We can’t leave a narcissist and begin our journey toward narcissistic abuse recovery until we go through five stages.
These stages embody the necessary psychological steps that will give us back our lives.
I’ve written before about eleven things that can happen before a partner goes no-contact. These are things I experienced in response to what I was enduring in my past relationship. They included things such as epiphanies I had, unusual behaviors I exhibited, and inexplicable emotions I felt. I wrote this not long after I went no-contact as I thought back on the relationship and the psychological turmoil I had been suffering through at the time.
Now, however, I can see that each emotion and reaction I felt, as one of those eleven things, was actually a result of progressing through a painful but necessary and empowering journey toward the breakup.
I was awakening to a new view of the relationship, one in which it was reframed from a place where I’d once felt the happiest I’d ever been to a place where I realized I was alone with a stranger and had to use all of my mental and emotional strength to leave.
It did not happen overnight. In fact, it took me over two years.
The Eternal Trap We Must Escape to Break Up with a Narcissist
The mask shifts with each new person in their sights, adjusting to our likes and dislikes, filling in crevices to become whatever seems to be missing and fulfilling our long-lost dreams. What remains the same, however, is that the true nature of the narcissist remains hidden behind the mask.
With that mask, employed skillfully at the outset, the narcissist sets the stage to lure and trap by putting it back on again and again.
Untouchable. That’s what they want to be.
Imagine the narcissist with a piece of chalk. With the love-bombing they pour on us at the beginning of the relationship, narcissists draw a fat, white circle of protection around themselves. Their words and deeds during that time further cast a glittering, golden spotlight of goodness over them and we form a bond with the person standing in that spotlight that is difficult to break.
Later, each time they step out of that circle, that is, “cross the line,” and our brain and body scream at us that we have been violated, they only have to stand under the golden goodness inside that circle so we catch them in its glow to get us to override our own instincts.
“No, I’m not abusing you. I love you.”
This is why I call it “escaping” a relationship with a narcissist.
I am not the only one to do so. H.G. Tudor, self-aware narcissist, describes three stages in our interactions with narcissists as we try to leave them. He also describes it as if it is an escape.
To break up with a narcissist and become free of the relationship, we must psychologically change our view of it. There is no other way.
For some, it may occur faster than others. How hard it is for us to get to the point to where we can go no-contact depends on many factors, such as the level of attachment, the length of the relationship, our willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt, our own fears and weaknesses, how hard the narcissist keeps fighting to keep us from leaving and how deeply the narcissist has obscured the idea that the relationship is abusive behind any of a dozen other smokescreens.
This is why we must progress through these five stages psychologically before we can leave. In each stage, our view of the narcissist changes and so does our view of the relationship until we are either force ourselves out or we are broken down.
The reason why it takes so long is that the abuse itself is kept hidden from us. What we are gaining enlightenment to is the fact that we have been enduring abuse and that we must leave in order to save ourselves no matter how much it hurts.
I hope by identifying these stages, others who read this may be able to identify their own feelings more easily, view what is happening more objectively and perhaps feel less fear and confusion.
Perhaps understanding what these stages are may shed light on where you’ve been, where you are, and where you still need to go. I hope it may give you strength and hope that you can get there so that you can leave the narcissist, and that it can reassure you that whatever emotions you’re feeling now or fear you will feel later, you are not alone.
The Five Main Stages of Leaving a Narcissist
Because of the very nature of how we are abused, there are stages through which we progress during a romantic relationship with a narcissist, starting with the discovery that the relationship is not what we thought it was to purging the narcissist from our lives.
Only through the progression of these five stages can we move from passive participants in the relationship who do what the narcissist wants us to do to active performers in our own lives, who do things that may not be in the best interest of the narcissist– but are definitely in ours. Only then can we leave the relationship.
STAGE 1: AWARENESS OF THE ABUSE
This happens inevitably after the initial phase of the relationship when one has been idealized by a narcissist.
At the beginning of the relationship with the narcissist, things were perfect. We were not yet aware of what was to come. We believed in what the narcissist presented to us because we entered the relationship with good intentions.
At some point, something happens or a series of incidents occur that trigger awareness of the abuse. We may not yet call it abuse, but these are the moments that lead us to the epiphany that something is terribly wrong. Someone who loves us should not be able to do the horrifying things that were done to us.
Because these are the first glimpses behind the mask and we are bound to the narcissist at least partly if not mostly because of forces beyond our control, we likely enter a state of denial and tell ourselves that this is not what we think it is.
STAGE 2: UNDERSTANDING THAT THE BEHAVIOR IS ABUSIVE
Reaching the second stage requires coming to understand the nature of what’s happening, that abuse is taking place. There have been too many incidents. The idealization stage has begun to fade away and we are now so miserable, we have begun to seek answers.
Perhaps we have been talking to others outside the relationship who provided us with an outsider’s perspective. We may have turned to the Internet and stumbled across details about narcissism.
The scope and magnitude of what we are up against, however, have now been planted by this external information. We now have two competing realities: one from the narcissist and one from outside the narcissist that provides us with a new and rational understanding of his or her behavior.
“Understanding,” is not usually the ticket out because it’s merely the bigger picture that is inevitably gained as we seek to make sense of the reality we live in as more of the mismatch between the narcissist’s words and deeds pile up.
At this time, it actually contributes to the cognitive dissonance we feel and now, denial is no longer sufficient as a primary method of managing our understanding of the narcissists’s behavior because the new information we have competes with the narcissist’s “version of events.”
Confusion sets in, as the narcissist returns to the white circle dozens of times and we see him or her step out of it just as many, and we now have to choose what to believe about why he or she is doing such things.
STAGE 3: ACCEPTING THAT THE BEHAVIOR IS DESTRUCTIVE
We may remain in Stage #2 for some time, confused. We try new methods to cope with what’s happening– accepting the blame to try to keep the relationship together, denying that our partner is a narcissist, trying to use what we learned to become more compliant or prove the literature wrong– our relationship will turn out differently, we’ll get through this, we think defiantly.
