Leaving a Narcissist is hard. The longer you stayed with the Narcissist, the more you forgot what happiness felt like, the more confidence you lost in yourself, and the more of your “self” you lost. You found yourself in a constant state of emotional void, because gradually you came to realize that expression of your own emotions resulted in enraging the Narcissist. You had seen behind the Narcissist’s mask and you knew that his or her anger knows no bounds, so the fear of retribution weighed heavily.
So you learned to walk on eggshells and tried to anticipate the Narcissist’s next move, never knowing whether to expect Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. You allowed the Narcissist to dictate what your mood would be. If the Narcissist was angry and sullen, you had the life sucked out of you. If the Narcissist was high on supply, you might have been given a compliment or feigned affection. Maybe. Eventually you will come to cherish the times when the Narcissist isn’t raging and give up on receiving anything positive from the Narcissist, leaving you constantly emotionally depleted and depressed.
This is why people describe leaving the Narcissist as feeling as though they are dying. It’s because, at some point, you handed over your power. You dissociated from yourself for emotional survival because feeling all of the abuse and betrayal became too much to bear. While checking out on the Narcissist you also checked out on you. And just because you had the strength to leave, or were finally discarded by the Narcissist, you don’t know how to be the generator of your own joy. You were relying on a cruel, self-centered person to be your source of happiness and how did that work out for you?
Not good at all. So when you find yourself “free” of the Narcissist, you are left with the empty shell that you allowed yourself to become. You feel lonely because you abandoned yourself. You lack the confidence to protect yourself emotionally, financially and physically.
This emptiness often feels like a drug addict who is going through withdrawals. In fact, at the root of every type of addiction is an emotional void. Even though the drug was killing you, it was all that kept you from feeling the emptiness of being with the person you abandoned (you). This is the stage where codependents become very vulnerable to Hoovers from the Narcissist. Or the codependent begs the Narcissist to take them back. Statistically a victim attempts to leave their abuser seven times before escape becomes permanent. Every time the codependent returns to the Narcissist, they are treated worse than before. Maybe not at first, but in a very short time the Narcissist will amp up the abuse, because Narcissists enjoy abusing people and they lose even more respect for you for coming back.
The key to ending this vicious cycle is to learn to reconnect with yourself and your emotions, as painful as that may be. And then learn to forgive yourself. Along with the abuse from the Narcissist came intense feelings of shame (a virtue that Narcissists, Borderlines and Sociopaths are not encumbered with). Shame works with our conscience to keep our behaviors in check. Your behaviors became way over “checked,” to the point of being stifled. The Narcissist has been projecting his/her shame onto you, so you not only possess your own shame, but also the Narcissist’s. You need to stop feeling shame for what you experienced, tolerated and failed to stop, despite it very nearly killing your spirit. Give all of that shame back to the Narcissist and stop owning it. Consider the experience a painful learning lesson, instead. Unlike the Narcissist, YOU CAN GET BETTER. You have an opportunity to live a whole and healthy life complete with the entire gamut of emotional responses.
Find yourself a good therapist. If you can’t afford therapy, find a good support group or support forum. You will be surprised how common and pedestrian your Narcissist is, when you realize that this egomaniac who believed him or herself to be so unique, actually behaves exactly the same as any and every other Narcissist out there. Then you will be able to spot these behaviors sooner, before getting embroiled with another one.
Learn to Love yourself. I say this often because it bears repeating. Codependents have very little love for themselves and it’s this lack of self love that causes us to be drawn to (and vice versa) Narcissists. Pretend that you are your own child. Would you want your child to be in an abusive relationship? You shouldn’t tolerate abuse for yourself either.
Pam McCoy is a writer, author and co-host of Crazybusters