Recovering from an abusive relationship is a process which takes time to navigate as it involves breaking complex ingrained beliefs, habits, thoughts, and emotions on a subconscious level.
This process is as unique as each individual’s life.
While it is important to move through each phase and not to get stuck, there are unfortunately no short cuts in the recovery process, just as there are no short cuts in the grieving process. However, you will certainly save a lot of very valuable time by going no contact and starting the journey sooner rather than later.
Accept that you’re being abused
The first important step in the healing process is the realization and acceptance that the relationship is, in fact, abusive and the awareness of the dangers of staying in the relationship.
For those who have not experienced the type of manipulation involved in a relationship with someone who suffers from this type of personality disorder, it is truly difficult to explain the psychological and emotional complexities involved in how a person gets hooked into a narcissistic relationship.
Those who grew up in a healthy and emotionally strong and supportive environment – resulting in the development of strong boundaries – are of little interest to a lazy narcissist and so they are unlikely to have experienced being systematically broken down in a manner similar to Chinese Water Torture during a relationship. Those who have dealt with a covert narcissist will be particularly experienced in this area.
For the more cunning narcissists with some free time on their hands, they may choose to use their technique on people with strong boundaries in order to fine tune their manipulation methods, while continuing, of course, to have a string of other more malleable subjects that they can benefit from.
For any normal, intelligent person, devising a way of manipulating someone would take a great deal of intellectual effort to do. This is not the case with narcissists. Narcissists do it naturally, it takes no effort on their part, they know no other way, and they experts at doing so with a vast amount of personal experience to draw upon. I believe that anyone who stays near a narcissist, no matter how strong their boundaries, will experience some form of manipulation with negative consequences. Those with a taught distaste for this type of behavior are simply more likely to abandon that person a lot sooner and waste no further time on the matter.
As strange as it may seem to some people, it is fairly common for targets of narcissistic abuse to initially not recognize that they are being abused and to give their partner the benefit of the doubt – time and time again – turning a blind eye because of the other qualities or other areas they believe they are benefiting from. Our good natures have a blind spot, we are taught to be patient with people, to try to bring out the best in others and believe that someone who behaves in such a manipulative and destructive way is doing so because they are suffering from their own traumas and need our help.
We may believe everybody deserves a chance, and certainly a second chance…after all who doesn’t make mistakes?
Sometimes our own pride won’t let us admit we are being abused, and we make up excuses rather than face the difficult truth of the situation – that we also need to address our own problems. This being said, it is often those of us who have experienced trauma without assistance who are particularly vulnerable to narcissists as we can relate the injustices they speak of. But, there could be nothing further from our own experiences. While everybody does make mistakes, the fundamental difference between a non-narcissist and a narcissist is that we recognize the mistakes and learn from them, growing into a better person for it. This is not a process that a narcissist can experience deeply or for any sustained amount of time…and they have no interest in self-improvement!
There are many reasons why we are vulnerable to narcissistic abuse, and figuring out the “why” forms just one important part of the healing process.
The primary signs which indicate you’re being abused
If you are googling and searching for reasons why your partner behaves in certain ways that you find painful, then you are susceptible to being in an abusive relationship. A person with healthy boundaries would recognize unacceptable behavior sooner and would have cut them from their lives quickly before reaching this point and would be concentrating on their own life. Which brings me to explain why it is fundamentally important to leave an abusive relationship. It comes down to loss, the loss of your important time and place in this world, the loss of giving yourself the opportunity to recognize your worth.
When in a relationship with a narcissist you will come to learn that everything is about them and whether it was your original plan or not, you will be hijacked into gradually dedicating more time, energy, money, thoughts, etc. to this person and less and less on yourself until your valuable place in this world is in danger.
The path to who you can become and what you should be contributing to in life will seem to fade away. The path to re-finding it becomes a distant one…with poisonous plants and thorny shrubs along the way. Navigating your way through this lonely path is possibly one of the most spiritually difficult and important things you can do. And each painful step brings you closer to yourself and your purpose.
Each of us has our own story, we grow and develop, we sometimes go backwards, but the ideal outcome is what every parent hopes for in their children, to come to recognize our individual uniqueness and to value it. This becomes an impossible task whilst under the influence of a narcissist. There is no room for anybody else’s destiny in their world. We start to value ourselves through their eyes, instead of our own, they who value nothing! A good litmus test for a relationship is to ask the question, would you want that for your child or a friend or family member whom you love dearly? If not, why is it good enough for you?
Leaving an abusive relationship with a narcissist is more than what it appears initially and much more than it appears to those who will never have to walk that path. It is the beginning of self-discovery and the beginning of true healing, most often from a lifetime of wounding.
Self-discovery is not instant and it requires each of the painful steps to get there, but it is worth it.
In addition to this form of emotional healing, it is also important to leave the relationship for purely physiological health benefits. Because our emotions and thoughts are closely tied towards our physical health, narcissists do have a negative effect on our physical health. Anyone who has experience with narcissists will testify to this and the longer we stay in a relationship with them, the longer it takes to recover.
The constant strain of a narcissist on our nervous system can cause a great deal of damage to us physically and unfortunately this is often the final reason why people do decide to leave the relationship. Yes, it can take being seriously physically ill to recognize how damaging they are and to make the decision to leave, because we simply do not have the ability to detect through the magician-like haze of the narcissist that we are being significantly damaged unless it becomes very visible in front of our eyes and by the time this happens we often feel we have lost the will to make a change.
You do not need the narcissist’s permission, validation, or recognition to leave the relationship. You do not need to submit proof that you are being hurt. You do not need closure from the narcissist, who will withhold it anyway. You do not need to prove to yourself you know how to handle the narcissist, you simply need to get far away from them so that healing can begin.
Like all new beginnings, it starts with the first step and the first step is recognition.
If you are at the point where you have started to realize that you are tolerating abuse, that you have handed your power to another, it’s time to honor yourself with the first step towards healing. Have faith that you can leave the relationship and trust that the pain will pass. Celebrate this lonely time, because it is the first step in taking back control of your destiny. It’s time to begin the journey to discovering the joys and the life that is waiting for you just out of sight.
And take hope from those that have succeeded because you have the opportunity and potential to be next.
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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.