When twelve years of marriage ended, Jack realized during the divorce that his wife was narcissistic. The cold-hearted way she treated their marriage and the divorce highlighted her insensitivity, arrogance, lack of remorse, and superiority complex. Now, Jack was left to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and find a way to move forward.
His cousin Jill was going through a similar experience. Having witnesses Jack’s torn relationship Jill began to see the same narcissistic characteristics in her father. She knew he expressed no empathy, took advantage of others, constantly needed attention, and dominated conversations but she failed to see this as part of narcissism. Once her eyes were opened, she realized that her lack of self-esteem, constant anxiety, and bouts of depression stemmed from this relationship.
Both Jack and Jill needed to move on in a healthy way. However, Jack had children with his ex-wife so he needed to find a way to move forward without demonizing his ex. Jill worked with her father in a family owned business so her income and financial security were tied to maintaining a positive relationship while healing. Their recovery required preserving their ego while healing from the damage and sustaining their narcissistic relationships. Here is how they did it.
Your true self sacrificed on the altar of narcissism. First, Jack and Jill realized that their true selves had been tossed aside in favor of the narcissist’s ego. Because the narcissist needs constant attention, admiration, affection, and adoration, Jack and Jill gave up parts of themselves to feed the narcissist’s ego.
- The narcissistic abuse cycle: The cycle of abuse has four parts: the narcissist feels threatened, then they abuse others, next they become the victim, and finally they feel empowered. As for the victim, they anxiously anticipate the next time the narcissist feels threatened, become traumatized by the abuse, try to defend themselves, take on responsibility for the abuse, and unknowingly reinforce the narcissistic behavior. This cycle tears away at the victim’s ego.
- Lies narcissists say about love: To make matters worse, the narcissist twists the definition of love by trying to convince their victim that it is out of love that they hurt others. In the narcissist’s charm, they are so convincing that the victim gives up their definition of love in favor of the narcissist’s. This second erosion of the victim’s self-esteem generates a hopeless feeling.
- The narcissistic trauma bond: When the abuse cycle is done frequently enough and combined with the lies about true love, there is a trauma bond of entrapment that is formed. The victim initially becomes addicted to the charming love the narcissist first displays and craving more, give up bits and pieces of their true self for the narcissist. This sacrificial offering is not appreciated; rather the victim finds that all of his/herself is still not enough for the narcissist.
Getting your true self back. Jack and Jill desperately wanted their life back after realizing how they sacrificed themselves for the narcissist. Their desire to become whole again was strong but first they needed to recover.
- How not to cope with narcissism: During periods of intense abuse, a victim frequently resorts to defense mechanisms that might not be healthy. A common one is denial. Instead of admitting that abuse happened, the victim will deny that it occurred or that it even hurts them. This creates a fogginess which the narcissist can use to generate new rules of domination and control. When the victim wakes up, the emotions are intense and need to be purged.
- Steps towards recovery: The process of recovery takes time, patience, and energy. Time to invest in sorting through the abuse and trauma. Patience to go at a pace that allows for healing and doesn’t re-traumatize. And energy to release pent up emotions, thoughts, aggravations, fears, and confusion. Some of this can be done alone, but some of this should be done in a therapeutic setting. This ensures the process is complete and lasting.
- Completing the process: As the abuse fog is lifted, life will seem brighter, more hopeful, and exciting again. Even when the victim has to interact with the narcissist, they are able to do so without being triggered by some past trauma. The victim becomes the victor having set new boundaries, expectations, and guidelines going forward.
Jack and Jill regained their true selves back from their narcissist. Even though they still interacted with the narcissist, there was no pull towards narcissist or a desire to run away. Instead, they were able to maintain their individuality in light of the narcissist’s ego.