Is it possible to recover from narcissistic abuse? What are the steps? In fact, what is narcissism?
What Is A Narcissist?
They’re a person who looks just like you or me. They’re our neighbors, our spouse, our parents…perhaps even our children. They could charm the birds out of trees. That’s why we stayed with them so long.
But they don’t think like us.
Were they born like that? Some say “yes.” But common wisdom has it they were deeply wounded in childhood. A wound so extreme they don’t have any self-esteem.
Was their parent a narcissist who dealt the fatal blow to their fledgling self-esteem? That’s often how it goes. Narcissism is often passed down the generations. A narcissistic parent destroys their own child in their bid to assuage their own wound. That’s how narcissism is passed down the generations.
And so the beat goes on.
Above all, narcissists are logical. Their thinking is warped and twisted. They don’t understand life correctly. But…their coping mechanisms are always logical. Twisted, but logical.
That’s why narcissists are so easy to identify. And understand. The ways they think, the ways they cope, they ways they reconnoiter life and cope with their internal wound are logical. It’s pretty easy to figure out how they think with a little imagination, a little clairvoyance for deep inside all of us is the capacity to think and behave in the twisted, hurtful, unkind, logical narcissistic way.
But it’s a choice. I will always maintain that narcissism is a choice.
Most websites list the same 10-30 traits for identifying narcissists. Traits like must-be-right, lack of empathy and being a control-freak. And the lists help, don’t get me wrong. But it’s the real-life stories of these traits in action that mean the most. Stories help the most. That’s what this blog, Narcissism Meets Normalcy, is all about. Real-life stories about narcissism from real-life: mine.
Perfection: They’re always perfect. Period. This leads to…
Rationalization: So they’re still always right. To maintain their perfection, they can always use…
Projection: Mentally ascribing their flaws to you by some twisted, tenuous “logic” laced with shame and false guilt.
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Playing the Victim: If worst comes to worst, they play the victim to perfection. Everyone is out to get them. Ah, woe is them!
Lack of Empathy: They won’t (or can’t) put themselves in someone else’s emotional shoes. So they can do anything, demand anything, expect everything from us…and it’s okay.
Rage: And, if all else fails, they can always terrify us with their toddleresque rages and tantrums
Et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum.
Flavors of Narcissism
Narcissists come in two basic flavors. The vanilla ones are self-obsessed to the exclusion of anyone else, even their nearest and dearest. The chocolate ones are obsessed with their nearest and dearest as their source of pseudo-self-esteem. And then there are twist cones, a little vanilla, a little chocolate.
Personally, I often think the vanilla ones are the least hurtful. But then again, I’m most familiar with the chocolate flavor, so my viewpoint may be skewed.
Action -> Reaction
Often the realization that narcissism has touched our lives comes late. If we’re lucky, we’ll find it out at age 20 or 30. But sometimes, we’re 50, 60 or 70 before we realize why life hurts.
We love them…but they hurt us. But, but…it’s our fault. They did it for our good. Right?
We love them, but rage bubbles under the surface. So we move away, and suddenly, never want to see them again. But we don’t know why. We feel guilty. We hide behind email…voicemail.
And feel guilty, so guilty.
Then it happens. We learn what narcissism really means. We discover fire. The lights go on. And suddenly we know: It’s not us. It’s them. They’re narcissists.
Every possible minute, every available moment we research narcissism non-stop. We burn up websites. Order books. Journal endlessly.
The more we learn, the angrier we get. How could they do this to us!? How could our beloved family be narcissists?
Then denial hits. No! We must be wrong. Our nearest-and-dearest couldn’t be infected with narcissism. All that pain must be for our good or our fault. No, it just…can’t…be.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
And so it goes. Research. Anger. Denial. Grieving. More research. More anger. More grief. More denial. For months, even years.
Just when you think it’ll never end, healing begins. We realize that, yes, it helped to express decades’ worth of squelched anger…but the anger will never go away. So we may as well calm down.
And all that denial, well, its strength gradually begins to weaken because we know, we just know, they ARE narcissists.
The more we learn, the more we feel vindicated in doing what we’ve always wanted to do: No Contact.
We finally take that step and go No Contact with the narcissist(s). And…
If you choose to provide the reason for going No Contact, prepare for holy shit! Cause narcissists don’t take kindly to being called narcissists. It implies imperfection. And narcissists are always perfect.
Don’t expect empathy for the pain they caused you. Don’t expect apologies. Don’t expect validation. Don’t expect anything except denial, blame and anger. There’ll be every kind of drama: shame, removal of love, flying monkeys, extortion…even the odd spot of legal action. They’ll use every trick in the book against you, their former nearest and dearest. To hurt you, get back everything they ever gave you, punish you…and vindicate themselves.
Did they love you…ever? Some say no. I remain ambivalent.
But a narcissist needs back-up. A posse. And they get it by brainwashing anyone and everyone with their twisted version of “reality.” Needless to say, you’re the villain and they’re the hero. Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles…everyone is suddenly against you. They’ve become Flying Monkeys. It’s par for the course. So be ready.
After five sessions of professional therapy, I’m a huge fan. A good therapist will study you with compassion and empathy. It makes a nice change from how chocolate-flavored narcissists studied us to lecture, shame and belittle.
A good therapist makes the teaching available in a dusty ol’ book sparkle with life and a meaning. He or she provides a safe environment to cry, to mourn, to be angry without worrying about anyone else’s feelings. Codependence be damned. It’s all about us…for once. Sweet!
Stomach-clenching anxiety begins to weaken. The iron-fisted grip of never-feeling-okay depression begins to weaken. I hold out high hope that my cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof PTSD will even calm down, in time. OCD gets better…without trying.
I know it may sound impossible, but things do get better. Really. I never thought I’d escape the constant swirl of anger…pain….anger…pain….depression…rage either. But it does get better. It does. Trust me on that. It takes time, and plenty of it, but it does…get…better.
The pain and anger will always be there when you think about the past, but they weaken, they smooth out.
Enjoying Life Again
Believe it or not, you can begin to live again. To take an interest in life…hobbies, learning, friends, etc.
Oh, you’ll never be the person you’d have been if narcissism and narcissists hadn’t been part of your life. But you’re stronger for the experience. You’re less selfish and more giving than you’d have been otherwise. And wiser. So much wiser.
So use your newfound wisdom to help others. Join the 70+ Facebook groups for Narcissism Survivors. Share your real-life story. Healing comes from reading a real-life story and saying, “Wait. What!? That’s narcissism!? That happened to me too!”
Redeem your pain, redeem their abuse by reaching out to help others.
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This article is for informational and educational purposes only. Under no circumstances should it be considered therapy nor replace therapy and treatment. If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting himself or herself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is staffed by certified crisis response professionals. The content of these blogs and all blogs written by Lenora Thompson are merely her opinion. If you are in need of help, please contact qualified mental health professionals.