Category Archives: Moving Forward

Survivors, your help is needed for a PhD study

Today I participated in an online study on survivors of abusive romantic relationships with narcissists and psychopaths. If you’re out of a relationship with a narcissist or psychopath, please consider participating to help this PhD candidate gather as much information as possible. It took me about an hour, but it was really interesting and the time flew by!

She does discourage people who are currently still in the abusive relationship from participating, and I can see why – the first section especially is quite triggering in that we are asked to describe some of the abusive behaviours we were subjected to. I’m over two years out from the relationship and had to stop a few times to catch my breath, but in the end it felt good to have done it. You can also complete the study over several visits if you’d prefer not to do it one sitting.

Check it out – a good overview and a link to the study can be found here:

http://psychopathsandlove.com/doctoral-research-study-victims-of-psychopaths/

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When I Miss Him…

One year and 3 months into No Contact, there are still moments when I feel like I miss that jerk who doesn’t deserve for me to miss him for even a moment. So many triggers – Chandler on Friends makes a witty remark in exactly the same way narc used to, a dream brings his face back to my mind, a hike in a beautiful forest reminds me of a time we hiked (which he told me later had made his girlfriend at the time jealous… he sure did love that triangulation).

I’ve been working on the missing/not missing all day and figured I’m not the only one out here doing this, so I thought I’d take a moment to identify the tools in my ‘missing him toolbox’:

1) It wasn’t real. I remind myself that it wasn’t real. The things I miss are manufactured moments he intentionally created to hook me. They were cookie cutter moments he has surely used on many women before and after me.

2) The bad moments were real. The smirk every time he finally managed to break me down. the cheating, the coldness – those were real. I don’t miss that. Feeling small, unimportant, stupid, ashamed – I don’t miss that.

3) I hated the alcoholism. Going out for a nice hike on a sunny day? Let’s find a place to have a drink! Sunday morning at the cottage? Time to drink! Leaving for an all-inclusive vacation? Let’s hurry up and squeeze in a drink at 11am before leaving for the airport. God forbid we don’t drink at every single opportunity, we don’t want to be “buzz killington” (which I was, apparently).

4) Leaving him behind means there is hope for happiness and emotional healthiness. Missing him is part of the grieving and moving forward, but it does not mean I would want to be back in a relationship with him. I don’t miss the real him, and I don’t miss that relationship. Maybe I miss companionship, maybe I miss his sense of humour, maybe I miss cuddling, but none of that means I want him back in my life. No f’g way.

5) The day I broke up with him, before I had fully realized that he was a narcissist and I cut off contact once and for all, I wrote a reminder note in my cell phone titled “Not J” to remind myself of all the reasons I should never want to be with him. Here’s my list – I bet you can relate to a lot of it:

  • Double standards
  • Yelling
  • Alcohol
  • Controlled how we spend our time
  • Made up stories about me, won’t let me explain/correct them (e.g. saying I would rush to see Scott but not him)
  • Didn’t respond when I talked
  • Sang over me when I was talking
  • Wouldn’t have a conversation unless it’s a topic he decides is interesting to him
  • Lied
  • Changes the rules (eg agreed we wouldn’t exchange Christmas presents then in front of my whole family made a big deal that I didn’t get him a present)
  • Doesn’t care if he hurts me until he needs something from me
  • Takes everything so personally, I can’t bring up anything for discussion without him getting defensive
  • No normal friendships
  • Gross farts
  • House smells like cat litter and mold
  • Never said he liked what I cooked
  • Thought it was ridiculous to ask me how my day was
  • No “good night”, just disappeared from conversation
  • Would say rude or insulting things to me in public
  • Constantly contradicted himself – ‘I’m live in the moment guy’ vs ‘I hate that I can’t plan a trip with you’
  • Insensitive, talking about his other trips with exes during and after our trip, even when he knew it made me feel bad

Wow, with a list like that what’s not to miss, right? Line forms to the left, ladies! Oh look, I don’t miss him anymore. 😉

Ten Ways to Survive No Contact

Today is exactly one year since I cut off contact with Narc. Yahoo!

A year ago I couldn’t even imagine being at this point. I was drowning in darkness and pain and utter confusion, reviewing every moment of my 4.5 year relationship within the context of NPD.

Looking at it from this side now, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight the ten things that were most helpful for me in getting through the last year, in the hopes that they may help someone who is just starting out on their journey of recovery.

