9 Stages of Recovery from Narcissistic Abuse

Everyone’s experience of recovery from narcissistic abuse is different but through our work with hundreds of people, we have seen the same impact crop up over and over again.  “One of the things that happened when I was going through the shitty relationship, as I call it, was that I lost any identity of who I was or what I felt. I’d spent so many years being told what I was and felt and needed.”

I didn’t trust my own feelings anymore. I didn’t trust my own thoughts anymore.  Every decision felt like a fraud.

I have personally been through recovery and remember exactly what it feels like.  So it is with true empathy for you I write this blog which in turn I hope gives you the strength to heal.  My wish for you is you have a secure base to explore your own feelings and to regain the trust in yourself needed to delve deep for true healing.

I remember we were snuggled up on the sofa. I saw a message come through that said, let me know when I can come f**k you.  And I read that with my own eyes.  And my partner denied that message even existed.

It is important that you understand these stages because you can’t get from Despair to Self Actualising in one step.  It is a process.  The stages are not linear, they are more of a spiral.  A journey around the stages. There is no timescale and no step by step approach, stages are often revisited as things are re-triggered or re-evaluated with a new level of awareness.  But it’s not as scary as it sounds once you know how to spot the stages and exactly what to do to move on.

  • Grief… yes you are experiencing loss

    Empty. Can’t feel anything. Numb. Something is missing. It wasn’t all that bad. No in fact we had some amazing times. What if I just….

    Conflict between your feelings is a common first step. Everything from sadness and missing the person to the stark reality that it’s for the best.

    Grief is felt along with things like anger, physical symptoms, anxiety peaks, frustration with yourself and the narcissist, depression, overwhelm,

    It’s no wonder then most people are doing a lot of bargaining at this point!

    The first first few weeks after I left, I say left, It had been another one of those mornings of “get the f**k out of my house”. It was like it wasn’t happening.

  • I guess this is really it…

    Eventually you just know its done. For good this time. It feels different to all the other times somehow. There’s a realisation you can’t go back. Everything has changed.

    Then often it’s back to shock and denial. What just happened? You’re googling stuff to see what’s normal. You want answers from the narcissist. Is this what love really is? Struggling with your own emotions has become a daily (hourly thing!)
    You maybe even became obsessive about the narcissist. Remembering good times and minimising bad ones. Making their excuses for them like you always have.

    And of course, there’s still things you have to go and collect, you know, if you’re allowed, I was allowed certain belongings and not others.

  • What did I do wrong?

    Google becomes your best friend, you read everything you can on crappy relationships. The words toxic and narcissist keep popping up. You start to see that this is on them. That this isn’t your fault. They did this to you. And that brings up so many feelings.

    Suddenly, I just felt violated and crazy.

    Every conversation and situation is dissected with new eyes. Some articles mention dependency and co-dependency and maybe you start to see the patterns in every relationship you’ve had. Somewhere along the line you ask… why does this keep happening to me? And maybe you can take the next step to thinking about how to protect yourself in the future too.

  • Taking Back Control

    It is all my doing. I’ve allowed it. In a way that was quite empowering when I got to a later stage. Because if it had been all them, if everything was just their responsibility, and I have no role to play, this was going to keep happening again and again and again, in every relationship that I ever had.

    Actually being able to say, well, alright, so I created this, in some weird way, created the opportunity for me to ask, how do I change? What do I do differently? What do I choose for me? How do I make sure that firstly, I never go back? Because I know, despite just being absolutely devastated, I’ve lost the love of my life. And then, how do I make sure I don’t go through this again?

    You feel powerful when you think about the future. Taking control of your life for you. At first you may be over-cautious and harsh with boundaries, seeing red flags when there are none or being hypersensitive. Sometimes that throws you back to the relationship feelings all over again. And it’s natural to be second guessing at this stage. It can be quite isolating too. But this stage of understanding what you do and don’t want in your life is the start of the future.

  • Rebuilding YOU

    Signed up for a boxing class? Taken up an old hobby?
    Been to the pub? You’re starting to feel a bit more like your old self. Getting back into those old routines but as you now see the world differently, it isn’t as comfortable as it once was. There’s still safety in it. Maybe you’re noticing more and more narcissists around you and want to withdraw into your shell. Or perhaps you’ve turned vigilante and want to expose them all?! It’s normal to feel a lot of anger and external blaming. But those first tentative steps back to you have started….

    And to get to the point where you have everything stripped away. And you can just say, this is how it is for me, is a ridiculously powerful thing.

  • Returning

    Some days you will drop back into old feelings. A trigger or event will flip you back.
    But you can see it now for what it is. You have a new sense of the feeling being separate to your identity.
    You feel useless. you are not useless. You feel angry.
    You are not anger. Having a different perspective on the situation gives you that chance to observe whats happening without being drawn in. Wondering how you would have done things differently still floats around but that’s your imagination playing with your new reality. Of all the stages this can feel the most painful because you just want to get over it and it feels never ending.

    I can recognise my feelings. And I understand that they are mine. I own them. Nobody can take away my anger. Nobody can tell me that I shouldn’t be sad. Nobody can tell me that I shouldn’t feel this way. Because I get to choose how I feel. I get to believe my reality.

  • Surviving

    The most important and powerful thing that I learned was how to set my own boundaries. Learning to say no without justifying myself was just mind blowing, truly mind blowing.

    Feeling like you are back on track is weird. There’s not so much that triggers the old feelings these days and sometimes you can even laugh things off. I know. That doesn’t sound real. Your physical symptoms have subsided, maybe you even get a good nights sleep a few times a week or more. Your comfort zone feels safe but lonely. You stop seeking others in pain as want to forget it and not keep reliving it. There is a real glimmer of future for you.

  • Emerging

    You are actively wanting to pop your head out of the comfort zone, experience more, you have a feeling of hunger in your soul, the abuse has been a catalyst to wanting so much more out of life. Recognising your own toxic behaviours and wanting to be better person is where you are at. You can forgive. Yourself especially. And the personal growth journey is strong.

    And the freedom was the thing that scared me the most I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know how to live my life without somebody else telling me what I should be thinking for you to do it. I just didn’t, It is something I’ve never done as an adult, I’ve never done it.

  • Winning!

    Congratulations! You’re fully functioning as YOU. You have found your purpose and you’re living from your heart. You understand what it means to have unconditional love and you’re strong on the forgiveness of yourself and others. Fully responsible for your own emotions and physical environment, you’ve probably delved into some woo-woo stuff you didn’t think mattered. Finally you are feeling powerful because you are now in full control of your existence. No longer seeking external validation, realising it all comes from you. Self love is your priority.

    I know that I’m truly free

Therapy can be incredible helpful in moving you through these stages.  It’s tough going it alone.  And often there are very real physical changes that make it harder.  It’s not just all in your head.  It never was.  It was always mind, body and soul.  Here’s to you for getting this far, my guess is you’re at stage three already or you wouldn’t have read this far.  You’ve got this.  And I’m here to support you every step of the way.

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