Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
by Diane Linsley
In my coach training, we were asked to choose a niche. At the time,
I thought I wanted to be a relationship coach. I had just gotten
divorced for reasons of narcissistic abuse. I had spent many years
trying to fix that relationship by learning new skills. I didn't want
all of my knowledge and experience to be wasted.
I thought I couldn't be a relationship coach without being in a relationship. So I started dating. Trusting in the Law of Attraction, I set out to find a relationship that would help me become a better life coach. The universe brought me exactly what I needed - another narcissist. It was a horribly painful experience, and I would never have consciously tried to attract so much suffering. But I got what I needed for my soul's development and for my coaching practice. Martha Beck calls it The Law of Attracting Trojan Horses.
Learning from Narcissistic Abuse
Even though this was one of the most painful experiences of my life, I know it was not a mistake. How do I know? First, because I met this person in a dream 13 months before I met him in waking life, and I recognized him when he showed up. I knew we were supposed to be together for an important purpose, but I didn't know what that purpose was until after the relationship ended.
After I left my boyfriend, I tried dating again. But I kept attracting bad relationships until I figured out that I needed to heal myself first. At that point, I took a long break from dating to focus on healing. That was the best thing I ever did. It was a wonderful experience of rapid personal growth.
My personal education in narcissist abuse would not have been complete without experiencing all three types of narcissists - altruistic, cerebral and somatic. I spent hundreds of hours studying about narcissistic abuse. I watched videos by Melanie Tonia Evans, Sam Vaknin and Ross Rosenberg, and I read several books. But there's no substitute for personal experience. I had a lucid dream shortly after my divorce that showed me where I was ultimately going with my coaching practice. The dream contained some symbols that didn't make sense at the time. It wasn't until after all the abusive relationships ended that I finally understood what these symbols meant.
A few weeks after ending the last relationship, I received a download from the universe telling me what my coaching niche was and giving me instructions for how to proceed. My niche was not about relationships in the way I had previously thought of them. It was about the relationship with self.
Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
Why am I telling you this story? What does it have to do with your healing from narcissistic abuse?
First of all, I want you to know that nothing in your life is a mistake. You did not bring abuse onto yourself because of something you did wrong. Melanie says that those of us who have gone through narcissistic abuse chose this experience before we came here as part of our soul's journey.
Through my experiences, I have learned to trust my higher self. There is nothing more valuable to me than this connection. Even if everyone else in the world abandons me, I still have this relationship.
The secret to overcoming narcissistic abuse is to develop a relationship with your higher self. This connection can turn the worst thing that ever happened to you into a learning experience that opens up your life to new possibilities that you never before imagined.
It's also essential to learn how to love and care for your Inner Child. From the perspective of your higher self, you are a precious, unconditionally loved child. Self-compassion helps us develop the attributes of a loving parent - the attributes of the higher self.
The First Step in Recovery
Carl Jung said, "We do not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." There's nothing like narcissistic abuse to give you an opportunity to face the trauma of your past - especially things that you have repressed since childhood. The narcissists in my life gave me the opportunity to bring old wounds to the surface so I could consciously heal them.
The first step in recovery is to come out of denial. We are really afraid of the darkness - the unknown. The more we learn, the less fearful and the more empowered we become.
There's a lot of information about narcissism online because it's the biggest mental health problem of our time. Unfortunately, there's also a lot of fear-based misinformation. I recommend starting with this set of interviews with Dr. Ramani Durvasula, who is a licensed clinical psychologist:
Once you are informed, you will be able to make better decisions. Then you are faced with the task of moving through the grieving process and rebuilding your life.
Practices for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
I spent many hours "narping" with Melanie's Narcissist Abuse Recovery Program (NARP), which is designed to help us release trauma and connect with the Inner Child. I highly recommend this program to anyone in recovery. It's something that you can do without the help of a coach. But it's not the only thing I did for my own recovery. And I also recommend coaching or therapy.
I have three friends who are life coaches. They taught me that it's okay to have emotions. When I was going through my divorce, I told them that I hadn't cried in 20 years. Crying wasn't allowed in either my family of origin or my marriage. My friends were so kind to me that I would burst out crying and then have a shame attack. They encouraged me to feel my feelings, which was essential for recovery.
In spite of having great support people in my life, I knew that nobody else could fix me. So I stopped automatically turning to other people when I was having a bad day, and I trained myself to do my own work. Then when I talked to my friends, I was excited to tell them about the progress I was making, instead of complaining and expecting them to make me feel better.
I wrote these affirmations on a sticky note and put it next to my computer: "I am enough. I am loved. I am always evolving. I choose my own experiences. Change is natural. I will always be here for myself. People are free to come and go. I am secure in myself."