1) Online Support. People in real life generally don’t understand NPD, people online understand it all too well. Wherever you ‘live’ online, build your support group. Survivors are everywhere – twitter, facebook, here, everywhere. Don’t be shy to reach out and write about whatever you’re going through – there is always someone there to listen and offer support.

2) Education. I spent countless hours reading about NPD, sociopathy, psychopathy, watching videos about it, reading other people’s stories – matching up all the information to my own experiences, analyzing his hoovering tactics to spot all the techniques I was reading about. Like they say, knowledge is power, and practice makes perfect. If we learn it and practice spotting it, we’ll stand a much better chance of avoiding falling into it again.

3) No Dating. In those early days, we are so hurt and confused and we want someone to make the pain go away, but the only way to really heal ourselves is to work through the pain. We don’t know who or how to trust, we need to slowly make sense of our lives, of our selves, and that will not happen with the distraction and added confusion of adding new people into the mix. Plus, narcs can sniff out vulnerability a mile away so dating before we’re ready just makes us easy targets for them (I believe). Take a break from dating for a while and focus on yourself.

4) Feel Your Feelings. So what to do with yourself when you’re sitting at home, not dating? Ride the waves of feelings – cry when you need to, for as long as you need to. There will be little rhyme or reason for when or why you cry, but you need to get all that accumulated pain out of your body. Grieve the lies, the loss of the relationship, the loss of your belief that the world is a good and safe place. Feel the anger, feel the hate, every feeling is OK. You have spent too long suppressing your feelings to try to keep the peace in your relationship, it’s time now for all those feelings to come out. It probably feels like they will never end, but they will.

5) Take Your Time. There is no formula for this, no timetable for recovery. Don’t let other people pressure you or guilt you into doing anything you don’t feel ready for – dating, hanging out with friends, acting like you’re ok. This is your life, not theirs, and you need to live it your way. Give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do to get through each day. I ignored some friends, I cut off others. The ones that really matter understood that I needed to go through this in my own way and they are here on the other side, telling me how proud they are of me. They’re not mad that I was a hermit for months. So take your time and do things your way for as long as you need to.

6) Exercise. Yes I know sometimes all you want to do is lie in bed and either starve yourself or eat crap and drink wine, but make sure that once in a while you force yourself to exercise. Endorphins are hugely helpful for your mood, and exercise is great for self-esteem. Even if all you can do is go for a walk, it will make a difference. I always say to myself, ‘something is better than nothing’ and it’s true. Every little thing you do to take good care of yourself makes a difference.

7) Journal (or blog). When a memory hits you hard, when a tidal wave of feelings starts to drown you, when you feel tempted to break No Contact – write about it. Sometimes you have a lot more to say than you feel you want to say in a facebook group or you can fit into a tweet. Get all those thoughts and feelings out of your head and heart by writing about them. The more you can get out from inside of you, the less you will carry forward, and that’s a good thing.

8) Investigate Your Past. This is going to get messy, you may want a therapist/counsellor for this. We need to understand why we accepted being in a relationship with an NPD for any amount of time. Why we chose to set our needs and feelings aside to keep the peace with him (or her), and loved and supported him (or her) at our own expense. We need to look at family of origin, at past relationships, and work through unresolved pain. They say if we don’t do that, we’ll keep repeating patterns, and given my history I’m inclined to believe them. Two books that I found helpful: Dr. Phil’s Self Matters and Dr. Karyl McBride’s Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

9) Trust Your Gut. As you analyze your whole relationship, you’ll start to realize you had lots of red flags early on and throughout the relationship. There were lots of times your gut was telling you something was not ok, and you set it aside to try to make things better with narc. The good news is, your gut is in perfect working order! Now you just need to start trusting it. Stop talking yourself out of it and making excuses for other people. If you trust your gut, you will naturally have better and stronger boundaries and reject unhealthy people even if you can’t put your finger on why you need to reject them. Your gut doesn’t need labels for things, it just knows “safe” or “unsafe” and ultimately that’s what really matters.

10) Tell Yourself “I Love You” – A Lot. We’re pretty good at being hard on ourselves, and we’ve heard a lot of not nice things said to us throughout the relationship (and probably throughout our lives). Let’s start changing the soundtrack. When you wake up, tell yourself “good morning, I love you”. When you do something well, or make a healthy choice for yourself, tell yourself “good job, I love you.” When you’re going to bed, whisper “sweet dreams, I love you.” Even if you don’t really feel it right now, the more you say it to yourself, the more you will start to really feel it on the inside. And besides, isn’t it way nicer to hear that than all the other self-critical stuff you say to yourself? You’re an awesome person and super lovable, so you may as well tell yourself so!

