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Learning to Live and Be Happy After Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissists are focused on appearances. They’re often hyper-focused on monetary gain by any means, fair or foul. They’re focused on looking “right” to all and sundry. And they’re chronically unhappy. That’s why it’s hard to learn how to live and live happily if narcissists and narcissism is all you’ve ever seen modeled.

This article is just brain-storming, because I don’t have the answers. But I hope it’ll be thought provoking and start a conversation. While I don’t have the answer, I do know the question. The question that occurs as we seek normalcy, when all we’ve known is narcissism. At some point, we look around and ask in the words of Francis Schaeffer “How Should We Then Live?” What constitutes a life well lived? A successful life? A happy life?

Normalcy Becomes Normal

When we lived with the narcissists, it was a full-time job. Even when they weren’t making demands on our time, we were too exhausted, insomniac, strung-out, upset and emotionally overwrought to do a whole lot with our “free” time. The free time they always interrupted and invaded anyways. Ah, how well I remember suppressing my annoyance when my precious Alone Time was constantly interrupted by cries of, “Are you okaaaaaayyy?” and being constantly “checked on.”

While most people fear living alone, it’s a dream-come-true after narcissistic abuse. Just to live without being screwed with is am-a-zing! Loneliness doesn’t exist, especially if you have a pet. The freedom is exhilarating. The quiet is a balm to the soul. The free time is surprisingly plentiful.

But too soon, it all becomes normal. (Pity, isn’t it.) When it was new, normalcy was delicious. Too quickly it becomes, well, normal. Because it is normal. That’s how life should’ve always been. Those who’ve always had it don’t appreciate it like we do.

It’s when Normalcy begins to feel Normal that we look around and ask in the words of Francis Schaeffer “How Should We Then Live?”

What constitutes a life well lived? A successful life? A happy life?

And what the heck are we supposed to do with all this terrifying free time!?!

Narcissistic Living

From what I’ve observed, narcissists are rarely happy. They may have been richly blessed, nonetheless there’s always something wrong. Natch. Playing the victim is a source of happiness to them.

In fact, I’m not sure they ever sit down and ask themselves what’ll make them happy. What are their passions. They’re not the type of person to pursue an unusual passion or be a happy eccentric. Banish the thought! Appearances are king. Their self-esteem resides in other people’s opinions of them. Thus, it’s paramount to keep up the glorious façade. Keep all the balls in the air in the juggle of life. Have the right clothes, the right house, the right car, the right job and the right hobbies…whether they actually like them or not. That’s take a lot of time, energy and money.

Life isn’t a journey to be explored, savored and enjoyed to a narcissist. Heck no! It’s something to be conquered. A destination called “I Succeeded.” And with their innate paranoia, it’s a minefield to be reconnoitered ’til death liberates them from this vale of tears. Something to be survived, not embraced.

You can’t learn how to live, really live, and enjoy the journey of life from a narcissist.

Real Living

A line from the 1942 Irving Berlin movie Holiday Inn caught my ear last night. In the movie, singer Bing Crosby quits the entertainment rat race to open a nightclub in rural Connecticut, open only on national holidays. His co-star says, “My father was like you. Just a man with a family. Never amounted to much, didn’t care. But as long as he was alive, we always had plenty to eat and clothes to keep us warm.”

Bing asks, “Were you happy?” She responds, “Yes.”

Here’s the punchline. Bing says, “Then your father was a very successful man.”

Happiness. Just happiness as the measure of a life well lived. Not money, not possessions, not appearances. Happiness. The thing narcissists haven’t got. Happiness. The thing they make sure we didn’t have either, while oxymoronically also demanding that we appear incredibly happy. Hey, it’s complicated!

The Many Colors and Types of Happiness

There’s no one “right” way to live happily. The “right” way is unique to each person and their needs at the moment. Some people are wired to be Social Butterflies. Others are wired to be hermits. Sometimes those of us with PTSD need to be hermits for a good long time before we attempt to have a relationship with another human being again…if ever. And that’s okay.

Unfortunately, society (and narcissists) have a way of making us feel ashamed for how we want to live. Embarrassed for not having the “right” passions, interests and hobbies. For example, ever since I was six-years-old, I’ve been watching and studying people. It’s my lifelong passion. Mom always encouraged it, listening with interest (and probably lots of patience!) as I babbled on and on about my schoolmates. Dad acted like my passion was a waste of the hard-earned money he shelled out for my private schooling. He only wanted to know what I was learning in school. His ROI, you might say.

Thirty years later, people watching is still my ruling passion and it’s paid off. I write about people for the Huffington Post. I write about people on this blog. I write about people for my local newspaper. But I’m a bit more sophisticated about it now. Instead of being fascinated by who lost a tooth, wet their pants or started crying in class, now I conduct interviews, follow the interpersonal dynamics on “reality” TV programs, study psychology and spend every spare moment with my nose in a Hollywood biography.

Following Our Star…Not Theirs

If you struggle to accept who you are and even feel guilty for your passions, I sure understand. Boy! Do I ever! Everyday I struggle with feelings of disappointment because I’m not the extroverted, blonde Barbie who loves to bowl, ski and socialize. That’s who I wanted to be, but it’s not how I was hard-wired.

To tell the truth, my passion for studying people still triggers feelings of inferiority and foolishness. But I can’t help the way I’m wired any more than I can help being a shy, houseplant, hermit. And neither can you. I believe our passions and personality are as hard-wired as our hair color.

Then something struck me while listening to the Coast-to-Coast radio show last night. I thought the guest was inane, idiotic, wasting their time studying some silly topic. Then, I caught myself. It was their passion. And many people enjoyed listening to them talk about it. I might think it’s silly and a waste of time, but for them it isn’t because it makes them happy.

Maybe there’s a place and a reason for each of us. Society needs every one of us. We fill a unique niche. We need UFOlogists as much as we need doctors. We need hermits who track the weather in Gothic, CO as much as we need taxi drivers in NYC. We need our mad scientists and our great statesmen. We need our Civil War Reenactors and our physicists.

Even if what we do doesn’t go down in history, our names are never spoken after our deaths, our faces never remembered and we don’t live on in the minds of posterity, well, it was kinda’ fun for us while we were here. Ecclesiastes says that everything is meaningless and I’m inclined to agree. The only thing that really matters is that we enjoyed our own lives. We are the only ones that can enjoy our lives. Our narcissists tried to take that away from us for too long.

Let’s reclaim our happiness, our passions and our very selves!

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Learning to Live and Be Happy After Narcissistic Abuse

Lenora Thompson

Lenora Thompson is a syndicated Huffington Post freelance writer and food blogger. Her readers call her the "Edward Snowden" and "Wikileaks" of narcissism because of her no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners approach to writing about narcissism. “Narcissism Meets Normalcy” is the real-life, ongoing story of her healing journey from being held “hostage” by a multi-generational, cult-like narcissistic family. It's gritty and real, bloody and bruised, humorous and sarcastic. Lenora Thompson considers herself a “whistleblower,” shining a spotlight on narcissistic abuse so others can also claim their freedom and experience healing. To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael's heroic battle with Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to read her writings about food, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2017). Learning to Live and Be Happy After Narcissistic Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Jan 2017
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