* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.
I wrote this short work with three specific goals in mind: first, to help you stop running yourself ragged on the tragic hamster wheel of a doomed relationship with a narcissist; second, to inspire in you the resilience and determination that you need in order to recover from the psychological injuries that such a relationship inflicts upon you; and third, to give you some guidance in the work of self-transformation that will allow you to attain the brighter future you want for yourself.
Although I came to my own enlightenment by my own stumbling path, what I have to offer you here isn’t the fruit of some private knowledge that I alone have attained.
The wisdom I want to share with you is the common property of everyone who has been able to survive and thrive in the aftermath of narcissistic abuse. I’ve merely tried to express this wisdom in the form of ten “secrets” – ten important and handy lessons to help you get beyond the toxic relationship that you’ve fallen into. And my fondest wish is that you who are now reading this article will soon be on your way to joining our group of survivors and thrivers!
1) Give up the illusion that your partner will come back a changed person after having had some ‘divine epiphany’ while being apart from you.
Each of us who’ve been caught up in the vicious cycles of narcissistic abuse have somehow expected that — despite all the disastrous hoovering stints, the bait-and-switch games, and the failed attempts we’ve made at being a savior — there will be that one time when our narcissistic partner will see the light and come back to us as a completely changed person.
Survivor Secret: Survivors have accepted that their toxic partner won’t change. They’ve resolved to stop participating in self-sabotaging behaviors in which they repeatedly forgive the narcissist, erroneously believing that doing so will somehow one day result in a different outcome. Survivors have come to recognize that they have stayed in the relationship beyond reasonable limits and have accepted that love does not always conquer all. They’ve reached the point where they understand that in order for their life to follow a better path they must detach from and block their abusive partner, in spite of how difficult they know it will be.
Often, what hurts most is giving up the fantasy that your partner will finally acknowledge how hurtful and unfair they’ve been, recognize you as the special and lovable person you are, attempt to make up for all the pain they’ve caused, and hold your hand as the two of you go skipping down a yellow brick road toward a joyous future.
In other words, you should stop waiting for your abuser to accept accountability; to approve of you for who you are; to admit that you didn’t deserve all the lies, cheating, dishonesty, and cruelty; and to make it all up to you. You mustn’t be deceived again by half-hearted promises and false declarations from a manipulative partner.
You must stop looking for approval from your abuser in order to realize your worth. You need to find your worth in yourself – and stand up for you. Make a loving pledge to yourself that you will not let this person mistreat you anymore. That’s the first step towards becoming a survivor.
2) Realize that doing nothing to heal yourself will keep you stuck.
I get it. You work all day, maybe have kids to raise, and are so exhausted from the emotional abuse and manipulation that the last thing on your mind is creating a No Contact schedule and constructing a toolbox for self-healing.
But be honest with yourself. You still find time to check out the ex’s Facebook page and follow their other postings on social media. You have hours to spend reading about narcissism and personality disorders and could probably test out of most psychology exams based on your ever-expanding database of knowledge on the subject.
Learning about narcissism is important because doing so allows you to understand that your Ex meets most or all of the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s also validating because you read the material and think, “That is me! It’s like this person knows all about my life! So I’m not crazy and I’m not the only one.”
But how far would you be in your healing journey if you’d instead used even a portion of that time focusing on you and your recovery?
Eventually there does comes a point where continued research into Narcissistic Personality Disorder becomes unhealthy and actually re-traumatizes you because, instead of learning valuable new information about narcissism, you merely get stuck connecting all the depressing material you are reading to your own life, which only keeps you focused on the past abuse and the unfairness of it all.
It’s at this point that your focus should turn to you and how you can heal your wounds. You can’t sit around passively waiting for healing to miraculously happen on its own while you continue to immerse yourself in study of the life-sapping disorder of narcissism.
Survivor Secret: Survivors realize when they’ve reached the limit on learning about all the Cluster-B disorders that their Exes may suffer from. It doesn’t matter which category or sub-category their partner falls under or where on some continuum of psychopathy their ex lies; he or she is toxic and that’s all Survivors really need to know. Fewer symptoms or behaviors from a toxic partner do not amount to any element of safety. Survivors understand that it only takes a few pathological behaviors to completely destroy another person’s life.