I hope this has been at least a little bit helpful. Somehow, day by day, things do get better and eventually you find yourself celebrating an anniversary you never thought would come.

I wish you all love and strength in your journeys.  xo

The Spiral Staircase of Recovery

On January 28, it will be exactly one year since I broke up with narc. I thought I would feel really excited and ready to crack open the champagne when I finally reached this important milestone but instead, to my surprise, I have been increasingly missing aspects of him.

At first it was confusing, then frustrating, but now I’ve come to realize that recovery is not a straight line; it’s not a series of doors that automatically lock behind you when you pass through them.

Instead, the way I see it, recovery seems to be more like a spiral staircase.

When you first set foot on the staircase, fresh out of the breakup/discard, you work hard to lift yourself up, one small step at a time. Often you have to stop to rest, and sometimes you slip back a step or two before you manage to lift yourself up over those same steps again. Progress feels slow and hard, especially at first, while muscles that were never used before struggle to build up strength. You look up and the view is daunting, a seemingly neverending series of steps towering over you, but you know you can’t go back so you have no choice but to keep hauling yourself up.

Eventually, though, you gain enough distance between yourself and ground zero that you reach a level where you can start to enjoy a little bit of a view. At this point, because you now have some sense of the effort and discipline required in climbing the steps and you’ve built up some muscle strength, the climb starts to feel a little easier and a little more like a part of daily life instead of the monumental effort it once was.

staircaseThe days pass and gradually you pass one level after another –  3 months, 6 months, first birthday alone, first trip alone – and eventually you reach this level: Break-up Anniversary. I guess I had secretly hoped there would be an exit door here, where I’d finally reach the last step and would get to leave this staircase once and for all, but there isn’t.

Instead, I just get a different view.

Looking down, I still see the memories and the pain of it all but I no longer need to be afraid of it because I know there is nothing in the world that could get me to go back to ground zero – no text he could send, no unexpected phone call he could make that would convince me it’s worth it to have to start over. I’ve climbed enough steps to know I never want to climb them again, and that has taken away a lot of the power he once held over me.  That’s some pretty sweet and substantial progress.

Looking up, I can see there are still steps to climb. He still enters my mind every day, and occasional reminders of him still bring me that twinge of sadness that he turned out to be nothing more than a manufactured mirage; the good parts weren’t real, and the bad parts were more real than I could have ever imagined at the time. I suspect the steps I have yet to climb will have more and more to do with issues from childhood than to do with him and in a way that’s reassuring. I like the idea that the whole staircase isn’t all about him – he doesn’t get to have his name on all of the steps; it’s slowly transforming into a staircase of personal growth and self-discovery.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about being at this point in the staircase, though, is the view. At this height, in addition to looking down and looking up, I can look out and see the larger landscape. I can see opportunity out there – opportunity to be able to trust again, to consider dating again, and to have days when he won’t cross my mind at all.  I remember in the darkness of the early days I never thought any of that would be possible, but now I can see so much possibility that it gives me hope.

So I’m going to be gentle with myself for missing him a bit these days, because it doesn’t matter if I look down once in a while; as long as I keep climbing the view will keep changing, and I really, really like the view.

Mining the Good

If I could go back in time and change history, I wouldn’t wish myself to have never met my narc. I would go back to before I met him, before even the previous relationship maybe, and take the time to get to know myself like I’ve been doing for the past 11 months.

I would have mustered up the courage to ride out difficult waves of feelings instead of seeking immediate shelter from them, so I might have learned sooner that, no matter what, I can soothe myself and be ok; I don’t need someone else to fix me.

I would have dared to ask other people for favors or help, like watching my pets for me while I’m away, so I could have realized sooner that I’m not a burden on others; as much as I’m willing to do helpful things for them, they’re willing to do them for me too. It’s ok to ask for and accept help.

I would have allowed myself to reject offers of friendship if they felt like they were draining more than they were replenishing in my life, so that I could actually live what I fundamentally believed to be true – that what matters is quality, not quantity.

I would have given myself the gift of being alone, and seen it as a gift instead of as shameful evidence of being unlovable. In spending time with myself, I would have learned how fun and joyful I am, and I would have fallen in love with myself instead of with people who mistreated me.

I think I spent the first few decades of my life just trying to survive in a world where I didn’t feel loved, and trying to manufacture the love as if it was something I could create if I just worked hard enough at making other people believe I was lovable even when I didn’t believe it myself.

