How can you recover from narcissistic abuse?
Well, in the winter of 2014, I didn’t know what narcissistic abuse was.
I was in my final year of college, licking my wounds from a breakup, when I entered an ‘unofficial’ romantic relationship that would shape the next 4 years of my life.
Looking back, I can’t believe it took so long for me to realize what was going on.
I developed insomnia and recurring nightmares, started taking medication for anxiety and depression, and was even diagnosed with PTSD.
How did I end up in such a toxic relationship?
More importantly, why did I stay in that relationship for four years?
Let’s talk about that.
How I Ended Up Dating an Abusive Narcissist
It’s funny… externally, he was everything I wanted.
Smart, cool, attractive, and extremely talented at theater and arts (something I’m quite passionate about).
He was charming, relatable, and interested in what made me tick.
He was also a staff member at the college I attended.
(I know, I know… “22-year-old Kassidy, red flag!”)
At first, he was just a cute professor — someone to gossip about after a few glasses of wine on girl’s night.
But then he started noticing me.
When I wanted to arrange a surprise for a retiring professor, I was told to ask him for help. So I did. That night, he texted me… something innocent. I texted back. We kept texting… and texting.
Then, the next day, I went to his office with a question and we ended up talking for several hours, clear interest emanating from the lilt in our voices and the look in our eyes.
We continued texting nonstop and finding silly excuses to see each other as the fall semester came to a close.
It didn’t take long for this to turn into a love affair. He was paying attention to me. He was saying nice things… things that I desperately wanted to hear.
I was a girl who still believed in fairy tales and he was prince charming.
Sure, he was a professor and he was 13 years older than me, but it seemed like a match made in heaven. As a naive 22-year-old girl, how could I not at least give the relationship a chance? This couldn’t be the first time that things like this have worked out, right?
Still, our relationship was against the rules. He used that fact to keep me quiet, and told me we could get in trouble with the administration.
That’s when I became isolated. Since I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about our relationship, I naturally distanced myself from friends and family.
I started suffering unexpected side effects…
- Not feeling like the person I once was.
- Less confidence and more anxiety.
- I apologized to him constantly because I thought I was the one that was wrong.
- I made excuses for his unacceptable behavior.
It turns out, these are side effects of being groomed and gaslighted by a narcissist.
Dictionary.com defines the term ‘to groom’ as “prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity.”
For example, my narcissist was incredibly nice at the beginning, but said subtle things to keep me close, like telling me I “renewed his faith in humanity” or “where was I when he was in college?”
Once trapped in the toxic relationship, he started gaslighting me.
Dictionary.com defines ‘gaslight’ as “to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.”
Perhaps if I’d known that I was dealing with someone who was mentally ill, I wouldn’t have been so easily manipulated.
But I thought I was dealing with a normal, reasonable human being.
Because of that, when he would say things like, “I bet you’re cheating on me — you’re the kind of person who would do that,” and, “Obviously you’re just using me to get ahead in theater.” I started to believe that I was the crazy one… not him.
And it turns out that when you think you’re crazy, you become a little crazy… which makes you think you’re crazy… which makes you crazier… etcetera.
Round and round I went.
I had a sneaking suspicion that he was cheating on me, as he was neurotic about hiding his phone from me. He was also quick to minimize his screens when I visited him in his office.
But I was afraid of upsetting him so I let it go.
After all, he was my Prince Charming.
With little feel-good phrases like, “you just fit me”, he would reignite my belief in our relationship, and so I held on like a child playfully dangling from a cliff without seeing the drop.
Truthfully, I thought this was maybe how relationships were supposed to be.
I believed that the good he occasionally did made up for the bad he was always doing — the pinprick slurs, the aggressive sex, the emotional dismissiveness…
So instead of leaving him, I attributed my apparent insanity to my own shortcomings and went on medications for depression and anxiety, and started taking sleeping pills.
If I could fix myself, maybe I could fix our relationship…
When all was said and done, I’d spent over 4 years trying to “make it better”.
And as time went on, the abuse got worse — mental, emotional, psychological, and even sexual.
He was careful to make sure none of the bruises he left on me were external. He was the source of my happiness and my anguish. I needed him.
Then, as hindsight saw coming a mile away, everything came crashing to a sickening halt.
This is When My World Shattered
It’s late November of 2018 and I’m watching ELF, the Musical.
Intermission arrives and as people get up from their seats, I notice someone, a girl, making her way toward me. I don’t know her personally, but I’ve seen photos and texts between her and my narcissist. I even have a sneaking suspicion that he’s cheating on me with her.
But we’ve never talked before.
So it’s understandable that my heart flutters when she looks me in the eyes and takes a seat next to me.
She says, “Hi, are you Kassidy?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m just curious, but are you seeing…,” she said his name.
Unfortunately, I’m a terrible liar. I went on the defensive, “I don’t know what business it is of yours.”
To which she said, “Well, he’s my boyfriend. And we’ve been together for 6 years.”
Bile crept up my throat.
I’d only been with him for four years.
Not only was he cheating on me, but I was the other woman.
Flustered, I got up and walked away.
I went outside, trying to breathe.
I called my best friend to vent and to ask for advice.