Instead of wallowing in the dark world of narcissism, survivors dedicate themselves to healing by creating daily plans for transformational recovery.
A guided meditation at bedtime, for instance, goes a long way towards healing. But committing to any tool of healing is preferable to getting up and repeating the same day over and over, hoping somehow that it will one day yield a different outcome.
Making a conscious effort to create a self-healing plan is important because it helps you heal the pre- existing wounds and vulnerabilities that the narcissist exploited, and it puts your focus where it should be—on you.
Continuing to obsess over a narcissistic Ex, by contrast, can lead to complete and utter dysfunction in your life, which can result in depression, job loss, suicidal thoughts, and serious physical ailments such as chronic fatigue, IBS, and certain types of cancers.
Survivors have stopped ignoring the dangers, deceiving themselves into thinking that time will heal them. Instead, they have sought out a therapist, a coach, and/or a support group such as CoDA.
They have pursued twelve-step programs, joined self-development groups, and/or read psychological material of a positive, transformational sort rather than hanging out on the “narc” forums indefinitely.
3) Informing the narcissist how much they’ve hurt you won’t change their behaviors (unless they’re in HOOVER mode); and furthermore, they will only use the information against you at a later time.
Telling the narcissist that their behaviors and cruelty are hurting you is like placing another poison arrow in their toxic quiver. They may not use it right away, but when they need to go in for the kill, they’ll pull it out without hesitation.
Many of us get stuck in needing our abusive partner to recognize and admit that they haven’t treated us in the way we deserve, especially after we’ve invested so much in the relationship and made so many sacrifices to make it work.
Survivor Secret: Survivors know that sharing their hurt feelings with the Narcissist is futile. Narcissists, in essence, enjoy knowing that their behaviors are hurting their victims because they understand that if they keep doing those hurtful things, they can keep their victims in the never-ending loop of trying to “fix” the relationship and prove their worth.
Survivors understand that in order for narcissists to feel powerful, someone else has to believe themselves weak. In the end, when narcissists successfully dominate another person’s emotions, they are able to dominate that person’s inner world, which enables the narcissist to extract copious amounts of narcissistic supply.
Honestly sharing your feelings with the narcissist and expecting them to accept accountability only keeps you stuck in obsession mode. Further, sharing your feelings gives them the power to validate (or invalidate) your existence, decide your worth, dictate your emotions, and breach your boundaries.
When they see you feeling distraught or hysterical and uttering words such as “hurt”, “betrayed”, “sad”, “humiliated”, etc., they gleefully recognize that they have triggered deep feelings in you which they can use to continue exploiting you.
They feel more powerful and more in control when they see how they are affecting you, and this explains why they aren’t concerned with making you “feel better” — unless, that is, you finally threaten to leave, which is when the false promises of a better future come spewing out. Or, even then, if they feel confident enough in their control over you, they may agree that you should leave, not for your own benefit, but only so that they can inflict upon you yet another round of Silent Treatment, making you again feel rejected, abandoned, and unlovable.
And while you are left wallowing in your dependence on them for your feelings of worthiness and yearning for the salvation of their return, they have the opportunity to go off and groom other supply just in case….
Survivors have stopped engaging in futile conversations with their disordered partner or Ex about changes that need to occur in the relationship. Instead, they write letters to the abusive partner (that never get sent) in order to get things off their chest, and they keep a diary of their emotions in order to determine what the underlying causes are, which most often can be traced back to childhood wounds that trigger feelings of unworthiness, guilt, shame, and fear of abandonment.
Instead of trying to gain recognition and approval from outside of themselves, survivors work on self- love and improving their self-esteem.
4) Playing doctor won’t result in a cure.
Confronting your toxic partner with your suspicions that they likely have a personality disorder won’t result in the miraculous transformation that you may be hoping for. Though you probably have well- meaning intentions in sharing your discovery with them — hoping they might want to work on and improve their behaviors – it will most likely result in narcissistic rage and an ensuing character attack against you.
Alternatively, they may pretend to be on board with the whole idea and hint around at counseling, only to sucker punch you later you when you least expect it.
