I Need Out of This Relationship, Now! Part 3: Getting Out and Healing

By Erika Walker, LSCSW, RPT

“You are more powerful than you know and they fear the day you discover it.” – Unknown 

This quote is exceptionally accurate when it comes to abusive relationships and relationships with someone diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). According to the United Nations, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” You have the right to your own life, free from abuse. You hold all the power in the relationship, and you can end it and heal from everything you have endured.

Trusting your gut. Your feelings are valid. You have them for a reason. They are an assessment of the things you have been through and are currently going through. No matter what your philosophical or spiritual outlook on life is, science has proven that we should trust our gut feelings. “The brain is a large predictive machine, constantly comparing incoming sensory information and current experiences against stored knowledge and memories of previous experiences, then predicting what will come next. This ensures that the brain is always as prepared to deal with the current situation as optimally as possible.” When our body, mind, and soul are attuned to these experiences and feelings, and we listen and pay attention to them, it is incredible what we can learn about an individual after even such a short interaction with them. The more you notice what your intuition is telling you, the more accurate and precise it will become. If an individual “feels off” or toxic to you, listen to what your body is saying. 

Whenever I start working with a new client, I like to do a little bit of psychoeducation regarding how our brains retain and process information. I give a very simplistic explanation for what is actually a complicated process. 

Imagine your brain is a file cabinet, and it contains in it every moment you have ever experienced. Each memory is stored as a photograph, with a feeling, smell, sound, and sight attached to it. Every picture then gets placed into the file cabinet under good, bad, and ugly experiences. As you progress in your life, you will likely have similar experiences to those you have already had, and those new photographs are filed where they fit best. When you have had multiple similar encounters that are stored in the good or ugly drawer, your nervous system will tell you via your ‘gut’ (or subconscious mind) that you should be wary of it, almost like an internal fire alarm yelling, “danger, danger” at you. Your body (instinct) is telling you to be cautious, but given time,  your rational brain may try to justify or explain away the uncomfortable feeling you are having. Likewise, if something feels ‘right,’ your body will give you signals telling you it is ok to proceed with what you are doing and that the situation is a ‘safe’ one. All of these photographs are part of your subconscious mind and connect to the sensory cells in your body giving you the good, bad, or ugly feelings. These cells connect to other parts of your nervous system, which then assist in the decision-making process.`

Since our brain is a pattern-seeking organ, it might take quite a few experiences, depending on how they affect you, to be able to listen to your intuition. For example, at the end of the last article, I wrote about a personal experience that I had with a toxic individual. At the time I met this person, I didn’t have a template from which to gain these intuitive feelings. Now though, because I was in the toxic environment, and around the toxic person for so long, my gut can now tell me when I am around those with similar traits as that person, and I listen to it to protect myself. My brain had to adjust to form a new file. “These adjustments are critical, because the patterns that we initially recognize are often slightly off the mark, or just simply wrong. Feedback helps us know when allowing us to revise those patterns accordingly.”

Getting out. The first step in healing is to recognize that you are in a relationship with a narcissist. The second step is to decide whether you are willing to stay in it or if you want to leave. If the narcissist in your life is willing to admit they have a problem and seek help, and you decide that you are choosing to be by their side to do so, that is a choice only you can make. If the narcissist in your life is unwilling to get help, and you choose to stay, that is also up to you. However, if you want to leave the relationship, there are some key things that you will need to know and expect to happen along the way.

I’m not going to lie and tell you getting out of your relationship with an abusive narcissist is going to be easy. It’s going to be difficult, and you should prepare for the fight of your life, but it is achievable. Before you decide to end the relationship, I think it’s important to understand what your partner will likely do to keep you in it. 

“If you succeed in leaving, they will continue their games to exert power over you that compensates for their hidden insecurities. They may gossip and slander you to family and friends. They show up on your social media, try to make you jealous with photos of them having fun with someone else, talk to your friends and relatives, text or call you, promise to reform, express guilt and love, ask for help, or “accidentally” appear in your neighborhood or usual haunts.”

The narcissist in your life will do anything to keep you in their life because they will see losing the relationship as a sign of failure and thus leading to humiliation. They will charm and manipulate you if you allow them to. Narcissists cannot be made to see reason as to why you want to leave them. Do not try to get into a power struggle with them. They will not allow you to win. Narcissists believe that they are always right and never wrong, so they will blame you for the failed relationship or try to convince you that you have made a mistake. They will likely also try to guilt-trip you into staying with them, promising they will change if you do.

