If anyone had told me ten years ago that narcissistic abuse had a spiritual element to it, I would have waved them off as senseless.
How could anyone in their right mind ever believe that the systematic devastation of another person’s life could possibly contain a hint of spirituality?
Narcissistic abuse is deliberately inflicted by someone you love and it targets you for who you are, the very ESSENCE of you. It is a long-term, calculated campaign to make you feel unworthy and despise yourself, and to have you believe other people view you in the same light.
The narcissistic abuser wants you to believe that no one cares about you, and that no one should care about you, because you, as a person, are not loveable, have no redeeming qualities, and are a waste of space and time.
They take advantage of your forgiving personality and repeatedly exploit your fear of abandonment in order to make you more dependent on them and more likely to stay attached to them—despite (or rather, paradoxically, because of) the misery you find yourself in.
Narcissistic abuse, by all accounts, is soul-crushing. That is why the trauma is so difficult to overcome. We are left feeling so utterly helpless and hopeless in our spirit. We feel we lack the spiritual strength to stand up for ourselves and escape our misery, so we instead keep digging ourselves into a deeper spiritual hole.
How could any of that be considered spiritual?
Had I not finally detached from that relationship and made the daily commitment to myself, I would have never discovered the answer.
After being narcissistically abused, my self-worth was stripped. And why wouldn’t it be when every insecurity, fear and inadequacy I’d ever felt about myself, others and life had erupted and blown up in my face?
After being narcissistically abused, not only did I doubt that I was lovable, desirable, capable or adequate, I even doubted my ability to survive my wounds or live as a human being on this planet, in a way that was not tormenting beyond belief.
All of that changed when I made the life-altering decision to go No Contact and heal my inner wounding, no matter what it would take.
Countless times, the pain was so devastating, I didn’t want to go on. I prayed that I’d lay down to sleep and not wake up.
Little did I know at the time, this feeling of hopelessness and debilitating grief was part of a journey that would eventually lead me to appreciating and being thankful for this arduous and intricate decade of my life.
At first, I endured months of struggle and suffering without knowing if I was making any progress because the pull to go back remained strong. I missed the moments under my abuser’s sway because, in my traumatized mind, cognitive dissonance and memories of so-called “good times” clouded my objectivity.
It took several months before I could recognize the smallest of victories.
The spirituality of narcissistic abuse revealed itself in waves, even ripples, but after experiencing ten key significant milestones, I began to recognize that healing was within my reach. But, more importantly, these signs were also an indicator that I was growing and evolving on a spiritual level.
1) I began to appreciate that self-care was something I needed to participate in consistently.
Not only because I was healing from emotional abuse, but because I’d begun to understand the importance of putting on my oxygen mask before helping others.
Life can be stressful enough without the added obstacle of toxic abuse. It only stands to reason that if you’re healing from narcissistic abuse, your body and mind require extreme self-care. In this vein, I began reducing social engagements, staying off the internet, saying “no” to friends and family, taking a nap when I felt exhausted, and making time to do guided meditations.
I resisted the urge to make excuses as to why I couldn’t take care of myself, realizing that even the busiest person can work self-care into their schedules.
Even as a single mother, I deliberately hired a babysitter on occasion to take myself out. I did guided meditations at night. I journaled and did mirror work. If a friend asked me to visit and I didn’t have the energy, I respectfully declined. I took the initiative to be a little “selfish”, because I intuitively understood the need to do so after putting out other people’s fires for too long.
2) I did what it took to protect my mental and physical space. I no longer acquiesced to things that intruded on my privacy and peace of mind.
Most narcissists and other Cluster-B disordered individuals pull out all the stops when trying to hook a previous source of supply back into their realm of madness. They pretend to have changed, to want to be friends (especially for the “sake of the kids”), to be just another normal person going through a typical breakup or divorce. They may go so far as to tell you their relationship problems with their new partner.
My decision to create peace and calm in my life meant that I no longer wanted, nor tolerated, any of those things. I wanted peace and autonomy so badly that I was willing to completely block my ex out of my life, resolving not to let him come close my new residence or give him access to call me at whim. I refused to put myself in the line of his tomfoolery, and instead, I put up all necessary boundaries to protect my new sense of peace.
3) I no longer cared about how my Ex would react to my decisions.
I stopped worrying whether my life choices would make my Ex angry or make life “inconvenient” for him. I began to understand that true fulfillment meant honoring my own dreams, desires, and ambitions regardless of how my ex might respond.
4) I discovered that no amount of love, caring, or empathy will change a narcissistic individual.
In fact, I found it was detrimental to my own well-being to believe that I could fix, correct, change, heal or rescue another person when they did not see a need to change.
And so, I let go of the fantasy that there MUST be ways I could prove to my ex how much I cared and what a wonderful opportunity for true love he was throwing away.
Sadly, even my most herculean labors of love and devotion failed to spark even a miniscule amount of empathy in my ex. Why? Mainly because in order for him to have understood what I was offering him and what he’d be losing, he would need to possess the capacity for reciprocal empathy. But studies have shown that people who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder are not hard-wired like a normal human being. Rather, they generally have structural abnormalities in the region of the brain that has been linked to the capacity for empathy.
What that means in layman’s terms is that when it comes to narcissists, there’s just no one at home when it comes to the empathy trait.
There were times it appeared my ex had the capacity for empathy – such as when he pretended to experience remorse, made promises to go to counseling, and swore to stop lying. But given how the disordered mind of a narcissist works, his promises were always bogus, and it was only a matter of time before he’d start engaging in unacceptable behaviors again.
So, I learned to stop trying to control people. And this is what I was doing when I kept struggling in vain to make him be a good person and feel accountable for his relationship crimes. I learned I couldn’t control anyone…and so I turned inward to heal my life and my relationship with myself.