Basically, I did everything that I write about on this website. There wasn't just one miracle cure that worked for me. I think that the secret is to never give up. If you are determined, you will heal. For a detailed, step-by-step process that you can practice at home, see Letting Go of the Story.
Remember to take care of your physical body. I worked on releasing trauma from my body by dancing. Rachel Platten's album, Wildfire, is my favorite. It has some good breakup songs, along with her inspirational Fight Song and my Inner Child's favorite, Better Place. It covers a full range of emotions.
Any type of exercise can be helpful. Just move your body and breathe, cry, laugh or get angry. Let any emotions that surface be okay. I never know what my dance sessions are going to be like. The music and exercise brings up a lot of stuff to be healed.
I recommend watching the following short videos with your Inner Child. They explain the meaning of the stories of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. They are good for helping children understand what narcissism is and how to cope with it.
Recovering from Complex PTSD
Complex PTSD begins with childhood abuse. Once a person has become sensitized through early abuse, minor events can trigger emotional flashbacks that throw them into a state resembling the intense fear and powerlessness that they experienced as a child.
I recommend reading Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker. It's a self-compassionate approach to treating this common but devastating problem. This book helped me understand what Melanie says about codependents and narcissists being two sides of the same coin.
Some researchers, including Sam Vaknin, have linked narcissism to Complex PTSD, and they are hoping to cure narcissism by treating the underlying PTSD. The only problem with this approach is that narcissists rarely go into therapy.
The narcissists in my life were traumatized like I was in childhood. But while they were using narcissistic defense mechanisms to protect themselves, I was using codependent tactics. We were subconsciously attracted to each other by our common wounds.
Once I'd done enough recovery work, my attraction to narcissists fell away. I still feel compassion for them, but I no longer feel attracted.
Blocks to Recovery
The biggest block to my recovery was my lifelong belief (taught by society) that I was nothing as a woman unless I was married to a man.
Imagine my relief when I discovered this TEDx Talk called What No One Ever Told You About People Who Are Single by Bella DePaulo. Incidentally, I had been wondering for many years why the best time of my life was my second year of college - the year that I decided to focus on my studies and not date anyone. Ever since I freed myself from abusive relationships, I've gone back to having a wonderful life. In How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, John Van Epp says that two risk factors for divorce are getting married before age 26 and marrying someone you've known for less than 2 years. I wish I'd known this before I got engaged at age 19 to someone I'd known for only 10 days! Narcissists are in a hurry to get married, have sex, or move in together because they can't keep up the facade for long.
The biggest problem I've seen with narcissistic abuse clients is that they are afraid of being alone. This makes it hard for them to leave the narcissist and go "no contact." Ironically, the narcissist often has the same fear, which is probably what created the relationship in the first place. Practicing self-compassion can help us get over this fear.
I gained a new perspective on relationships by reading The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other by James Hollis. I saw that I had been using relationships to run away from my own maturation process. I realized that no relationship could make me happy because happiness comes from within.
Creating a Happy Life After Narcissistic Abuse
Self-esteem increases as we move forward one step at a time, noting our progress and congratulating ourselves for making improvement. Nathaniel Branden, author of The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, says that self-esteem comes from what we do. Any positive action that we take to move towards our goals increases self-esteem. Living in fear, denial and blame undermines self-esteem.
After narcissistic abuse, it's good to take a long break from romantic relationships until you are healed. But this doesn't mean that you don't have love in your life. I have deeply satisfying relationships with my children and friends. I know the value of relationship for personal growth.
After spending so many years doing personal growth work, I have no desire to be with someone who has not done his own work. I'm only interested in healthy relationships with growth-oriented people. Narcissists don't do personal growth work because they are too busy looking outside of themselves for validation. If you are doing the same thing, then you are a match to the narcissist.
Codependent relationships are not about love. They are about control, attachment and infatuation. Your attractions are your responsibility. The final stage of recovery is forgiveness. But it's not what most people think of when they hear this word. True forgiveness arises spontaneously out of self-compassion and understanding.
Happy Ending - Updated January 2019
In July of 2017, I left my last abusive boyfriend and committed to healing myself before I got involved with anyone else. After 8 months of concentrated healing work, I felt like I was ready to dip my toe in the world of dating again.
I was surprised at how confident I was and how easy it was to identify narcissists without having to go on a first date in most cases. A couple of narcissists still slipped through my screening process, but I identified and dumped them quickly after one or two dates.
I decided that I would either find a loving man or stay single for the rest of my life. And I was fine with being alone because I loved myself. Then when I least expected it, my soulmate came along. We started dating in May of 2018, and I'm amazed every day at how kind and loving he is.
Here's the interesting part: He treats me as well as I treat myself. I had to work for years to develop this level of self-love. Sure enough, I attracted someone with the same vibration of love. Now I know that the Law of Attraction works. As Melanie says, "So within, so without."
"How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar." ~Trina Paulus
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