Survivors have learned that going to couple’s counseling with the narcissist is futile. Even more, according to Judith Herman, author of Trauma & Recovery, people who have been emotionally and psychologically abused over long periods of time often display C-PTSD symptoms that can mimic bipolar disorder. For that reason, you may be in for a big surprise when you enter the therapist’s office hoping to show your partner how disordered and cruel they are, only to leave the office having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder while your toxic partner smirks and laughs the whole ride back home – having gotten away with his deception and having turned the therapist into an ally against you.
Survivor Secret: Survivors have typically been through the whole discovery process of learning about narcissism or psychopathy and then trying to share their findings with their abusive partner. They have learned the hard way that narcissists will turn the situation around and accuse them of having a disorder, most often in the form of characterizing their well-intentioned partner as “crazy”, “delusional”, “unstable”, etc.
Trying to force the narcissist to wake up and declare your worth isn’t the secret to feeling worthy. Instead, engage in healing practices – which may include individual therapy–so you can rid your psyche of the limiting beliefs you may hold of yourself.
“You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away.”C. JoyBell C.
5) Continuing to hope that your partner will finally do the right thing when they consistently do all the wrong things is a set-up for more pain and disappointment.
Being an honest, compassionate, and empathic individual makes it difficult to recognize that not everyone has the same sort of psychological make-up. Curiously, just as narcissists try to project all of their worst qualities onto us, we try to project our good qualities onto them. But just as their projections are misguided, so are ours.
The narcissist will not suddenly value you or your relationship enough to change because, quite frankly, they are not the kind of people who operate by the playbook of decent, empathetic human beings.
Besides, to their minds, things have worked out rather splendidly for them thus far, so they see no reason to change. They want to continue doing whatever they please — including playing the field, living the single life, doling out Silent Treatments, convincing you to try out embarrassing acts in the bedroom — all while you work double-time to pick up the slack in the relationship and prove to them how worthy you are.
Survivor Secret: Survivors have come to accept that their toxic partner truly doesn’t have an “understandable” reason to be hurtful. No amount of sharing your pain will cause a spontaneous character transplant on your partner’s part or induce The Divine Epiphany where the angels touch down and instill keen insight into the narcissist’s brain as to how much pain they’ve caused you, dropping them to their knees in the posture of a repentant sinner.
It just won’t happen.
In light of the knowledge they’ve learned about the doomed nature of toxic relationships, Survivors have come to accept that their relationship with the narcissist will be no exception to the rule.
6) No amount of love, caring, or empathy will change your narcissistic partner. In fact, it is detrimental to your own well-being for you to believe that you can fix, correct, change, heal or rescue another person when they do not see a need to change.
If you’re reading this, it probably means your partner has crossed lines, trampled boundaries, and torn to shreds vital parts of your inner self. You may be wondering if there’s anything more you can do to help them see how much you care and what a wonderful opportunity for true love they are throwing away.
Sadly, even the most herculean labors of love and devotion will fail to spark even a miniscule amount of empathy in your toxic partner. Why? Mainly because in order for them to understand what you’re offering them, what you’re experiencing, and what they’d be losing, they would need to possess the
capacity for reciprocal empathy. But studies have shown that people who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder are not hard-wired like a normal human being.1 Rather, they generally have structural abnormalities in the region of the brain that has been linked to the capacity for empathy. What that means in layman’s terms regarding your disordered partner is that there’s just no one at home when it comes to the empathy trait.
There may be times when it appears the narcissist has the capacity for empathy – such as when your partner pretends to experience remorse, makes promises to go to counseling, and swears to stop cheating. But given how the disordered mind of a narcissist works, those promises are almost always bogus, and so it’s only a matter of time before they start engaging in unacceptable behaviors again (if they ever refrain from them at all).
Survivor Secret: Survivors have learned the hard way that unrelenting forgiveness does nothing to redeem a toxic relationship. The lies and cheating continue; the abuse gets worse; and, if children are involved, they will grow up with perverse beliefs regarding what relationships are all about.
