The topic of how to recover from an encounter with a narcissist (which could equally be a romantic, a family, a business or a friendship kind of relationship or even with a parent) is the elephant in the room of all the topics I have touched upon here on my healing journey. Its kind of been implicit in some of what I’ve touched upon but I’ve never fully dived into the topic head on, and I still don’t intend to get into all the particulars of my own circumstances, except to say this is a topic that can’t be ignored if it has directly impacted you.
For those who have been in the very particular type of relationship dynamic that consists of an empath with a narcissist, which is a “thing” that you can research quite easily these days, I am sure you will have at least some idea what I am talking about here (if still not sure, I refer you to the video link below). If you haven’t then the word narcissist may bring up vague or rather clichéd ideas of what a narcissist is or you may even wonder what all the fuss is about. That “get over it” kind of response from those who haven’t been through this kind of experience is one of the many things that can make it so hard to, first, identify that you have been in such a relationship plus all the damage to your psychological or even physical health that has been sustained, but also very difficult indeed to talk about it sufficiently to process through the dark abyss to the other side…and yes, there is a different kind of life waiting at the other side, although that can be hard to imagine when you are still in it. For the larger part, I now exist in that other world, where narcissist tendencies no longer impact my daily life and yet (I wouldn’t be writing this post otherwise…) there are still profound ways in which my earlier encounters with it still impact my self-esteem and, particularly, my health and a part of that is because it remains un-dealt-with and unprocessed…so I still carry it around as old wounds.
In short, it can feel like a closed topic in the world at large and this only adds to the heavy burden of secrecy and shame that has, likely, already been used by the narcissist in your encounter to ensure that you keep very quiet about the very circumstances they use to manipulate you. In other words, you are made complicit in your own wounding during but then, often, for years after the relationship. This has been one of the shock realisations to me…and one I am now determined to tackle head on. The time has come to cease squirming with avoidance or embarrassment, or even misplaced politeness in deference to those who don’t want to hear about it, at times when I need to air this thing in order to HEAL.
Which winds the the topic back to the question, how do narcissist encounters that, perhaps, ended ages ago still impact your emotional or physical health so many years later, when so much water has passed under the bridge? The real question is, what do you do with all that darkness and pain when there is nowhere to put it, no given method to process it, very little advice how to transform it into something lighter? You bury it deep inside of yourself!
So, whether you are in such a dynamic now or in recovery, the need to process is part of the wake up or healing process and yet you can feel left with no one with whom you can share this with or who could truly relate to how impactful such a dynamic can be to your very sense of selfhood. You hardly want to bring it up with potential new friends and the old ones may have walked the path beside you, whilst the narcissist dynamic was still happening under their very noses, and yet still not had any real idea what was truly going on behind closed doors. Having an old friend respond to a passing allusion to the fact that my ex-husband (who she knew) was a narcissist by saying “I’m sure we all have a few narcissist traits in us” was interesting because I noticed the intense electrical charge that this gave rise to in my body…which was not so much anger or hurt at her flippancy as the sudden realisation that I still had unfinished business in this quarter.
Which is why, when Lee Harris announced he was running his Narcissist vs Empath course once again this month and next, I jumped at the chance to get on board. I had watched the hour long video about this course some time ago and was deeply impacted by how relatable and similar Lee’s experiences were to my own. Plus, I had heard very good things about the outcomes from doing the course, which is run in such a way that you are walked through it, module by module, in community with others who have been, or are still going, through similar experiences, in addition to the support of Lee and his team, who have their own direct experience of the dynamic. Its a brilliantly designed course which has evolved year-on-year and which has been expanded some more for the 2020 rerun.
