Healing After Narcissistic Abuse (Eight Things to Do)

Narcissistic abuse causes an extraordinary amount of pain. Even when narcissistic abusers commit no physical violence, they inflict deep wounds.

Healing from narcissistic abuse takes time.

It’s best seen as an ongoing process, not something that can be done in a few months or years.

The following are several important things to do when healing from narcissistic abuse.

1. Create distance between yourself and the abuser

Healing from narcissistic abuse is easier if you aren’t in regular contact with the abuser.

In many cases, eliminating all contact is ideal. If that’s not possible, try to reduce the frequency you see them and the amount of time you spend communicating with them.

It’s also important to remember that physical distance alone isn’t enough for healing. Emotional distance is critical.

Without emotional distance, the narcissist may still dominate your thoughts and affect your sense of self-worth.

During narcissistic abuse, an abuser often seems larger than life. They’re in control. They convince you that they alone understand you and know what’s best for you.

They put you down and make you think you’ll never be good enough.

Emotional distance deflates the importance of the abuser. It shrinks them down to their proper size.

You aren’t measuring yourself by their judgments, and you no longer care about their twisted version of love.

You’re focusing on your growth and not on what the narcissist wants.

2. Establish boundaries

During narcissistic abuse, your boundaries get flattened. What you need or prefer is a distant second to what the narcissist wants from you.

In the aftermath of abuse, setting up and reinforcing your boundaries can take practice.

Sometimes, boundaries involve personal responsibility.

For example, narcissistic abusers often demand that you take responsibility for their own mistakes or their immature or violent behavior.

You’re establishing an important boundary by clearly telling yourself that you aren’t responsible for those things.

Boundaries are also about what you value. If you place importance on trustworthiness and gentleness, you should not have to accept bullying and dishonest behavior.

Other boundaries involve personal preferences. For example, let’s say you don’t like being called after at night.

A narcissist may disregard that simple boundary and use guilt, ridicule, or threats to bring about your compliance.

Even if a boundary seems minor, defending it can become a part of healing.

3. Give yourself time and space to work through difficult emotions

One way narcissistic abusers exert power is by controlling the emotions of their victims.

If they don’t want you to direct anger at them or to show affection to someone else, they punish you and make you suffer shame or guilt for what you feel.

In the aftermath of narcissistic abuse, you must deal with the emotions you’ve been bottling up or ignoring.

These emotions can seem overwhelming, and you must be patient with yourself as you rediscover how to understand and express your feelings.

If you’re carrying a lot of anger in you, healing involves releasing that anger in a way that isn’t destructive to yourself or others. Therapy can serve as a safe place to work through anger.

People often find outlets in art and writing and use certain physical exercises to release tension from their bodies. They may also regularly set aside time in private to express their anger out loud and come to terms with it.

Learning to manage powerful, difficult emotions doesn’t happen overnight. You may be afraid that the narcissist will find ways to hurt you.

The shame and guilt may still linger. It may also take time for you to express joy openly without fearing that someone will immediately try to make you unhappy.

Another emotion you’ll probably be grappling with is grief. There are multiple reasons to grieve after a relationship with a narcissistic abuser.

One of them is the realization of what might have been.

For instance, if the abuser is one of your parents, you may be mourning the absence of a loving parent-child relationship in your life.

You don’t have to pretend that your emotions don’t exist. You also don’t need to be ashamed of them. Healing involves learning to process and express them healthily.

4. Change the way you talk to yourself

You may have absorbed the nastily critical voice of the narcissist. You may be putting yourself down even when the narcissist isn’t around.

A key way to heal after narcissistic abuse is to change how you talk to yourself. To do this, you don’t have to be unrelentingly positive or pretend you’re perfect.

What helps is to talk to yourself in a compassionate and reasonable way.

If you make a mistake, you can acknowledge it and think about how to fix it. If you’re struggling with a bad habit, you can encourage yourself and think about new strategies for changing.

Try to stop and rewrite your internal monologue whenever you start insulting yourself. Replace the cruel language with more loving, friendly, and practical words.

5. Address damaging mindsets and beliefs

To exercise control, narcissists encourage certain damaging beliefs. They exaggerate your flaws and feed your insecurities. They punish you if you aren’t living up to their impossible standards.

When healing from abuse, it’s important to tackle these damaging mindsets and rid them of their power. Perfectionism is one example.

Another is all-or-nothing thinking, which encourages you to think of yourself as entirely bad or entirely good.

One way to counteract a damaging belief is to challenge it calmly. Let’s say you make a mistake at work.

Even if it’s a small error, you may think that you’re hopelessly incompetent and that no one will ever want to work with you.

This is what your narcissistic abuser may want you to believe.

Try to counteract these hopeless thoughts. Identify the unreasonable perfectionism or exaggerations. Remind yourself about some of the things you’ve done well.

Think practically about what you can do to fix the mistake. And remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be treated with respect, dignity, and love.

6. Discover who you are without the abuser

The controlling nature of a narcissistic abuser affects many areas of life. Even ordinary decisions, like what to wear on a date or what to order at a restaurant, can fall under the narcissist’s control.

Healing after narcissistic abuse involves figuring out what you want, need, and like. Even if the narcissist ridiculed your taste or kept you from making certain choices, you no longer need to play by their rules.

At first, it may feel frightening or strange to make decisions independently. But your confidence can grow over time.

Take up a hobby you’ve been putting off. Sign up for classes you’re interested in. From food to music to career goals, you can allow yourself to figure out what you want.

Another way to nurture and assert your identity is by refusing to let the narcissist define you. Their assessment of your abilities and potential is false.

7. Connect with other people

Narcissistic abuse often leads to loneliness and isolation. In many cases, an abuser will interfere with your other relationships. They’ll turn family and friends against you or keep you from spending time with other people.

You may have to deal with family and friends who react badly to your situation. They may not understand the dynamics of abuse, and their response may be callous.

Even with these challenges, it’s important not to give up on forming and sustaining relationships with other people.

Among your friends or relatives, some individuals are supportive or fun to spend time with. You can also meet new friends and friendly acquaintances through classes, hobby groups, religious services, and other venues.

You’re under no obligation to share your history of abuse with anyone. It’s your decision, and you can wait until you trust someone before you choose to tell them anything.

Professional support is also important. A counselor or therapist experienced with narcissistic abuse cases can prove tremendously helpful.

You can also look for support groups.

For example, if your narcissistic abuse occurred at the hands of your parents, you may be able to find support and understanding in a group for survivors of child abuse.

Trusting people is difficult after narcissistic abuse. If you aren’t yet ready to meet new people or see a therapist, you can still start to work on your healing.

8. Don’t wait for apologies

Will your abuser ever sincerely apologize? Will they ever admit that they behaved cruelly?

Narcissistic abusers sometimes display regret or compassion. They may temporarily improve their behavior if they sense that you’re slipping away from them.

But it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever receive a sincere admission of wrongdoing or witness a long-term behavior change.

Holding onto the hope of an apology can keep you from focusing on yourself. You don’t need the narcissist to give you any understanding or closure.

Keep being patient with yourself and working on your own healing and growth.

Can a gifted therapist help you too?

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, high-stress levels, relationship issues, or other specific challenges, one-on-one support from a therapist can help a lot.

You don’t need to go through this alone. There’s no shame in getting help!

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