Rebuilding After a Gaslighting or Narcissistic Relationship
Things will get better. Here's how to get there.
Posted Jul 12, 2019
Life in the aftermath of a gaslighting or narcissistic relationship can be a struggle. You may have left the relationship with wounds to your heart and your self-esteem. If the gaslighter/narcissist left you for someone else, you may be feeling rage and betrayal. You may also be pretty mean to yourself, blaming yourself for things that are not your fault. If you find yourself in this situation, read on for how to help your healing process. (If you are in the process of leaving a gaslighter/narcissist, read How to Leave a Narcissist for Good.)
It is important to block all forms of contact with the gaslighter/narcissist. This means blocking any emails or phone numbers. It also means letting friends and family know that you will not be entertaining any messages sent from the gaslighter/narcissist through them.
Gaslighters/narcissists use "flying monkeys" to remain in contact with you. They will ask your family and friends to tell you that they miss you, and to pass on other messages. The best way to get this to stop is to refuse to listen to those messages, no matter how tempting it may be to hear what the gaslighter had to say.
If you share children with the gaslighter/narcissist, cutting off all contact may not be possible. (For more, read 10 Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist.) There are options available for setting firm boundaries with your co-parent.
Gaslighters/narcissists will usually try to get back into your life. Once their narcissistic supply has left, it can put them in panic mode. The exception to this is if they are already with their next narcissistic supply. Even though it may not seem like it, you do want a narcissist/gaslighter to find someone else — so they stay out of your life.
If you feel like you need closure to move on, you probably aren't going to get it from the narcissist/gaslighter. You may especially feel like you didn't get closure if the gaslighter/narcissist did their classic "discard" and left you without a trace.
These are not people with whom you can do a "relationship post-mortem" discussion as a way to get closure. They will likely tell you that everything was your fault (which is not true) because that is how gaslighters/narcissists operate. There are some events in life where you just don't get closure, and that is okay. Closure is overrated, anyway.
Now is the time to be extra good to yourself. You may have been told that your needs weren't important, or that you had to sacrifice your needs to "prove" that you put your gaslighter first. Now is the time to indulge yourself in tender loving care.
Do something each day just for the sake of enjoyment. You can do whatever you want — you no longer need to hear that your hobbies and interests are "less than." You can have fun just for the sake of having fun. You deserve it.
One of the best ways to practice good self-care is to get enough sleep. You may be having difficulties sleeping right now. A lack of sleep can make things seem even more stressful and impossible. It is difficult to think clearly when you have sleep deprivation.
Listen to a relaxing recording before bed. Turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before bed. Take time to make your bed and bedroom a relaxing and comfortable place, especially if you are sleeping on your own for the first time in a while. See your doctor if you are having problems sleeping. You may need medication to help you get to sleep, at least through the initial stages of your break up.
One of the best ways to rebuild is to go out in the community and give your time. There is something about keeping busy that helps through the grief process. Well-meaning but misguided people may tell you, "You'll learn how bad other people have it," when you volunteer, but that is not the point.
One person's pain is one person's pain. It does not negate or diminish what you have been through. The point of volunteering is to remind you that you have worth. You have something to contribute, even if you feel like you may not have anything to offer. It's also a good way to reconnect with your community and meet new people. And it gets you back in touch with your passions in life.
You may have become isolated from your friends and family. Gaslighters/narcissists work to distance you from others. This is a way that gaslighters make you progressively more dependent on them.
Reach out to friends and family that are emotionally healthy. You'll know they're emotionally healthy because when you are around them you feel relatively calm, and like you can be yourself. Your loved ones will be happy to hear from you. And if they are judgmental or give you issues when you reconnect with them, move along.
You are grieving not only the loss of your relationship but also the partner you thought you knew. Gaslighters/narcissists start showing their true selves in a relationship, and when that mask of niceness and loving behavior drops for the first time, it can be quite a shock.
You may also be grieving who you were before the relationship. You may have smiled more and felt calmer before this relationship. You can be that person again, even a better version of that person. But it does take some time to heal.
There is no timetable to grief. Anyone that tells you that there is, doesn't know your grief. You will be feeling a variety of emotions, sometimes all at once. Feelings of relief, frustration, anger, rage, anxiety, giddiness, and sadness are all normal.
You may be feeling angry towards yourself, and that is completely normal after getting out of a gaslighting/narcissistic relationship. Forgiveness is a multi-step process. The way the gaslighter/narcissist behaved towards you is not your fault. The gaslighter's behavior is 100 percent their responsibility, and no one else.
You may have been told by your partner that if you didn't do/say something, that he or she wouldn't have reacted that way, but to blame someone else for abusive behavior is likewise abusive. Forgive yourself for not picking up on the signs of gaslighting/narcissism earlier. People who gaslight or have narcissistic behavior are very, very good at covering up their bad behaviors.
Also, forgive yourself for not leaving earlier. Keep in mind that the gaslighter/narcissist probably used emotional blackmail or threats to keep you in the relationship. The important thing is that you have left, and that is an incredibly brave thing to do.
Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past can be changed.
Talk to a Professional
Mental health professionals (MHPs) — counselors, psychologists, social workers, and others — are trained to help you work through grief and rebuild your life. You have been through a lot in this relationship, and you may feel like the people you usually rely on, while supportive, are having difficulty truly understanding what you are going through.
MHPs are a neutral third-party that can help you see what options are available to you, especially when you feel "stuck" after a breakup with a gaslighter/narcissist. Keep in mind you may need to meet with a few counselors to find the right fit for you. Sometimes we "click" with people, and sometimes we don't. It's not any different when finding a counselor. Get referrals from friends, clergy, an online search, or search on Psychology Today for therapists in your area that specialize in narcissism and domestic violence.
When you are in a relationship with a gaslighter/narcissist, your boundaries are continually violated. You may have forgotten the boundaries to which you are entitled. You have the right to say no at any time. You have the right to change your mind at any time. You have the right to feel safe. Those are not negotiable. You have a right to healthy boundaries, and for those boundaries to be respected.
Education can help you heal and prepare yourself for the next time you meet someone. Learn more about gaslighting and how gaslighters "love-bomb" you at the beginning of a relationship. They put you on a pedestal, and then they devalue you.
Know the red flags of gaslighting for the next time you meet someone. That doesn't mean that you did anything to cause gaslighting behavior — that behavior is all on the gaslighter. Gaslighters tend to prey upon people who care about others. That is a beautiful trait you have — there is nothing wrong with you opening your heart to others. Just do it now with an added layer of protection. (For more, see 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting.)
You can rebuild — and your life will be better than ever.
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Copyright 2019 Sarkis Media. stephaniesarkis.com
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Sarkis, S. (2018). Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People - and Break Free. New York: Da Capo.
Alberti, R., & Emmons, M. (2017). Your Perfect Right: Assertiveness and Equality in Your Life and Relationships. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications.