Healing from a narcissistic relationship can be a difficult process. You will have many difficult days, where the fog consumes you and leaves you in a state of absolute despair. The long-term effects of narcissistic abuse include the loss of confidence, willpower and ability to set boundaries. Narcissistic abuse leaves you in a disempowered state. It gets so chronic that you think you cannot thrive unless you are dependent on others. These wounds are not overcome in a day, and it can be difficult to gauge your progress short term. However, as you do the work, you will eventually come to notice the changes in retrospect. That is, you do the work day-in-day-out while maintaining faith that you will move in time to the next stage of healing. However, it can often feel like you are not making progress. It helps to know where you are headed before measuring if you are there. The four stages of healing after narcissistic abuse are as follows:
Stage 1: Toxic shame release
The first of the stages of healing after narcissistic abuse is the unshackling of yourself from the tyranny of shame. Toxic shame is like having your heart and mind caught in a thick, noxious swamp. You need willpower and clarity of mind to pursue the possibilities, to be inspired to act, and to ride the wave of your life energy outward into a fulfilling life. Toxic shame from narcissistic abuse suffocates these qualities and leaves you believing that a spontaneous and empowered way of living is not for you — it is only for others.
The process of releasing toxic shame is deeply distressing, but is crucial for healing from a narcissistic relationship. Your chest aches terribly, your self-esteem plummets, your brain shuts down, and as the dark shadow descends, you feel the life draining from you. Releasing toxic shame means facing it head-on, and that it must get worse before it gets better. No more coping mechanisms, no more distractions; just old-fashioned awareness and acceptance of a hellish state.
When you are in the middle of it, toxic shame seems like it will never end. You will simply die of sadness and despair. However, with enough courage and faith, you will slowly sense a light in the dark. You only need to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings while inviting the shame to leave you when it is ready. Moving closer to it with the light of your awareness, you see that there is a door just wide enough for you to peek through. You still feel the ache, but you also notice life energy trickling through one drop at a time. Shame releases like ice melting, revealing beneath it the glow of your True Self.
At first you only get a hint of it, but eventually you notice that what used to crush you under its weight now only feels like a tug. You can move forward with life, take action, and even believe that you can achieve the impossible. Life energy flowing freely is evolution in motion. Rather than be caught in a swamp of shame, you shake off the grease and stand in a wide-open space. What comes next is anybody’s guess, which is precisely how life should be.
Stage 2: Emerging tenacity
Life is not always park walks and picnics. Progress is often hard-earned, and strength is needed to withstand and move through challenges. Toxic shame sucks the power out of you and leaves you in a helpless state. The strength to face challenges is simply not there. Once you have released enough of your shame, however, you notice the presence of something made of tougher stuff. This energy allows you to resist, to penetrate, to withstand, and to shape the world around you.
Tension is all around us. Anywhere we hope to grow in our lives, we need to remain conscious with discomfort and work with pressure. This is what tenacity is all about. A narcissist will test and push your boundaries at any possible opportunity. To succesfully heal from a narcissistic relationship, you will need to lean into conflict and set boundaries with a level of force that shows them you mean business. If the narcissist senses a lack of tenacity on your behalf, they will go in like a shark that smells blood. You know you have reached the second stage of healing after narcissistic abuse when you can remain with discomfort and establish firm boundaries with relative ease. You can make strong eye contact, can say no with conviction, and can withstand the inevitable emotional storms that arise when the narcissist tries to push your buttons.
Stage 3: Emotional autonomy
The third stage of healing after narcissistic abuse is emotional autonomy. Emotions can take us over at any time. If we have not cultivated our Higher Self sufficiently, we will be unable to contain our emotions and function beside them in a conscious and rational way. Those without emotional autonomy feel compelled to react to their emotions based on their programming. If someone makes you feel guilty for doing something or not doing something, you try to make it up to them without considering whether you should feel guilty or not. If someone puts you down or makes you feel not good enough, the resulting shame makes you scramble to redeem yourself in their eyes immediately. The same goes if someone threatens to leave you or gives you the silent treatment. The fear of abandonment is so strong, and your capacity to tolerate it so low, that you react in a needy and grovelling way.
Emotional autonomy means you can feel your emotions but still remain centred, having a sense of who you are separate from what you feel. You are not terrified, ashamed or guilty, you are a human being with a Higher Self that sees and is conscious of all, and alongside this you are also experiencing emotions. Anyone who triggers your complexes and emotions will need to reckon with this. You are not reacting, but rather you are experiencing a particular energetic state and then deciding how to act in a rational and intuitive way. Once you reach this stage, you are ready to step out of the shadow of the narcissist for good.
Stage 4: The End Of Worship
The last of the stages of healing after narcissistic abuse is freedom from worship. During your journey, you will achieve a certain level of enlightenment. You experience yourself and the world through an elevated state of mind, body and spirit. Above all, you begin to sense the latent possibilities within. As you come to know the power of the True Self, you may look with curiosity upon those you worshipped in the past and ask:
Why not me?
That is, if they can call the shots, then what is stopping you from doing the same? Could it merely have been self-defeating beliefs and conditioning holding you back? This becomes a seismic discovery, akin to striking oil.
Many people live with what Carl Jung called a ‘parent complex.’ They are still stuck with the belief that someone else knows the answers for their life, and that only someone else has the power to get them what they need. The thought never crosses their mind that the only person who knows what is best for them is them, and that the only person responsible for getting their needs met is them. Sure, we need support from others. People provide invaluable insights, and can give us a helping hand. We cannot do it alone. But it is crucial to remember that the best person who can take the wheel for your life is you. With that comes a willingness to step into the unknown and trust your body wisdom, rather than delegate higher power to another person.
It is terrifying to stare into the abyss with nobody to tell you what to do or how to do it. Yet this is precisely what life is about. We do not know what the future brings, and we are the captains of our own ship. We do our best in the face of constant challenge. We handle things as they come along, and we trust our inner wisdom to give us the answers, and our inner strength to hold us together as we face the next ordeal.
Once you have conquered the above four stages of healing after narcissistic abuse, you can rest and celebrate the hard work you put into your recovery. Then, when you are ready, you can roll up your sleeves and get to work creating the life you imagined, one filled with meaning and purpose.
To begin healing from a narcissistic relationship, check out my book, How To Kill A Narcissist. In the follow-up, How To Bury A Narcissist, I delve deeper into the narcissistic family and Self-actualising after narcissistic abuse. If you need support in cultivating healthy, empowered relationships, then Transformational Life Coaching might also be helpful.