What Makes Recovery From A Narcissist Different?
Everything good you have ever believed about human beings is contradicted.
Every thought you have had about loyalty, experience, and truthfulness is denied.
Every trope you have heard about marriage, love, and partnership is hammered into silence.
Every idea you have had about human connection is trashed by the Narcissist’s behaviour.
Breakups are always painful and research confirms this, but leaving a Narcissist is something else entirely, and belies how recovery normally works.
For example, research shows a correlation between an increased sense of self and growth after a relationship that was perceived as low in quality and which limited the self.
This means that recovery from a relationship with a Narcissist ought to be a walk in the park.
Why isn’t it?
Because it is missing the Casablanca effect.
Yes, I have given it a thoroughly unscientific name; you could also call it the “We will always have Paris” moment.
Remember the scene in Casablanca?
when you as the audience, and Ingrid Bergman believe that she will be staying with Humphrey Bogart, but he tells her she has to get on the plane with her husband?
She looks at him and asks, “What about us?” and he answers, “We will always have Paris.”
While their experience in Paris had been lost when he could only feel the pain of having been abandoned by understanding why she left him, that experience and the love felt had been regained.
In many concluded relationships, after the shouting has ended and what Daniel Gilbert has called our psychological immune system has kicked in, permitting us to remember all the not so wonderful things about him instead of crying our eyes out, there comes a moment of calm and detachment when we are ready to start over.
And with that comes the “We will always have Paris” moment when you actually remember some of the good times and you are ok with the memory.
You can pick up a photograph of the two of you without wincing and maybe even smile.
That doesn’t happen with a Narcissist.
There is no “We will always have Paris” moment because Paris every promise he made to you, every moment you spent together, everything you ever believed about him and has been strafed or burnt to the ground.
You are not recovering from love lost but from warfare.
“Shell shocked” is a word many survivors of Narcissistic Abuse use and it fits.
Here are four reasons someone is likely to have trouble getting over the Narcissist,
1. Nothing was what it seemed.
This is a biggie because what appeared to be about two people was really only about one.
Once you have absorbed this truism, you will find yourself revisiting what you thought was going on between the two of you and what really was.
This is hurting enough, and it segues right into the next point.
2. The misery of 20/20 hindsight.
The red flags that people always talk about, those signs that no intelligent person would ever miss but you did, spring up like poppies in Flanders during the breakup, when everything you missed before or was hidden from view is suddenly in plain sight.
Personally, I found this more devastating and painful than anything else, recognising that I extended my hand and was led right down the garden path.
Connecting the dots and seeing how you managed to collude with the Narcissist’s efforts to control and ultimately bilk you make you relive the emotional moments again and again, which doesn’t help you move on one bit.
3. You feel like a fool.
Those of us who are insecurely attached, the very people least likely to recognise the Narcissist to begin with are also inclined to fall into the damaging trap of self criticism, ascribing something bad in your life to immutable and permanent deficiencies in your character, instead of seeing them as a series of mistakes or missteps that anyone could have made.
It is easy to fall into self criticism in the aftermath of a run in with a Narcissist.
You may think, “Only someone as dumb and naïve as I am could have been taken in by him,” or “There’s something really wrong or missing in me that I didn’t see who he was.“
This kind of thinking is a serious impediment to your emotional recovery.
It is one thing to take responsibility for the mistakes you made deciding to mollify your partner, being hesitant to leave when you knew you needed to, handing out second, third, and fiftieth chances and another to beat yourself up for connecting with him in the first place.
Women who self criticise are more likely to ruminate and get caught in a cycle of repetitive thoughts, which also get in the way of recovery.
4. You feel utterly powerless.
A Narcissist self regulates by feeling powerful and in control.
To be able to do that, he needs someone to push around, which is why it is impossible to stop the Narcissistic train.
When you are robbed of a sense of agency in one important arena, when you are in a defensive crouch and unable to be proactive, it is very hard to stay emotionally balanced and in control in other parts of your life, except in superficial ways.
Yes, you are getting out of bed, doing your work and paying your bills, but most of the time you are on an auto pilot mode.
That gets in the way of recovery as fear and a host of other unpleasant emotions.
You can use specific strategies to try to get off the emotional roller coaster and to make sure that the experience doesn’t shape you in ways that will set you back, without putting on rose colour glasses or denying the pain ,, so to recover,
1. Use cool processing.
As you think about the events and experiences of the relationship, ask yourself why you felt the way you did, not what you were feeling.
Research shows that understanding your feelings will hone your emotional intelligence, permit you to label your feelings more precisely and allow you to manage your emotions more effectively.
Try to see the events from a distance or imagine that this has happened to someone else.
All of these distancing techniques and making sure that you are asking why, will help you stop reliving the moments and prevent you from emotional flooding.
Journaling and writing about experiences have been shown by many studies to help an individual develop greater understanding and a more coherent narrative of life’s events, but be aware that writing about breakups appears to be an exception because it may shift you into a “hot” processing mode.
2. Personalise and don’t generalise.
People become embittered and armoured because they wrongly extract the lessons learnt from the behaviour of one individual and apply them to all individuals.
If you hear yourself saying things like, “All men are control freaks,” or “Women will do anything to get their way,” stop and remind yourself that you are talking about one bad apple, not an orchard.
3. Practice self compassion.
It is easy either to find yourself hosting the pity party of the century or submerging yourself in an ocean of self criticism.
Instead, work on developing self compassion, which Kristin Neff describes as a three step process:
• First, instead of judging yourself, be kind and understanding.
Rather than berating yourself for being stupid enough to get involved with a Narcissist in the first place, be gentle and understand how it was that you mistakenly thought the person was someone else.
• Second, see your experiences not as unique but as part of the larger human experience, meaning that anyone could find himself in these circumstances.
• Third, be aware of your painful feelings without over identifying them.
Kristin Neff uses the buzzword “mindfulness.”
I find it more useful to keep the idea of cool processing first and foremost in your consciousness permitting yourself to be fully aware of your feelings while maintaining enough distance that you don’t relive them.
4. Take the high road.
If you are unlucky enough to be involved in an ongoing conflict with your Narcissist, fight the urge to engage and strike back.
Don’t answer to his smearing campaigns.
Trashing him publicly will make you momentarily feel better, but it also re engages you and that is exactly what the Narcissist wants.
If you don’t react, the puppeteer can’t pull the strings
Think tortoise, not hare, as you work at recovery.
The process may be slow but you will get there, keeping the goal in sight.
Distinguishing Rumination from Reflective Processing of Negative Emotions,