I have come to learn there is truth in cliches. It’s true that you have to love yourself before you can love another, and love does have to come from within. I can see that now. And it’s also true that you have to trust your gut, whether you like what it’s telling you or not.

I am not glad about my time spent with narc; I would never wish that kind of pain and unhappiness on anyone. However, the lessons I have learned through this process are lessons I wouldn’t want to live the rest of my life without having learned. My life is so much richer as a result of them.

I think when bad things happen to us, we need to mine or create our own good to take from the bad, for the sake of our own well-being. For some of you who have survived abuse, it’s your children. You can look at their faces and feel their love and know that their existence in the world is something precious and wonderful you wouldn’t want to be without.

For me, the good that’s come of it is me, just plain old awesome me. I’m finally finding myself, and as much as I wish I could have done that in a way other than this abusive relationship, I don’t believe it would have happened any other way for me. I had always avoided pain before, but I think I had to live through the pain to get to this point. And I think this growth will help me be stronger and smarter next time I cross paths with someone manipulative or abusive.

So I’m grateful for the good I have been able to mine from this experience. I wish for every other survivor that you will find your good too, and that maybe you will fall in love with yourself, even just a little.

xo

The Power of Words

Words have power, even after their sounds have long dissipated in the air.

Recently, I saw a post on a Facebook group that prompted NPD survivors to share the favourite words and phrases their narcs used. Responses included “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” “That’s just your opinion,” “You can’t change the past,” and the perennial narc favourite “You’re crazy.”

Some were so familiar I could hear them in my ex’s voice, others were new and I was grateful I’d never heard them spoken to me.

This morning, at work, a disgruntled former client posted scathing posts on my organization’s Facebook page that ended with “Lame.” This is a word she used frequently when rules were enforced that she didn’t like. Once when I’d had to sit in on a mediation with her, she had used this word often. Every time she’d said it I had felt irritated, but I’d been so focused on the situation I didn’t give it much thought.

Until today.

Today, after being triggered by a movie last night, and after 9 months of No Contact,when I saw her comment ending with “Lame” I felt absolute rage toward her; rage that was disproportionate to what she had done, so I knew I was being triggered.

It’s all coming together.

“Lame” was one of my narc’s favourite ways of shutting me down. Whenever I was happy about something, he would call it (or me) lame. If I made a joke, he just replied “lame.” If I proposed an idea I was excited about, of course it was “lame.” Every ounce of confidence and happiness was drained out of me with a door-slamming, soul-deflating “lame.” Over and over and over again.

And today, after 9 months of healing and growing, that one single word still has this much power over me.

It reminds me to be careful with my words when I am speaking with others, and it also reminds me not to have any tolerance for people who aren’t careful with their words with me. We’re all old enough to know better – those who don’t can go learn it on their own time.

words

That’s Not Giddiness, It’s Fear

This morning I woke up to a message from narc’s female friend, who I haven’t been in contact with since February, asking if I’d like to get together for dinner or drinks.

When I saw her name pop up, my heart started racing, my body starting shaking, and I felt dizzy and panicked. It’s the same feeling I used to have every time I heard from narc after a period of separation.

At the time, I had thought that what I was feeling was excitement. I thought I was giddy and nervous to hear from him because I was so in love with him. And even though I had been in love before and knew what that head over heels, butterflies in the stomach feeling feels like, I convinced myself this was a different more passionate love and that was why I was shaking so hard that it was a struggle to even type a reply.

Now that I’m on the other side of things where I have a much clearer perspective, it’s obvious to me that this whole-body hyperarousal is and was my fight or flight response.  Every subconscious part of me was screaming out that I was in danger, and my body was activating every part of itself trying to pull me away to safety.

This reaction literally only ever happens in situations related to him, and now here it is again when I hear from his friend.

Our bodies are quite amazing, complex systems designed to survive. If we can learn to trust our guts then I believe our intuition can do an impressively reliable job of steering us clear of danger.

So, if you are still involved with your narc and you get this same physical response, or if you’re dating and your body is responding with shakes and anxiety instead of butterflies and heart expansion, please recognize that this is a sign to you that you are not safe. Heed the warning! Fight the urge to romanticize it or rationalize it, and walk away.

After all, your gut has only one agenda and that is to protect you. It has no ulterior motives, ever, and it deserves your trust more than any other human being ever will.

it's not love if you're afraid

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Read more about trauma and the fight or flight response: