As a victim of narcissistic abuse, you ask yourself how things turned out to be the way they are. Instead, how a person you knew as loving turned out to be an abuser. The critical point to note is that when narcissists are full of themselves, they leave no room for you. You should know that even when they were doing good things, these were deliberate actions to lure you. Narcissists operate in a highly manipulative way, even in a romantic relationship, because they lack empathy and tend to be interpersonally exploitative.
The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
A narcissist engages their partners in three stages within a relationship. The first phase is idealization, followed by devaluation, and lastly, discarding.
This is the most critical in their endeavor to manipulate their targets. When the relationship is new, a narcissist puts you at the center of his world. They will shower you with unending praise and flattery to the point that you feel this is the love you have been waiting for your entire life. You will feel that they cannot live without you and you are convinced that you have met your soulmate. They will call and text or email and want to be close to you at all times. As used by a narcissist, the love-bombing technique is highly effective in enabling them to win over their targets. You may be fooled into thinking that the narcissist has feelings for you, but this is not the case and what they want is to make you dependent on their attention and praise.
At this stage, the narcissist changes the way they treat you. It is the most confusing stage for the victims because they wonder what caused the sudden change. It is a period of hot and cold, which makes you more confused because they may be good to you at one time, and at the other, they are either beating or calling you names. Mostly, devaluation is characterized by things that narcissists do to overtly and covertly put you down, criticizing and comparing you with others. It is more of an emotional withdrawal that, in most cases, makes you think that you are the reason why they are treating you that way. So it is no surprise that they will give you the silent treatment when they feel that you have not met the standards that they want. The fact that there are inconsistent idealization aspects makes you convinced that it is your fault that the narcissist is angry at you.
The narcissist sees you and treats you as an object. They are the ones who are jealous and possessive, but they will project the same onto you. During the early stage, the narcissist makes it appear that frequent contact will be there in the relationship, how they turn this and make you the needy one. Mostly the victim reacts by being jealous or needy, hoping that their partner will become more loving as they were during the beginning. The narcissist will use harsh words to gaslight the victims. They tend to blame you as a way of maintaining control over your emotions. Narcissists show their true colors at this stage, but you may fail to realize this because you are still clinging to the person you saw at the beginning of your relationship.
This is the final stage, and as the name implies, you are abandoned by your partner. They tend to do this in a very demeaning way as much as possible with the intention to make the victims see themselves as worthless. They employ savage approaches, such as being physically aggressive, publicly humiliating the victim, or leaving you for another lover. The core message or goal that the actions intend on communicating is that you are not important.
Effects of Narcissistic Abuse
Experiencing narcissistic abuse can cause several surprising symptoms.
When most people hear the word “abuse,” they immediately think of violence. Narcissistic abuse isn’t always violent, but the damage it causes can be just as profound. The short-term effects of emotional abuse can include:
Feelings of shame, confusion, fear, and powerlessness
Unexplained aches and pains
Elevated heart rate
Inability to concentrate
You may have experienced some or all of these symptoms without even recognizing them as the effects of emotional abuse. For example, the brain and the rest of the body are closely connected, so stress hormones in the brain can cause a range of other symptoms.
The long-term symptoms of emotional abuse are similar to the short-term symptoms and can include:
Unexplained chronic pain
Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
Lingering feelings of guilt and shame
These are all common effects of emotional abuse and may indicate that you are suffering from something called narcissistic victim syndrome.
Healing From Narcissistic Abuse and Protecting Yourself
Emotional wounds refer to the deep psychological pain behind a negative experience. Such wounds can hurt for years. The fact that they were inflicted by someone close to you makes them that much worse.
How do you know that you’ve not healed from the hurt? The chances are that you feel numb whenever you think of the experience. Your body is trying to cope by shutting out related thoughts. You can also feel disconnected from people and reality. You are paranoid and develop a distrust for people around you, even when they mean no harm. How can you move past this?
Accepting keeps you from living in denial. As long as you’re asking these questions, you’re fleeting with the idea that the abuse did not happen like you might snap out of the daze to find that things have gone back to normal. Or that it can actually ‘unhappen.’
Write it Down
If speaking seems too daunting to begin with, try writing it down. With writing, you’re alone with your thoughts, without the feeling of somebody trying to interrogate you. Instead, write exactly how you feel, with as many words as you deem fit. Forget correct grammar or punctuation; just pour your heart out into words.
One of the most crucial components of healing past pain is forgiving those who hurt you. It is difficult. We’re talking here of someone who promised you heaven but delivered hell. Someone who led you on purpose, yet they had hidden intentions.
Someone who criticized, insulted, belittled, or even physically abused you in the relationship. How can you forgive after all the anguish they’ve caused you?
Forgive yourself as well. For the things you mindlessly did that brought you pain. For walking into that relationship in the first place and ignoring those who tried to open your eyes. Ask for forgiveness where applicable. We all make mistakes, but we can move past that and forge a better future.
Don’t sit around all day agonizing over your situation. The more time you give to those thoughts, the more they’ll torment you. Direct your energy to something productive. If you’re working, you can take up extra duties. Or you can enroll in a course to improve your skills. Or get a new hobby. The point here is to keep yourself occupied. The busier you are, the less the chances that you’ll spend your time obsessing over what happened to you. It is difficult, but you can lift yourself one step at a time. Attempt to get back to the business of living.
Practice Positive Affirmations
After being put down by your partner for so long, you end up feeling like you’re no good. Your self-image is battered, and you constantly struggle with low self-esteem. You begin to relieve those horrible things that were said to you. You become your accuser. Positive affirmation counters those negative words.
Self-care is crucial in the period of healing. After spending so long under the narcissist’s thumb and catering to him, you may find your wellbeing quite neglected. Yet, despite what the narcissist may have convinced you of, you deserve self-care. What better time than now to start investing in your hobbies or taking time to relax? You can take yourself on a solo date to a movie and dinner with your own company or read that new book you had been dying to finish. By caring for yourself, you will feel like the true you, the one you knew before the narcissist wreaked havoc in your life.
No matter how crazy things feel around you, make time for yourself. Exercise. Choose a form of physical activity that you enjoy. You can walk, jog, run, cycle, swim, do aerobics, and so on. Make it outdoors; the sights and sounds of nature are a therapy in themselves. When indoors, pop in some music and dance, vigorously sometimes, till you break into a sweat.
Eat healthy, balanced meals. Cut down on processed fast foods, opting for fresh food. Stress can take away your energy, and wholesome, nutritious food is just what you need to keep you nourished. Healthy food also keeps you away from disease. You don’t want to aggravate whatever is troubling you with ill health. If you’re already struggling with one health issue or another, healthy eating will help you better manage the condition and enhance your peace of body and mind.
While caring for yourself, look for ways to release your anger, fear, or other negative feelings you have built up during your relationship. Empaths, who are some of the narcissists’ favorite people to target, absorb the feelings of those around them. They begin to take on other people’s feelings, and when surrounded by a narcissist, those emotions are largely toxic. So you need to release this pent-up anger you have internalized to begin to heal truly. Just like cleaning a physical wound is crucial to healing correctly, you must also take care to clean your mental injuries.
Talk to Somebody
A problem shared with the right ear is a problem half solved. You do not have to battle your issues all alone. Speaking out in itself is therapeutic; you feel lighter even before discussing the possible options. You also get to listen to yourself outline the problem. It is possible to battle an issue in your mind for so long yet never speak it out. Just saying it out loud gives you some clarity.
Form Meaningful Relationships
As we discussed talking to somebody above, you may be one of those people feeling like you have no one to talk to. There are people around you, yet you don’t feel connected enough to any of them to share your issues.
Start a New Hobby
Sometimes working on a new hobby is the perfect way to find your old sense of self. Taking some time each day, or when you are able, to work on something fun, or that is just yours, where there aren’t any expectations or obligations that you need to meet and make a world of difference when you are recovering from a narcissistic relationship. The hobby can be anything that you would like. Maybe you decide to start painting, to write in a journal or write a story, go for a walk, spend time with friends, learn how to cook, and more.
