Getting over a relationship with a narcissist is a difficult undertaking. These kinds of relationships can have dramatic lasting effects on an individual, how they view relationships, and their own feelings of self-confidence and self-image. Healing from narcissistic abuse takes time and support. However, it is possible to learn to see these relationships as the detrimental and traumatic experiences they are and find one’s strength to overcome these relationships. While life after a narcissistic relationship can feel difficult, there are steps that a person can take to cope with the fallout of these relationships and continue to establish themselves as the center of their own healing, moving away from the narcissistic abuse cycle and into agency in their life.
The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
Abusive narcissistic relationships often operate in a very cyclic way. A narcissistic individual may seem to make changes or improve before revealing their more genuine, self-centered desires. Identifying the stages of this abuse cycle can help empower an individual to look at their own relationships through this lens, helping to further protect them from narcissistic abuse.
Narcissistic abuse cycles often start with a stage of “idealization.” This can also feel like the “honeymoon phase” that is expressed through a great deal of infatuation, the giving of gifts or services, and an overall enamored kind of relationship. Abusive partners will shower an individual with extreme levels of love and attention in order to quickly garner trust, and even establish themselves as an essential pillar in the relationship. While this phase can feel great with the amount of attention and love, it is important to be vigilant on how a relationship continues to develop after this “honeymoon phase” has passed and the relationship takes on new, developing forms.
The second stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle is known as “realization.” This is identified by a kind of “slip-up” from the otherwise still enamored first stage of the cycle. This stage is the hallmark of first identifying a degree of dissonance in a person by how they are approaching the relationship. This can mean that an individual is acting in a way that is contrary to what they say they want for the relationship, or can even be catching them in a lie of some kind. For example, the person may say they want to spend each night with you, but then continue to make plans to go out with others. This kind of dissonance can be the first sign that the relationship is beginning to transition to a more dangerous norm.
The third stage comes with a sense of “devaluation.” This stage is denoted by a sudden change in an individual as they flip from being enamored with someone to criticizing them. This can often occur right after an individual is caught in a lie or feels like they are being pressured to make a compromise for the sake of the relationship. These notions are met with a lot of blame being thrown back at a victim of narcissistic abuse and can come with overwhelming levels of criticism, even to the point of imparting shame, guilt, or blame onto the abused victim. These slips begin to give way and show the self-centered way in which they view the relationship, and intense feelings of anger can quickly lead to the fourth stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle.
The fourth and final stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle is the “breaking point.” This is the point in a relationship where the abusive partner is left with one of two common options: either they try to vanish completely and begin “ghosting” their previous partner — that is, not replying to any texts, returning phone calls or messages, and otherwise simply pretending that the other person does not exist — or they will seemingly try to repent, reverting to the first stage of the cycle and once again begin showering the other person with love and apologies. However, even if this love feels genuine, it is also possible that this stage will soon begin to crack again, and signs of slipping up or lack of a fundamental change can become prevalent, restarting this difficult and destructive cycle.
Signs of a Narcissistic Relationship
While each relationship is unique and will have its own degree of nuance, there are some signs of narcissistic abusive relationships that each individual should be wary of. Overcoming and surviving narcissistic abuse comes first with realizing that it is happening, and recognizing any of these following signs can be important in determining the nature of one’s relationship. These signs are:
Feeling overly or unreasonably responsible for all aspects of the relationship.
Finding issues with one’s partner and boundaries, whether they are setting oppressive boundaries around themselves, or — more importantly — have difficulty respecting another’s boundaries.
Feelings of anxiety or guilt, especially around one’s partner.
Developing feelings of codependency.
If a partner has a history of previous unhealthy relationships, whether they have been abusively narcissistic in the past, or have been a victim of unhealthy relationships that may have altered their perception of what a “healthy” relationship looks like.
Feeling overly self-critical about one’s role in the relationship, or even about their own image, leading to compromising one’s self-confidence or becoming increasingly self-punitive as a result.
Neglecting self-care, often as a result of feeling overly critical of oneself, or pervasive feelings of anxiety or guilt.
Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse
Learning how to move on after narcissistic abuse can be an exhaustive process, and an individual may have to reconcile with their experience to begin the process of regaining their healthy outlook and self-care practices. However, recovering after these detrimental relationships is possible by implementing certain steps into one’s own life.
This step is all about simply identifying that narcissistic abuse tendencies are/were present in one’s relationship. While this can be a difficult step and many may want to instead deny or avoid admitting they were in an unhealthy relationship, identifying these tendencies can open up new ways of viewing one’s relationship in a more objective way. Narcissistic abuse cycles are real, and educating oneself and recognizing the signs of narcissistic abuse in real-time can help an individual feel more comfortable about taking the next step.