Eventually, however, progression into Stage #3 generally comes with time, after persistent cruel treatment by the narcissist and our inability to get anything to change and improve.
At this point, the idealization stage is usually so far in the past, we rarely see glimpses of it anymore. Or we have been subjected to so much betrayal and pain, we don’t feel as if we are the same person anymore as we were when the relationship started.
In addition, we have been slowly conditioned not to talk about it or express or process our feelings about what has been done to us. We may have lost much of our support system or feel beaten down and our emotions may have slipped long past confusion to defeat. We come to accept that the relationship is bad for us and we need to leave the narcissist.
And yet, we do not because we cannot.
We find ourselves being drawn again and again back into it.
The awareness that we cannot leave causes us additional suffering, as now we know what is happening to us and still we cannot escape. Instead, now not only does the narcissist’s behaviors not match his or her words– ours no longer do either.
Sandra L. Brown, author of Women Who Love Psychopaths, writes that “…The partners must split in order to stay. In reality, [the survivor] has held two different relationships with the good/bad dichotomous psychopath! Each one of these relationships has required a different belief system in order to remain in it. These belief systems begin to battle each other…” These two belief systems were drawn out of us slowly over time, using our own strengths and weaknesses against us.
This is the most difficult of the stages to explain in isolation– for how can someone know and accept that a relationship is abusive and desire to leave it, and yet not do so? Yet the broader context of all the stages, both those that came before and those that come after, and how the relationship has always been about dominance and control by the narcissist can provide most of the answers.
We become paralyzed when our two belief systems are competing with one another and are at the whims of the narcissist. We begin to develop learned helplessness, in response to being unable to act effectively one way or another in the relationship– either to leave it or to be treated in the manner in which we wished to be treated.
From my own experience, I remember at one point in my relationship with my narcissistic ex-boyfriend feeling as if I would never get away from him until one of us was dead.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
STAGE 4: RE-AWAKENING ERODED ASPECTS OF THE SELF
This helplessness we develop is created in us over time by the abusive tactics perpetrated by the narcissist. It is an illusion.
Overcoming the acute abusive tactics that keep us confused and helpless is the next stage we need to enter prior to being able to leave the narcissistic relationship. These tactics the narcissist has used to get us to this point include gaslighting, refusal to discuss any of the wrong-doing, blame-shifting, and others.
The tactics keep us under the control of the narcissist. They cause us to feel both incapable and unwilling to begin to tear down the bond that the narcissist developed with us at the beginning, by manufacturing emotions in us.
We feel fear because of the unknown future or what life will be like without the narcissist in our lives.
We feel guilt at doing anything to harm the narcissist, as if we are betraying him or her, and start to think of the good times and good things he or she has done for us. We feel as if we are giving up if we stop trying.
We feel sadness thinking about the loss of the massive presence of that person in our lives if we do anything to remove it.
We feel doubt that we are right about how bad things are, that we are not to blame for how things have turned out, or that we are capable of even doing such a thing.
We feel weak and unable to pull off leaving, knowing it will cause a torrent of emotion and subsequent range of dramatic responses from the narcissist.
Yet– somehow– despite feeling all of these things, we must overcome them by realizing they are manufactured by what the narcissist has done to us.
They are illusions.
What is real is the anxiety we feel, perhaps in the back of our minds, knowing they will never change or knowing that they can’t ever be faithful.
What is real is the constant “fight or flight” mode we find ourselves in and the nightmares we wake up to due to their explosive tirades we can’t predict. The lies and the gaslighting and our unease and obsessive thoughts.
What is real is the constant questioning and accusations and that persistent feeling we can’t relax into our own lives, that we have lost ourselves a piece at a time and been forced inside a tiny cage until we now live trapped inside of it.
Stage #4 is about letting those emotions and that voice that is carrying them rise closer to the top and override the false emotions that sit in the eroded parts of ourselves where the narcissist has taken up residence and parked his or her own suggestions. Those suggestions serve his or her benefit– not ours.
Overcoming the tactics the narcissist has used to bring us to the point to where we felt we can’t escape means:
recognizing what they’re doing when they use one of these tactics
calling out the narcissist when he or she uses them
not treating the bad behavior they have engaged in throughout the relationship as acceptable just to keep the peace
not letting any of what they say when they use these tactics help resolve cognitive dissonance in their favor (e.g., believing they are correct when they gaslight and we should doubt our own perceptions, etc.)
seeing oneself as in control, empowered, and undeserving of this treatment; sometimes this involves “faking it until making it”
This is a turning point in the “enlightenment,” for it is when we begin to gain our control back– and yet it is difficult because nothing will bring it about other than a conscious effort on our parts to stop merely accepting that this is abuse and thinking differently about it.
Without the narcissist’s influence during a silent treatment, we may begin to think more clearly about what has been going on because the narcissist’s tactics by default will not be of immediate influence.
For example, there will be no gaslighting during this time, so we may be able to start putting things together, or having more empowering thoughts that we don’t want to and shouldn’t let go of if the narcissist reaches out again later.
Or perhaps our health begins to decline or we suffer another loss in our lives.
Or we may have an epiphany due to an action of the narcissist and realize that, though leaving may result in an emotional crisis for us, a worse fate may result from staying in the relationship.
We may begin to feel ourselves slowly disappearing. We may begin to feel that our lives are stuck. We may begin to feel that we will never get out of the relationship, or that if we do we will never recover from the abuse the narcissist has inflicted on us.
In my case, many of these things happened and they gradually led me to become aware that I wanted and needed to be more in charge of myself than I had been in the past. It was almost as if I no longer had a choice. As I said, it was a turning point to where I could choose to empower myself or continue to empower him.
