THE PATH FROM DEVASTATION TO STRONG AGAIN
Understanding The Problem
Imagine winning the lottery and thinking all your dreams had come to life. Only to find that you’d stepped into a nightmare world where you’d sold your soul, sanity and safety for the illusion of a prize.
It sounds like a Hollywood thriller, but for all too many people that is what a relationship with a Narcissist is like.
Initially, you meet the most charming and charismatic person. They hang on your every word and seem to be everything you’ve always looked for. And they are so taken with you.
You get swept up in a whirlwind romance and it seems like here is this person you’ve dreamed of your whole life to build a life with. You excitedly make big plans. At their suggestion.
Maybe you move in together. But suddenly things cool.
They become more critical. You begin to argue more. If only you were more this and less that everything would be so great.
You double down and resolve to be better. And then things will be back to how they were.
But you keep rowing. You get so hurt over things they’ve done. When you try to talk to them about it, they tell you it’s your fault. They twist it around so when you’re finished, you end up apologising to them.
They pull away more. They’re unhappy with you. Your friends and/or family are a problem. Others are taking advantage of you and they are trying to protect you. They don’t know what’s wrong with you.
“Why are you so crazy and trying to make them feel bad?” You don’t know what’s wrong with you that makes you act as you do. Maybe others are even noticing how erratic you are.
You hate how your partner makes you feel when they’re mean to you. They call you horrible names and make you feel worthless. Maybe they even hurt you physically. And you don’t know why you just can’t stop yourself from upsetting them. Why can’t you just be the partner they need?
Because when it’s great, it’s amazing. But when it’s bad, it’s horrendous.
And then the bad days get more and more frequent. And the rows turn to verbal and maybe physical abuse.
Or maybe it’s all going great. But suddenly they just tell you it’s not working for them and you’re dumped. You had no idea they were unhappy.
Your world is tipped upside down overnight. You go crazy from grief. Begging them for another chance. You’ll do better you promise.
Maybe they’ve left you for someone else. Maybe they taunt you with how much better their new Lover is. You are devastated. Completely unable to get over them.
Stuck In The Narcissist's Web
The days pass. And then weeks. And eventually months.
You’ve just about got around to picking up the pieces of your shattered life.
And then your phone buzzes. It’s your Ex. And then you hear the words you’ve craved for over the last few months. They’ve made a terrible mistake.
You’re the one for them.
You’re meant to be together. No-one else can make them happy like you.
Your heart is so filled with joy you could burst. They’re back and you get back to the bliss you felt when you first got together. You start making plans.
But after a while, things start to slip back. You can’t do anything right. Maybe you even go and see a Therapist to help you sort out your problem so you can be better.
Maybe it’s then that they tell you that the problem isn’t you, but your partner. Or maybe you do this cycle a few more times until you can’t do it anymore. But somehow you find out you’ve been in a relationship with a Narcissist. And the problem was never you, but them.
And when you do, you’ll probably search every article, Youtube video and Facebook Group on Narcissists and Narcissistic relationships.
You’ll learn all the terms from Love Bombing to Trauma Bonding to Flying Monkeys. And still you won’t feel you know enough.
Because how can you ever trust yourself to get in another relationship unless you know exactly how to spot a Narcissist?
After hours and hours in Facebook Groups you still won’t be sure. When you start dating you’ll get a message that doesn’t quite feel right and you’ll be wondering is this a Narcissist?
You’ll never be able to get on with life in the same way again. Because you’ll see Narcissists – and therefore danger – all around you.
Maybe you’ll go into therapy. And almost certainly you’ll spend hours on healing and trying to get back to how you once were.
Quite likely, you’re still being bombarded by your Ex. Perhaps they’ve drained you financially as well as emotionally.
Maybe they’ve smeared your name with all your friends and family. However far away they are, they are still making your life a misery.
And the worst thing! Is that everyone else thinks they’re wonderful. Maybe the people around you fell for it and think you’re the real problem. And your Ex’s new lover… is getting treated so much better than you.
Welcome to life after the Narcissist.
The Trap Of Narcissism
Once someone who’s been in one of these toxic relationships discovers that they weren’t the problem and learns about Narcissists they become obsessed.
It gives them the understanding that it wasn’t their fault. That they aren’t the broken ones. At least not apart from the damage the relationship has done to them.
