Healing from narcissistic abuse is a very difficult hurdle one must overcome. It’s so difficult because it requires the survivors of narcissistic abuse to acknowledge that what they’ve experienced was abuse.
Many survivors of narcissistic abuse had invested their entire wellbeing into the narcissistic relationship because they were manipulated so severely that even the mere thought of leaving evoked an enormous amount of shame and guilt within the survivor, both before and after they left the relationship.
To create this article we asked a handful of therapists and the 67 survivors of narcissistic abuse that we work with, “How do you heal from narcissistic abuse after months, years, and even decades of a pervasive environment of manipulation?”
Healing From Narcissistic Abuse Requires A Comprehensive Grasp of Your Trauma
One of the leading causes of individuals getting into, and remaining in narcissistic relationships is neglected trauma. We have spoken about this when referring to growing up in an abusive environment, but neglected trauma doesn’t always have to come from abusive households.
Trauma could come from other influences in your life like coaches, teachers, friends, and any other person you may cross paths with.
Trauma can come from any experience that overwhelms your sense of being safe, or your sense of being okay with yourself. Neglected trauma is synonymous with a broken bone that never healed correctly, if you put pressure on it, it will break or cause extreme discomfort.
What Does Neglected Trauma Look Like?
- Fear of not being good enough
- Pervasive environment of self-blame and self-doubt
- Feeling stupid, dirty, ugly, or unwanted
- Feeling unlovable
There are many individuals who go through life flawlessly without addressing their trauma, but for those who have crossed paths with a narcissist, this is virtually impossible. Narcissistic behavior patterns are designed to sniff out the victims’ neglected trauma and exploit it.
Neglected Trauma Makes Us Vulnerable to Trauma Bonding
Narcissistic behavior targets neglected trauma so severely that it is incredibly hard to leave and/or heal from narcissistic relationships, also known as trauma bonds.
If you take a step back and look at some of the manipulative tactics narcissists use, it’s very understandable why addressing our neglected trauma should always be a priority when trying to escape and/or heal from narcissistic abuse.
A scapegoat is a person a narcissist uses to project their emotional inadequacy onto. One could equate a narcissist’s inability to process their own emotions to dropping a pack of Mentos into a soda bottle and closing the lid tightly, it’s going to explode and destroy the bottle.
Scapegoats are the equivalent to someone removing the cap off the soda bottle so the soda that is about to shoot out of the bottle has somewhere to go.
Things Narcissists Say to Their Scapegoats
- Anthony gets fired from his job because of his performance and his inability to process his shame causes him to go home and berate his son. “ You’re a pathetic person, you’ll never amount to anything in life!”
- Sarah’s prom date decides to get back with his girlfriend a few weeks before the dance and she feels humiliated. She throws herself into a narcissistic rage and destroys her friend’s dress because she can’t handle the feeling of rejection so she chooses destruction.
Gaslighting is when a narcissist doubts and/or denies the reality and/or ability of their victims so frequently that the victim becomes consumed with self-doubt and can’t trust their own perception of themselves.
Gaslighting is the pinnacle of narcissistic abuse. Gaslighting opens the doors for all of the other manipulative tactics narcissists hold dear, to work.
Examples of Gaslighting
- That never happened, you’re remembering that wrong.
- What are you talking about? I didn’t hit you!
- It didn’t hurt that bad, you’re being dramatic.
- Everyone thinks you’re crazy.
- If you loved me, you’d be able to accept me for who I am.
How Does Gaslighting And Scapegoating Correlate With Neglected Trauma And Healing?
For those who enter narcissistic relationships with pre-existing trauma, manipulative behaviors like gaslighting and scapegoating will magnify their self-doubt, self-blame, and distorted image of themselves.
Trying to process this level of emotional instability and manipulation without therapeutic guidance pushes victims of narcissistic abuse into the arms of their abuser, because on a primitive level, we all believe our significant other, family member, or other authoritative figures in our lives are supposed to want the best for us.
Addressing our neglected trauma is imperative for healing from narcissistic abuse.
To Heal From Narcissistic Abuse, You Must Rebuild Your Identity
Some of the most common feelings among survivors of narcissistic abuse are grief, confusion, and loss. After not only surviving such an emotionally unstable environment, but more often than not, watching their abuser move on with their lives without any repercussions, survivors experience a second wave of trauma.
The combination of a manipulative environment, no justice, neglected trauma, and self-doubt infused with self-blame has a very high probability of creating a person who feels like they can’t trust anything or anyone.
