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Why it’s Difficult to Recover from a Narcissist and How to Do It

Updated: Mar 28

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Why it’s Difficult to Recover from a Narcissist and How to Do It

Breaking off from a narcissist may seem like a relief at first, but you’re not out of the woods yet. Most men and women who have had relationships with narcissists tend to have strikingly similar thoughts and feelings towards their exes. Recovery can be complicated and usually comes with lots of pain and damage.

What led to the dissolution in the first place matters when it comes to recovery. Couples may grow apart. But when betrayal and infidelity are involved, it’s something different. The divorce process also matters. Are they decent even in legal custody, or have they unveiled their closeted nefarious character?

According to Dr. Craig Malkin, a reputable psychologist and author of Rethinking Narcissism, individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) constantly battle between pushing you away and wanting you back. They may insinuate themselves back to send you an insulting message and infuriating remarks. Dr. Malkin adds that narcissists refuse to end without a fight.

Recovering from a divorce is an uphill battle, especially if you have underage children with a narcissist. First, the post-divorce legal battles postpone emotional recovery. Then be prepared for anything.

Why is recovery from a narcissist different?

Breakups and divorces are painful, but it’s a whole new ball game when divorcing a narcissist. Forget about a normal recovery. While research shows an increased sense of self and growth after a low-quality relationship, ending a relationship with a narcissist is not a walk in the park. Why?

Well, for any relationship that has come to an end, there is a moment when we want to detach ourselves. That’s when we choose to remember the not-so-wonderful moments with our exes. And just when we start to detach ourselves, then come the moments when we remember the good times.

But not with a narcissist. Because every moment you are together is something you want to forget. You are not just recovering from a failed marriage or a love lost with a narcissist. You are in warfare. Not to mention the legal maneuvers they may go to get what they want.

Four reasons why recovering from a narcissist is difficult

  1. It was all a lie

It was never about the two of you. It only confirms what we’ve been telling you—it was only about them. Now you have an idea who you’ve been dealing with. You will probably revisit some of the instances and what you thought was going on between the two of you, which was not the case—it was always about him.

  1. The retrospection

As you revisit what was going on in your relationship, you will notice a lot of red flags. They will seem obvious that no intelligent person would miss. But you did. It will be so much that you question your judgment.

As Malkin notes, uncovering the layers of lies is a dizzying and disorienting experience such that you may end up questioning your own judgment. This is more so if you had a partner that covered up his tracks by convincing you that you are paranoid or crazy.

Seeing how you fell right into his trap for him to control you, is one of the most painful and devastating things. It takes you back to those sad moments and reliving them. It doesn’t help you move on.

  1. You feel stupid

Some of us are insecurely attached. We are the most likely to fall into narcissist control because we are the least likely to recognize their personality disorders. We are also likely to criticize ourselves for what happened to us. We tend to attribute the calamities in our lives to deficiencies in our character instead of seeing them as they are—mistakes that anyone could have made.

After a run-in with a narcissist, it’s very easy to result in self-criticism. Many end up thinking that they were dumb not to notice their deficiencies. This kind of thinking is detrimental to your emotional recovery.

Not saying that you don’t take responsibility for your mistakes. Not at all. It’s one thing to do that, and an entirely new thing to beat yourself up for connecting with them and being hesitant to leave when you had to. You are more likely to get caught in repetitive thoughts if you start self-criticizing. And that gets in the way of recovery.

Dr. Malkin says that self—blame is very common among people who have broken off with pathological narcissists. Telling yourself that you’re the problem and all you have to do is change to be free from the pain is a lie. He adds that it is self-deception to think in these lines when your partner has no intention of changing. It only erodes your self-esteem.

  1. You feel helpless

Narcissists thirst for power and control. But to do that, they need someone to push around. When you feel robbed of control in an important area of your life, you tend to be in a defensive state. It’s difficult to stay balanced and in control emotionally when you’re in this state. You may do everyday things like go to work and pay your bills, but you’re on autopilot. That gets in the way of your emotional recovery just as financial anxiety and fear do.

Four things to do to speed up the healing

The first step is recognizing the traumatic and distressing experience. You need to consider yourself as one recovering from a terrible illness. Surround yourself with positive things and keep away from anger and resentment. Hurt can eat you away and can transform into a rage. Decide to rise above the ashes through sheer willpower to come out stronger than ever. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

There are specific strategies that can help you get off the emotional rollercoaster

Use cool processing

Studies have shown that understanding your feelings will help you manage your emotions effectively. As you think about your experiences, ask yourself why you felt that way and not what you felt. Experts recommend seeing the events from a distance and imagining that they happened to someone else while asking why. It helps you to stop reliving the moment.

Many studies have also shown that writing a journal about your experiences helps a victim develop an understanding and a coherent narrative of events.

Don’t generalize

Beware not to become resentful and armored because of an individual’s behavior. Don’t generalize by wrongly extracting the lessons learned and applying them to all individuals. Remind yourself that it was only one bad apple.

Practice Self-compassion

It’s easy to pity yourself and engage in self-criticism. Instead, work on developing self-compassion in the following three steps;

  • Be kind and understanding towards yourself. Don’t judge and berate yourself for falling for a narcissist. Be gentle and understand that you mistakenly thought the person for someone else.

  • Understand that anyone could have found themselves in your situation. Your situation is not unique but part of the larger human experience

  • Beware of over-identifying your painful feelings. Be aware of your emotions and, at the same time, maintain distance not to relive them.

Go high when they go low

If you are in a custody battle or any sort of conflict with your narcissist, try fighting the urge to engage back. Ignore badmouthing. Instead, keep a record of it. While public trashing may momentarily make you feel better, it reengages you—exactly what they want.

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