Life After Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Let’s say you’ve worked hard on your healing; you put in months or years to have a strong educational foundation regarding narcissistic personality disorder. You can look at your psychological development and feel proud of your growth and knowledge. You wake up in the morning with a mind free from the harsh characterizations of you based upon your ex-narcissist’s opinion. You returned to your beliefs that the most important facets of life are based upon morality, kindness, and connection.
You then go out into the world in this 2.0 version of yourself and find sitting before you a new narcissist trying to start a relationship with you. You can’t believe this! “But I worked on myself … how am I here yet again?” You might even start to doubt yourself and think, “I’m probably over-reacting.” And then after some time passes, you’re again struggling to have a relationship with someone who is selfish, emotionally limited, and in the throes of discarding you. The healing and recovery cycle will have to start over again whenever this ‘new’ relationship ends. Naturally, you’ll start to lose faith that there are any healthy people out there. Many will even believe they drew the narcissist into their lives.
I get it. And looking at that scenario, it is easy to think you are attracting narcissists. It happened to me, too. After my psychopathic relationship, when I went on dates, it was narcissist after narcissist. Some normal men were in there as well, however the number of narcissists asking me out for coffee was high.
Trying to Problem-Solve the Source of this Pattern
It would have been easy for me to think – “It’s me.” | “I must be giving off signals, like beacons only seen by narcissists and psychopaths.”
Well let me get blunt here – It’s not you! … in the beginning.
Here’s the deal. From what I have seen of pathological narcissists across the past 20 years is that they are attracted to all kinds – everybody! They love the powerful, the compassionate, the rude, the arrogant, the bubbly, the intellectual, the not-so- intelligent; I could go on and on. They are not as discriminating as we might think. They appear discriminating only because we see the final results of their efforts; we see who they ‘get‘ to stay with. And this is key, because not many will tolerate the exhausting behaviors of a narcissist.
What Could be Contributing …
The group of partners who tend to stay involved with the personality disordered (after they have demonstrated violating or vile behaviors) are the empathic or the kind, deep bonders. These potential targets and survivors may have a style of putting others first. When these survivors connect with others, that bond is real. Many who stay with narcissists are caring, tolerant, and loyal. They can forgive their partners easily because they come from a place of understanding. They may know pain, so they innately respond with compassion, even if they are getting mistreated.
Many of these individuals have been hurt before, such as via a history of abuse, a narcissistic parent, etc. As you know, often our past will create conditions psychologically that interfere with our future relationships. A past of abuse, trauma, or narcissistic caretakers can leave us ill-equipped to handle violators when they come into our lives. (We can dive into that topic at another time.)
The involuntary bond many survivors easily develop with others makes their love a deep, full, gratifying experience for their partners. It is top notch human connection. Empathic individuals do not have the capacity for superficial and discardable surface level love demonstrated by narcissists.
Therefore, it is not ‘us’ in the beginning that attracted this person, because narcissists and psychopaths cast out their nets for all types. The ones they tend to ‘catch’ and pull in are often people with beautiful souls, who will tolerate, overlook, forgive, and question themselves, when they are violated by someone else.
The Value of Knowing You
You may not have been taught that you have traits that need to be protected from people who are ‘built’ nothing like you. Protection of self in a healthy manner is vital to finding a relationship with a mature, safe partner (i.e., boundaries, confidence, saying no when you don’t want to do something, etc)
Empathy is a very special trait; it requires a set of neurological networks and brain regions that do not function well (if at all) in pathological narcissists. However, through abuse and trauma, the brain can change significantly for someone who is empathic. Trauma can easily send empathy levels even higher than their baseline state (before the narcissistic relationship).
However, that can be both good and bad. The reason I say it could be bad is because an extreme level of empathy can make functioning in daily life fraught with experiences of pain. Those with very high levels of empathy (brought about from abuse) will feel the pain of almost everything out there that that might be suffering – animals, society, environment, etc. Therefore, in order to keep this ‘neurological dial’ from getting turned to an unmanageable level, interfering with the ability to function, one must protect themselves from people who are violators (e.g., narcissists and psychopaths).
