Whether the narcissist in your life is a parent, an ex-partner, a family member or a friend, when you realise that you have been dealing with a narcissist there will be a grieving period. The reason for this is that the relationship that you believed in and committed to, was completely false. The narcissist, although they might have claimed to have loved you, they did not.
If you are the child of a narcissistic parent it will feel “normal” to put the needs of others before your own. It will feel “normal” to be constantly criticised for just being you, everything about you will be on the agenda for criticism from looks, friends, relationships, grades at school, clothes etc. Anything that you have achieved will be dismissed as insignificant, unimportant or up-staged by something that they say they have achieved (which is very probably a lie).
If you grew up with narcissistic parents, you will have learnt not to share your achievements with them (or others) and to be self-deprecating as it feels “safer” because at least you are in control when you are attacking yourself where as a narcissist’s rage knows no limits and feels like a much more dangerous assault.
When you come to realise that your parent(s) or ex-partner didn’t see you as a human being or individual at all, but as an object to manipulate, use and control for their own needs, the entire relationship falls to pieces and it feels like you were living a complete lie. You might well beat yourself up for being so “stupid”, not seeing it. However, narcissists are absolute masters in the art of manipulation, deceit and lying. It is really hard for “non narcissists” to even conceive the level of betrayal and dishonesty that exists in the minds of narcissists. It is even harder when the narcissist is someone who society extols as being virtuous such as a parent and in particular a mother. People who haven’t experienced this dynamic or who are currently involved with a narcissist in some way, will deny your assessment of the situation, so it is better for you if you do not look for reassurance from people other than those who know about and accept what you are talking about, because if they don’t have a good knowledge of narcissism they will treat you like you have gone crazy, are feeling sorry for yourself and are looking to blame someone else, which will only make you feel further isolated and misunderstood.
To acknowledge that a person is a narcissist takes a) the ability to observe and assess others, b) will bring in to question the ability of the other person’s judgement of character. Some might see the narcissist as someone of power and influence such as a parent, boss or church leader and therefore it would not be in their interest to see that person as a narcissist because they want to ingratiate themselves.
When you realise that you have been reared by or have been in a relationship with a narcissist, the first thing that you will feel is confusion loneliness and isolation while you try to work the whole thing out.
A psychiatrist called Elisabeth Kubler-Ross came up with five stages of grief (which were based on her studies of patients with terminal illness) which also fit the stages of realising that you have been duped by a narcissist. Obviously everyone experiences loss in a different way. These stages are not sequential, they all inevitably over lap and not all of them happen for everyone. The stages below are merely a suggestion as to what might happen. The only thing that will occur after you realise that you have been in a relationship with a narcissist is that you will feel grief and as the cliché says “two steps forward and one step back”.
The five stages are:
- DENIAL This is what I call “wilful naivety” and it can go on for a very long time. It is when you say to yourself “no one would do that to someone else”, “This can’t be happening to me”, “This sort of thing happens in novels, history and far off places, not in my home”. It can go on for a long time because you as an empath make excuses for the narcissist “okay they may be selfish but…”, you will project “good intention” on to the narcissist where there is none and you will be confused because all of the nasty things that a narcissist does and says to you which will be embedded in a language of false concern designed to make them look good, keep you confused and in a vulnerable place so that they can continue in their abuse.
- ANGER After denial comes anger “How could they do that to me”, “I was a child”, “They said they loved me”, “Why do they think that it is okay to behave like this”. This is a stage where your anger is pretty much universal. You will be grappling with the realisation of narcissism, you will be angry with the narcissist for not playing fair, angry with yourself for not copping on sooner, for dedicating so much time and resources to someone who doesn’t even see you as another human being and with everyone else for helping the narcissist to prop up their false persona/lies and enabling their abuse.
- ACCEPTANCE PART 1 The first part of acceptance is knowing that your narcissist cannot love and this is a vital part of recovery. A mental disorder, is like any disorder, would you be angry with your parents if for example they had a physical disease? You have to recognise their limitations and work with what you (and they) have got. It is not perfect or ideal, but it is what you have.
- BARGAINING “If I could just do something good or nice I could return to the comfort of the illusion and make the whole thing go away”, “Surely they can’t be that malevolent, I must have got it wrong”. You don’t want to believe that it is how it is and that there must be something that you can do to make it all right again. You might even employ a few strategies to try to push your new found realisation away.
- DEPRESSION This is when you realise that you cannot make it go away, you are angry with yourself and your narcissist(s) and feel a sense of despair. You question your own judgement, you resent the narcissist and your ability to trust yourself ebbs considerably. It is at this point that you might well have suicidal thoughts and the prospect of life is a lot scarier than death.
- ACCEPTANCE PART 2 This is when you realise that your relationship with the narcissist is dead and it never existed in the way that you thought it did. However, if you cannot go no contact you will still have to deal with their dysfunction on a regular basis. This is difficult because a narcissist is not nasty all of the time, only when they are feeling threatened they can go straight into narcissistic rage. They also use being nice as a ploy to keep you engaged with them, however, if you have a crisis or are upset about something, they will use it as an opportunity to be abusive. When you accept that you are dealing with a narcissist you will learn how to protect yourself and will recognise the signs in the future so that you don’t ever get involved with a narcissist again (of your own volition – but it could be a co-worker or boss). If it is a family member, from now on you will be able to manage them better, you will not seek their approval and you will not put their needs in front of your own as you did in the past. The resentment bit is that you now know and accept that you are dealing with a person with whom you constantly have to be on guard. You have to accept that they will say nasty things and put you down where and when they can and that there is nothing that you can do about that, but the type of people who believe them are not they type of person that you want in your life. You might have to do a major cull of “friends” but it is a healthy thing to remove toxic people from your life, they are not making any valuable contribution to your well-being.
When you are going through the process of grieving after narcissistic abuse you may very well feel empty, despair, loneliness and isolation. What you are experiencing is the death of a relationship not the death of a person (although it pretty much amounts to the same thing) so you will not get the sympathy or concern that you might garner if someone had physically died, rather than your belief in a false perception. You may well be told that you are emotionally unstable and volatile and the thing is, you probably are, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. To grow and develop we have to go through periods of discomfort and confusion, it is a necessary part of making changes for the better in our lives and many find this part of growth too painful and uncomfortable so they just don’t do it. When you make seismic shifts in your perception of the world and of those around you it is destabilising. It would be like if the earth moved even a fraction of a degree on its axis, everything would change, climate, flora and fauna etc., what you perceived to be there is no longer and that is what grief is all about.
There is another thing to notice in yourself when you go through grief and that is the potential physical symptoms. This might include feeling excessively tired or having insomnia (protracted insomnia does make you a little crazy, so it is important to get in to a good daily routine paying attention to what you eat and drink before bed and having a regular exercise schedule). You might gain or lose weight. You may oscillate between wanting to cry and wanting to vomit, your whole body may well hurt. You may drink too much or take prescription drugs. This is just part of the process. However, if you do not show any of the above symptoms, it does not mean that you are not going through the process “properly”, it just means that you are doing it another way.
The final thing is that we can only move forward because we have a better awareness of ourselves and those around us, there is no evolvement without self-knowledge and enlightenment is not synonymous with happiness, it is merely the disregarding of false held truths, the real work starts after that realisation and the attempt to realign your perception of the world with that awakening. It can be very lonely and solitary work, but at this stage you will have realised that there is really only one person that you can totally depend on (you) and perhaps it is time to give that person a lot more of your love, care and attention than you did in the past.