Survivors have learned the art of acceptance, which includes acknowledging that they cannot change or control the narcissist. Consequently, they make the intentional choice to implement emotional self- protection in the form of No Contact or Modified Contact so as not to suffer greater emotional devastation from having hung on beyond a reasonable point.
7) Staying in an emotionally abusive relationship can ruin your health.
And here I’m not referring to the damage it does to your mental health, which is an entirely separate matter. I’m talking about your physical health. Staying in a toxic relationship can actually subtract years from your life.
Our bodies are designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when an individual faces constant challenges without relief or relaxation in between, which is what happens in the case of narcissistic and other forms of psychological abuse. As a result, the bodies of abuse victims become overworked and stress-related tension builds.
A common disease that narcissistic abuse puts us at risk for is cancer. Cancer lies dormant in all of us. Our bodies are making defective cells all the time. That’s how tumors are born. But our bodies are also equipped with a number of mechanisms that detect and keep such cells in check.
When you are in a state of constant stress and your body is in perpetual fight-or-flight mode, the effects include damage to your health, mood, and behavior. Stress damages your DNA, making you sick both physically and mentally, and can subtract up to eight years or more from your life span depending on your lifestyle and genetic predispositions. Constant stress causes your bodily systems to fall out of sync, which in turn ages you prematurely. Your immune system is put in jeopardy, resulting in a higher risk of developing cancer and other life-shortening illnesses.
Survivor Secret: Unfortunately, one usually doesn’t learn about the physical damage that narcissistic abuse can cause until after the fact. Common maladies resulting from constant stress include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, and a host of other conditions. If your relationship keeps you in a constant state of depression, anxiety, and fear, it’s time to devise your exit plan.
8) You won’t get real closure from your Ex. Closure is something you’ll need to give yourself.
Even if you’re no longer in love with your disordered Ex, it still hurts when you consider the fact that they never genuinely apologized for all of the awful things they did and said to you.
Here’s the person who once made us feel so accepted and appreciated now saying that they cannot believe they loved us and that we were never suitable to be their partner. And since we never got validation from our Ex at the end of the relationship, we often keep ourselves entwined in a dysfunctional merry-go-round of trying to defend and justify ourselves – our character, our morals, our choice in friends/careers/clothes/lifestyle etc.
One reason we have such a desperate need to get a speck of acknowledgement from the Ex for how horribly they treated us is that we don’t want to believe we deserved it in any way. But they’ve worn down our self-esteem with their constant criticism. In this state of confusion and self-doubt, we yearn for some confirmation from them of our self-worth. But in seeking validation from them, we give too much credence to what they say – even though we know that they’re pathological liars.
Why give weight to their hurtful comments when you know they’re brutally dishonest? Why believe them when they say that you’re the reason the relationship didn’t work out when they’re the one who cheated, lied, and smeared your character to everyone within a 50-mile radius?
What’s going on here is called blame-shifting and narcissists are masters of the game. They shift the blame onto you for their own wrongdoing and strive to make you feel responsible for it. And because they never stop playing the blame-shifting game, it’s guaranteed that you aren’t going to receive any closure from them at the end of the relationship. So, when he or she tries to pass the hot potato to you, let it fall to the ground in a steaming heap – don’t try to pick it up and carry the burden. That’s the first step in gaining closure. Closure means you no longer believe that anything you’ve done is the cause for the downfall of your relationship and you surrender the need to gain validation, approval, and accountability from the Narcissist.
Often, we become stuck in believing that if we just behave in a particular way or leave one more message, the Narcissist will come around and finally admit their part in the failure of the relationship and perhaps give us some of the validation we crave. Getting unstuck requires us to accept the reality of the situation – that a leopard will never change its spots. We need to focus on what we can control – ourselves and our reaction to the situation. We need to face the fact that, no matter what you say or do, the Narcissist is going to remain true to his narcissistic self, and you’ll never get from them any recognition for all the hard work you put into the relationship or any appreciation for the admirable qualities you possess.
Survivor Secret: Survivors have accepted that they won’t receive closure from the Narcissist. They have let go of the “I’ve been treated unfairly” mentality, with its associated demand for redress from the perpetrator. The Narcissist is simply not the kind of person who can appreciate the value of fairness.
