Getting Over A Narcissist
My first encounter with love was also my first encounter with a narcissist.
Society often depicts narcissism as looking at yourself in the mirror or having a lot of self confidence. But narcissism can be far more insidious than that. True narcissists have an idealized self image that they use to mask the pain of feeling deeply inadequate. So narcissists, though seemingly self centered, are actually some of the most insecure people you’ll ever meet. They use people as props to lift themselves up because they can’t do it themselves. Their love, even if it feels genuine (and it will, they’re master manipulators) is contingent upon whether or not you do what they say. So, even though I’d fallen for a narcissist (and fallen hard), it took some time for me to realize that they were actually incapable of falling for me.
My relationship followed the typical pattern of emotional abuse—immense love and praise followed by intermittent periods of uncertainty and dislike. By the time I realized I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, I didn't know how to get out. I had become a junkie, using my ex to quell a notion that kept popping into my head—that I wasn’t good enough.
The power of a narcissist resides in this idea. They will make it seem like you’re everything to them, and their love for you is binding. But suddenly, just when they want it to be, everything becomes your fault and nothing you do is good enough. They manipulate, gaslight, and abuse. When they’ve finally had their fix of destruction, you’ll become “perfect” to them once again.
It took two years for me to leave my ex. It was long and exhausting but the relationship did end. Maybe not with a bang, but with a slow, corrosive sizzle.
Severing yourself from an abusive relationship seems like it’d be a relief, but the truth is, it actually feels worse. I’d gotten so used to someone else dictating how I should feel about myself that I felt uncomfortable in my own body. I felt the crushing blow of a breakup with the added trauma of having been emotionally abused. I didn’t know if I’d ever get over it and in some ways, being in that relationship felt better than being out of it.
It’s okay to feel “crazy”. Post-breakup is a vulnerable time with a lot of contradictory emotions. You’ll miss your ex, but at the same time, you’ll hate them for everything they’ve put you through. Narcissists will never validate the hurt they've caused you, but this shouldn't matter. Your own validation is crucial in reclaiming your life.
Try to be alone sometimes. At first being alone feels scary because you’re left with all the thoughts you don’t want to dwell on. But I found that being alone (though incredibly painful) was vital to my healing process. It gave me time to think through the layers of denial and self-blame that come with leaving an abusive relationship. I found that the more I thought about it the more I was able to deconstruct and process.
Exercise can help. I spoke with Melanie Matson, the Director of Emerson College’s Violence and Prevention Center, about how to heal after leaving an abusive relationship. She emphasized the importance of exercises like meditation and yoga. She said this allows victims to “recenter and be gentle” with themselves during a time of immense trauma. She also encouraged victims to repeat an encouraging mantra to themselves as they meditated; one that reminds them to have compassion for themselves, what they’ve been through, and the resiliency they’ve shown.
Talk to friends. Re-establish relationships. Being with a narcissist was time-consuming. It made it hard for me to give my time to things that used to matter like family, friends, and school. I didn't know how to express my feelings and feared judgment from even being in the relationship in the first place. As a result, I ostracized myself from friends. Matson mentioned the importance of connecting with others. She says,“It’s not always relaying the whole experience, but the mere nurturing of being with others that make us feel comfortable.” Talking through trauma with people you love and trust can be a very cathartic step in the healing process.
Doing what you used to love. After I left my ex I realized I had somehow stopped doing the things I used to love. For me, that was writing. I found that the unexplainable writer’s-block I used to have faded when I ditched the distraction, and I was able to jump into it again. Creativity thrives in pain and heartbreak. Use your hurt to do what you love.
Time really does heal all wounds. I noticed that even six months after the breakup, I felt better than I thought I would. At first, the hurt feels encompassing and like it’ll never go away. But you’ll learn so much about yourself and about relationships (now I can spot a narcissist from a mile away) that the future will definitely be brighter.
Illustration by: Eleanor Hilty