I realized I could not trust or rely on my narcissist ex to do what I had expected and I had to start looking out for myself.
It was not like flicking a light switch, however, where I was suddenly one day “empowered.”
It was a gradual and building sense of empowerment as I grew apart from him and let myself grow apart from him.
“You’re getting sick.”
“Something bad is going to happen.”
What this empowerment led to was a growing feeling of desperation.
I knew things would never be the same. It was only a matter of time.
STAGE 5: CHANGING PSYCHOLOGICAL MINDSET AND TAKING ACTION
In Stage #4, the psychological shift is the attitude we have toward ourselves and our ability to do something about what we’ve gone through.
In Stage #5, our mindset changes and we no longer view the narcissist or the relationship the same way. We become ready to tear it all down. We must actually take actions to remove oneself from the abusive situation physically and psychologically.
This is where narcissistic abuse recovery truly begins because we have begun to have more control over our own actions despite the fear and guilt we feel at how it will impact the relationship or the narcissist.
Go completely no-contact with the narcissist forever; and
Stop idealizing the narcissist and the relationship.
It is not enough to go no contact. Shahida Arabi, narcissistic abuse survivor and researcher, says that even though the relationship is toxic, we can get stuck: “If our grief is not addressed, it will get lodged in our brains, our hearts, and our spirits as nostalgia for a man or woman that never existed.”
As alluded to in Stage #4, stating that there is a psychological shift and that we then take action implies that the shift is very black-and-white and that the action is very purposeful.
It implies that there is some dramatic confrontation, as in the movies, where we tell off our partners and walk out the door with all of our belongings never looking back, leaving them speechless and regretful for the way they treated us.
It also implies that everything is suddenly crystal clear and every move we make from here on out is with determination and a sense of self-awareness and direction.
The end is an angst-ridden earthquake, a freefall into a future in which we no longer even know who we are. The end is a blind spot where they implanted themselves in our psyche, still dictating our actions and monitoring our thoughts for a time even as they are out of our lives.
What Stage #5 does mean is that we pass the point of no return psychologically where we no longer just see the relationship as bad for us, we start to see the narcissist as a disordered person with whom we no longer wish to be in a relationship with.
We are more willing to accept the unknown than to accept the nightmare we have been living.
We choose ourselves.
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I thought it was a strange distinction to make. When survivors of narcissistic abuse read articles about narcissism and narcissistic abuse, that is a form of healing.
In addition, although the quote acknowledged that there are differences in the types of information that is needed to heal, it appeared to elevate healing core wounds over learning about the narcissistic relationship without acknowledging that they are two different but equally important types of healing. They occur at two very different stages in a relationship or post-relationship with a narcissist and they require different methods of assistance for peak effectiveness.
They call it “morally equivalent,” the things they incite in the dramatic production they’re scripting off-stage while we wander through the storybook they dropped us into, wondering how things veered so sharply off-course.
Or worse, the imaginary things, the shadows they project onto us of their own behavior. The cheating. The lying. The stalking. The abusive and predatory actions. The contradictions. The controlling manipulations. The jealous attitude.
They manufacture emotions that look and feel like monstrosities in our own repertoire, then call us monsters for reflecting back to them what they wanted to incite or expected to see all along.
They create worlds for themselves in which no one can be trusted by acting themselves in an untrustworthy manner, and then trapping you into reacting to being betrayed.
These are all just narcissist mind games.
Everything they say, everything they do, ends up making you wonder if you are the one to blame, if there is something wrong with you, if you are no different than he or she is.
Narcissist Mind Game Examples
What are some of the things they do to keep us under control? To incite drama and manufacture emotions? To make us doubt ourselves and keep us off guard? Most importantly, how do they get us to question whether we are, indeed, the ones to blame for the demise of the relationship?
How do they twist reality to make us believe that we are the narcissistic ones?
Love-bombing is a particularly insidious form of abuse, although often not recognized as such because it feels so good when you’re in the middle of it. It can consist of excessive praise and adoration, mirroring, lavish gifts and grandiose promises, fast-tracking intimacy, over-the-top sexual escapades, and lots and lots of attention and time spent together. The result can be that a partner who has been target will more easily drop his or her guard and become very trusting early, believing that the narcissist has good intentions and is very much like him or her.
Love-bombing is a mind game used in order to manipulate someone into easily trusting early, and believing a narcissist has good intentions. A partner believes so strongly that the narcissist is similar to him or her and believes in the goodness he or she sees, because we would never behave in the deceptive way that will come later. We believe it’s real–why shouldn’t we?
Narcissists often set the stage for triangulation early without partners realizing it by bringing up exes, friends, people who are “distantly” known or used to be in the picture. The mentioned person is often described as having wronged the narcissist in some way or at least in negative terms. This description is made in order to ensure that the new partner will not be suspicious of that other person.
In my situation, my ex-boyfriend had all kinds of people swirling in his orbit that he explained in a variety of ways: exes who had wronged him; a girl his parents wanted him to marry that he “found unappealing,” never talked to, and that there was no chance that it was ever going to happen; women he claimed he found unattractive who pursued him; women he “went to high school with” who “kept bothering him.” There was even an ex he claimed to feel sorry for because she now had a new boyfriend that supposedly abused her, so he kept in contact with her.
Do any of these sound familiar or sound similar to something you may have encountered?
Triangulation occurs later in the relationship once the love-bombing begins to slide into more degrading interactions. Narcissists may begin to use all of those people they once spoke unfavorably of in comparative ways.
“My ex would never have acted that way.”
“My ex always did that for me.”
“If I married [x], I know she would never leave me.”
“Other girls I know would never wear that.”
“At least she never got jealous like you.”
These mind games cause us to believe that there is something wrong with us for not tolerating their bad behavior, or that if we don’t put up with it, they will have no problem with switching us out for someone who will.