Stay silent and ignore them. This is your superpower! You should know that “nothing hurts a narcissist more than ignoring them. It renders them insignificant, meaningless, and void.” Once they figure out that you are no longer going to give in to them, it takes power away from them, leaving them with nothing. If you do have to talk to them, do not do it sitting down. Look into their eyes and get on as even ground as possible. Being aggressive is not recommended, as everything is a competition to a narcissist. 

They will overstep boundary after boundary and challenge your self-esteem and human rights to the point of even more possible abuse than you might have already endured. When they begin to do this, do not believe them. They will probably spout the same insults and criticisms, gaslighting, they have been your whole relationship with them. The words were not valid then, and they are not right now. “The unfortunate fact is that a narcissist needs people in their lives to SURVIVE but they don’t just ‘like’ or ‘relate’ to people so it is hideous, demeaning, debasing, ANGRY, and abusive coexistence that we get conned and TRAPPED into.” The narcissist needs you to supply their control. When you try to take that away, they will throw tantrums and try to reel you back in. The narcissist will be counting on your perception of yourself being so low that you will be too anxious or depressed to fight back. 

From all of the research I have done for this article, I have found that this passage from the book From Charm to Harm and Everything Else in Between With a Narcissist by Gregory Zaffuto, a survivor of a narcissistic relationship, sums up best how a relationship with a narcissist will inevitably end. “No relationship ever ends in such a shroud of hate and destruction as one that ends with a Narcissist. They annihilate every aspect of the relationship, the person, their life, their family, their friends, and everything in a manner to completely disable you/us. Every action and word that comes from a Narcissist is a bizarre attack on your reality.” The narcissist will attempt to destroy every single aspect of your life. It will feel like they are saying, ‘If I can’t have you, I’m going to make sure nobody can.’ 

“It takes you from the goodness and normality that you have had all of your life to a dark place where you now have feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness because everything you do is wrong and you are worthless. Even after separation from a Narcissist, the abuse lives on because like a poison it has entered into every cell in your body and in the case of a Narcissistic abuse the poison destroys the mind and reality of their target/victim.” This, the continued toxicity in the aftermath of you leaving, is one of the main reasons it is important to stay away from the narcissist once you decide to leave. There can be no going back and forth, it needs to be a clean break in order for you to begin healing and moving on. 

Seeking outside assistance might be an excellent place to start after you have decided to leave. If there are people in your life that you can trust, that your narcissistic partner has not turned against you or are on ‘their side,’ you could start there. It is also a possibility to search for a person who does not know either you or your partner. This person could give an outsider’s perspective and offer unbiased suggestions. If this person is a trained professional, they would be an ally for you moving through the end of your relationship and into healing afterward. They could help give you skills to rebuild the things the narcissist has taken from you during the length of your relationship with them. If needed, find an experienced lawyer who is familiar with cases like yours. Also, if you fear for your safety, find a shelter or a trusted family member or friend to stay with while you begin your recovery journey. Do not allow your abuser to continue the cycle.

Healing. There is no right way to heal after you have been in a relationship with a narcissist, especially if the relationship was abusive. It is essential to know that you are NOT TO BLAME! Your abuser’s behaviors and actions were not something that you could control. You were made to believe that the person you were with loved you for who you were, not what you could do for them. They were never that person because they aren’t capable of love for another person, only to cause them distress and harm.

Finding you again.  More than likely, there are things that you have had to give up or put away due to your relationship. Now is the time to rediscover those things and relearn what it means to be uniquely you. Below is a list of things that can help you find yourself again. These things can be done with or without therapy, though I am a firm believer in seeking treatment if and when you need it. Someone with training in complex trauma would be beneficial in helping you navigate what you have been through and how to heal from it.

