A Cost of the Relationship
A major challenge in recovering from narcissistic abuse is learning to trust your own judgment or gut again. Not only your judgement about people and situations, but your judgements about yourself. A consequence of enduring a one-sided reality for any extended period of time is that you start to view yourself through the eyes of your abuser. Their definitions of why you did the things you did, and said the things you said. Their perceptions of your motivations. Hearing, “no you don’t feel that way” and having the abuser then tell you how you feel is damaging. It makes you question what you feel is true and doubt yourself frequently.
When you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you are no longer your own person. Sooner or later you become their definition of you. You know this because you’ve experienced it too. I heard repeatedly, “why are you such an angry person?” “You never ask for help, I would help if you asked.” “You don’t change.” “You’ve changed too much.” “When your parents find out all of the horrible things you’ve done they will turn their backs on you.” You, you, you. It was always about what I needed to change and never about what we both needed to work on.
The reality of what happens with someone with narcissism is that they project their feelings onto you. What is a projection? It is a way of taking a feeling that is unacceptable and giving it to someone else. For example, I feel angry but don’t want to acknowledge that feeling as mine. Instead, I accuse my partner of being angry. This is a defense mechanism used to protect a person with narcissism from all of their uncomfortable feelings, all of their mistakes, etc. They literally get rid of uncomfortable feelings, by projecting or placing them into you.
One result of projection is that the receiver starts to own those projected feelings as their own. Communication in narcissistic relationships gets muddy very quickly, and it can be difficult to hold onto an objective sense of reality. I will admit, I questioned if was I really angry and resentful like he said? Was I really that selfish? Was I “The” problem in the relationship? If we could just fix me, then would everything be okay? Towards the end I struggled to know myself. I struggled to remember who I was before all of this chaos.
Sense of Self
An individual with a strong sense of self is able to acknowledge mistakes, faults, and flaws because they know essentially they are a good person. For someone with narcissism, they do not have a strong core self. If a person with narcissism were to look at themselves honestly they couldn’t tolerate what they see. Instead they live in a reality where they are all good and others are all bad. A reality where they are right and others are wrong. A world where they are the victim and never the victimizer. A world where they must have validation from others all the time.
One thing I began towards end of my relationship was writing down bits of conversation as they were happening. What he said, what I said, etc. Historically what happened over the years is there would be an interaction and he would say things in front of the kids. Then later, after the heat of the moment, he would deny saying those things. “I would never say something like that. That’s not who I am.”
Situations like that left me questioning my own sanity, questioning what was real, and questioning my memory. Writing things down gave me the ability to hold onto my truth. It also gave me the ability to reflect on my own ways of responding to him in conflictual situations. Now just because I wrote things down didn’t mean he acknowledged their truth. I actually never showed him what I wrote, but what it gave me was the ability to trust my gut and know the facts as they happened to me.
Healing From Narcissistic Abuse
Two years away have given me the space and time to heal. I know my instincts are good. These years have given me time to reflect on my life, who I was when we met at 17 years old. To reflect on how I fell for his charm, and when things really began to go wrong. I started to see what was always there, but wasn’t strong enough to acknowledge. I learned about the traits I have that made me vulnerable to a narcissist. How he twisted my kindness towards others and my tenacity in relationships. I no longer focus constantly on the things that happened, instead I look at better understanding my vulnerable parts so that I am stronger and more self-aware.
I was not perfect in this relationship. And I never want to portray that I was. I made mistakes. Said things, did things that I am not proud of. I own those things, and take responsibility for them. I was at fault too. Taking responsibility is not victim blaming. It is owning my truth. I questioned if I was a narcissist. One thing I learned was that a person with narcissism will never question or even consider that they could be a narcissist. Ever. It isn’t them, cannot be them. Someone who is willing to take a hard look at themselves, receive critical feedback from others, and own faults and flaws does not have narcissism. If you are asking the question, “am I a narcissist?” Most likely the answer is no.
Things I have learned: Everyone gets angry and I am not a b*$&h if I feel angry. Most people handle their anger without belittling, or otherwise trying to hurt those they love. I know that I am a kindhearted person who prefers to choose joy over hate or anger. And that I have many good qualities that were used against me. It doesn’t mean those qualities like loyalty, persistence, and belief in others ability to change are bad; it just means that someone else took advantage of those traits. Above all home is a safe place full of peace and laughter. I no longer dread going home. Now I know that when I go home the people/pets that greet me are happy I am there and love me unconditionally.
You can have this too. It is a personal decision whether to stay or leave a relationship. Both are hard. To stay is hard and to leave is hard. Only you can decide what is best for you. Just know it can help to talk with someone who understands. Remember, staying quiet protects the narcissist not you. Please talk to someone you trust. Whether you talk to a family member, friend, or a therapist it is vital to know that you are not alone. Just know there is always hope.