internet searching for a magic bullet that will take their pain away in an instant.
As much as I wish I could say there’s a magic wand that will grant you instant restoration and a healed life, getting over an emotionally abusive relationship is a process. Like any transformation, healing is a journey of incremental successes.
Set the bar too high and your every attempt at healing becomes a disappointment. Every small step of improvement is a letdown. And, it’s torture.
Of course, massive, sudden recovery does happen, but it’s amazingly rare. It’s almost never as sudden as it seems and often happens after a near-death experience or other life-altering event.
The truth is, when we leave an abusive relationship, we face the task of healing the damage that was done during its duration, as well as the collective wounds we’ve accumulated over our lifetime.
Believing this kind of healing can happen quickly is a cruel form of self-defeat.
What to do: Choose a more realistic outlook in regards to your healing. Because, until you have experimented with and stuck with healing methods that resonate with you, bouncing around from one healing modality to the next (or worse, doing nothing at all) is just failure waiting to happen. Keeping yourself busy in the beginning does have its place because it lessens the chance you’ll reach out to an Ex, but there does come a time when the real work of dealing with emotional wounds, self-sabotage and self-defeating beliefs is necessary.
How long have these phrases been knocking around in your mind:
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Love conquers all. Everyone has some good in them and deserves the benefit of the doubt. If you want to be forgiven, you must forgive. The Ex didn’t have any family or friends, and now I’ve “abandoned” them, too. I wasn’t perfect, either. Maybe it WAS me after all.
These nuggets of insight might apply to other areas of life, but not to toxic relationships. Why? Because it gives new survivors another way to torture themselves.
It doesn’t matter if you were with your Ex for two, ten, or thirty years, it’s time to accept that you did everything within your power to salvage the relationship.
Trust me on this. I work with people who stuck it out for 20 and 30 years. They tried couple’s therapy, forgiveness, compromise (and tolerated infidelity). Guess what? Nada!
What to do: Accept that you did everything you could and even if you did or said things you aren’t proud of, they were in reaction to being mistreated. The misguided fear that you could have done something differently is based on your toxic Ex having changed the goal posts continuously– and yes, it was deliberate. This explains why every single abuse survivor believes there is something else they could have done to save the relationship. It’s a result of conditioning — and overwriting this belief will be part of your healing journey.
Have you read that Narcissists and other toxic people all learn from the same playbook? Or, maybe you came up with this discovery on your own?
It’s ironic how we can clearly see that almost all narcissists engage in the same abusive and manipulative tactics, but we often don’t acknowledge that abuse survivors generally engage in the same self-defeating and self-sabotaging behaviors, too.
What to do: Stop cyber-snooping on the Ex. Or worse, stalking them around town to see what they’re up to, “casually and coincidentally” showing up at their usual spots.
You’ve got to stop. Even if there is a reason that seems valid to you, such as these examples:
“Oh, I need to know when he’s in town.”
“I need to know she’s a cheater because that’s what keeps me strong.”
“I need to stay on top of their moves so I can be prepared.”
“I want to see what they’re saying about me online.”
All of these are manifestations of self-sabotage.
Did you know the subconscious mind literally cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality? This is the reason why visualization and meditations have been scientifically proven to effect positive changes in the brain, as well as improve physical maladies.
This same phenomenon goes for obsessively researching narcissism and Cluster-B disorders. It keeps your subconscious mind in an environment of abuse and abandonment. It’s literally reenacting the abuse over and over, which keeps you in a state of anxiety and fight-or-flight.
Another Catch-22 is snooping on your Ex and believing they’ve changed for the new person. They haven’t. What you see is love-bombing. It’s an effective way for them to sweep the new person off of their feet and encourage you to believe they’ve changed.
Generally, no matter how many times an abuse survivor reads this, they still believe their Ex has really and truly changed for the new person and that somehow, their situation is different from everyone else’s…and they make themselves mentally and physically sick in the process.
The Ex hasn’t changed for the new person. It’s a story you tell yourself and you believe it – with the Ex’s help, of course. Cease snooping on the Ex and instead dedicate that time to your healing.
Being a target of narcissistic abuse is not a gauge for your level of intelligence.
Being a target of abuse means that when you were a small child (typically up to age 6 or 7), you formed subconscious beliefs about your worth and how loveable you are. This may have been the result of emotional or physical abuse, but it could also be due to other factors, such as your parents divorcing or having a parent who was a perfectionist.
The reason you were in a relationship with a toxic person is because it felt natural, including the moments of emotional trauma.
A common example it is this: If your parents used spanking as a means of discipline, you grew up believing it was okay for people who loved you to also hurt you. One day you’re being spanked and punished, the next day things are back to ‘normal’.
Children are very impressionable, and sadly, the beliefs they form about their worth up to age seven are the ones they carry with them throughout their lives, no matter how successful or accomplished they become as adults.
On a subconscious level, we recreate the emotional traumas we endured when we were young in an effort to resolve them. However, rather than help resolve past traumas, relationships with toxic people keep us in a never-ending struggle for acceptance, validation, and love.
What to Do: The dynamics that surround toxic relationships mostly lie outside of your awareness.
The conscious mind has a limited memory and much of it is short-term. The subconscious mind, in stark contrast, has virtually infinite memory. It contains all the events that happened to you since you developed awareness, including hurtful events from your early life and beyond.
Most of the time when you believe you’re making decisions with your cognitive, thinking mind, it’s actually your subconscious mind driving those decisions. This explains why you may believe you’re giving a toxic partner the benefit of the doubt so they can prove they’ve changed, when in truth, you already know on a logical level they won’t change. This happens because your subconscious mind holds the belief that you don’t have the right to establish healthy boundaries for yourself and because, subconsciously, you believe love involves elements of pain and betrayal.
But, you can change this automatic process. The conscious mind can stimulate the subconscious mind into action, change habits, reverse negative thinking patterns, and improve your physical and emotional health. One way to do this is through consistent use of guided meditations.
Having worked with narcissistic abuse survivors for almost four years now, I am always astounded by the lack of self-care and deficient healing practices I see and hear from people who say they want to heal.
What to do: Healing from narcissistic abuse is a process of design. While the exact methods of healing may vary from person to person, there is a general formula for healing which requires addressing the mind, body, spirit, and emotions. Staying busy at a job, for example, won’t heal you because part of healing involves radical self-care, and working 24/7 isn’t self-care. It’s also a handy distraction to avoid addressing your emotional wounds.
Schedule the time and treat it like any other important appointment with a doctor or specialist. By doing this, you tell YOURSELF that you are valuable by getting someone to hold you accountable for your healing and a better life.
Being a new survivor doesn’t have to be so painful.
It’s not always easy, but it can be more enjoyable.
If you can nix the behaviors that rob your healing progress, not only will you find more enjoyment in it, but your recovery will happen more quickly.
So, check the list above and see if you’re causing yourself needless pain. Then, download the Beginner’s Healing Toolbox below to get started on your recovery plan.
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Kim Saeed is a recognized relationship and new life educator specializing in helping narcissistic abuse survivors to heal, rebuild, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. In 2013, she founded Let Me Reach, a life transformation company that teaches people to flourish after toxic relationships.