  • TAKE YOUR TIME! Healing from an experience of this magnitude will take time. Do not try to rush it. 
  • Join a support group. Find a therapist that specializes in abuse victims and can provide you with Brainspotting or EMDR therapy. 
  • Grieve what you have been through and have lost, then build resilience.
  • Educate yourself on narcissists, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and unhealthy and abusive relationships. When you start to do this research, you will be able to see that your partner’s choices were just that, their choices. You were a victim of their decisions and not the cause of them.
  • Do the things you once enjoyed or take up new hobbies. Hobbies will help to rebuild your self-esteem and will help you to nurture yourself.
  • Detach from your abuser. As much as you might want to check in with your abuser, don’t. Remember, they want to keep you under their control. By checking their social media, asking about them, or communicating with them, you are allowing them to continue to control you. You must cut all ties and ignore any attempts they make to contact you. If anyone around you begins to talk about them or tries to speak to you about them, ask them not to or leave. Actions as seemingly small as talking about the abuser could be their attempt to reel you back into the relationship. 
“What you are punishing me with is exactly the unhealed parts of me that I need to heal to not only ignore you for real, but to free myself from all the feelings of enmeshment, love, and neediness with you. I know now by doing so, you will become irrelevant to me, and I will then transcend into relationships which are healthy, whole, and real.”
  • Unlearning the things ingrained into your psyche during your relationship is going to be crucial in your healing process. These negative thoughts are detrimental to your mental well-being. Sometimes it is helpful to write down and externalize the things going on inside of your head and heart. Once complete, start analyzing them from a different perspective. Learn to be assertive in your actions and thinking.
  • Acknowledge the truths in your relationship. Identify the wrongdoing to you. Identify what was in your control and what parts were taken out of your control, then place the blame in its rightful place. 

Validation. “Your experience was valid–no matter how hard people try to take that away from you. You deserve to be heard, and to heal.” Find people who will be “on your side.” There will be some, unfortunately, who will not be able to see your abuser for what they were. For many reasons people choose to ignore what they are being told or shown, including them not wanting to see it, not personally seeing it themselves, or them not wanting to take responsibility for their part in your abuse. Do not let others make you feel like you were the one in the wrong. If there is a person in your life that is making you feel like this, it might mean cutting ties with them if need be. Again, this will likely not be an easy task to carry out. You deserve to be free from abuse of any kind. Somebody not believing you or your story is not someone that needs to be in your life. 

Leaving an abusive situation of any kind is a struggle. It takes much work by the individual leaving to not only make the decision but to follow through with it and then learn how to pick up the pieces and live again. Finding the right people to support and encourage you along the way is vital. Letting others tell you how well you are doing and believing them is so important. You will have bad days, but your good days will soon begin to outweigh them. The bad days will help you to appreciate how far you have come and how much you have healed. Take the time you need and never let anyone rush you, no matter who it is. You’ve got this!

REFERENCES:

Evans, M. T. (2017, June 30). 5 Steps To Ignoring A Narcissist Who Tries To Punish You. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://blog.melanietoniaevans.com/5-steps-to-ignoring-a-narcissist-who-tries-to-punish-you/

Lancer, D. (2019, April 3). Famous Narcissistic Movie Characters. Retrieved April 7, 2019, from https://thenarcissisticlife.com/famous-narcissistic-movie-characters/

Mulukom, V.V. (2018, May 22). The science behind going with your instincts. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/05/is-it-rational-to-trust-your-gut-feelings-a-neuroscientist-explains

Mulukom, V. V. (2019, March 26). Is it rational to trust your gut feelings? A neuroscientist explains. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://theconversation.com/is-it-rational-to-trust-your-gut-feelings-a-neuroscientist-explains-95086

Pittampalli, A. (2017, November 16). When Should You Trust Your Gut? Here’s What the Science Says. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/are-you-persuadable/201711/when-should-you-trust-your-gut-heres-what-the-science-says

Rider, E. (2018, November 01). The Scientific Explanation Of A Gut Feeling Why You Need To Go With It. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.elizabethrider.com/the-scientific-explanation-of-a-gut-feeling-why-you-need-to-go-with-it/

Stephens, S. (2018, November 27). How to Rebuild Yourself After an Emotionally Abusive Relationship. Retrieved April 6, 2019, from https://upliftconnect.com/how-to-rebuild-yourself-after-an-emotionally-abusive-relationship/

UN General Assembly. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights (217 [III] A). Paris.

Zaffuto, G. (2016, April 19). A Narcissist poisons your mind, your heart, your soul, AND your life! Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://afternarcissisticabuse.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/a-narcissist-poisons-your-mind-your-heart-your-soul-and-your-life/

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