Gaslighting makes us question ourselves and is probably the most important way that narcissists actually modify our behavior to get us to do what they want us to do. By manipulating us into slowly taking on their view of the world and accepting it as true–or at least not questioning it–they change not only our behavior but the way we think.
We begin to doubt our own memory and sanity. Did we actually see what we saw or hear what we heard?
It becomes easier to just let it go than to face the wrath of the narcissist or to be punished in other ways when they walk out, make threats, verbally abuse us, or engage in other forms of betrayal.
It’s not just a mind game, it’s mind control.
4. Intermittent Reinforcement
Intermittent reinforcement is the occasional positive behavior we see from the narcissist after being subjected to days or weeks of negative treatment, seemingly with no rhyme or reason. No matter what we do, there seems to be nothing we can do to predict what will suddenly cause the narcissist to react to us positively again.
This cycle can keep us on edge, tied to them psychologically due to a form of Stockholm Syndrome known as a trauma bond.
Narcissists know how to push our buttons because they learned all of our secrets early on when we decided to trust them. They know exactly what sets us off and have no problem waiting until we are in front of others before making a comment that will cause us to react in a way that can make it look as if we are the problem. Because they can remain calm and detached and because they are the ones who have been engaging in outrageous, inexplicable behavior, we may explode or react in ways in which we would not normally react.
Again, this is a way of manufacturing an emotion–but they are doing it in front of others. This has the effect of making them look like a victim or making them look justified in some of their actions.
In this video, psychotherapist Dr. Les Carter breaks down what these mind games and more may look like over time as they come out in the narcissist’s everyday actions.
SEVEN MIND GAMES PLAYED BY THE NARCISSIST - YouTube
How Narcissists Play Mind Games with False Comparisons
As evident from the mind game examples above, they are designed to twist negative thoughts, emotions and behavior back onto you when without what the narcissist did in the first place, you would not have had those reactions.
They stab us and then blame us for bleeding.
Our behavior can sometimes look like theirs. Here are five ways our behavior may look narcissistic, but when the causes, motivations, and effects are examined, they are not.
False Comparison #1: “I must be narcissistic because narcissists need excessive attention and the narcissist’s love-bombing worked on me and I really miss his/her attention.”
If narcissists are so self-absorbed and use people to boost their self-esteem, you may wonder: Am I no different than the narcissist, since the excessive love-bombing that he or she used was so effective on me?
The tactics that they used to love-bomb you are intentionally designed to make you vulnerable and will psychologically elicit love, appreciation, trust and a sense of obligation from anyone. They used they on you to elicit that love from you for themselves.
Either way, you are not a narcissist for responding psychologically to the way tactics such as “mirroring” naturally entice someone to like you. There is even a popular book out now called The Science of Likeability that discusses some of the same techniques that narcissists happen to use and why they work.
Narcissists use them during the idealization phase of the relationship under intense conditions in a very short period of time to encourage strong bonding. The fact that you were susceptible to them does not make you a narcissist– it makes you human.
In contrast, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a disorder in which the criteria indicate that narcissists have a sense of entitlement and expect constant, excessive admiration. People who have this disorder have a need for this admiration which drives them to deceive and manipulate in order to receive it.
In addition, you actually loved him or her, or at least the person they presented to you. You likely put all of your trust, commitment and care into the relationship and your feelings were real.
Narcissists do not love people– they love how people make them feel or what people can do for them. The narcissist implemented these tactics with the goal of getting you to return the emotions so they could feel self-validated. You had no ulterior motive or goal.
False Comparison #2: “I must be selfish and deceitful just like the narcissist because I snuck around and invaded his or her privacy to find out what was really going on, made accusations, and monopolized conversations about what he or she was doing.”
Narcissists are notorious for having double lives, and in addition, they gaslight and are pathological liars. At some point, you may have found yourself checking up on their stories, playing detective, asking around, looking back through their social media, searching the Internet for clues, anything to find out what was really going on when things just didn’t add up.
You may have kept it quiet and deceived him or her yourself that you were doing these things, or you may have not let on that your feelings were starting to change.
When someone consistently lies, misleads, gaslights you, abuses your trust and purposefully tries to keep information from you, it leads you down a path where you are questioning your own judgment. You may have discovered partial truths or you may have been concerned that you were wrong and you didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
What may be confusing about this is that the narcissist may have also done a lot of checking up on you. Narcissists are very curious about what goes on in your life and like to ask you questions about who else you’re seeing, who else you’re talking to, and who all of the people are that are following your social media accounts. They ask where you’re going and who you are with. Maybe they go through your phone or your messages.
The difference between what you did and what your partner did, however, is that the narcissist monitored you to control your behavior and maintain power over you, your whereabouts or other aspects of you. He or she feels entitled to pry into your life or violate your boundaries for no other reason other than to gain this control over you.
In contrast, you turned to other methods of learning the truth, protecting yourself from further exploitation, clearing up mental confusion purpose generated by the person who may claim you’re the one trying to control or stalk them.
It’s pure projection. But for his or her actions, you would have no reason to engage in this behavior and you probably never acted this way before you got into this relationship.
When you began to ask the narcissist about what you found out or describe what it made you feel, the narcissist turned the conversation back onto you and accused you of starting arguments or being selfish because you “wouldn’t let the past go,” even as his or her behavior continued.
Your behavior was not narcissistic. You were not getting answers. You were being shut down. You were being gaslit.
It was a bait and switch on your own sanity.
False Comparison #3. “I must be as unstable as the narcissist because I keep leaving and going back to the relationship just like the narcissist does when he or she discards then hoovers.”
The narcissist’s actions generate some serious cognitive dissonance in our brains. You may have been attempting to resolve their contradictory actions, to figure out whether they love you or not, and do it on top of the trauma and chemical bonds that usually develop in an abusive relationship.
Partners of narcissists tend to develop a trauma bond with them. The intermittent kindness they provide temporarily eases the pain they themselves cause, and clinging to these kindnesses because of the immense relief they cause is a way to cope with the extreme psychological stress. It’s similar to Stockholm Syndrome, and each time, it creates a new hope that the pain will come to an end.
The trauma bond is almost always supplemented by a chemical bond to the narcissist as well. The cycle between cruelty and kindness dysregulates the neurochemicals dopamine and oxytocin in your brain. Dependence and withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addiction can keep drawing you back in.
Yet narcissists, on the other hand, break up or discard you and then hoover you back to control you because they are the ones with the issues. If you have trouble not going back to them, or if you break up with them only to return a few days later, it isn’t because you’re trying to control them!
It’s because you’ve been manipulated by their actions to be unable to act in your own best interest and stay away. Your actions may be currently inconsistent, but they do not make you inherently unstable. Your actions are a response to being abused.
False Comparison #4: I must be cruel and sadistic like the narcissist because I lashed out and was mean.
Let’s be clear: reacting to an abusive environment generated over a long period of time does not make you cruel and sadistic.
Narcissists generate an abusive environment from day one by using false narratives about themselves, love-bombing, isolation, and other tactics to control you. Then they slowly begin to abuse you in other ways.
In an environment in which the purpose was always to dominate you and extract as much attention and affection from you as possible, you were vulnerable from the beginning.
There is a term called “reactionary abuse” when the target of abuse reacts to a pervasive pattern of abuse by eventually getting angry and lashing out. Narcissists love using these reactions to argue that they are the ones being harmed in the relationship, that it is you who is the cruel, abusive one, or at least that they are no worse than you are if after months or years of abuse you become defensive and react.
Again, you were likely not like this before the relationship began– it is situational and generated by the circumstances that the narcissist has placed onto you and that he or she wants to happen.
He or she is hurting you to be cruel. Any reaction you may have to that cruelty is human– not because you have a sadistic streak.
This is not to argue that any actions and words are acceptable as long as they are from you and not the narcissist. Rather, it is to make the point that, as with the love-bombing, you were reacting as anyone would under the circumstances.
Your behavior was being purposely manipulated to result in a particular outcome.
False Comparison #5: I must be as self-absorbed and unempathetic as the narcissist because I feel detached from other people and find it hard to get close to or care about anyone else.
Have you found it difficult to focus on other people or care as much about their problems? Maybe you have felt guilty for feeling more self-absorbed than usual.
Perhaps you’ve felt selfish for not being there as much as you used to be for your friends or for feeling less patient than you used to be, or even for withdrawing and flaking on plans.
Am I turning into a narcissist? You may think.
No, you are most certainly not.
People who feel guilt and shame, who are conflicted by their actions, who are worried about how other people feel because of how they are behaving are usually not narcissists.
People who have been abused may end up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They may be coping with severe anxiety or depression, may not have the emotional energy to devote to others that they once did. They may feel drained or irritable.
This doesn’t make you a narcissist. It makes you traumatized. When you are able to heal, you will return to your baseline, engaged self.
“Am I a Narcissist?”
“See, you’re just like me.”
Narcissists play a confidence game where they can not only extract what they want from you, they can also make you believe you were responsible for it.
Playing mind games with a narcissist is how they steal your consent, blatantly abuse your trust and willingness to forgive, drain your positive energy, shame you for wanting the fundamental human needs required for emotional safety and psychological well-being, and then blame you for the very reactions they generate when those things are not forthcoming.
It is rare if you are able to leave a relationship with a narcissist without doing one or more of these things described above, such as “playing detective,” falling for hoovers, or reacting to their abuse.
You did these things because your relationship never took place on an equal playing field. They are reactions to something that the narcissist has done to you within the relationship, something that they have done either to manipulate or directly harm you.
Making you forget that there was nothing wrong with you before you met them is just one more mind game they play.
It seemed to be the ideal relationship: he came from a beautiful country, Bermuda, and I always wanted to live in the sun.
I met him online and he was charming, came all those miles to visit me then love bombed me, took me out for meals, told my mum he was going to marry me, charmed my family, gave me a dream of a life in paradise.
Fast track three years and here I am, discarded for a newer model but now trying to be hoovered back into his harem, the posse of exes I had to deal with–possibly to triangulate me with the latest.
I’ve read so much about this disorder that I could possibly write a book on it.
But here’s the thing. After a stint at counseling, we drew a conclusion that my dad was indeed a narcissist and I was kind of comfortable in that maelstrom of a relationship as I had lived it throughout my childhood. The walking on eggshells, the controlling aspect, the devaluation and discard, and finally, with my dad, the discrediting all who would listen or believe.
I will give one example of the relationship with the narcissist. It was my 50th birthday and he decided to take me to Venice for a couple of days, as he wanted to then go to Germany to visit his sister. We arrived, found our hotel, then decided to walk to a restaurant for lunch.
Towards the end of the lunch, I got my phone out to Google what was going on in Venice that night. All of a sudden he said something along the lines of ‘on the phone to your boyfriend.’ I denied it and carried on then he got up and left, leaving me in the restaurant.
I had trouble finding the hotel on my own. Eventually, I arrived back and he was in the bath. We had a row then fell asleep. No plan was made for the evening so we eventually left for a wander around Venice in a foul mood with each other.
I said let’s at least get a peach Bellini in Harry’s bar, as it was my birthday. He took one look in and said it was too busy so I went in on my own and had a miserable 21 Euro drink whilst he waited outside.
The evening deteriorated from there. In a cheap tourist restaurant, we sat in silence. On the return to the room, he began to run me down when that had no effect he started to run my daughter down then told me to sleep on the floor. By this point, I had lost it and threw the nearest thing at him–a teapot. He threw me out of the room, in tears.
That was my 50th birthday evening: memorable for the wrong reasons.
Why is it that after I had left him I still wished I had given it one more go or been a bit more understanding?
It’s because he laid a well-greased carrot at my lap and played me for a fool, promising the world, delivering nothing.
Or is it that I somehow felt comfortable in this abusive cycle of idealise, devalue, discard, hoover type of relationship, as it was a blast from the past, a familiar pattern?
It’s only in hindsight that you can join the dots of your childhood to your adult brain and see patterns and relationships in a new light.
I am an ex-English teacher and journalist, now a business owner. I am educated to the Master’s level and well-traveled.
When you’re with a narcissist, you’re typically in limbo where either you leave and then they draw you back in once again, or they give you a silent treatment or discard you, leaving you baffled over what has just taken place, often only to return after a period of days or weeks to tell you that they can’t live without you. We need to be able to outsmart the narcissist in order to ever break out of this pattern that keeps us locked in invisible chains that weaken our ability to ever leave at all.
There is a reason you feel inexplicably tied to them.
It is clearly a relationship, although it is like no other you have ever experienced. You are bound to them in ways you can’t explain to anyone else. Things would be perfect… if only they would stop psychologically and/or physically harming you, if only they would stop triangulating you with others, accusing you of cheating or of not loving them, then threatening to leave you for someone who will love them better. When did things get so confusing, so backward?
It is hope, both lost and found.
And yet it is despair.
It is slow death by a poisoned will to act.
All this because you already know the truth but they won’t let you have it.
How Narcissists Trap You In the Abuse Cycle
In the narcissistic abuse cycle, there is a clear cycle of idealization, devaluation, and discard that describes what happens in our relationships with them. This video quickly describes that pattern.
The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle: How Narcissists & Psychopaths Behave - YouTube
I like to add into this pattern a fourth stage, hoovering, because as the pattern repeats, the idea of hoovering describes what happens when they draw us back in.
It can be difficult to understand why a narcissist repeatedly progresses through these four stages until we begin to examine the larger pattern of our interactions with them and what they are trying to accomplish.
Because narcissists split people into “good” and “bad” they are constantly fluctuating between feeling victimized and feeling emboldened by what other people do. They do not take into account the effect of their own actions because they feel entitled to do whatever they want to do to get their own needs met. If there is a problem, because they cannot accept that what they do might be wrong, the problem must exist because of what the partner is doing.
If they love how you treat them, they will idealize you. If they perceive you have slighted them, they feel victimized by what you have done and will tear you down– and lack the emotional empathy to see how they have hurt you.
Then if you give in to what they want and work harder to show them how much you love them, you provide them with the ego boost they need to make them feel like they are in control once again and they may start to shower you with praise and love because you’ve put them in that position of strength.
But it’s not an equal relationship. They don’t provide a foundation of respect, honesty and their “love” is conditional, based on your one-down position of not challenging them or demanding these things.
What they will never do is see how they are the problem, how they are the cause of this harmful and abusive dynamic. They do not believe there is anything wrong with them. They cannot bear to be criticized for any of their wrongs and view you as the problem for pointing out what they did.
Ultimately, it is a self-reinforcing model from hell where the relationship deteriorates to the point to where you will be so ill there is little value left for them to extract, and as that happens, their abuse gets worse, which in turn breaks you down further.
Recognizing this pattern is the first step to extricating ourselves from it, because spiraling downward is going to make it harder to both leave and recover.
In each of the four stages– idealize, devalue, discard, and hoover– they have woven a tapestry in which they can dominate you into providing them with what they need while giving as little in return as possible to get it from you. You are reacting to what the narcissist does in the way you have been conditioned to do so at each stage.
That means, however, that you have four chances to react differently. With even a few minor tweaks in what you do in one or more of the stages, you can start to pull some threads in this entire cycle until it falls apart. Although doing it once or twice may not get you where you need to go at first, each act is a step in the direction of no-contact and this is how you build up your strength to leave.
This is how you outsmart a narcissist.
In the idealization phase, when they’ve put you back on the pedestal again, you know you have to jump through all those hoops to stay there. What if you do the opposite of walking on eggshells?
Example: My ex texted me nonstop when I was out with my friends. Once the devaluation period of the relationship started, if I took longer than an hour or so to respond, I was subjected to accusations and name-calling. Yet, at some point, I stopped caring how long it took to respond. Why? Some part of me had started to see the pattern. No matter what I did, he was always going to find a reason to be upset with me. What difference did it make if he got upset about how long it took me to text back? What was the worst he was going to do? He’d already subjected me to his rage over it multiple times. I’d become numb to it, so I called his bluff.
You: What if you tried something like this instead of trying to avoid the devaluation phase altogether or one of the predictable issues you know is coming?
Realize that the devaluation is an inevitability. Your partner will always find something to become threatened about or offended by. Avoiding the walk on eggshells, even if you start with just one or two actions, helps you to accept this fact that there is no different outcome.
Examples: “I don’t put up with that type of behavior anymore” and leave the room. “Your attempt to paint me in a negative light is noted.” “I know what you’re trying to do and it won’t work.” Stay calm.
If you respond from a position of power, they have nothing to smear about you to others. What are they going to say– claim that you have done something you didn’t actually do by twisting your lack of reaction or avoidance of a real response to their baiting questions or statements as an “admission of guilt?” (My ex was a master of this). If they do, note it silently to yourself. You’re sticking up for yourself and they’re not letting you have boundaries and self-respect.
If they discard you or give you a silent treatment because you’re not putting up with their abuse or giving them the reaction they need to feel validated, be mindful of what that tells you. If he or she loves you so much, wouldn’t they want you to feel respected and wouldn’t they want to be with you?
Don’t placate their twisted victimization. Remember: you were just sticking up for yourself. You remained calm and asked to be respected. Now they’re rejecting or ignoring you for it? Let that sink in.
When they aren’t around, this is a period of self-reflection and self-care. Use it and avoid reaching out to them.
If they come back, don’t excuse what they did and don’t forget. Note this pattern to yourself and how it repeats.
