If you’ve decided to read this article, it’s perhaps because you, or someone you know, is trying to heal in the aftermath of a toxic relationship. Or maybe you have been wondering how to leave a toxic relationship and how you will be able to heal.
Whatever drew you to read this article, I want you to know that you are not alone, and that healing from being with someone abusive, is possible.
Let’s start by defining what narcissistic abuse means. It’s a new term in our colloquial language, and it’s been used more and more to describe people who show a pattern of self-absorption, emotional superficiality, lack of empathy or concern for the needs of others, a high sense of self-Importance, a strong need to be admired and adored, and strong abilities to manipulate others in order to get their needs met. Sound familiar?
Partners or children of those who fit the narcissistic spectrum often have a chronic feeling of not being good enough, they also suffer from self-doubt and spend large amounts of time and energy trying to devise ways to change who they are because they feel if they change for their partner, then they will receive love and respect they yearn for. The thing is, that after years of being with a partner or a parent with narcissistic tendencies, we are starved; starved of the experience of feeling lovable and worthy. Because with a narcissist what we do will never be enough, years of being criticized, undermined, minimized, insulted and rejected will chip away at our self-esteem and sense of worth. The result: we become a shell of who we used to be (in the case of years with a narcissistic partner), or if we grew up with a narcissistic parent we simply never were given a chance to develop a sense of self-worth or self-esteem in the first place.
Victims of narcissistic abuse often come to therapy feeling chronically depressed, unable to leave their partner even though they realize the relationship causes them great pain. Or, they come to therapy deeply depressed and/or anxious, riddled with insecurities and engaging in ample self-sabotaging in their lives, in the case of having been raised by a narcissistic parent. All too often victims will blame themselves, will wonder what they can do to change who they are as they believe what they’ve been told for years: that they’re not good enough.
Healing is a process of shifting our perspective. When we are raised by a narcissistic parent, or after years of being with a narcissistic partner, our entire focus is on our relationship with the narcissist. We are worried almost exclusively about how to please them, how to make them happy, and how to become good enough based on their definitions of what good enough means (which often changes) imposed on us. As such, in order to heal, we have to shift our focus from the narcissist, to ourselves. We all have a relationship with ourselves, similar to the relationships we have with others. When we are in a narcissistic bond, we abandon ourselves completely. We ignore our needs, we abandon our likes, our desires, our preferences, and absorb the narcissist, as this is the only way that a narcissist will last in a relationship: they have to be the center of that relationship. The healing process, thus, will involve a look at the one and only thing we can change in the situation: ourselves. But this time, the change is not about pleasing the narcissist…the change is an internal change veered towards your own needs, your own goals in life, your own Self. This is the hardest because after years of abandoning yourself, you may not know where to even begin. You may have lost sight of, or never had a chance to even find out, your true Self. It is time to reflect. What are your values? What are your likes and dislikes? What makes you feel passionate? What are you interested in? What is unique about you? What are you really good at? What inspires you and makes you motivated in life? In those answers, lie the answers to who you are, that no one can take away from you.
Working with your individual therapist can help you find ways to reconnect with yourself, and ways to empower yourself to make decisions in your life that are in line with your values, your preferences, and your own sense of what makes you happy. Therapy can also help you gain insights as to how it is you found yourself in a toxic relationship so you can have more compassion for yourself, and also a better sense of the red flags to look out for your future relationships. Finally, individual therapy can help you establish a healthy relationship with yourself, which will ensure that in the future you will only accept mutually nurturing and healthy relationships with others.
Christiane Blanco-Oilar, Ph.D., ABPP is a Board Certified Counseling Psychologist in Boca Raton, FL. Dr. Blanco-Oilar has expertise in helping you through life transitions, grief and loss, intimacy issues, relationship difficulties and in supporting your goal to achieve vibrant relationships with yourself and others. She also provides therapy in Spanish.
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