Learning how to recover from narcissistic abuse entails acknowledging your experience, setting appropriate boundaries, and taking excellent care of yourself. Reaching out for support from trusted loved ones or a therapist is also important, as they can provide much-needed comfort, validation, and guidance. While this process can be confusing, stressful, and exhausting, healing is possible.
What Is Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic abuse refers to the complex psychological and emotional abuse associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). At times, this abuse can be quite apparent and easy to detect. But in many cases, it’s far more covert and insidious. It may even leave you wondering if you’re imagining or overreacting to what happened. This questioning and self-blame are all part of a manipulative and dangerous narcissistic abuse cycle. Unfortunately, narcissistic abuse can be found in any type of relationship, whether coming from narcissistic family members, partners, or even a narcissistic boss.
Effects of Narcissistic Abuse
People react to narcissistic abuse in different ways. It’s common to feel a combination of anger, betrayal, shame, and sadness after recognizing what is happening. Some might wonder if they’re to blame for what happened. Others may have a sense that they want to dismiss the abuser’s actions or rescue them altogether.
The effects of narcissistic abuse will often include:
- Symptoms of narcissistic abuse syndrome
- Intense guilt or shame
- A sense of grief for ‘the good old days’ or ‘what could have been’
- Symptoms of PTSD or complex PTSD
- Intense loneliness or disconnection from others
- Fear of being unloved or never being able to move on
- Escape behaviors, like substance use, overeating, or compulsive gambling
- Low self-esteem or lack of sense of self
- Relationship problems, possibly due to being isolated from loved ones
- Financial distress
- Parenting and co-parenting stressors
- Contentious legal battles in the event of divorce
15 Ways to Recover From Narcissistic Abuse
The stages of healing from narcissistic abuse typically take time, introspection, and support. However, recognizing the abuse is the first step. Furthermore, it’s important to anticipate how the narcissist may react and it is essential that you have measures in place to take care of yourself. No matter how challenging the situation seems, recovery is always possible.
1. Label the Abuse
Recognizing abuse can be challenging. But, identifying what happened and legitimizing your experience allows you to maintain a sense of objectivity. Remember that abusers may oscillate between being extremely cruel and incredibly charming. They typically present as kind or compassionate in public. However, severe jealousy, name-calling, controlling behavior, intense blaming, and humiliation are all considered forms of abuse.1
2. End the Relationship (If You Haven’t Already)
Abusive relationships rarely, if ever, improve on their own. In most cases, breaking up with a narcissist is the best option for reclaiming your well-being. Due to their nature, they will likely respond inappropriately. They may beg you to come back, promise to change, try to smear your reputation to others, or make idle threats about destroying your future.
3. Set Clear, Defined Boundaries
Many times, avoiding all contact with your abuser is the ideal response for moving on. Taking this approach requires immense discipline, but it eliminates potential opportunities for connection and “feeling tricked” back into the relationship. If you must maintain some contact (such as when you’re co-parenting with a narcissist), aim to create defined, specific limits about communication. The more you can uphold those boundaries, the more likely you will protect yourself from further chaos.
4. Avoid Retaliation
Even if your abuser makes great efforts to hurt you after ending the relationship, resist the urge to fight back. In many ways, that’s how they want you to respond. Continuing to engage only fuels more drama. Instead, if you can’t avoid their tactics, focus on remaining as neutral as possible or ‘grey rock‘ them. If you must vent, share your concerns with someone who doesn’t have any ties with the narcissist. Mutual friends may tell them what you say or the narcissist may try to engage you in triangulation tactics through these mutual acquaintances.
5. Seek Immediate Support
If you recently ended the relationship, you need people who will validate, comfort, and help you. Reach out to trusted friends or family, or consider joining a support group for survivors of abuse or domestic violence. Seeking support still applies to those who suffered from abuse that happened a long time ago. It’s never too late to reach out for help.
6. Create a Consistent Schedule
Routine can be such an essential part of your emotional well-being. Having a sense of predictability can help you stay focused, even when life feels wildly out of control. Commit to making a schedule that you can follow each day or week. It’s okay if you don’t follow it perfectly. Having a template in mind can give you peace of mind when you feel scattered.