Accepting the existence of a narcissistic abusive relationship is a difficult thing to do. However, understanding not just the signs of an abusive relationship, but acknowledging that one has experienced this kind of relationship themselves, can be both difficult and relieving. It can contextualize and legitimize many of the feelings that an individual may have had up until this point, such as feelings of grief, anxiety, or guilt. Recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship and accepting one’s current position can empower an individual to then prepare themselves for taking the next course of action for their own wellbeing, including breaking up and prioritizing self-care.
Learning to set boundaries is a very important step, especially if one’s partner had already had difficulties respecting barriers. However, learning to set effective barriers can still be a beneficial practice. Setting these boundaries by way of text message or other written form can be an exceptional way to ensure there was no miscommunication in their creation, and there can be clear repercussions to breaking these boundaries for relationships in the future. This practice is not only helpful for exploring future relationships but can also be an essential part of self-care: being able to separate one’s self from the stresses of their personal and professional life as well as they continue to prioritize their own healthy practices. Setting these boundaries clearly early on can also help indicate if a relationship is going to have any similar issues that may resemble the narcissistic abuse cycle, alerting victims to potential red flags and further protecting their own mental and emotional health.
Explore Self-Care Priorities
Overcoming a relationship with a narcissistic abuser is extraordinarily difficult. It is possible that an individual is genuinely trying everything they can to make the relationship work, and is still met with abusive practices. Prioritizing trying to “fix” the relationship over your health and self-care can lead to even further complications in your relationship and personal life. Taking time, and even scheduling in, time to practice self-care regularly is paramount for reclaiming one’s agency inside and outside of your relationships. When setting yourself up for self-care, it is also important not to feel as if you have to justify your practices to your partner, or somehow ask permission to engage in your own practices or take time for yourself. Rather, ask that they acknowledge your time, and do not feel compelled to explain yourself. If you have already broken off the relationship, prioritizing self-care can help with coping with the emotional difficulties of overcoming an abusive relationship, as well as informing how one will proceed with continuing to better their own life.
Prepare for Your Emotions
Recovering from a narcissistic abusive relationship is going to take time and it is common to be filled with many difficult emotions. There can still be great amounts of doubt or grief involved, and thoughts like, “I could have tried to fix them,” or “maybe it was my fault,” can all be prevalent. Preparing for these difficult thoughts and emotions ahead of time can mean establishing a way to remind oneself of the reason why the relationship was cut off in the first place, as well as exploring new coping strategies and distraction techniques to move through this inevitably very trying time. Using supports and talking through the negative parts of a relationship in a safe space can help reinforce one’s decision to move on from a particular relationship. Even if there is a sense of relief from separating yourself from a narcissistic abuser, being prepared for difficult feelings and emotions is still paramount for recovering from this relationship in a healthy manner.
Only You Decide When to Move On
There is no rush to get back out and begin another relationship, and nobody should feel pressured to move back into that sphere if they aren’t prepared. Each individual will heal in their own way at their own pace, and taking time to focus on one’s professional career, studies, or personal life are all valid reasons to avoid jumping directly back into looking for a relationship. Only the individual who has suffered from the narcissistic abusive relationship will know when they are ready to give relationships another shot, and it is important not to hold yourself to any set timeframe that may impede your better judgment on this front. Focusing on your own interests, hobbies, and life goals can not only be important for reclaiming your identity outside of a relationship, but these factors can also help you better understand what you are looking for in a partner when you are ready to explore the relationship sphere again.
When to Seek Professional Help
The narcissistic abuse cycle can feel incredibly debilitating, and it is possible that one can compromise their self-image enough to where they are nervous about leaving the relationship even if they are aware that it is negatively impacting them. Knowing when to seek professional help for these situations can be difficult, especially if an individual does break off a relationship but still feels lost and filled with a resonating trauma. Professional help may be necessary if you feel too stuck in the relationship and find it difficult to focus on yourself even after the relationship has ended, or if your coping strategies for dealing with the feelings of anxiety, grief, or shame feel inadequate for this traumatic experience.
Narcissistic abusive relationships are incredibly damaging and can leave a difficult lasting impression on a person. If your or a loved one is struggling with the trauma of a narcissistic abusive relationship and needs help in addressing the unique traumas that these relationships can cause, Chateau Recovery can help you today. We offer an array of therapeutic approaches to help you address and overcome your traumatic relationship experiences, including art therapy, somatic experiencing, and individual and group therapy programs. Our facility is also situated on a beautiful campus that can help you detach from the stresses of your daily life and focus on your own internal healing in a beautiful, open, and safe space. For more information on the various programs we can personalize for you, or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about your unique experience, call us today at (435) 222-5225.