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Healing from narcissistic abuse can be difficult and takes time. At first, the signs that you are healing may be subtle, but over time, you will experience a shift in the way you feel, think, and behave.
You may move through stages of grief, anger, emotional numbness, feeling like you are getting better, and then falling back into depression. It can be confusing and sometimes feel like you are going backward rather than forwards.
Narcissistic abuse is a particularly insidious type of abuse. Many people associate abuse with physical violence, but this does not always feature in narcissistic abuse. The abuse and manipulation are often subtle and underhanded, like gaslighting, blame-shifting, and warm-cold behavior.
The abuser may have made you believe you are at fault, abusive, and unstable. You may still yearn for them after the relationship ends and wonder whether the abuse was all in your head. This type of confusion is common in narcissistic abuse victims because of the abuse’s nature.
The constant and ongoing attack on your sense of reality and self can make it even more difficult to heal the wounds.
Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to small changes and signs that you are healing, as this will give you hope that things will get better.
Signs of Narcissistic Abuse
Knowing some signs of narcissistic abuse is helpful as it will make it easier to recognize the signs of healing. Here is a brief overview of some of the signs of narcissistic abuse:
It’s common to experience difficult emotions such as sadness and anger after narcissistic abuse. But it’s also common to feel emotionally numb and empty.
Many survivors experience post-traumatic symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, dissociation, and trouble sleeping.
It’s normal to want to avoid mental, emotional, and physical reminders of the abuser and relationship.
Confusion, brain fog, and problems with memory are common. The abuse can also make you feel you have lost touch with reality and your sense of self.
Chronic stress caused by narcissistic abuse can have a detrimental impact on your physical health.
You may experience aches and pains, stiffness, gastrointestinal problems, breathing difficulties, heart racing, trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, and so forth.
It’s common for victims of narcissistic abuse to form an attachment to their abuser. You may miss them and think back at the nice things they did for you and all the good times you had together.
There may be moments when you wonder “Was it really that bad?” and think about the unkind things you did, forgetting the pain and misery they put you through.
After a traumatic experience, many people go into denial – this is often a coping method to protect ourselves from the full impact of what happened. You may deny the abuse or your suffering.
Loss of Boundaries
Narcissists tend to break down their victim’s boundaries as this enables them to further manipulate and exploit them.
This can cause confusion around who you are and what you deem acceptable behavior and communication.
Abusive relationships can damage your ability to trust other people and yourself. You may feel suspicious of their intentions, prefer not to socialize and go out, and keep people at a distance.
Stages of Recovery
Recovery from narcissistic abuse involves various stages, but it’s not a linear path. Understanding this can be helpful because it can lessen the impact of the inevitable drawbacks and obstacles.
You may have moments of feeling hopeful and strong, and suddenly, you may feel angry and depressed again – that’s normal. Have compassion and patience for yourself, and take it one day at a time.
It can take months or years to recover from this kind of traumatic experience, and you may never forget what happened, but you will learn to manage and thrive in spite of it.
Denial is a common response to abuse and trauma. You may deny and excuse the abusive behavior you were subjected to; you may deny that the abuse was “that bad”; and you may deny that you are suffering as a result of it.
An important step towards recovery is facing the truth. When you have faced the truth about your relationship and partner and how it has affected you, you have taken an important step on the path to recovery.
Feeling angry at the abuser, their behavior, and even yourself is normal. Facing what has happened will bring up all sorts of uncomfortable and painful emotions, so allow yourself to experience what comes up – don’t try to suppress it.
Learning how to channel anger is a better way to deal with it. Write about your anger and let it all out on a page.
Exercise, go for long walks, scream at the top of a mountain or cliff– try anything that will boost you and release energy.
Symptoms of Depression
It can be easier to feel angry because it makes us feel more powerful and in control. Sadness and hopelessness can make you feel vulnerable and helpless.
But these feelings are also valid and normal. Allow yourself to grieve and cry if you feel the need to. Find an outlet for these feelings by writing or talking to trusted friends and family.
Seek professional help from a therapist/ psychologist if you believe this would be helpful for you.
Eventually, you will experience acceptance of what happened. You will accept that the person you thought you loved and trusted abused and exploited you.
This is no easy truth to swallow. You will accept that it did not happen because you are somehow flawed or deserving but because you fell victim to a skilled manipulator and their games.
Forgiveness is a big part of recovery – forgiving yourself and letting go of feeling responsible, guilty, and ashamed.
Abuse is never the victim’s fault – no matter what the abuser may want you to believe, no matter what society and potentially some of your friends/ family may believe or say.
Forgiveness means having compassion for yourself, accepting the truth about your relationship and ex-partner, and releasing the past so you can move forward with your life.
It’s common to lose hope after an abusive relationship with a narcissist. They may have robbed you of your confidence, self-worth, grasp on reality, and direction in life.
When you start to experience hope that things can get better and look forward to the future, you are on the path to recovery.
Rebuilding Your Life
You start rebuilding your life the moment the abusive relationship is over. It may not feel like it at first, but the pain, grief, and sorrow are part of building a new life.
Initially, however, the important thing is to find the stability you need to start again, so take the time you need.
Everything you have lived through allows you to connect more deeply with who you are and what you want (and do not).
In time, it can strengthen your determination and provide the building blocks for a strong foundation from which you can launch into your new life.
Rebuilding your life can start small, like reconnecting with friends and repairing certain relationships. It can mean engaging with your hobbies, starting new ones, or going on trips.
You may take joy in your work again or start looking for a new job. Maybe you want to move to a new house, city, or country, or redecorate the bedroom.
However, rebuilding your life can also mean that your external life stays the same with the change happening within you. “New life” can mean you feel stronger, happier, or simply like yourself again.
Signs You Are Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
Knowing whether you are healing from narcissistic abuse is personal to you – you will know yourself when you are starting to feel better or more like yourself.
Nevertheless, there are certain signs that the effects of trauma are subsiding and that you are making some headway toward recovery.
Recovery does not mean that everything that has happened and all the symptoms you experience are gone and forgotten. It means you can manage and thrive despite the trauma.
This is important to understand so you know what you are aiming for. Likely, your life will never be the same again – but that’s probably good because you will be wiser, stronger, and more determined than before.
Here are some of the signs you are healing from narcissistic abuse:
A sign you are starting to heal is emotional balance. The post-traumatic symptoms start to subside – the flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts decrease or disappear.
You will not feel as emotionally numb or detached. Your fight/ flight response becomes more balanced and you experience more calmness and ease as a result. You feel happiness and joy and can laugh again.
It does not mean you do not experience difficult moments and emotions, but they no longer impair your ability to function and do not last as long.
Abusive relationships can affect your cognitive abilities, such as your concentration, memory, and thought processes. When you are beginning to heal, your fight/flight response starts to function normally again.
This means the activity of your prefrontal cortex (which is responsible for cognitive functions) can also return to normal.
Your concentration and memory will improve, you will experience more clarity, and you will start to see the positives in life again. Your sense of reality and self will become stronger and more insightful.
Abuse can penetrate deep into your mind and body. When you are healing, the physical symptoms start to subside.
For example, pains, aches, stiffness, gastrointestinal problems, or anxiety symptoms (heart racing, breathing difficulties).
When you are sleeping better, your appetite returns to normal, and you have more energy, this is a sign you are healing.
Not Wanting Them Back
Abuse can often go on for so long because the victim has formed a complex bond with their abuser.
Thus, when you see them for who they are and truly do not want them back in your life, you have come a long way in your recovery.
Acceptance of the Truth
When you have healed your wounds and escaped the trauma bond, you will see much more clearly that what you experienced was not love.
You will understand that they did not love you but that it was all a façade, a game. They used you to satisfy their narcissistic needs but never had your best interests at heart.
Healing also means you have accepted that they will never change and that they and the relationship were unhealthy for you.
An important part of recovery is to understand what boundaries are, how they were violated, and how you can establish and maintain your boundaries going forward.
You know you are healing when you are firm in your boundaries, prioritize your needs and wants, and are able to say no to people.
You understand “red flags” and narcissism and are quicker at recognizing them in people – importantly, you steer away from these people rather than believing their façades.
Compassion for Yourself
A sign you are healing is no longer blaming yourself for what happened. You have forgiven yourself and no longer think it’s your fault or that you somehow deserved to have been treated in this way.
You have compassion for yourself, for what happened, and for having fallen into the narcissist’s trap.
Getting Your Power Back
Abusers and abuse steal your power. When you are healing, you start getting your power back – you feel more confident, look forward to the future, stop the negative self-talk, and feel worthy.
You want to get out there, socialize, meet new people, and have new experiences. You no longer want to hide away or disappear – you feel glad to be alive and want to make the best of your life.
Accepting the truth of what happened, establishing firm boundaries, and getting your power and confidence back means you can start to trust people and yourself again. That means you can enjoy relationships, but you have your wits about you.
You pay closer attention to people’s language and behavior and are better at recognizing red flags.
But you no longer believe that “everyone is bad” and “no one can be trusted” – you allow yourself to be happy and loved.
Czerny, A. & Lassiter, P. & Lim, J. H. (2018). Post-Abuse Boundary Renegotiation: Healing and Reclaiming Self After Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 40, 211-225.
Fraser, R. (2019). How to Heal from Narcissistic Abuse: Your Five Step Strategy to Recover the True You. https://ebook.roniafraser.com/howtohealfromnarcissisticabuse