7. Anticipate Grief
Any loss, even if it’s positive, can trigger distress. Many people feel profound grief after ending a traumatic or toxic relationship. This grief may be complicated. You may experience a sense of numbness or detachment, difficulty trusting others, a sense of longing for the abuser, or difficulty engaging in your everyday routine.2 Keep in mind that these symptoms of grief are common, and they usually dissipate as you move through your healing process.
8. Express Your Emotions
Your emotions may feel highly intense when you first begin healing from narcissistic abuse. Try to avoid suppressing or bottling them up. Instead, identify and release them. If you aren’t sure how to talk about your emotions directly, try engaging in creative activities like journaling, artwork, or music.
9. Rediscover Yourself
Many people sacrifice their identities in narcissistic relationships. Once they start recognizing the abuse, they feel somewhat hollow or as if they don’t know who they are or what they like anymore. If this applies to you, try to focus on all the benefits of getting to rediscover yourself. To spark some inspiration, consider making a master bucket list or writing down at least three to five activities you want to try in the next month.
10. Implement More Self-Care
Self-care refers to the way you establish both your physical and emotional well-being. In its simplest form, practicing self-care means attuning to your basic needs.3 But, it also means engaging in conscious actions that promote self-esteem, happiness, fulfilling relationships, and a sense of purpose. Think about how you can implement better self-care rituals in your daily routine.
11. Seek to Forgive Yourself
Anyone can experience narcissistic abuse and what you endured was not your fault. Blaming yourself only stunts your ability to move on. Aim to be compassionate and kind to yourself when possible. Research shows that practicing self-forgiveness reinforces your emotional well-being, healthier relationships, and a more positive attitude.4
12. Take Time Before You Jump Into Dating
If your abuser was a romantic partner, avoid the temptation of distracting yourself with someone new. You need time to process what happened and rediscover yourself. You may be especially fragile right now, and that might heighten your risk of attracting another toxic person. Instead, focus on building a relationship with yourself. Allow yourself to grieve and reconnect with other people who can support and love you.
13. Protect Yourself on Social Media
As we become increasingly more connected digitally, online stalking and abuse present a growing problem. If you haven’t already, unfollow and block the narcissist on all platforms. Make your own profiles private and be especially cautious with how you share personal information about yourself. You never know what someone might do with it.
14. Create New Rituals
Maybe you two went to the same restaurant for lunch every Wednesday. Or, you spent every Christmas visiting their mother’s house. Either way, certain rituals may trigger sadness, anger, or a sense of longing. Try to anticipate those moments and think of ways you can recreate new patterns for the future.
15. Reflect on What You Learned
It’s easy to dwell on all the negative parts of narcissistic abuse. And, indeed, reminding yourself of all that negativity is important in helping you avoid repeat situations in the future. But if these associations only make you feel worse about yourself, try to also remember how you grew, learned, and gained perspective from this experience.
How a Therapist Can Help You Heal from Narcissistic Abuse
Therapists provide validation, reassurance, and professional expertise when it comes to healing from narcissistic abuse. They understand the mental health challenges that can arise from toxic relationships. They are also skilled in supporting clients in changing how they understand and cope with distressing symptoms.
Finding the right therapist for professional support can help you in your recovery journey. It’s normal to feel confused, scared, or alone during this vulnerable time. However, having a trusted professional who supports your growth can help you stay on the right track.
Surviving narcissistic abuse is undoubtedly difficult. The healing can take time, and it’s typical for people to feel like they’re occasionally regressing. Remember that progress isn’t always linear, and that it’s important to continue focusing on how you can take care of yourself and move forward.
For Further Reading
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: This hotline offers free, confidential support for people experiencing relationship abuse. You can engage with crisis counselors via phone calls, texting, or live chat.
- Narcissistic Abuse Support: This site offers valuable resources about narcissistic abuse and provides a directory of support groups for survivors.
- Dr. Ramani’s Video Series on Narcissism: Dr. Ramani is a clinical psychologist with an expansive library of videos about narcissism and its related abuse.
- 16 Best Books on Narcissism & Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Health