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From Grief to Relief: Let Go of Shame

Part II: Feelings of shame and embarrassment give way to relief and freedom.

Key points

  • Embarrassment, shame, and relief are all valid emotions at the end of a narcissistic relationship.
  • Narcissistic relationships are by no means normal, healthy, or positive.
  • Moving on is always difficult but always worth it; self-forgiveness is key.

Shame and embarrassment are emotions that an individual may find themselves experiencing after a narcissistic breakup. These feelings may follow grief and confusion, overlap with them, or even occur simultaneously. Many of us have felt conflicting emotions during and after a breakup by not just grieving the loss but also feeling mortified or blindsided. The key to moving past negative emotions and feelings is to first recognize them so you know exactly what you are dealing with.

Shame and Embarrassment

Certain situations leave us feeling helpless and blindsided. Remember that narcissists are master manipulators and actors; not only can they switch out their masks with ease, but they can lie very smoothly and keep all their stories straight. Narcissists and histrionic individuals are more likely to have physical and or emotional affairs or engage in unethical open relationships. Not only do they feel entitled to the extra attention and affection, but they deeply crave it as an addiction. The narcissistic ego truly believes they deserve anything they desire, even if they haven’t worked for it or earned it. This also means they cannot feel shame or embarrassment, leaving their former partner to shoulder this burden as well.

However, it can be a painful realization that there is nothing behind the walls when they crumble. Finding out that you have been the punchline of a narcissistic joke is mortifying. Many questions swirl around: Who else knew of the affair and kept quiet? How could I believe the lies my partner was telling me?

“I really thought I was too smart to be blindsided,” says Moira. “Six months after our wedding, my (now ex) husband admitted he had been out of work for three months. He was such an accomplished liar that he kept up the appearance of leaving the apartment every day for ‘work’. I was working around the clock as a resident so he was handling the banking. I trusted him and I paid for it, literally.” The only reason the ex came clean was that the couple was now bankrupt. Even then, the job loss wasn’t his fault and he blamed Moira, he was unable to tell her. “He said he didn’t want to make me angry and hate him for losing his job, which wasn’t his fault that he lost it, of course. The better option was to sneak around and lie to me.” Not only did the ex stop paying the couple’s bills, but he drained the savings account that was made up of wedding money and Moira’s pre-marriage savings. “A whole barrage of lies came tumbling out. He was never making as much money as he claimed, he had a history of unpaid traffic tickets, he hid debts from me, even his college degree was bogus. Of course, I was the reason that he lied. He said I was demanding and nothing was good enough for me and I would have gotten angry and yelled at him and made him feel bad.”

Alex Green/Pexels
Source: Alex Green/Pexels

Moira cites not only anger as a major emotion during this time, but also shame. “I was completely mortified. Maybe I was young and naïve, but I believed and trusted him. We had just had a huge wedding six months prior and everyone thought we were perfect, and that we had a perfect relationship. It was all a joke. A sham.”

Moira’s ex also smoothly convinced his friends that the real problem was Moira. She recalls, “his best friend used to call me up and yell that I was so unsupportive of ‘poor suffering’ Ex, that if I wasn’t such a nasty and mean woman he could have confided in me instead of hiding the truth, and that I will never be happy or satisfied.” When the couple filed for divorce, there was even more embarrassment and shame to contend with. “I did feel like a failure. I was ashamed of myself for falling for such a trope. I thought I was smarter and better than being so gullible.”

Moira is not alone in feeling gullible.

Elena found herself in a relationship with a narcissist after suffering a similar situation before that. She says, “Falling for a narcissist a second time has really shaken my foundation of trust in myself and my intuition. How could I let that happen a second time?” Both Moira and Elena are examples of educated, empathetic women who fall under the ruse of narcissists. Elena chimes: “I am both embarrassed that I didn’t know these patterns and tricks, but also proud of myself for doing the detective work over these past several months and figuring it out. But I’m all mixed up as to how I feel about myself after all of this.”

Narcissists are incredible actors and have been known to even fool lie detector tests and psychiatrists. No one, no matter how educated or street smart, is immune to the wiles of a narcissist. This is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed, especially when your actions were done out of love. It may be frustrating to feel right now, and impossible to accept, but narcissists never win in the end.

Relief and Peace of Mind

Relief is the final emotion and, thankfully, the longest lasting. With relief comes peace of mind and confidence and a fertile foundation for moving forward. Many survivors of narcissism report feeling full of promise, that they could breathe deeply again, and that they were free. Relief will also be accompanied by an appreciation for the experience. Not only are survivors relieved to be free of the abuse and the abuser, but they are also grateful for getting through the hardest part and to begin the journey of recovery and healing. Says Elena, “The biggest hit has been to my intuition and my trust in myself. The biggest gain is in the knowledge. I won’t let this happen again if I can help it.”

Just as grief and trauma are subjective, so is recovery. Healing processes are unique to each individual. Some people go on solo road trips, others throw themselves into work; people enroll in school or new training programs or move to a different area. The dating scene may be terrifying for some yet an undeniable attraction for others. No one should judge, or be judged, on how they choose to recover.

A year after the final break from her narcissist, Jenna moved residencies. Prior to the move, her ex would randomly show up at her home. “The relief is huge now that I have moved,” she says. Although she is still settling in and unpacking, “It’s nice knowing he can only find me online. I can ignore him and not get sucked in.”

JJ Jordan/Pexels
Source: JJ Jordan/Pexels

The feeling of relief from forgiving yourself cannot be underestimated. At least once in a lifetime (if not more), we will all become entangled in a harmful relationship. When we finally break free from those confines, we must forgive ourselves so that we can move forward and learn from the experience. Give thanks to the negatives because they brought you to the positives.

You may have acted erratically and irrationally, but the relationship itself was erratic and irrational. We react to the wrongs done to us in an effort to protect ourselves and adapt. Holocaust survivor and Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl stated that an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior. Narcissists are not necessarily evil, but they erode a victim’s self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence. The longer a narcissistic relationship takes place, the more “normal” it seems, when in fact it is a totally abnormal relationship. Your relief will be accompanied by a need to forgive yourself, embrace it.

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