Unfortunately, empathic people and narcissistic people are common pairings – almost always to the detriment of the empathic person. The narcissist will nearly always benefit. They get to release their hostility, jealousy, and pettiness onto a captive audience (mate) who quickly learned they must walk on eggshells to appease and continuously feed a bottomless fragile ego.
What Might an Empathic Survivor Do?
Let me share what allowed me to protect the healing work I put in after my psychopathic relationship. When I decided I was ready to date again, I listened to my body (tension, anxiety) and mind when I was with these new individuals. I behaved more as an observer in this ‘beginning’ stage. I put up an internal barrier and made it clear to myself that I will control the pace of this introduction period. I knew that if I did not, the consequences for me were grave (i.e., pain, anxiety, more healing/recovery).
Was it difficult? Heck yes! Narcissists can appear so fantastic and ‘normal’ when you don’t have a chance to observe their behavior over extended time. To detect patterns, the brain will often need multiple experiences with the person, particularly if the narcissist has a stellar mask. For me, that meant I had to date a few individuals across several months before any subtle bad behavior was displayed (i.e., sarcastic put downs, competitive rather than cooperative communications, laying out their past victimizations to test empathy, etc). The easy scenarios were the ones who tried to move things at lightening speed, had tremendous ‘charm’, love- bombed me, displayed arrogance, or put me on an extreme pedestal. My brain was instantly repulsed by those behaviors, hence I could immediately walk away from those individuals. Red flags of that type are overwhelmingly huge.
Just know that work will still be required when you are opening yourself up to new relationships, even though you have gone through a healing process. Because, if you take yourself through recovery, however do not put in the work on this end as well – another narcissist will pop themselves into your life OR you will decide to stay away from intimacy altogether.
Narcissists Want What they Want | Be Your Strongest Advocate
I knew myself, my values, and my worth, I did not jump to the conclusion that I attracted these people (who did not even know my name). I take accountability for certain things, however I refuse to blame myself inappropriately.
I learned from being involved with a psychopath that I had not been protective of my particular set of personality traits. No one was going to do that for me. Certainly not the narcissist. I knew I was sensitive, kind, forgiving, and that people find it easy to connect with me. Yet, I never gave consideration that I needed to be a better guard of those traits. Only you (we) can size up a situation and say – no, this is definitely not for me. I now do that regularly. I look back on that relationship and can clearly see …
I was not the attractor of the pathological narcissist that came into my life, but I was the keeper of that pathological narcissist.
In my particular instance, I kept this individual around before I was even bonded. I kept him when I was doubtful and detected ‘bad vibes’ about him. And then as the ‘relationship’ progressed through his helpfulness & nice acts, love-bombing, grooming, and displays of intense superficial level love – I attached. This eventually shifted into a trauma bond once the abuse started. You all know the process from there – a life filled with upheavals, drama, pettiness, and hate. All the typical experiences that go along with loving a pathological narcissist.
They Love Love too!
After your healing journey from this relationship, more pathological narcissists are likely going to come your way. They love love, just like anyone else. Just know your traits of compassion and ability to easily connect (which is so fantastic) can make you vulnerable to tolerate mistreatment more than others. You might be prone to ‘keep’ them when others would throw the relationship away (I’m speaking of before the trauma/ neurological bonding phase).
You can protect your traits, with boundaries, observing, paying attention to patterns, and walking away when socially unacceptable behaviors are demonstrated.
Walking away from people you realize are not psychologically healthy may not feel comfortable for you. You might feel like you are being mean. However, demonstrating your boundaries and moving in a different direction is your right as an autonomous human being. If someone does not feel right for you, you owe it to yourself to walk away before it proceeds into a relationship with another narcissistic individual.
All the best on your healing journey! And if you want to go a bit more into the educational component of healing – join me in Neuroinstincts Academy.
Rhonda Freeman, PhD
*Be aware, the group referenced above (empathic, etc) is one of a few that often get involved with pathological narcissists. It is not the only type of individual who will find themselves in these relationships.