Reclaiming Yourself From a Narcissist
Abuse sometimes disguises itself as love, but it is possible to rise above.
Posted May 23, 2020
A relationship with a narcissist doesn’t have to be a dead end. Although difficult, it is possible to break free from a narcissist and thrive in the aftermath. Any breakup is painful and requires patience and fortitude to fully heal. However, ending a relationship with a narcissist can be double the heartbreak and triple the drama while complicating the recovery period.
It is accepted by both psychologists and non-scientists alike that narcissists are unable to truly love anyone other than themselves. But this doesn’t mean what we felt wasn’t real. As individuals capable of sacrifice, acceptance, and genuine love, non-narcissists can unfortunately fall prey to calculating individuals. Whereas non-narcissists find peace in a partnership and truly love the other person, what the narcissists loves in a relationship is the attention. Partners are replaceable, relationships can be exchanged, and closeness can be faked. Anyone can recite a love poem or dedicate a song or send a bouquet of flowers; narcissists are fantastic actors and know exactly how to imitate love. This is damaging for many reasons. Paramount among them is the seed of doubt that is planted in the mind of the non-narcissist: is there such a thing as love? Will the next person I date take advantage of me? Does this new person who says I am amazing and beautiful mean it? How could my ex move on so quickly? Was I really that dispensable?
Breaking free from a narcissist will be heartbreaking but ultimately worth it. Jackie was in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist for almost three years. She and her partner had broken up briefly for six months and then got back together against her better judgement. “He swore he had changed and became incredibly attentive and loving”, she says, “but it didn’t last very long. I broke up with him again, for good, a few months after our reconciliation.” She admits that the breakup was deeply painful but necessary. “I didn’t like who I was with him, even though I did love him. He required my full attention all the time but never reciprocated. It was a one-sided relationship and I turned into this insecure, suspicious, needy woman. He could be sweet and romantic when he needed to reel me back in, but I realized it wasn’t genuine.” After the breakup, her ex became vicious, combative, and harassing. He would repeatedly text Jackie insults until she blocked him, but then he just switched to sending email threats. “His true crazy came out”, she says, laughing. “He was furious that I moved on without him, that I was happy without him, and that I was thriving.”
Seemingly overnight, Jackie realized her worth. She is even dating again, although she admits she is very hesitant to believe anything nice a man says to her. “I was told for almost three years how useless I was. My ex would attack my looks, my education, my family, my job, everything. I would have to beg for any type of attention. Being told that I am appreciated simply for who I am is jarring,” says Jackie, “But I am learning that I am deserving of every positive word. That’s the good that came out of my relationship with my ex: I am worth it, and I deserve the world. I do not have to swallow the poison disguised as love that someone is trying to feed me.”
After divorcing her narcissistic husband, Miranda found herself in a dark place. The divorce, though legally simple, was emotionally breaking. “I had to admit to myself that I plowed through so many red flags.” She says the hatred she felt towards her ex was “consuming”, and in order to free herself, she needed to forgive not only her ex-husband for his treatment of her but herself for the behavior she accepted. “I was totally stuck in life, I drank too much, and I felt really sorry for myself.” Miranda went back to school to get her master’s degree and is now remarried to a wonderful man and stepmom to children she loves as her own.
Lena broke up with her narcissistic boyfriend and enrolled in a doctoral program. “My ex told me for years I wasn’t good enough and it was a waste of time and money. He would lecture me about how higher education was a scam and a joke – even though he himself had a four-year degree - and kept saying I should just get a job with the degree I had, even though I wasn’t happy.” Lena easily maintains a 4.0 GPA and has offers for employment pending her graduation. Her ex-narc is currently unemployed and single.
After the breakup of her one-sided, narcissistic relationship, Molly found the peace that had always seemed just out of reach. “I bought my own home…all by my damn self! I learned that I prefer my own company, and I have people to reach out to when I feel lonely or alone. I am learning to love me unconditionally. I can be good at adulting, even when it is burdensome. I am learning what boundaries feel like and where I want them.”
Vanessa was in a 12-year, on-off narcissistic relationship that ultimately opened her eyes. Since the breakup, “I have felt like I’d regained control of my life. I achieved the most amazing sense of freedom and self-worth.” She stopped allowing her ex to manipulate her and play off her insecurities. “He hates not being able to control me anymore…it’s beyond empowering. I realized I can do so much better and more importantly, I deserve better.”
All of these stories share the same theme: a narcissist does not, and cannot, own you. Even in the darkest moments and the deepest recesses of pain, the only control a narcissist has over someone is in their mind. Starting over and building from rock bottom is frustrating but ultimately leads to empowerment and freedom. Establishing boundaries not only keeps out the narcissists but leads to self-respect and honest love. Abuse can sometimes disguise itself as a soulmate, but the mask will always slip.