A friend, who is going through a break-up, asked me to write an article about how to recover from a narcissist or sociopath. I wish I had a magic answer. A one size fits all, step by step guide that could relieve your pain, stop your obsessing and heal your broken heart. I really do. Although I don’t have a magic cure, I do have some answers that may help speed up your recovery.
The Chemistry of Love
The narcissist’s love in the beginning stage of the relationship is so powerful. The impact of the “love bombing” is intoxicating. It is like no other love you have ever felt in your life. It feels too good to be true because it is. It was manufactured, but we didn’t know that at the time. So we soaked up every bit of it. We let ourselves fall madly in love. We basked in the attention, adoration, and flattery. We surged with every profession of love and promise of a future together. We fell head-over-heels. The love we felt took to us to cloud 9. We felt on top of the world. We experienced the highest of highs. Our emotions were so overwhelming and incredibly addictive.
Our brain became drenched in a potent cocktail of “love bombing” and pleasure-inducing chemicals like adrenaline, serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. Adrenaline provided that surge of energy and excitement during the initial attraction stage, and also is the cause of why many lovers require less sleep and lose their appetites. Which reminds me of a French expression, “vivre d’amour et d’eau fraiche.” Basically, when translated, it describes how lovers that are deeply and madly in love, don’t need anything to survive but love and a little water, compliments of the chemical adrenaline. Then add in the drop of serotonin levels associated with falling in love, which basically diverts your mind, and drives you to obsess about your lover and nothing else. Lower serotonin levels are also found in people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive disorder –go figure! Pour in a little oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “bonding hormone,” which solidifies the attachment between partners. And top it off with the ever-present chemical, dopamine, which stimulates feelings of pleasure within the body, and just happens to be the same addictive chemical that is released when you eat chocolate or take a hit of cocaine. So, it’s not really all that surprising that a break-up is much like trying to kick a bad drug or alcohol habit.
This explains one of the reasons why so many people tend to obsess over their exes after a break-up. The same way a drug addict obsesses about getting their next fix.
What Do I Grieve?
To add to the mess, you then mix in the confusion of the memories of the bad times, the abuse, the person that demeaned you, criticized you, laughed when you cried, humiliated you, probably cheated on you and used you; the bad person, the one that was incapable of love and not human at all. You struggle to make sense of what was real and what wasn’t.
A typical divorce or break-up is painful, but at least you know what to grieve. When you were in a relationship with a narcissist or a Narcissistic Personality Disordered person, you are forced to sort through all of the confusion and hypocrisy. The words that weren’t consistent with their actions, and like Sherlock Holmes, you try to uncover the truth. Was your ex the wonderful person you fell in love with? Or the soulless monster that psychologically terrorized you? Should you be sad over the loss or angry as hell?
How do you even start the grieving process when you are unsure of what you are supposed to be grieving? Acceptance is the first step in the journey to recovery –the acceptance that you were in love with an illusion, a mirage, a person that never actually existed. This is not easy because what you felt was very real. But once you truly accept the reality that the person you were in love with, never really existed, and it was all a façade to con you, and ultimately control you, then you will be free to grieve the loss of the idea of the love you thought you once shared.
Go No Contact
The second step to recovery is the establishment of No Contact or what is known as going Stover, which signifies that you are “So totally over” with this toxic relationship. This means you delete and block your ex from every form of social media and technology you have. It doesn’t mean that you just don’t contact them. It means that you also don’t respond to them, should they try to reach you. You don’t reply to their emails, texts, phone calls, or smoke signals. You are withdrawing from your drug. So this means full abstinence. Cold turkey all the way! You can’t just have a little hit now and then. It doesn’t work that way. You are also protecting yourself from potentially being lured back into the narc’s trap, only to be kicked out again even more quickly and callously the next time around.
If you have children together and you must have contact with them, you keep the contact limited, brief and to the point, nothing more! Use all of the legal and lawful terminals possible to intervene. Protect yourself, and show you mean business.
Check Your Ego
The next step is checking your ego. You probably worked harder for this relationship than any other relationship. Right? You probably put more effort and energy into it than you ever did before. And in return, you were rewarded with one of the most awful and painful experiences of your life. Your ego will have a difficult time accepting that you have been served a lying, cheating, abusing scoundrel, who you gave your heart and soul to, and tried harder with than any other. Your ego will drive you to want to make that sh*t go right. To try to climb back up that ladder to the pedestal that was once rightfully yours. To hang in there, because it can’t be that a smart-cookie, like yourself, got crumbled. But the truth is, you did. Your ego will keep you holding on waiting for the “I miss you’s” or the “I wanna see you’s” or waiting for him/her to come crawling back on their knees, or maybe even wanting to see him/her crash and burn with their next target. Your ego will have a hard time accepting that the jerk that used you and abused you emotionally, spiritually and probably your wallet, too, doesn’t even appreciate you and probably never did.
“Ego is just dust in the eye. Without clearing the dust you can’t see anything clear, so clear the ego and see the world.” ~Unknown
It’s time to let go of the ego. With no ego, you can cut your losses. Once your ego is totally flattened, there is hope, because now you have real ground to stand on and move forward from. Your self-esteem and self-respect will be gained by walking, or better yet, running the heck away.
Focus On What You Want
I have heard a lot of advice that says to write down all the cons about your ex on a piece paper. I say if this helps you, great. I personally don’t feel this strategy is all that useful because guess who you are focused on? That’s right! Now is the time to focus on yourself! It might feel strange at first because you are so conditioned to focus on the narc’s needs and wants, but after a while, you will really enjoy having it be about you again! Also, “what you focus on e x p a n d s”, so if you are writing down all the cons and negative qualities of the narc, you may bring more of what you don’t want into your life. Instead, I suggest, writing down all the qualities in a partner that you DO want. Be specific and detailed and don’t leave anything out. This will bring the focus back on you and your wants and “when you want something, the universe conspires in helping you achieve it”. ~ Paul Coelho
Get Out of the House
There is so much advice out there, and it’s all so conflicting. Some people say start dating right away, others say, wait a while. I say just get out of the house. Start doing what you love again. Or, find new things to love. Take up a sport. Enroll in a class. Go out with friends. Make new friends. Go to the gym. Try new things. But, just get out there. Hey, if you meet someone you like, date them. Don’t be bound by too many rules. This is your time to be free to do as you choose. If you do date, you know the warning signs now. So just pay attention and take it slow.
One reason it is so hard to forgive the narcissist is that it may compensate for feelings of powerlessness. People feel more in charge when they’re with anger and resentment. Another reason you may not want to forgive is it can feel like weakness or defeat. But, when you are ready, forgiveness could be the most powerful thing you do. You may feel the narc doesn’t deserve your forgiveness. But your forgiveness is for your benefit, not theirs. In actuality, the best way to feel better is the opposite of revenge and hate. To forgive doesn’t mean to give in; it means to LET GO. Once you forgive, you are no longer an emotional hostage to the person that hurt you. Forgiving is good for your body and soul too. Reliving and holding on to past hurts is bad for your health. It increases stress and high blood pressure and is damaging to the health of your heart. Don’t think forgiving is forgetting, it isn’t! We can’t forget hurts, nor should we. Those experiences have taught us very valuable lessons, and to never let ourselves ever become victimized or narcissized again.
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.
Copyright © 2015 Bree Bonchay. All Rights Reserved.
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