I began the course last week and, holy moly, I was right, I did have unfinished business in this territory. I had been in denial about how closely guarded my own experiences on this topic had been, like a nuclear strong room at the core of my psyche with a “do not enter” sign on the door. Now, as I revisit some of the “stories” in communion with others in the forum, I am astonished at how much detail and emotional charge I have held onto, how vividly I am not only taken back as though to look at what occurred through the eyes of history but as though I am transported back there with all the real-time sensory details. I find myself equally astonished that I just brushed myself off and continued walking through life in the aftermath; that I never went for any counselling support at any time, never had anyone I could truly confide in. Yes, I confess myself more than a little awed by how strong and resilient I have been, yet how very alone in all of this incredibly long and impactful journey. Just a few days on the course has validated my long-held suspicion that the examples of narcissistic behaviour I lived with for such a long period of time, which were cranked up in their intensity in the exact way Lee describes as “a frog placed in a vat of warm water that slowly gets turned up to boiling point”, were not minor or brush-under-the-carpet level but pretty extreme. Some of the experiences I have revisited this week have been shockers.
In my case, I can identify several quite intense relationships with people displaying strong narcissist tendencies, including my ex for the 13 years we were together and the so-called friend who, ultimately, sexually abused me after 5 years of emotionally manipulating and putting me down. In my childhood there was my bully of 5 years, who was a remarkably skilled strategist of the narcissist variety given her age, plus someone else that I won’t go into here. Let’s just say, there was a pattern for me, for many years, as is often the case and, though I have not had dealings with the dynamic for several years, the fact remains I had not processed through how or why these repeats came about, nor all the profound hurt and overwhelming sadness that grew out of these encounters. When I wind back and truly allow myself to re-experience the degree of sadness I experienced at a very young age, during a time when all my efforts to please and befriend were returned as hateful behaviours from certain individuals, then I get close to why it felt, I guess, so necessary for part of me to replay these scenarios, to try and figure them out and get to somewhere better. Newsflash: when you are dealing with a narcissist, they cannot generally be converted by relentless love into realising their own innate state of love because they are wired to be remorseless and completely lacking in the empathy that is your own most defining trait.
Also, when you are in these dynamics, you are so-often your own biggest naysayer, pretending to yourself that everything is fine, that the relationship dynamic is “normal”, hanging onto the rare goods times and kinder words with all your might, giving of yourself tirelessly to try and coax back those better behaviours, perpetually overlooking the almost unforgivable or making excuses for it, even to your most trusted advisors (should they try to help you), and often too afraid of the repercussions of allowing yourself to believe otherwise. It’s often only when you look back at all this, in the rear view mirror of life, that you see with all new clarity just how messed up the relationship was. To, then, not have a way to process through what happened is to risk turning it into something as putrid and unhealthy as it is hidden so conveniently out of sight, because we are so conditioned not to inconvenience others with our unsightly emotional baggage; and why do that anyway when we can just pretend we have moved on.
In my case, it wasn’t that I allowed myself to fester, at least externally, for too long. Determination is one of my defining traits so I used all my early life trauma as rocket fuel to bounce back, and then some. Yes, I have done HUGE work to recover my self-confidence, to reconfigure my self-care priorities, to be able to see what was missing regarding boundaries and so on, and even to do what I can to forgive the wounds in others that keep them so separate from the capacity to love, but the resultant sadness and wounding in myself was now pushed deep underground. In a sense, this part of my journey wasn’t helped by my spiritual awakening because it remains so unpopular, in those circles, to “dwell on the past”; rather, we are told to forgive and let go, to live fully in the now…yet, in doing so, we often forget to honour ourselves and the present day burdens and wounds we still carry from back then, which we took on as all these heavy feelings we are now, somehow, meant to transmute in a “poof” of spiritual enlightenment. In looking away from them so studiously, we perpetuate and so collaborate with the very state of separation we claim to abhor.
