Why Does It Take So Long To Recover From Narcissistic Abuse?

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.

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Repeatedly Falling For Narcissists

So far my entire blog has more or less been dedicated to the experiences I made with one particular person – namely the narcissist I recently dated during the course of several months. What I’ve only mentioned in passing until now is that I’d already fallen for a narcissist before I met that particular guy. Back then I wasn’t aware of the fact that he was a narcissist. I only knew that he used me, toyed with my feelings and broke my heart. Fortunately, our interactions were limited to a very short amount of time and consequently, the damage I took from him was not too overwhelming It took another painful experience to finally see that there was a pattern in my behavior and that I tended to attract and be attracted to shady guys who were unable and unwilling to offer a healthy and committed relationship to me. As I’ve learned through reading a lot on narcissism, many of us repeatedly fall for narcissists or other kinds of unavailable people. It often takes us several very painful episodes to realize that there is something wrong with our attitudes towards relationships and that we need to reassess our behavior. In my case, it took two painful experiences to see that I showed clear codependent tendencies, was willing to give to the point of self-sacrifice, allowed myself to feel too much too fast, and generally allowed others to overstep every boundary of decent human behavior without being able to disentangle myself.

About one and a half years ago, I started dating a very overt narcissist. Back then I didn’t know anything about narcissism and therefore never really questioned my willingness to go out with him. I met him at work, where he stepped by once in a while to fix our computers. At first, I didn’t even like him. He seemed to be incredibly arrogant and impolite – talking to all of us as if we were imbeciles and clearly feeling superior and very sure of himself. He was extremely handsome and also very aware of that fact – which only added to his aura of haughtiness. After a certain amount of time, he seemed to be showing an interest in me. He sent emails to my work email address in which he soon began to ask rather private questions. Eventually, he asked whether I was interested in having lunch with him. I somehow felt flattered and agreed – despite the fact that I thought of him as an arrogant ass. After that lunch he began to pursue me more adamantly. I wasn’t really interested in seeing him again anytime soon. I went on a three-week vacation and during that time he sent me a message every day – becoming ever more flirty in his wording. Again I felt flattered and replied to each and every single one of his messages. It was like a little game for me: I enjoyed the attention, but wasn’t that emotionally involved. My friends repeatedly advised me against getting too involved with him, because they too thought of him as an arrogant ass who would eventually only break my heart. I didn’t listen to them…and it turned out to be a grave mistake.

When I came back from my vacation we went on several dates together, and after only about a week he invited me to his apartment. Without giving the matter much thought I agreed. I was very aware of the fact that the game had turned into something more serious and that I had begun to fall for him. There was something about him – and his aura of aloofness and smartness – that I found highly attractive and I was looking forward to meeting him at his apartment. We had an incredible time together, I spent the night at his place and I was feeling elated and happy. I thought I had just witnessed the beginning of something great and incredible…Little did I know that I was being used only to be discarded once he had gotten what he wanted. When I arrived back home and contacted him, he told me without further ado that it was over, that he wasn’t prepared to enter into a relationship…and that was it. I never heard from him again. He got what he wanted, he managed to get me into bed…and that was all he was ever looking for. He just failed to tell me so beforehand. For him it was all about the chase, and as soon as he had managed to “conquer” me I was no longer interesting for him.

I was devastated, because I had seriously begun to fall for him and I had been convinced that he had been genuinely interested in me. His pursuit of me was so persistent that it seemed perfectly clear he had more than just a passing interest in me. It had never occured to me that he just wanted to make a conquest to get a boost for his ego. I was too naive and convinced in the innate goodness of others to realize that I was being used only to be discarded and that I had just made my first experience with a full-blown narcissist. I immediately blamed myself for what happened – thinking that there must have been something wrong with me, that I was just not attractive enough, that something about me has turned him off and that he therefore decided to end things between us. I started to lose a great deal of weight to feel better about myself and turned into a very skinny creature in the process. It never crossed my mind that he was a narcissist and that his pursuit of me was only meant to satisfy his own short-term needs. I tried to move on as fast as possible and never really throroughly processed what had happened to me. For me it was a one-time mistake and I was convinced that something like that would never happen to me again.