And the damage is very real. Being in a toxic relationship can cause Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a host of other issues.
The value in knowing you’re not the only one and that has been hurt in such a way and that the problem was never you is life-saving.
However, beyond that, obsessing about Narcissists can become unhealthy. Some people spend decades trying to learn more and more.
You need to move on with your life and obsess about your future. So here’s what you need to know.
The Three Categories Of Toxicity
There are three categories of people who create toxic relationships. Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Narcissists.
Psychopaths and Sociopaths are not the serial killers films might make them out to be. Most of them could pass you every day and never murder anyone.
Unfortunately, they are just incapable of empathy and caring about anyone else. It is thought that there may be some genetic cause that causes an area of the brain involved in empathy that just doesn’t work.
Narcissists however, act as they do in response to extreme early experiences. This has left them so broken that they do not care about others.
All three types are incapable of caring about others beyond the most superficial concern. They see people as things to use. All have grandiose visions of themself and are capable of rage when this isn’t agreed.
The danger in hearing that they have been so broken is to want to help them. Unfortunately, this is almost never possible. Because people have to want to change. And while they can make a convincing case of how they want to change. They actually don’t want to.
Other people have gone beyond childhood trauma and healed. But the Narcissist refuses to look at themselves and instead of healing, creates an alternative reality where they are strong, capable and fully healed. Instead, it is everyone else who is broken.
They crave relationships for the validation and unconditional love and adoration they need to maintain their facade of reality.
Being free of the normal self-consciousness or inhibitions they are free to be as bold, charming and charismatic as they can be.
Seeing potential partners as a challenge to conquer they will go to great lengths to seduce and woo them.
However, this is their investment to win the partner. They need complete adoration and adulation from their partner in order to sustain the grandiose ideas they have of themselves.
And so when reality hits a relationship they get frustrated that they are no longer put on a pedestal by their partner. That’s when the manipulation and control begins to come out.
If this doesn’t work they are likely to escalate to abuse. This is an attempt to make the other treat them as their narcissistic view of themselves believes they should be treated.
Often they’ll lose interest and find someone who they think will give them the validation they need.
However, when this relationship also fails to hold them in the esteem which they hold themself, they may come back.
If you have ended it with them, they are likely to try a campaign to win you back. So they know they could have you. If you resist it will provoke rage in them. They often resort to smear campaigns to hurt you.
There is little limit to what revenge they might go to.
The makeup of a Narcissist is that they need to believe they are more special and better than other people. If they are rejected, slighted or seen as ‘losing’ then it threatens that position of superiority. And so they will feel they have to take revenge.
They take pleasure in your suffering because, to them, it means you are weaker. It also means you care about them, which is why they will go to such efforts to win you back if you seem happy to move on.
To a Narcissist, everyone and everything is an object to demonstrate their superiority. Everything they do is playing a game to win.
It is impossible to have a relationship with them because they have no integrity. They will lie and cheat and do whatever it takes to win. Because for them the aim of the game is to win. The only thing they care about is that they feel they are superior to you.
Every promise they made. Every vision of the future they painted was only to get you to invest in them. And however many times I or someone else tells someone this, 5 out of 10 people will get sucked back in by their Narcissist. But maybe this time you’re ready to end the cycle.
If so, the rest of this is for you.
It Needs To Be All About You
From here on everything is about you. Because you are the one that matters.
As someone that has been a Therapist and a Coach I understand all about wanting to help people and give them every chance. I also know how hard it is to get anyone to make a change. And unless you’re committed there’s nothing else anyone can do.
The Narcissist is a lost cause. They are lost in playing in their own world. So the best thing we can do is leave them to it.
Yes, they will suck in someone else and cause more of a trail of devastation in their wake. But again we can’t do anything about that.
Of course, you could follow them about with a loudhailer and warn anyone that getting involved with this person is asking for trouble and hurt.
The odds though are that you’re going to look more than a little crazy. And it’s not like your Ex isn’t going to use that!
So… now we need to agree to draw the line in the sand. And we need to start forgetting about your Ex as much as we can. Are we agreed?
Yes, there will still be hassles and challenges to forget them. But we need to move on.
The reason why people struggle to get over their toxic Ex’s is because they make it about them.
- We have to commit to never getting involved with them as much as possible. As in never go back to them, hook up with them or get in a conversation or fight that you don’t need to have.
