For many years I was in an extremely destructive relationship with someone who has NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and during that time I was regularly subjected to a variety of emotional, mental and physical abuse.
Every day I walked on eggshells, living in fear of saying or doing something that might trigger an aggressive response.
Many people might wonder why I, or anyone else, would remain in this kind of environment, but by the time I fully recognized that I was in extreme danger, I was already badly emotionally and mentally weakened and debilitated.
I was living in terror waiting to be attacked at any moment and yet I did not feel as though I had the strength or courage to remove myself from it.
Abuse doesn’t always happen overtly and it isn’t always easy to recognize. Often it is a covert, insidious, invisible drip that slowly poisons the victim’s mind so they don’t trust their own judgment, is unable to make life-changing decisions and feels as though they don’t have the coping skills necessary to get help or leave.
It took me a long time, and everything I had, to pull myself from the bottom of the deep dark hell I existed in and to get myself to a place of safety.
By the time I walked away, I thought that the nightmare was over. But in so many other ways, it had only just began.
The terrors of the taunts, torture and torment that had become my normality didn’t subside. They remained alive and relived themselves in the form of intrusive, regular flashbacks.
Many months after I had left the relationship I discovered that I was suffering from C-PTSD, (Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.) C-PTSD is a result of persistent psychological trauma in an environment where the victim believes they are powerless and that there is no escape.
C-PTSD is slightly different than PTSD, which is brought on from experiencing one solitary, traumatic incident, or it can develop due to an accumulation of incidents. Although both C-PTSD and PTSD both developed from my experiences, I identify more with C-PTSD, as it was the effects of the prolonged exposure to repetitive and chronic trauma that I felt I couldn’t escape from that affected me the most.
For many months after leaving the relationship I struggled to sleep at night, and when I did I often woke trembling after experiencing terrifying reoccurring dreams. On many occasions when I did eventually sleep I would sleep solid for at least 24 hours, in such deep slumber that I would struggle to wake from it and when I did I would feel fatigued, spaced out and as though I was numbly sleep-walking through the day.
I was easily startled and panicked at the slightest sudden movement or loud noise.
I was ultra-sensitive, on edge and highly alert most of the time, which I believe was my mind’s way of forming some sort of self-protection to keep me aware so that I avoided similar potentially dangerous situations.
At the mention of certain words, names or places I felt nauseous and dizzy and would become extremely distressed. A painful tight knot developed in my stomach every time something occurred to remind me of the trauma.
I still have difficulty remembering large phases of my life, and for a long time I struggled to stay focused, and my concentration abilities were very poor.
I would get upset easily, especially if I was in a tense environment. I had constant anxiety and was regularly in fight-or-flight mode.
I didn’t eat properly. I had no motivation and suicidal thoughts regularly flooded my mind.
I had lost my spark.
One aspect of the aftermath of the relationship that affected me most was the daily gaslighting that I endured. This left me finding it difficult to believe anything people would tell me, and I analyzed, questioned and dissected everything.
Forming new relationships, whether friendships, or romantic, was almost impossible as I struggled to trust people’s intentions and felt scared of possible underlying, hidden motives and agendas for their words or actions.
I dissociated from most of what I had been through and pretended, even to myself, that the abuse wasn’t as serious as it was. Partly because I felt ashamed that I had not left sooner and also because I wanted to defend and protect the person I was involved with, as I still cared for him. Therefore, I rarely mentioned the relationship to anyone and froze and shut down through stress (sometimes resulting in a meltdown) if anyone tried to talk to me about it.
It got to the stage where I withdrew completely as leaving the house became overwhelming and a major ordeal because I wouldn’t/couldn’t open up and connect and I felt terrified of everything and everyone.
One thing that became apparent and harrowing was that although I had gained enough strength to walk away and I felt empowered by the decision knowing that it was the right choice for my emotional, mental and physical health, I was suppressing all my emotions and feelings and I was far from okay on the inside.
There were many rollercoaster emotions trapped inside me and trying to ignore and contain them was doing more harm than good. In many ways the ending of the relationship had signaled closure to one phase of my life and had opened up a new chapter that was going to take a little time to get used to.
It appeared that while I was in the relationship I had become so used to enduring a wide variety of narcissistic behaviors that they had almost become normal and acceptable. Stepping away from all that I had known felt like I had walked from one planet and onto another and I hadn’t got a clue how to navigate it on my own or how to relate to anyone on it.
I soon realized that unless I started to focus on healing myself, I would remain a victim of my previous circumstances as the build up of emotional injuries, wounds and scars needed urgent attention. Otherwise, they would seep out and silently destroy sections of my life without me being aware that the past was still controlling me.
It was up to me to rebuild my strength and confidence, otherwise I would end up alienating myself and causing further damage.
I had a lot of inner healing work and restructuring to do and trying to convince myself that just because I had left the relationship everything would be okay, was not going to be enough.
The first and most significant step I took was admitting and fully accepting that the carnage I had experienced was real and had a huge impact on my emotional and mental wellbeing.
I had been surviving by a fragile thread in a domestic war zone and for far too long I had been intimidated, manipulated, lied to and threatened, amongst many other toxic and dysfunctional behaviors. The whole relationship had been an illusion and resulted in me having serious trust issues as well as losing the will to live. I not only struggled to trust other people, but I also realized I had no faith at all in my own intuition, perception or judgment.
Finally, I gave myself permission to take as long as I needed to heal, even if it meant I would spend the rest of my life slowly putting the pieces of my life back together. I came to terms with the fact that there is no timescale to healing and there was no hurry.
I allowed myself to grieve the relationship and the loss of the person I had separated from. This was extremely difficult to do as I had so many mixed emotions due to the scale of the abuse. For a long time I denied my grief, as it was complex to come to terms with how I could miss someone who had been responsible for vicious behavior towards me.
One of the hardest parts to dealing with this grief was feeling as though I could not talk openly to anyone, as I believed no one would understand how I could remain in such an abusive relationship and still miss many aspects of that person and the life I had with them.
The reason getting over this type of relationship can be so difficult is that many narcissists display both “Jeckyll and Hyde” type characteristics, one minute appearing extremely loving and affectionate and the next crippling, cruel and cunning.
It is not easy to explain that I deeply loved and badly missed one side of the person I was involved with, and disliked, feared and never wanted to hear his name mentioned at the same time. Even thinking about this can make one feel a little crazy as it does not feel natural to love and hate the same person.
One essential step toward healing from narcissistic abuse, I believe, is finding someone to really confide in and who doesn’t judge or question anything that is said. Being free to talk openly and comfortably without having to over explain is vital to start putting the accumulation of experiences into some sort of context. If there isn’t a friend on hand, it is worth taking time to seek out a good counselor with an understanding of C-PTSD deriving from abusive relationships.
The most important thing that helped me to heal was focusing more on healing and rebuilding myself. Although I took time out to research and gain knowledge and understanding of the type of abuse I had been subjected to, I spent far more of my time indulging myself in whatever felt good for my soul.
Slowly and surely I rebuilt myself, formed new friendships, learned to trust people and forgave all of the past. There are still days that it haunts me, but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel and although it can be difficult to believe that when you start walking through it, as soon as you take the first steps of acceptance the path ahead begins to become clear.
Healing comes by taking one small step at a time, with gentle, loving care and without hurry.
Author: Alex Myles
Image: Flickr/Daniela Brown
Editor: Travis May