The life they envisioned prior to the relationship, the way they viewed themselves and the world, and even their expectations of love have been corrupted by the narcissist in their life.
It’s vitally important that survivors of narcissistic abuse direct a large amount of their efforts towards rebuilding their identity. One of the best ways to do this would be to experience new things, find out what you like and don’t like. Putting yourself into situations, that you’re comfortable with, that makes you make a decision you normally wouldn’t make is the first step towards reclaiming your identity.
Re-Discover What You Want In Life
In our previous article, How to Protect Yourself From a Narcissist, we spoke about a huge red flag in the narcissistic realm, adult temper tantrums. These temper tantrums originate, yet again, from their inability to regulate their own emotions.
These types of reactions to even the slightest amount of discomfort and/or disappointment causes victims of narcissistic abuse to constantly live in a state of fear over every single thing they do.
They’re constantly trying to figure out ways to please the narcissist, coddle their shame, and avoid saying or doing anything that would trigger narcissistic rage.
After months, years, and even decades of a chronic fear of communication and a pervasive environment of guilt, shame, and manipulation, victims of narcissistic abuse could lose sight of what they aspire to be.
One losing themselves in a narcissistic relationship isn’t always noticeable at first because they have so many other things they have to worry about. It’s when the relationship ends that the enormous sense of loss sets in.
As always, it’s nothing to be ashamed. But it’s imperative that survivors of narcissistic abuse actively work towards finding themselves again. A helpful way to do this would be to start writing in a journal!
If you remember, write down what your aspirations were before the narcissistic relationship. If not, write down what you’d like to accomplish now that you’re free from the abusive cycle, and try to determine where your aspirations originate from.
Redirect your focus within to have a better understanding of what lies ahead for you.
Remind Yourself of Your Worth
This is a very challenging aspect of the healing process because of how versatile narcissists can be when devaluing others. A narcissist will learn their victims’ insecurities and vulnerabilities very early on in the relationship, so they can be weaponized against the victim in the future.
It’s guaranteed that survivors of narcissistic abuse will experience some form of psychological trauma. In our article, How to Support Someone In a Narcissistic Relationship, we broke down the 5 signs that someone has suffered narcissistic abuse.
- Social Withdrawal
- Sense of Helplessness
If a survivor of narcissistic abuse is able to address these behavioral patterns and work towards redefining themselves, instead of the narcissist doing it for them, they’ll have a much better chance at healing from narcissistic abuse.
An exercise favored among our 67 participants is when they’ll create a list of things their abuser said that they couldn’t do, and do them.
Jenny’s abuser told her that she was too fat to run a marathon, so she completed her first marathon 8 months after divorcing her abuser.
Abby’s abuser told her that she was a horrible cook, so she started her own bakery in her hometown almost a year after she separated from her abuser.
Justin’s abuser told him that he would never graduate from high school, which led to him dropping out. 3 years after he escaped his abusive parents, he went back and got his GED.
One living with the limitations that a narcissist has placed on them traps them within the abusive cycle, even after they’ve escaped the relationship. It can cause them to make decisions based on the belief that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, or whatever else it may be.
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” – Jean Shinoda Bolen
Re-Educate Yourself On the Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
After being in an abusive relationship for an extended period of time, it’s very common for survivors of narcissistic abuse to lose sight of what a healthy relationship looks like. As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, one must ensure that they don’t normalize, justify, and/or rationalize abusive behavior.
This section isn’t going to outline how to re-educate yourself on the dynamics of a healthy relationship because everyone is going to have different standards. The one thing I will say is that the best way to redefine your definition of a healthy relationship, would be to reconnect with your boundaries.
Setting boundaries is the first line of defense from a narcissist’s pervasive environment of manipulation. Setting boundaries in a healthy relationship could manifest in one being comfortable with asking for space after an argument, communicating discomfort, or even having the right to say no.
If there is one thing that you should take away from this article, it should be the understanding that healing from narcissistic abuse is impossible if you’re still carrying neglected trauma. And that neglected trauma will cause you to equate healthy relationships with unhealthy relationships and subsequently gravitate towards abusive relationships for the foreseeable future.
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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
Nevicka Barbara, De Hoogh Annebel H. B., Den Hartog Deanne N., Belschak Frank D./Narcissistic Leaders and Their Victims: Followers Low on Self-Esteem and Low on Core Self-Evaluations Suffer Most/Frontiers in Psychology VOLUME 9 YEAR 2018 PAGES 422 DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00422
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