Ask them about what they are doing and why. Listen carefully for their answers. Note the inconsistency– because there will be some and it likely won’t sit well. If they want to come back so badly, why start arguments over ridiculous topics? Why treat you so badly? Pay attention.
Repeat all of this as many time as it takes. Yes, it may be mixed in with moments of weakness where you give in to what they want as well. But there will be times when you won’t.
And sometimes the pattern will look something like this:
The Narcissistic Abuse Dynamic Is Not Your Destiny
You can use the knowledge of exactly what is happening to outsmart the narcissist and stop this painful nightmare. You can make different choices!
I know, because I did it, and I’m not special. It isn’t easy, but the good news is that any choice to make one small change in what you do, in how you react or process what is happening, or even challenge how you think about what is happening makes it easier to make other changes.
When you start to do these things, you are doing is the following:
Making yourself such a nuisance to the narcissist that they will stay gone for longer periods of time, giving yourself time to reduce or eliminate your chemical addiction to the relationship.
Making yourself so uncomfortable with this pattern consciously that it is more uncomfortable for you to be in the relationship that any comfort they can offer you by their presence when they are there cannot overcome the anxiety and discomfort you feel by the relationship overall.
If You Want to Outsmart a Narcissist, Taking Small Steps is the Key
This is why even starting with small actions helps. The actions accumulate and increase your ability to perform more of them and think about the relationship with a clearer frame of mind, ultimately leading to the strength you need to outsmart the narcissist and overpower the dynamic of the relationship entirely and get out.
You don’t have to start at or wait for the idealization stage to do it. Start anywhere. Start where you are now.
If you are in the devaluation stage with them, start reacting calmly or walking away to what they do. If you are in the discard phase, stop trying to contact them. Ponder why they discarded you and take note of how they trap you in this pattern.
I promise you that it may not happen right away, but the day will come that you will start to see them in a different light as you begin to develop new neural pathways in your brain in how you are thinking about the relationship and change the pattern in how you are responding to it.
Your partner will become less and less appealing.
One day, you will find your way to saying, “No more” and it will be your the truth, the one that was waiting for you all along, and they won’t be able to keep it from you anymore.
If you’d like to download the free toolkit with more ideas about how to leave the relationship or get over the narcissist, go here:
The primary model that has been offered for how narcissists abuse their partners is the three-stage idealize-devalue-discard narcissistic abuse cycle.
It has some similarities to the traditional cycle of abuse in domestic violence situations, which was first developed in 1979 by Lenore Walker. Walker’s model was characterized by three phases:
(1) Tension-building stage: the abused partner is submissive and walks on eggshells to avoid an outburst; the abusive partner becomes increasingly demanding, controlling and irritable;
(2) Violent episode: erupts after the tension builds to a high point, where the abused partner may fight back or try to get away; and
(3) Honeymoon period: tension drops completely immediately following the episode; the abusive partner expresses remorse for the behavior and the abused partner feels relieved and hopeful that the episode is over; partner is also resentful about the abuse.
Traditional Model of the Cycle of Abuse
This model was a breakthrough because it provided an understanding of how abusive relationships keep abused partners trapped in the cycle of violence. The honeymoon period offers the partner a glimpse of a “normal relationship” and hope that the abusive behavior has come to an end.
Relationships with narcissists, however, are different. Although they share some similarities to this cycle, they have their own pattern.
This distinction is crucial to recognize because understanding the similarities and differences to the traditional cycle of abuse helps to highlight what makes narcissistic abuse different.
Abused partners are locked in the cycle of abuse in different ways. This understanding can help pave the way to breaking the cycle and helping partners go no-contact.
The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle: Idealize-Devalue-Discard-Hoover
Narcissistic abuse follows a highly-recognized pattern that, at first glance, appears more similar than different to the traditional cycle of abuse.
In the idealization stage at the beginning of the relationship, the narcissist puts his or her partner on a pedestal. The narcissist will shower the partner with excessive praise and attention. This fast-tracks the relationship and cases “soulmate syndrome” and extreme emotional bonding that is very difficult to break.
At some point, the narcissist’s partner will fall off the pedestal–usually due to no fault of his or her own. Narcissists have exceptionally thin skin and consider unusual actions to be criticism. In addition, they react in a more volatile manner to those perceived criticisms than non-disordered people do.
The narcissist will begin to see his or her partner as flawed or even grow bored once the partner begins to show signs of being a “real human.” The devaluation phase then begins. It is characterized by verbal abuse, withholding, humiliation, smearing, and various forms of betrayal on the part of the narcissist.
Meanwhile, the partner has no idea why the relationship has gone from so wonderful to such a nightmare.
Eventually, the narcissist will no longer see any value in the partner, perhaps if the partner is demanding to be treated with respect, for example, or has reacted to this devaluation in a way that the narcissist perceives negatively. The narcissist may discard the partner and the relationship for a new one with someone else who is “new” that he or she can idealize.
The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle: How Narcissists & Psychopaths Behave - YouTube
Often these discards are temporary. The narcissists usually return to “hoover” their partners back into entanglements with them, if they become convinced there is still something to be gained. This may happen even while the narcissist is in the midst of new overlapping relationships with others, and the cycle can continue indefinitely until the partner has the strength to break it off.
Narcissistic Model of the Cycle of Abuse
Cycles of Abuse: Rising and Falling Tension
By comparing the traditional cycle of abuse with the narcissistic abuse cycle, it is clear there are some similarities. These primarily concern the rise and fall of tension within the relationship.
Rising Tension: Abusers in both the traditional model and in the narcissistic cycle begin to escalate abuse until there is some sort of “incident” that ends the period characterized by the positive atmosphere (either the “violent episode” in the traditional model or the “devaluation” stage of narcissistic abuse). In the narcissistic cycle, there may be many incidents of abuse of varying types during the devaluation period prior to the escalation to a discard and disappearance of the narcissist for a period of time.