They always thought they had a right to control and exploit their partners and they expected their partners to clean up whatever messes their perpetual trickery would result in. So they don’t see anything they should apologize for. Survivors know that trying to gain closure from the Narcissist, which includes getting them to accept accountability for their wrongdoing, is a pipe dream.
9) Let go of FOMO
What’s called “Fear of Missing Out” is one of the biggest reasons that victims can’t seem to let go of their narcissistic partner or Ex.
What if he finds God and changes his wicked ways? What if, while I’m on vacation, he comes over to get his mail and I’m not there? What if he takes the new girl to our favorite restaurant and spoon-feeds her dessert like he used to do with me? What if I leave him and then he makes a miraculous change for the new partner?
These fears are made worse when we see the Ex on social media, seemingly euphoric in pictures with their new partner that are surrounded by broadcasts of their engagement and save-the-date notifications.
If we ever want true emotional security and spiritual freedom, we have to learn to let go of what we can’t control. In regards to the Narcissist, letting go is much easier when we accept that we’re not missing out on anything except smoke, mirrors, and continued abuse.
Over the last few years I’ve worked with many people who have endured a toxic relationship. In the aftermath of its demise, it’s not uncommon for them to think that they were responsible for the failure of the relationship because the Narcissist has gone on and married someone and they perhaps even have a baby on the way. So, they think to themselves, the Narcissist had been capable of change, after all – just not for them.
Let me put to rest any fear of missing out on a miraculous transformation by quoting from two separate accounts that were shared on my blog by the “new woman” in the narcissist’s life:
Having been the rebound wife of a narcissist (completely by fraudulent means), I know appearances were positive to the ex-wives. I have had the privilege of sharing with the first wife. She spoke exactly what you wrote — that she saw the two of us having kids and seeming to live happily ever after, and thought there must have been something wrong with her. I am so glad that I have been able to help her “close the door” on the lies that the abuser tricks us into believing. I feel blessed to have found you and others who are paving the path for victims of this abuse.
In response to the above comment, another reader shared:
I have experienced the same thing with the first wife, but with a different outcome. I was also the rebound wife of a narcissist. We were married for 21 years. Apparently, his first wife looked at our “happy” marriage and our children and big house and thought that we were blissfully happy and thought that there must have been something wrong with her. How wrong she was…I was miserable for almost the entire marriage…after the mask slipped and he started abusing me and the kids. I stayed only for my children. Last year I told my husband I wanted a divorce. Guess what, he’s now dating his first wife again! And she took him back! Boy, is she in for a rude awakening when she not only finds out what a rotten person he is, but that she wasted so, so many years of her life believing she was wrong for leaving him in the first place and doubting herself. I’m so glad I’m not her!
Survivor Secret: Survivors have accepted that–in spite of convincing charades–the Narcissist is the world’s greatest performer and that whatever image he or she is projecting is simply that, a façade. Further, Survivors no longer bother themselves with what the Narcissist is up to in his or her new life because they are too busy with healing and recovery.
10) Transformation is the key to living your best life yet.
Once you’ve distanced yourself from emotional abuse and manipulation, and have developed a sound perspective about how relationships should work, and have learned to establish healthy boundaries, your life will become incredibly fulfilling and peaceful.
That’s not to say that there won’t be difficult times ahead, because all of us will experience ups and downs in life. But, when you start to honor yourself and recognize your worth, you won’t allow negative people to dominate your life or dictate how you should live it. You won’t tolerate unacceptable behaviors or disrespectful people and their depressing attitudes.
I know how hard it is to act in ways that are completely against how you feel. You want acknowledgement, accountability, and justice. That’s precisely what makes healing and maintaining No Contact so hard – and why people break it.
As excruciatingly difficult as it is to go No Contact, what’s even worse is what happens when you don’t.
Going No Contact feels dreadful. But the good news is that as horrible and crippling as it feels in the beginning, there is an end to it. The body and mind have enormous wisdom.
They know how to heal themselves if you create the conditions in which they can do so. Give them that opportunity by working on yourself – healing your wounds and altering those of your traits that left you vulnerable to narcissistic abuse.