- We have to forget about them. It doesn’t matter what they are doing or who they are seeing now.
- We have to go past blaming them. Yes, of course, we know it’s their fault, but they aren’t going to accept that and change so we have to move on anyway.
It Isn’t Fair
Many people get stuck here because they have an idea that there is a natural fairness in the world. Or their should be.
One examination of how some people are born into opulence while others are born into starvation should show us that there is no inherent requirement for fairness.
Some people are fortunate to be born into loving, caring and supportive families. Others are born orphans or into abusive households.
Life isn’t fair!
All we can do is accept we are where we are and do the best we can to get to where we want. Maybe you could get everyone to agree with you on how unfair your Ex has been.
Maybe everyone will agree he/she has been the Devil incarnate. But what difference will that make to you?
It will make you feel justified in your anger. It will lessen the shame that your Ex has made you feel. It will reassure you that it wasn’t your fault.
However, the odds are that no-one will be that bothered. The odds are that you might look a little crazy as you try to justify yourself. The odds are that nothing will change.
We can get to the justification, reassurance and go past the shame much more easily if you can put aside your Ex and focus on yourself.
When Blame Becomes The Problem
Change begins with acceptance. So we have to first recognise and accept things as they are.
What’s really behind the endless obsession with Narcissism, for Survivors, is that they want to regain a sense of control. And so the belief is that if I can know enough I’ll have enough control to prevent it happening again.
Part of that craving is the need to know how and why you got into such a toxic relationship. How come you didn’t see the signs?
This can be a pretty emotive topic. Because some people will feel like they’re being blamed for what happened. There’s such intense shame created in people who’ve been in such toxic relationships that it makes them not want to look at situations honestly. Because to do so feels bad.
There is a movement to fight victim-blaming.
For example, when a woman gets raped people will question what she’s wearing and how she was acting.
The argument is that this helps people categorise the attack as being something avoidable and deflecting blame from the Attacker.
In this way, people can go back to their lives feeling safe that as long as they don’t do these things they’ll be ok.
This then avoids the need to change from a cultural perspective. Of course, the problem is the Perpetrator. And no one is safe as long as attitudes are protected from changing.
Of course, victims shouldn’t be blamed or blame themselves. It isn’t your fault that someone treated you like shit. It isn’t your fault that you got involved with someone who was incapable of holding down a sustainable relationship.
Nor is it your fault that you stayed too long in the relationship. Nor is it your fault you didn’t leave at the first red flag. Nor is it your fault that you still have feelings for them.
Brene Brown defines blame as the discharge of discomfort and pain. In this view blame is a defence mechanism. It enables us avoid feeling the discomfort from our situation.
When we can find a legitimate target for our blame it means we can say this happened because of this. It means we have a focus for how we feel. It means we have someone to be angry at.
What this means is that while we are blaming them, we are releasing some of that built up energy. This gives us relieve. And so we feel a little better.
The problem is that nothing is changing. The structures and dynamics that are in place to make us feel bad are still in place. So we are releasing some of the pressure as it builds up, but it is a temporary fix.
Tomorrow, next week and next year we’ll still have the same feelings and the same suffering… unless we change the structures and the dynamics.
Blame is a trap that stops you solving the problem.
I know that I used to find it difficult at first to work with some people because my approach is to get to the truth and work from there.
They didn’t want to get to the truth and were insulted at some of my questions because they felt like it was blaming them.
I didn’t understand because for me it’s never been about blame. It’s about what’s happened and how you can prevent it from happening again.
In order to understand what happened you have to understand exactly what has happened, how and why it happened.
You Have To Start With Love And Acceptance
To do this you have to start with the basic understanding that most people are good.
There are broken people. Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Narcissists that are incapable of concern or care for others, so the usual rules don’t apply.
Other than that though, most people do care about others. We do want to get along with people and for them to be happy.
Unfortunately, we all fall short sometimes. When we’re tired, hurt or down we are going to be trying to conserve our resources and so we are less able to care about others. So sometimes we snap. Sometimes we don’t listen to people.
It’s not because we are a bad person, but just because we have to be happy to be at our best. When we’re not happy we can’t care. Not because we don’t want to, but just because we don’t have the resources to.
So for me it’s not about judgment as in being a good person or not, but the resources we have.
