All forms of abuse are painful. Because it leaves no visible scars, emotional and mental abuse can sometimes be not only painful but extremely difficult to untangle. Narcissistic abuse robs you of confidence, sense of self and even sanity. You begin by questioning your behavior, but soon also the natural feelings that arise as a result of your interaction with the narcissist.
One of the first things that happens in toxic relationships is that your connection with your intution becomes severed. And soon that expands to also include your family and friends. In order to have their way, the abuser needs to isolate their victim. If you’ve been there, you’ll know exactly what I mean here. Even though you were in a relationship, you never felt more alone.
Then… you woke up. You realized that this is not a relationship to stay in and work on but to run away from. Fast. And you did it. It was not easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing you’ve ever done. That’s because not in a million years you’d think that the person who proclaimed undying love for you could betray you so much and on so many levels.
So you left. But even though the abuser is no longer there to hurt you and keep poking at your wounds, you are hurting nevertheless. It’s as if the outside abuse was taken in and now you are stuck with it, not knowing how to excise it out of yourself.
The most important thing you can do for yourself after getting away is to create a save heaven for yourself so that you can heal. If you are still in contact with the abuser because you share custody or are in another complicated scenario, there are still things you can do to protect yourself.
The best thing is to sever contact entirely. If you cannot do so physically, do it emotionally. This means that when you are interacting with the abuser, show no emotion, even if it means kicking a tree trunk later on or screaming in your car. By showing no emotion and not sharing anything personal about your life, by literally acting bored around the abuser, you show them that they have no power over you.
Even though you may not feel like you have your power back initially, that stage will come and solidify soon enough. The key is action — action that disregards the abuser and pours a ton of love and attention into you.
I know, it can be a foreign concept at first, especially if you are someone who is used to giving of yourself to others and finds great value in that. You will literally have to train yourself to do the boomerang thing — to reach out and give back to yourself. Once your cup is full once more, you will have new energy to give in a way that won’t compromise your integrity nor deplete you.
Healing after narcissistic abuse is a sacred time. It’s an opportunity to go deep, locate your scars and pour oil on your wounds. It’s a time when you learn to become your true healer. Because only you have that power — the power to heal yourself and become strong and agile beyond measure. This is how heroes are made. Literally.
Making a leap.
Because the healing time can last a while and some of us are eager to get on with our lives, form new, healthy relationships and have a great time, there is a way to speed up the process. This is where externalization comes in.
My devastation occured in the fall of 2016. By summer of 2017 I was living a new life. I was realizing my dreams while traveling in the Balkans, doing all the things I always wanted — swimming in blue sea, eating delicious food, writing and helping people all over the world by sharing what I’ve discovered in my healing process.
But before I packed my bags and set off on a voyage that would change my life forever, I needed to purge the toxicity from my body. That was the prerequisite. I needed to free up energy and access clarity to start planning my trip. Within a handful of months, I got back my confidence, my health, my physique and peace. Most importantly, I learned to love myself and to love being with myself, even when I felt blue or old stuff was still coming up.
Because stuff will continue to come up. That’s life. But how we handle it and how we view ourselves as we come undone, is what makes the difference. So I kept on doing the things I set for myself to do. That kept me moving forward and helped me regain self-trust I had lost as a result of the abuse. Research in psychology has found that confidence is NOT A CAUSE, but rather, an effect. You gain confidence by doing what you say you’re going to do.
Here is what worked for me and I would like to invite you to try it out:
One: Move. Moving physically by lightly stretching while taking long deep breaths did wonders for me. It was all I could do initially, as I spent most of my time sulking in bed or watching Game of Thrones. It was wintertime. I did most of the breathing and stretching while in bed. It set the stage for eventually getting up and doing some light yoga on the floor. Then, I began to crave music, so one day I put headpones on and started to dance. I didn’t follow any particular ‘learned’ dance moves. Instead, I let the music dictate how my body moved. At first one song was all I could do. Eventually, it became my morning ritual. I’d wake up, brush my teeth and dance to Sia’s Never Give Up. This was a huge breakthrough, as it allowed for some deeply lodged pain to slowly transform into pleasure. It was like unfurling my rolled up, tired wings and learning to fly again. This time, I knew that the flight would come from a much deeper, more authentic place.
Two: Walk & Talk. Once the weather improved and I could feel the first inklings of spring precipitate through the frost, I started to take walks. Mostly on isolated pathways in nature. Having all this space to myself, allowed me to have a lot more thinking room as well. I felt nature’s supportive hand. It wanted to help me, to relieve me of the heaviness I was carrying. So I started to talk out loud. I told the Universe of what happened to me and how much I was hurting. I asked questions. And the answers soon followed.
Walking while talking was great self-therapy. Not only did the physical effort help purge my body off stagnant air, with every new inhale I was inviting newness and freshness to enter my cells. Talking out loud and hearing my own voice evoked self-compassion. Crying in nature made me feel lighter. My own words allowed me to see things more clearly and start to think about my future and what I wanted to create once I cross this bridge of recovery. On days when the talking didn’t flow quite as well, I used affirmations I’d make up on the spot. I would sometimes just walk and keep saying over and over again: I love myself. I’d say it until the day I believed it. That day did come.