In fact, near enough every intuitive healer I have been to see has declared that I carry huge sadness inside of me or such a heavy burden on my heart; one in particular was rocked by it so much that she would weep as she treated me. Part of this deep sadness I carry, I have come to realise, is a profound sense of disappointment in the kind of individuals who set out to harm or corrupt the innocence of other individuals and this disappointment is something I never seem quite able to get over since its evidence is everywhere, as when I watch the news or hear other people’s stories; but more than that, I feel them as though they are my stories, built as they are around a deep core of my own like-experience. The longer I go on carrying such sadness, the more of a magnet my empathic self seems to be to all the worst kind of pain in the world and it began as a very young child. I was such a sensitive, wonder-filled child with deep empathy and the capacity and desire to love all and everything in the world, longing to make everyone’s problems better, and yet this only seemed to attract the worst kind of behaviour, to which I was subjected at a remarkably young age. So, at once, I was someone who felt almost too much to cope with; and I was someone forced to develop strategies to cope, and those strategies so often amounted to shutting down my own reaction and putting on a tough front, which is very much my continuing trait. This is where some of my familial and cultural training also came into the picture to conspire with me to bury what is now like a ticking time-bomb in my health.
Part of this tendency to bury what I had been through and not get it out into daylight, to examine throughly, before I moved on in my life was, yes, a very British tendency to “keep calm and carry on”, showing “stiff upper lip” and all that. In the early days after my divorce, I had to focus all I had on survival for myself and my daughter, so there was no room for anything else that would rock the boat, plus who, in an era when I was working hard to make new friends, would want to hear me offload about this stuff, least of all if they didn’t relate to this kind of relationship dynamic from personal experience? The other was that I rebuilt my life so quickly after my divorce and soon became involved with a very different kind of man who was just too important to me to burden with my baggage, plus (of course) I was a parent to a young child at the time and she needed me, fully, for the next twenty years. So there seemed no space in my life to unpack all the mess that would be created if I was to unravel the deep, entangled layers of wounding that had gone on for so many years prior to that and which had, now, been squashed deep inside of me, out of sight and largely out of mind…yet the ever telling factor has been the state of my health.
My “stuck” heath and the ever more complex layers of pain and disfunction that seem to want to surface in my health tell some other story, like the lava that bespeaks a full blown volcano going off and so it feels like now is the time. Now that I have space from full-on parenting demands for the first time in over twenty years, when I have a relatively settled life with a loved one who supports me though thick and thin, and space from other demands to do with work or other pressures since those have been wound-down for the last couple of years, on account of my health. And if 2020 seems like a bizarre year in which to add even more upheaval to the pyre, I would argue that there simply is no better time…because, as we each get to heal and reclaim ourselves from our individual experiences of a narcissist dynamic, we get to collectively heal and reclaim our power back from the full-on narcissist dynamic that is, ever more overtly, at large in our corporate, informational and political arenas; we don’t have to look far, out there, to find it is now rampaging everywhere in full view.
As we each do the necessary work, with great courage and determination, and with each other’s support, to excavate ourselves, turning hidden, even wrongly shame-ridden wounds to the light and transforming them into own personal empowerment (the forum that is part of Lee’s course is proving to be a very potent and safe place to transform our experiences, together, in this way), the whole world gets to benefit from that healing and rebalancing process and the way we stand tall from what once laid us so low. So, if you are someone who relates to the relationship dynamic I speak of (and if you are not sure then I refer you to Lee’s hour-long introductory video HERE) I would encourage you to seriously consider the Empath Vs Narcissist course, link below, which is still open for registration until the end of the month. Based on my own, quite astonishingly powerful, experiences of the last seven days, it could be one of the most positive, self-supportive, things you ever decide to do and perhaps, for you too, its time.
Details of Lee Harris’ course:
This course defines Empaths and Narcissists and explains why they are attracted to each other. It tracks the development of the relationship and the way the dynamic unfolds right up to the moment of realization and shock. It looks deeply at the size and scope of damage you can possibly face. This course then carefully, lovingly and with precision gives you all the insights, advice and tools you need to make both a full recovery and to protect yourself from this dynamic in the future.