I learned the art of acceptance.
5) I began to notice that some of my other relationships had been a big energy and time drain, and I resolved to do something about them, too
I got into the habit of honoring myself and releasing that which didn’t serve my highest good or simply didn’t feel right on an energetic level. Consequently, I become more sensitive to other relationships in which I felt taken advantage of or that drained me. This didn’t mean that I would dump a friend in need, but rather that I started noticing my relationship ‘climates’. In the same way that a long-term weather pattern creates a climate in a particular region, if the climate of any of my relationships had proven – over time – that I typically feel put upon and used, then those were the ones that I considered releasing.
6) I became more concerned about what I was doing with my life than what my Ex was doing with his.
I no longer obsessed about my Ex with his numerous girlfriends or the fact that he seemed so happy because I’d come to understand that he was destined to repeat the same cycle of abuse with anyone he was with at any given time.
Instead, I focused on my future. I focused on exploring things that held meaning for me. I took inventory of my beliefs surrounding my purpose in life, my spiritual beliefs, and what the rest of my life could look like. I began to realize my life could be anything I wanted it to be.
I contemplated the importance (or non-importance) of my existing relationships and made the decision to only keep people in my circle whom I trusted; who had proven they were beyond the superficiality of image and materialism; who cared about the same things I cared about.
And so, I held a few near and shed the others to make space for new and inspiring relationships.
7) I no longer focused on problems, but on solutions
I realized that I had the power to conquer and change my circumstances, rather than continuing to believe I was at the mercy of outside forces.
I began to accept that for every action, there needed to be an equal and opposite reaction. If I needed to delete an email I’d had for years because the ex emailed me from different accounts, I deleted it. If I needed to file a restraining order because he was stalking and harassing me, I drove to the courthouse and filed it.
When I saw the need to change my cell phone number and insist that he call me on me landline, I did so (only because we share a son). When he sent me unwanted gifts and flowers, I marked them “return to sender” or refused the delivery.
I fought the good fight to protect my newfound freedom.
8) I learned that what you allow will continue
I detested how my ex treated me and my children. I fought, sometimes literally, to make him stop being a big bully and liar.
I argued, stamped my feet, and engaged in all kinds of revenge tactics to show him I wasn’t going to put up with his abuse.
I thought by doing these things, I was taking up for myself and honoring my values.
But, near the end, I saw how pointless all these things were. After all, no amount of lecturing, arguing, or proving to him how horrible he was mattered as long as I stayed with him. I saw how mundane all of my righteousness campaigns were when, in the end, I always ended up taking him back and resuming the relationship as though everything was on the up and up.
I had to finally accept that not only were my disputes ridiculous in the face of his continued abuse, I had basically trained him how to treat me. Ultimately, I taught him that he could do anything and there wouldn’t be any consequences.
Until I made the empowering choice to show him that his abuse was, in fact, not going to be tolerated anymore. I finally stood up for myself in the only way I could and that was by leaving him.
9) In due course, I stopped believing that what happened to me was a punishment, but rather a divine gift
At one point in my life with my ex, I believed I was being punished for every bad thing I’d ever done. I thought it was a form of retribution from God because I thought He was highly disappointed in me. I’d made so many mistakes that surely this was all happening because I deserved it.
To drive this belief, my ex would assure me those bad things were happening to me because I’d been a bad person.
And I held onto this belief for years. Until I started doing the inner work to heal my wounding. Over time, I recognized that the lessons I’d been presented with were not meant to punish me, but to help me overcome the false beliefs I’d held for so long and to help me purge the dysfunctional programming I’d received.
I came to understand that it happened so I could heal the wounds I’d carried since childhood.
10) I learned that transformation is the key to living your best life yet
Once I distanced myself from emotional abuse and manipulation, had developed a sound perspective about how relationships should work, and learned to establish healthy boundaries, my life became incredibly fulfilling and peaceful.
That’s not to say I haven’t experienced difficult times since leaving, because all of us experience ups and downs in life. But, when I began to honor myself and recognize my worth, I no longer allowed negative people to dominate my life or dictate how I should live it. I no longer tolerated unacceptable behaviors or disrespectful people and their depressing attitudes.
At first, it was hard to act in ways that were in complete contrast to how I would normally act. I wanted acknowledgement, accountability, and justice. That’s precisely what made healing and maintaining No Contact so hard in the beginning. And although my life had been the result of all the decisions I’d made up to that point, I discovered I’m not helpless. I imagined my best life coming true and then got to work on making it happen.
If you are trying to leave a toxic relationship, my testament to you is that as horrible and crippling as it feels in the beginning to go No Contact, there is an end to it. The body and mind have enormous wisdom. They know how to heal themselves if you create the conditions in which they can do so. Give them that opportunity by working on yourself – healing your wounds and altering those of your traits that left you vulnerable to narcissistic abuse.
To answer the big question – How do you keep going? One day at a time…ensuring that on this day, you begin taking to heart what you’ve read in this essay, and make a fresh commitment to yourself every morning. It won’t serve you to sit around passively, waiting for a magic cure. It’s about taking action. There are hundreds of thousands of people just like you who have taken a stand against their abusive partners. They’ve gotten a taste of the good life–and that taste of freedom is too sweet to turn back to the lives they had before.
In closing, I leave you with this poem, penned by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse. When applied to toxic relationships, it warns you not to set your wages with the Narcissist in your life, working for “a menial’s hire”. To caution you against giving 110%, thinking that one day, you’ll be rewarded for all the time, effort, and dedication you’ve invested in the relationship. To avoid holding out for the day when the Narcissist morphs into a caring, compassionate individual, expressing remorse for their deeds…and promising to compensate you for all the overtime you’ve worked.
I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;
For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have paid.
~Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869–1948)