When someone in my immediate environment did something hurtful or I was triggered, I’d go on a walk and talk it out with myself. I’d come home feeling supported and loved. It was not about who was right or wrong. It was about giving myself the space to feel heard. One day I began recording my talks via a phone recorder app. It helped me to trace my mood over the span of a few days and keep a record of abuse in the event that I came to doubt it. Those days luckily never came. I think it was because I was meticulous about keeping a record of what was done to me and how it made me feel. Walking while talking helped dislodge and externalize dense layers of pain I didn’t even know that I had carrried inside me for decades.
Recording shifted things. Instead of feeling like I was just talking to myself, I felt as if I was talking to someone else who needed help. It helped me depersonalize much of what happened to me and broaden my perspective to include other people who are suffering. It helped me see patterns in society and relational behavior that animated unconscious interactions between people. It was the first step towards making videos. It helped me feel connected and find my place in the world. I cannot recommend this practice enough! It literally changed my life.
Three: Journal. This one is no brainer. Putting things on paper pulls them out of your brain. I will also reconnect you with emotions that you will have to feel in order to heal. One of the most effective practices I discovered was to make myself a cup of tea and sit with my feelings. If I let them be, they usually passed like weather, minimizing their intensity with each round. Journaling is a very potent form of externalization. It slows down thinking, unveils deeply held patterns, clears the mind and makes room for new more nurturing thoughts and ideas.
I recommend that you make journaling a daily practice. To me, it’s like meditating on paper. It works great as a meditation substitution, as I found that meditation right after abuse was too overwhelming. The thoughts would come rushing in like a tsunami. Writing, helped slow it down and help me process the thoughts one word at a time. Not to mention the proprioceptive benefits. Moving hand on paper connected me to a part of my brain that stored old memories. With each sentence, the ball of wax became smaller and the treads began to unwind, offering even more clarity about the source of my inner pain.
Four: Speak Out. It can be challenging to find people who understand. I hear over and over from my clients how they’d get invalidated by their well-meaning friends. Some even would take the side of the abuser. This is because the narcissist is very skilled at making sure that the image they project is as impeccable as can be. Some begin their smear campaign to denigrate you early on and often unbeknowst to you. Isolation plays a role in the process. Cut off from your friends and family, your communication channel becomes eroded. When feeling distant from you and hearing rumors about you from the abuser’s mouth — could be criticisms disguised as compliments — your inner circle might start to believe that it is you who is the problem. This is why it is important to speak out and share what’s happening to you, especially when you are feeling confused. Keeping a journal log is a great alternative to telling your story. But eventually speaking about it, while not easy as it will evoke a myriad of uncomfortable emotions, will free you from having to mull over things and questioning yourself.
For me, I found it difficult at first ot speak to anyone about what happened other than my coach. Most of my family and friends, after the initial storm had passed, kept suggesting that I was making too much of a big deal of the situation. It wasn't until I was able to share my story with someone who’s been there that I felt truly heard and was able to move into the next step in my healing. Therapy is another great route to go. Make sure that the therapist is familiar with narcissistic abuse or at least domestic violence.
After I received my initial validation, it was easier for me to find further help in books, videos and online programs. By May, I was making my own videos about what happened to me, which helped me get even more validation and have the added bonus of receiving letters from my viewers about their experiences. The cherry on top came when I myself became a coach and began helping others move through the process. This was alchemy, because I was able to use this terrible experience, as well as years of famillial abuse I grew up with, for the greater good.
Five: Invite Newness. Trying new things is a quantum leap in healing. This is because it moves us spontaneously from processing the past to looking forward to something in the future. It invites a magical state called mindfulness to set in. Even though you may feel like curling up and hibernating, and there is definitely time for that in the first couple of months of recovery, I’d like to invite you to make a list of all sorts of things you’ve always wanted to do but never did, as life, kids, the relationship, work, etc. all got in the way. Now is the time to do it! Whether it is learning a new language, traveling to a place you always wanted to visit, writing a story, creating a painting, signing up for a marathon or a self-defense class, put it on your list and make it happen. It is externalization taken to the highest level.
Science proves that when you change environments, you become more alert. Research further shows that changing your environment enhances your mindfulness. Trying new things builds new neuropathways in your brain, which allows you to shift your focus from the hurtful past to the exciting future, on impulse. New possibilities arise, doors open and soon you find yourself living a new life.
All that will not come easy at first. It will require effort to overcome the inertia and maybe even feel like you are climbing a muddy mountain in the rain. But if you persevere just a bit longer, you will reach a plateau and have a moment of blissful rest. You will look back at where you came from and feel your heart fill with appreciation for the journey you embarked upon, at your own volition! The credit will be yours to take and the reward will be a deeper, more authentic sense of self and a great view to boot. It’s a self-bestowed gift no one will ever be able to take away from you.
Wishing you a wonderful journey back to Self! If you have questions of need personal one on one assistance, I’m here to help.
If you are suffering from the post-breakup shock of realizing that you’ve been subjected to narcissistic or psychopathic abuse, please look into my FREE three-step SOS program currently available on my website.
As usual, here is a video companion to this article.