In order to be able to recover from the deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and humiliation resulting from narcissistic abuse, I often felt the need to connect with others sharing the same fate. In doing so, I found out that it generally takes victims of emotional abuse a very long time to get over all the horror. Sometimes, we have been in a relationship with a toxic person for only a very short amount of time – and still the experience continues to haunt and depress us long after the relationship has ended. I was involved with the narcissist for about five months, and even though it has already been more than two months since he left the country, I still find myself struggling and feeling the effects of having been continually treated with distance, ambiguity and dishonesty. The problem is that the people around us are often unable to understand why we are still stuck, why we are still trying to make sense of what has happened to us, why we are still struggling and feeling so much pain. After all, shouldn’t we be able to get over the narcissists pretty fast given the fact that they couldn’t give us what we wanted and only tortured us instead? Didn’t they expose us to so much drama, pain and disappointment that it should be very easy to move on? Shouldn’t we feel glad that we are finally out of that mess and that we can start to heal?
Unfortunately things are not that easy. When my relationship with the narcissist ended I indeed felt strangely relieved at first. I had suffered so immensely from all the ambiguity and drama that knowing that it was over felt liberating. I knew that from that moment on I no longer had to endure his lies, his detachment and inconsistency – I no longer had to rack my brain trying to find the rationale behind his behavior. I was emotionally and physically ill from having been with him for five months and therefore the end of our relationship was the best thing that could have happened to me. However, as I have already mentioned before, things are not that easy. The five months of being pushed aside, of having to beg for attention and of being continually disappointed have left a lasting impression on me – maybe even irreversibly changed me. I still feel the effects of having been caught in an exhausting emotional rollercoaster. There are countless moments in which I realize that I am no longer the same person than I was before the relationship. And there are also many moments in which I still find myself struggling, feeling the pain as if it was still fresh. Sometimes the pain is so overwhelming that I have to make an effort to compose myself.
Often it doesn’t matter that much whether one has been in a relationship with a narcissist over a longer period of time or only for a few weeks or months. It takes a very long time to heal from the pain and drama they exposed us to. We often get impatient with ourselves, and reproach ourselves for not possessing the strength to heal faster. We despise ourselves for not being able to let go of what happened and for grieving because of someone who didn’t treat us with the bare minimum of respect and consideration. Often we are not even struggling because we miss them so much or long to be with them again. What we are struggling with is the disprespectful and distanced treatment we received at their hands. We are despaired because we didn’t get what we wanted even though we fought so hard for it, and because we think of ourselves as undeserving of affection as a result of it.
When reflecting upon it more deeply, it shouldn’t really seem so odd that we need a very long time to heal and move on. First of all, being with a narcissist often causes us to completely lose touch with ourselves. We repeatedly endure their negligence and cold indifference and go out of our ways to adjust to their schedules, without paying attention to our own wishes and desires. The fact that we are falling apart while trying to make things work often escapes our notice. After the relationship has come to an end, we first and foremost need to reconnect with ourselves, assess our behavior and try to find the reasons for our willingness to cling to someone who couldn’t value our affection. It is a long, painful and eye-opening journey which often leaves us deeply changed. We realize that we cannot go on as if nothing had happened – and still we find it hard to change. It takes a very long time and a lot of reflection to arrive at the end of the tunnel and to emerge as a stronger and recovered self.
Another reason we find it so hard to move on and feel happy again is that we need to overcome and process a shitload of humiliation, cold indifference and disrespect. Being treated with neglect over a longer period of time and being exposed to drama, deceit and triangulation cannot just be accepted and forgotten. Our self-esteem has been severely damaged by the fact that we had to beg for attention and affection, and as a result we are often in doubt about our worthiness of love and care. We are sad and disappointed because we once more haven’t gotten what we wished for. The same questions keep revolving in our heads: Why can’t I be part of a loving, healthy and committed relationship? Why do I always end up with people who exploit my willingnes to give and sacrifice without giving anything back to me?
Last but not least, we tend to feel the pain long after the end of the relationship, because we will never get closure from the narcissists – and we will never get the answers that we are looking for. We are racking our brains trying to find out what went wrong and why we were treated the way we were treated. Not being able to get closure and find answers makes it harder to move on and let go. On top of that, the narcissists seem to handle everything very well and not give the matter much thought at all. Only if we finally learn to accept that we will never learn the truth and get the answers we are looking for can we start to heal and erase those nagging thoughts out of our minds. However, it often takes a long time to accept that we have to stop looking for answers in all the wrong places and that we are the ones responsible for our own recovery.
I have already come a long way since the end of my relationship with the narcissist – and I realize every single day how profoundly changed I am as a result of my brief interaction with him. There are days when I feel confident and strengthened, because I know that the relationship was an eye-opening experience that caused me to thoroughly engage with my own thoughts and attitudes. I don’t think I will ever again fall blindly and naively for a guy having nothing to offer but drama and ambiguity. I also don’t think I will ever again be able to ignore all the red flags staring directly at me. However, there are also still days when I feel extremely low and when I become aware of the fact that some of my wounds have not yet properly healed. Sometimes, when I hear a certain song, see a book on my shelf that reminds me of him or hear someone mentioning his name, I feel as if someone was sucking the air out of my lungs. I am immediately reminded of all the humiliation I had to endure for months and it makes me want to throw up.
Sometimes there are long strings of days on which I feel confident and healed – a feeling which causes me to give in to the illusion that I have finally managed to reach the end of the road to recovery. However, my illusions are often violently destroyed by those days on which I feel extremely gloomy and sad, and on which every task seems like a huge burden. As I said before, I am past the point where I still miss him and idealize the time we spent together. I have learned to accept that I shouldn’t shed a tear for someone who used me and deliberately exposed me to pain and drama. However, I find it hard to rid myself of the feeling of emptiness and humiliation resulting from my time with him. Certain questions are still ever-present in my mind: Why was it so easy for him to discard me and be so detached? Am I so unlovable that he readily exposed me to pain and humiliation? Why did I hold on to him for so long? Why was I longing for him long after he had sufficiently proven that he was unwilling and unable to give me what I needed? Why was I so weak that I kept coming back for more of the drama and pain he manufactured?
Two kinds of negative feelings are basically still haunting me: Regret and self-reproach because of my weak and codependent behavior throughout my relationship to the narcissist. And sadness and disappointment as a result of being treated with neglect and indifference. It will still take time for me to fully recover, but I try to appreciate every single step of my way to recovery – partly because that journey also leads to increased self-awareness. I also try not to be too hard on myself for needing time to get better. I’ve learned from experience how important it is to be patient enough to thoroughly heal. If we don’t grant ourselves the time to deal with what happened we will likely end up in other abusive – or otherwise unhealthy – relationships. We also shouldn’t be unsettled by other people’s inability to understand the gradualness of our progress. We have to do what is best for ourselves, and while it certainly isn’t healthy to drown in self-pity, we should never be too hard on ourselves if we sometimes can’t find the strength to be a hundred percent optimistic and happy. I’ve learned to accept the darker days and not to reproach myself for still giving in to gloomy thoughts…I am still conviced I will eventually reach the point where I’m fully recovered – and I will just take the time it needs to get there.