After calming down, I realized that she had come to me calling out for help, in the same way I wanted someone to help me.
So I messaged her on Facebook and, together, we began to sort out the messy details of what had happened.
We soon realized that we were both victims.
She confronted him.
He tried to say that I was crazy, that it was a lie.
But when he realized that he’d been caught red-handed and there was no going back, he contacted me, shouting at me for ruining his life.
Two weeks later, she asked me to meet with her.
Together, we discovered the terrible truth; he was a different person with each of us. With her, he pretended to be kind and sweet as he gaslighted her. With me, he groomed me to accept his anger, aggression, and bad moods.
Over the next few days, my ex-narcissist reached out to me, threatening suicide.
I contacted his family to try and find a way to get him help… but they were all afraid of him.
After a few more weeks, he stopped contacting me.
It was here that my road to recovery began. And here are 5 strategies I’d like to share with you.
1. Cut Off Contact From The Narcissist
The first step is to cut off all contact from your narcissist, whatever it takes. You can not begin recovery while you’re in contact with someone who’s trying to take advantage of you.
But don’t expect it to be easy.
For me, I felt a complex set of grief and relief. I was grieving the loss of a relationship and a person I thought I knew. But, I was also relieved that I could control my life again.
Cutting off contact with my narcissist pushed me through the stages of grief. And let me tell you, I hit every stage like a truck.
For your reference, here are the stages of grief:
Consider what going through the stages of grief looks like for you, and let yourself feel it. And most importantly, realize that those feelings are temporary and that they’re a normal part of the healing process.
2. Get Counseling
I didn’t want to see a counselor at first; I just wanted to feel better.
But seeing a counselor was one of the greatest things I did. I learned some hard truths, truths that I needed to hear.
One particular conversation with the counselor made a big difference in my thinking.
After relaying my story, he told me he was heartbroken because I had been invalidated.
The counselor looked at me, dead in the eyes, and said, “I see you. I see your hurt. I validate you.”
He made me listen to him repeat those words. I cried; at the time, I didn’t realize how much I needed someone to actually listen to me, to see me.
If you’ve been with a narcissist, then you’ve been invalidated as well. I encourage you to find someone who will listen to you.
Check out BetterHelp, where you can get affordable counseling online.
3. Join a Support Group
Joining a support group made me realize that I’m not alone in my experiences and further confirmed that the way I’d been treated was inappropriate.
It also gave me a place to vent difficult emotions and become more transparent about what I’d gone through.
There are numerous ‘Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse’ groups you can join. Social media is a great place to gather with others who are recovering.
Here are a few you might consider:
- Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse
- Narcissistic Abuse Survivors Support Forum
- Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse– An awareness project for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse to share their experiences
- Narcissistic Abuse Support Groups
4. Understand Why The Narcissist Did This To You
One thing I desperately wanted was an explanation.
I wanted to know why my ex-partner had treated me the way he did.
Fortunately, my counselor staged a conversation where I asked those important questions as myself while he role-played as my ex.
Then he traded me spots and made me answer the questions as my ex.
Forcing myself into my former partner’s mind, I finally understood his line of thinking. I looked at it from his perspective, and it broke my heart all over again.
I learned that I didn’t need his explanation because I already knew why he behaved as he did. I stopped wanting his explanation.
This helped me heal.
One of the greatest tools to recovery is learning more about how a narcissist thinks. This helps you understand why your narcissist behaved as they did.
An incredible resource into the world of narcissism and how a narcissist thinks is the fantastic Dr. Henry Cloud. He is a Christian self-help author. Regardless of what you believe, Dr. Cloud has incredible insight into narcissism.
I also came into contact with Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare by Sahida Ariba, which I highly recommend. This book changed my outlook on narcissistic abuse. I could see my former partner and my experiences on every page. I still go back and read parts from that book.
There are plenty of other great books and resources out there. And whatever resources you use, understand that it’s okay to want to understand why.
5. Tell YOUR Story
I began to be honest and straightforward with my friends and family after getting out of the narcissistic relationship.
I told them my story and each time I told someone, I felt a little better. For several months, all I did was tell my story to those who asked, attempting to sort through my messy emotions.
There is an immense power in sharing your story with others.
It helps you to accept the reality of the trauma and, with each telling, you’ll find yourself a bit more hopeful.
You CAN Recover From Narcissistic Abuse…
I’ve gone on to marry my real prince charming, a man who’s just as nerdy as me, treats me with the utmost respect, and works his tail off to make sure I feel loved and supported.
And this relationship is infinitely better than that relationship.
There was hope for me and there is hope for you, too.
Just take it one day at a time.
Recovery from narcissistic abuse is a process. So badly, I wished to wake up better, as the person I was before the abuse… but that isn’t how healing happens.
Recovery is messy and hard. It’s a journey. More than likely, you will be a different person than you were before. But that’s okay. Accept it. And embrace the new version of yourself. Be honest about your challenges, work with a therapist or counselor, and get support from your loved ones.
Because you can recover from the trauma you endured.
In fact, I have no doubt that you will.
Kassidy is an avid writer and performer. She has a passion for theater, fantasy, and animals. She has ghost written for several publications in regards to travel. She currently resides in Montana with her husband and their fur babies.