Spend Time with Friends and Family
You likely spent a lot of time isolating yourself due to the narcissistic abuse. You were worried that having anything to do with other people outside the relationship would make the narcissist mad. And often, the behaviors that the narcissist showed to others would make it likely that your friends and family would stay away. So there are many ways that a narcissist will try and keep you away from others to make sure that the only person you can “trust” and rely on is them.
Be Open to New Experiences
Many victims are scared of doing anything new. They think that it will turn the narcissist against them and result in them getting harmed. The narcissist wanted to ensure that the victim was reliant on just them. This means that the narcissist would get mad if the routine was broken and if the victim tried to do anything new. This could result in a few years or more passing since the victim could do something new.
Find Your Sense of Self
The narcissist you were in a relationship with spent a lot of time working to suppress your sense of self. They knew that you would become more dependent on them if they could hide that from you. They didn’t want this. They want someone who puts their whole life on the abuser, who will be so desperate to make the abuser like them, that they will do whatever it takes. So while the process was a slow one, so slow that it is really hard to see what was going on at the time, it is one that stripped away the true self of the victim, and now that the relationship is over, it is time to get in there and get it back.
That person is still in there, waiting for you to clear a path through the turmoil and the lies your abuser told you for them to come back.
To find yourself again, you need to step back and view yourself from afar. This means evaluating your current state in detail and then looking at that evaluation from an objective distance.
Take time every day for this activity. First, close yourself into a private space where you won’t be interrupted, and nobody else can see what you are creating. This is just for you—keep the results somewhere secure, so you don’t have to worry that anyone else will ever see them.
Take time to review your work regularly, not just focusing on today’s entry but all of it, right back to the start. As your healing progresses, you will see that reflected—and you will look at the earliest entries and see the conflict your abuser imposed right there on the paper.
Creating a mirror of yourself in this way not only allows you to pour out all the damaging emotions in a safe way, but it also allows you to see them outside yourself. It allows you to see the true you, your progress, and the progress you still need to make.
Reclaim Your Self
In the aftermath of abuse, many survivors discover that their abuser slowly yet indeed changed them into a different person—one who focused on the activities, pastimes, and ideas that their abuser wanted them to. Now, as you walk the road to recovery, it is the time to rediscover what it was that you liked, loved, and enjoyed.
But while you do this, consider building up your skillset. Consider choosing the kinds of activity that will make you more independent, more skillful than you were even before the abuse began.
Consider learning new skills, such as cooking or self-defense, or a language. Consider taking up a hobby, such as travel or computer programming. Consider exploring your talents through a painting course or learning to play an instrument or participate in a sport.
Take this one step at a time—it can be terrifying to realize that the pillars supporting your self-image have been torn away, even when those pillars were toxic and were shaping you into a person who suited your abuser’s desires.
As you’ve worked through your healing, you’ve focused on strengthening yourself and learning to look at your emotions from the outside. You have seen from a dispassionate place what effects such abuse can have on a person and identified how exactly it affected you. You have created a new balance, rediscovered who you are, and slowly rebuild your life.
Resist the temptation to engage your abuser again from this new place of strength. Yes, you are now better equipped to deal with them. Yes, you can now see the traps before you step into them. But no, they will never change, and they cannot ever be a positive part of your life, in any capacity. And there will be no closure because a narcissist cannot see their behavior for what it is—they lack the empathy and emotional depth to do so.
The Need For Therapy
Therapy can guide you toward healing as well. A therapist is one of the greatest favors you can do for yourself. There are very few people in this world who would not benefit from therapy, and the likelihood of one of them being you are incredibly slim. The sooner you start it, the sooner you will start seeing results. Several different kinds of therapy could be useful for a victim of narcissistic abuse. Through therapy, you would be able to learn valuable skills, such as how to cope with the trauma left behind, understanding what made you vulnerable to the narcissist in the first place, and how to solve all of the problems that come with all of the emotions you feel whirling around within you.
If therapy sounds like it would benefit you, try speaking to your primary care doctor for a referral, or seek out recommendations local to your area online. Even if the cost is an issue, there are plenty that will help you on a sliding scale, as well as online options that may be more affordable for you.