My failure to really process what had happened caused me to make the same mistake again. When I met the last guy I dated I ignored all the red flags. In contrast to the guy before him he wasn’t an overt narcissist but a covert one – a fact that made it all the more difficult for me to spot the warning signals. He acted like a genuinely nice guy – and even complained that his tendency to worry too much about other people’s feelings made his life difficult. I believed in his claims that he was a sensitive guy who cared very much about others and never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. I still had trust issues because of what had happened earlier and he blamed me for them – telling me that it was not fair of me to let our relationship be affected by my previous experience. He urged me to let go of any past hurt and to finally realize that he was not at all like him and that he never intended to break my heart and use me the way he had done. I again felt elated…I felt like I had just won the lottery and let my guard down (Oh how I wish I hadn’t). I was convinced that I was getting involved with a genuinely nice guy who deeply cared about my feelings and who could never hurt me. I was gravely mistaken…He would eventually turn out the be the guy who nearly drove me insane with his ambiguity, unavailability and covert narcissism.

I somehow managed to walk straight from one narcissist to the next – from an overt narcissist to a covert narcissist. This last relationship left me so shattered and broken that I couldn’t just go on like I did before. Having had too humiliating and heartbreaking experiences in a row, I felt so down and low that I had to take action and reflect on what had happened to me. I started reading books and articles on love addiction and codependency, as I tried to figure out why all that drama was repeatedly happening to me – and finally came to realize that the guys I had been dating were most likely textbook narcissists. Because I was able to put a label on what had happened, I could start processing the painful experiences and move on. I began to question my attitudes towards relationships and realized that I first needed to take care of myself before I could ever enter into another relationship again. It took two heartbreaking and frustrating experiences for me to see that I should be the one giving affection and affirmation to myself and that I shouldn’t seek to get validation from outside sources only. Besides, I was made aware of the fact that I needed to set up boundaries and look for red flags right from the beginning. My desire to be loved and appreciated led to me ignore all of the red flags that were staring me right in the face. I was warned against getting involved with those men…I even thought of the first narcissist as an arrogant ass. And still I was too flattered by their attention and their apparent interest in me to save myself by keeping my distance to them.

A lack of awareness of narcissism and codependency often leads us to jump from one unhealthy relationship to the other. We never really process what happened and just try to move on as fast as possible. It often takes one really eye-opening, shattering experience to finally question our behavior. We need to be thrown into a seemingly bottomless pit to finally become aware of the fact that we need to change. Because I failed to properly work through my first experience with a narcissist, I was very vulnerable to falling for the same tricks again. In my case it was all the more impossible to see the red flags in my second encounter with a narcissist, because he was very covert with his narcissistic tendencies and pretended to be a genuinely nice and caring person. After I had nearly fallen apart, I’ve finally learned my lesson: I don’t deserve to be disrespected and neglected. I don’t deserve to be exposed to manipulation and triangulation. I think I’ve managed to overcome my addiction to love: I no longer need the approval of men to feel good about myself. I choose to believe that the eye-opening experiences I made with two narcissists will shield me against falling for the same tricks again in the future. I was forced by despair and frustration to thoroughly work through what happened to me…I’ve learned so much while doing so that I think I am finally able to spot the red flags and to save myself from further harm.

In order not to get stuck in a loop made up of unhealthy relationships we need to take the time to heal, reassess our attitudes and learn to realize that we don’t deserve to be used, manipulated and disrespected. We should not let go of our kind and loving hearts and turn into bitter and defensive beings, because we’ve been hurt too many times. I know that our willigness to be kind, to do good and to sacrifice for others makes us especially vulnerable to being used and manipulated. We should still be proud of our ability to love with all our hearts and to feel so genuinely and deeply for others. It is a precious gift. However, at the same time we have to learn to shield ourselves better and to extent kindness only to those who can appreciate and value us the way we deserve. Loving people with all our hearts who never intend to return our feelings will in the end only leave us damaged and questioning our own worth. We should save our love and willingness to give for those who deserve it.