This means any time stuck on self-doubt, like time blaming is wasted. Our work and all of your energies and attention have to be focused on rebuilding your life, becoming stronger and happier.
Now is not the time to judge yourself. Now is the time to work on yourself. When you feel healed, happy and ready to move on is the time to take score.
Understanding The Problem
The real problem isn’t that you met a scumbag who looked like Prince Charming.
The real problem isn’t even that you were played by the scumbag.
The real problem is that there is a bug in your Human Operating System.
This bug gave your Ex the ability to manipulate and control you. Let’s look at the beginning.
It starts with being born. No other creature is as ill-prepared to survive as humans. We are born completely helpless. We are completely reliant on our Caregivers.
Now for most of us we are plunged from our Mother’s womb screaming into a strange world. A world we have no understanding or comprehension of.
Mostly though, we are loved. We are embraced by parents and others that love us on sight. They comfort us and watch our every gurgle and wave. Everyone coos and smiles at us.
They slowly teach us the world. Yet long before they give us understanding of the world they give us love, comfort and security.
As we grow up, we become less helpless. We express our own personality and individuality. In short, we go from the cute and adorable baby to the tantrum-throwing little shit.
As we become more independent, we become less cute and adorable. And as our parents become more stressed and tired from clearing up the trail of destruction we leave in our wake, we get less expressions of love, comfort and security.
It isn’t that we are less loved, but there’s something about the helplessness that makes us respond differently.
Whereas, the stroppy and sullen 13 year old brings out a different response.
So essentially, our treatment from the world is downhill from that unconditional love that we receive as a newborn baby. And I believe that all of us are searching to recapture that level of love, comfort and acceptance.
That’s why in moments when the world is too much for us, we all want our Mum. Even when we’re 43.
The romantic dream is to meet a partner that gives us that unquestioning and unconditional love.
Someone that will always love, adore and comfort us.
As we grew and began to learn about marriage and relationships, the earliest understanding came from the Fairy Tale model of relationships.
So basically as children we have been taught to want to be the Prince and Princesses in Fairy Tales. When you look at the modern wedding it is in many ways based on that Fairy Tale idea.
So the lessons of the Fairy Tale are;
- There’s ONE out there for everyone
- When you meet your one, they will fall in love with your beauty and win over your hand.
- If the love is true, you’ll live happily ever after.
- The path to happy ever after is finding your ONE and being beautiful (for Princesses) or competent (for Princes) enough
So when this charming and charismatic seeming Prince walks into your life and sweeps you off your feet it seems like the dream has come true. Finally, my Princess has found me.
You’ve never met anyone who’s so enthralled with you.
Someone who promises to fulfil the romantic dreams you’ve always had, but never voiced.
Someone who makes such exciting plans and paints a picture of a future so bright that you can’t wait for it to unfold.
Someone who trains you time after time to expect excitement and to feel good around them. Someone that promises to give you that love, comfort and support, but also passion and excitement. So much so that you see them as the haven of safety you can rush to when the world gets too harsh.
What happens is you become hooked on them. Actually physically addicted. Emotionally addicted and psychologically addicted.
Love is a chemical state. It’s created when we have a certain mix of chemicals in us. So when we repeatedly see someone and feel excitement, lust, affection, safety, security and all of those emotions at the sight of them we develop such a deep connection with those feelings that thinking about the person creates a mini high.
This feeling is an incredible high. We crave it. When the relationship starts going wrong, we want nothing more than to get that high back. We are addicted. And so when we get a hit every now and then, we feel great. The rest of the time is the low of desperately trying to recapture it.
We don’t like to feel like an addict because it makes us feel like some junkie. We knew not to get involved with heroin because we could see where it led to. Yet, what we got addicted to everyone encouraged. We tell our children stories about how great love is. We have film after film reinforcing the dream of love.
Yet research shows us that the pain after a break up is actual physical pain. The reason why we obsessively think about our Ex, is because just thinking about them gives us a shot of the biochemical hit we’re looking for.
And so at the end of any break up there is sadness, loss and confusion. It’s always hard to get over someone because there’s a loss of a future we had planned. There’s the craving for the void that they filled in us. And all kinds of ways that we are reminded of what we once had.
Then when you get out of a relationship with a Narcissist and not only do you have the usual pain. But you also have trauma bonds to heal. Your self-esteem is at rock bottom. You have been manipulated, lied to and blamed for so long that you don’t know what is real and what isn’t.
