This article first appeared on Divorced Moms and has been republished with permission.
Recovery from narcissistic abuse comes in stages. The early stages are chaotic and, at times, you feel as if you have no control over your recovery.
You’ll blame yourself for problems in the relationship with the narcissist. Hell, you’ve been conditioned by the narcissist to take responsibility for all the problems so, it’s only natural that you continue to do so after the relationship ends.
That relationship has destroyed your self-confidence, self-esteem and a great portion of your self-identity. It will take time to realize you’ve been abused and due to that abuse lost parts of who you are.
4 stages of recovery from narcissistic abuse
Emotional symptoms you’ll feel during this stage:
Emptiness, shock, suicidal thoughts, inability to focus, depression, numbness, bitterness, anger detachment from family and friends, preoccupation with the loss of the relationship, an inability to experience joy.
Physical symptoms you’ll experience during this stage:
About the Devastation Stage: This is the stage immediately following the divorce/breakup from the narcissist, in which you feel all-consuming desolation. Your heart and mind become numb, and you are unable to function properly in your day to day life. Your job performance drops. If you have children, focusing on caring for them will become almost impossible.
You’ll do what you must do during this stage to keep up with your daily responsibilities but, at the end of the day, you’ll not remember what you’ve done or how you managed to get it done. I refer to this as the stage of lingering haze where you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms akin to those experienced by a heroin addict.
You will feel more fragile and vulnerable than you ever have in your life. Psychologically, you are extremely raw from the erosion of your self-identity that took place during your relationship with the narcissist. At this point, you are still the victim of the narcissist. I’ve known women who talk themselves into believing they deserve the pain they are experiencing.
It is easy to become so manipulated by the narcissist that, even after he is gone, you still believe you were too needy, clingy, worthless, and crazy so, it all must be your fault.
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2. Taking Care of Yourself.
During the entire healing process—but especially right now—you must remember to treat yourself well, both physically and emotionally. Mentally you are processing a lot of complex emotions. It’s well known that emotional stress can cause negative impacts on your body. Learning to regulate your physical response to your emotional reactions is imperative to keeping you physically and mentally healthy.
- Practice meditation whenever you can. My beautiful friend and ice-skating partner, An Old-Fashioned Girl, has shared many techniques on our website that you can try throughout the day. She offered one example where you simply take ten deep breaths in a row—and you can do this anytime, anywhere!
- Take a multivitamin with B complex each day. This will ensure you’re receiving all of the nutrients you need. B6 and B12 can also help to combat depression. Fish oil is an excellent supplement to keep your skin and hair strong, but it also has some great antidepressant qualities.
- Exercise! Go for a walk each day. Spend half an hour at the gym. Don’t worry if your workout is less intense than it used to be. Your goal is to work off pent up emotional energy by getting your heart rate up. A walk around the block, dancing to music alone at home, or working up a good sweat at the gym are all appropriate forms of exercise. As long as you’re moving, it doesn’t matter.
- Get seven to nine hours of sleep. Adequate rest is essential to your mental health, and you won’t be able to get through this if you’re exhausted every day.
- Go outside and get some sun. Wear sunscreen, of course, but enjoy the natural light of the outdoors, and absorb some vitamin D from the sun. You’ll feel better.
- Take care of your basic hygiene each day. Don’t skip out on brushing your teeth or taking a shower. The more you get into a routine, the easier it will become to form good habits.
- Get away from the mirror. Seriously, you look fine. The narcissist conditioned you to feel especially self-conscious about the way you look, but no one is judging you as they did.
During the denial stage, you’ll feel, volatility, pseudo happiness, manic moods, substance abuse, impulsivity, attention seeking, cyberstalking the narcissist.
You lash out at everyone and everything except the narcissist. You may go out drinking, partying, and dating recklessly—all in a monumental effort to convey the message that you are fine. You may become very impulsive, blowing your savings and harboring delusional thoughts of returning to the narcissist.
A big part of the denial phase is still believing they must be interested because of how amazing things were when you were in love. It doesn’t seem possible that they could already be in love with someone else (and it wouldn’t be possible, in a normal relationship). You believe that what the two of you had together was true and beautiful and that he is missing it as much as you.
Instead of recognizing that things are over, you spend a lot of time wondering what you could have done differently to save your perfect relationship. You look back on every single moment that led to the “downfall” and wish that it hadn’t gone that way. You think of creative ways to fix the things that you supposedly broke. You find yourself longing for another chance to make it right.
You forget that your “mistakes” during the relationship were perfectly reasonable responses to unacceptable behavior from the narcissist.
During the education stage, you will feel, uncertainty, anxiety, curiosity, disbelief, enlightenment, a compelling urge to learn more.
This is where things start to change fast. Somehow, you come across the topic of psychopathy or narcissism or sociopathy. Whether it be through a lucky Google search, some prior life knowledge you picked up, or a skilled therapist, you now have the biggest piece of the puzzle. This is why the label matters. From here, everything starts to fall into place. You begin to understand why he behaves the way he does.
How could someone who thought you were perfect be the very same person who intentionally hurt you? How could they go from obsession to contempt in the blink of an eye? It isn’t possible. There’s no way you dated a narcissist. They loved you. Right?
The more you question and educate yourself, the better you are able to understand what it is about you that made you vulnerable to the narcissist. What you need to change so you’re never in that position again. Best of all, you’ll begin to feel less shame and self-blame and realize that, as much as he tried to erase who you are at the core, you’re going to survive, become whole again and armed with very valuable information about yourself and what to stay away from in your next relationship.
Knowledge is power to survivors, and poison to psychopaths. The more information you have, the better. And once it all begins to sink in is when the true healing begins.