And the icing on the cake is that even in trying to deal with all of the above, you also have someone actively trying to antagonize you. Someone who deliberately tries to make you look bad to all your friends and family.
Someone who will either be throwing their new partner in your face, and how they are everything you weren’t. Or someone that is bombarding you with messages to change your mind.
When you have property or children with them, there’s another boatload of hassle and stress.
Now it isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But if we focus on the injustice or the severity of our challenge nothing is going to change.
Change What We Can Effect
The only thing we can do is look at the situation and change everything we have some control over.
In any situation, there is what we have control over. And what we don’t. Change happens when we focus on what we can control. Stress and depression happen when we focus on what we can’t control.
What We Can't Control
Your Ex’s thoughts, feelings, words or actions
What other people think, say or do.
What We Can Control
Your thoughts, feelings, words and actions
How what other’s say affects you and how you respond.
The biggest factor that is under your control is where you give your attention. Yes all of your instincts will pull your attention into those thoughts that torture you. Yes all of your instincts will be triggered by all the things that happen.
But this doesn’t mean it is inevitable. The challenge of being human is the challenge to override our instincts. To choose our response, rather than respond automatically.
This isn’t going to be easy. It is far easier said than done, but life is not about easy.
The easy things in life like cheese, chocolate, tv, social media and quick hookups are not the things that ultimately make us happy.
Why The Endless Questions?
After any break up come the endless questions.
Why did they treat me like this?
How can they move on so fast?
Part of the reason for these questions is the addiction that we talked about earlier. But there’s another reason.
There is something called the Zeigarnik Effect. What this means is that when there’s something unfinished, an open loop, we remember it better.
Our brain thinks that we have to finish this and so it keeps reminding us about this urgent task we have to do.
Your brain processes what has happened as an open loop. This is why people have such a need for closure.
Now after watching people go through this for 26 years I can tell you that you aren’t going to get closure from that last conversation with your Ex.
We operate on stories. We are constantly overwhelmed by facts coming at us. The way that we can make sense of these facts is by giving them context and meaning in an ongoing narrative.
Most of the time we do this unconsciously. Watch yourself. We are constantly giving meaning to what people do and why they do it. This narrative is what drives how we feel and what we do.
The secret to closure and ultimately to your healing is to take control of the narrative in your head and become the author of your narrative. Stop letting your fears and inner demons write the story of your life.
Again, this isn’t easy. You are overwriting biology and overcoming addiction. The alternative is to stay an addict and you will drift into situations that you have no control over.
The Healing Journey
This is a process of grief. The death of what you thought was real and the breaking of a powerful illusion
Your healing begins when you accept that the relationship wasn’t what you thought it was. This is hard to do because to do so means to let go of how loved and special they made you feel in the beginning.
The rejection and abandonment you feel wasn’t anything personal. You just couldn’t give them what they needed. Not because you weren’t enough, but because they are broken beyond hope. So broken that they need more than anyone could ever give.
You have to recognise that you loved the vision of what they could be, the feelings they initially brought you.
Yet the hard part is that what they loved wasn’t you, you were a conduit to what they wanted.
They are deeply damaged, scared and refuse to look at truth and so hurt others in reaction to their own pain. You have to recognise and accept that you can’t heal them, save them or even have a happy relationship with them.
Nor can you save or warn their next victim.
Accept that what happened was what is going to happen. Truth emerges, just needs enough time and contexts to unfold.
Kill the hope that anything good could come from the relationship – that is all the closure you need.
End all contact and remove all triggers
Disentangle the trauma bonds. This of course is far easier said then done, but it is the journey you have to take to heal.
Reframe what happened. Something that you weren’t equipped to deal with. But in dealing with it you are becoming stronger. It’s a tough process, but you are tougher. You will be ok and you can move past it.
Idealisation, where you feel like the most special person in the universe is a story that plays into the Fairy Tale model of love.
Devaluation is also a story.
The process of becoming stronger is a process of reframing relationships – no one is going to save you. No one is going to love unconditionally.
You have to take 100% responsibility for your life, your feelings etc
Commit to the truth.
Focus on self-acceptance.
Build new vision of future.
You are enough and you can build the future you want. The path is simple, but not easy. It only becomes complex when we aren’t willing to make the difficult choices we have to make.