Falling Tension: When narcissists return to hoover, they once again begin to idealize their partners–there is a reprieve from the devaluation. In the traditional model, the falling tension is characterized by a honeymoon period. In both models, positive bonding is promoted that makes it difficult for the abused partner to leave.
A closer examination of what happens within a relationship with a narcissist to cause the tension to rise and fall demonstrates the important distinctions between these relationships and traditional abusive relationships.
Narcissists Flip the Script and Inflict Further Forms of Psychological Abuse
Mental health counselor Christine Hammond proposed another model of narcissistic abuse that takes into account the motivations of narcissistic abusers. When applied to the narcissistic cycle of abuse, it further highlights the difference between that cycle and the traditional cycle.
Narcissist’s Motivations in the Cycle of Abuse
Hammond explains that at some point in the relationship, the narcissist begins to feel threatened by something that his or her partner has done. This is the tipping point when the abuse starts.
What her model contributes to the understanding of the narcissistic cycle of abuse is a deeper understanding of why and how the traditional model of the cycle of abuse is not adequate to explain why people stay in relationships with narcissists.
The traditional model explains that partners in traditionally abusive relationships stay in the relationships because the honeymoon period convinces them that there is no longer a reason to leave. The partners believe the abuse is over. Abusers feel remorse for their outbursts and then return to try to woo their partners back with promises to change. This is what kickstarts the honeymoon phase.
Although partners in relationships with narcissists may also hope that the narcissist will change once the pattern repeats, the narcissistic abuse cycle describes how narcissists entirely flip the script to lock their partners in through other methods that are not present in traditional abusive relationships.
Narcissists and the Games They Play
Narcissists feel victimized by something that their partners have done. They feel they are justified in treating their partners negatively and punishing them or turning elsewhere for narcissistic supply.
The partner, meanwhile, is baffled. The more that the partner asks questions or makes demands to be treated with respect, the more the narcissist feels victimized and wronged.
Eventually, the narcissist will reject the partner. This results in a silent treatment or discard. The narcissist may engage in a smear campaign against the person they abused.
This is often not the end of the relationship, however.
Why does the narcissist return? He or she needs attention and the partner may be an easy source of supply. It may stroke the narcissist’s ego that they can get away with treating someone so horribly and then return so easily.
The partner is psychologically bound to the narcissist due to many of the devaluation tactics that have conditioned him or her that what has happened is his or her fault, and the partner will try to appease the narcissist if only “things will go back to the way they used to be.”
This is the opposite of what happens in a traditional model where it is the abuser who feels remorse and attempts to hold the relationship together. Narcissists, in contrast, rarely apologize or feel as if they have done anything wrong.
In the traditional model, Walker notes that the partners often feel resentful about being locked in the relationship by this cycle.
This is not so in narcissistic relationships. Unlike in the traditional cycle of abuse, narcissists are able to hide the fact through this pattern that abuse is even occurring. Narcissists are able to make the partner feel responsible for how the relationship has gone awry.
Because they absorb the narcissist’s version of events, victims of narcissists may often get abuse amnesia and have fewer negative emotions toward their own abuser, a feature orchestrated by the narcissistic abuse that is itself abusive.
NOTE: Apparently, I am not the only one to notice this pattern. I would like to give credit to my friend *Hugh for also taking Hammond’s model of narcissistic abuse cycle and applying it to the idealization-devaluation-discard cycle.
If you’re swimming in the ocean and happen to get attacked by a shark, you’re lucky if you happen to escape. If the shark turns back around to bite into you again before you’re able to swim to shore, no one asks why you didn’t swim away fast enough or why you let the shark attack a second time.
I left my abuser dozens of times before it was finally over.
Long before then, there had been two of me: the one that prayed for it to end and the one that prayed it never would–the one that wished desperately for him to put an end to all of the madness once and for all, to put a foundation beneath us and surround me with truth.
It was only afterward that I realized he was surrounding me with the truth all along. It’s easy to blame myself for not seeing it. Yet he did everything he could to blind me from it by infusing false slivers of hope into our time spent together that he intertwined with those desperate wishes he’d been the one to put there in the first place, way back in the beginning. Before things turned bad.
I left my abuser dozens of times before it was finally over, but he just wouldn’t go away.
Thinking of Abusers as Predators
Everyone tells you to develop an exit strategy (or if they’re ignorant about abusive relationships, they just ask why you don’t walk away). What they don’t tell you is what to do when the abuser comes back.
It can be difficult to find trauma therapy for narcissistic abuse. Believe me—I know from first-hand experience.
That’s why I’m so excited to be able to write this post and say that I have found a potential immediate low-cost option for victims of narcissistic abuse.
Here’s why I’m so excited!
If you have had any of the following issues while trying to find a narcissistic abuse recovery therapist (I know I have), this option may be for you:
You can’t find a trauma therapist.
You found a trauma therapist, but he or she isn’t taking new clients or the waiting list is so long you don’t even know when you’ll get in.
You don’t have insurance or find it impossible to afford traditional therapy.
You’ve seen some of the online courses for recovering from narcissistic abuse, but you feel overwhelmed by all the options;
You like the idea of taking a course for recovering from narcissistic abuse, but you’d still like to talk to a therapist about it and you don’t know how you’ll afford both;
You want to try out a service or therapist before actually spending money on it;
You don’t think talking to a therapist once a week will be often enough, but you can’t afford to go more often;
You want the assurance that you are talking to a professional or want evidence-based or specific treatment that you know will be effective.
Well, guess what?
There is an online therapy option that will immediately resolve any combination of these problems so that you can begin immediately healing from the trauma of narcissistic abuse using evidence-based treatment designed specifically to treat trauma.
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My Story Trying to Find Therapy for Narcissistic Abuse
I’ve been there.
There was a time I spent nine months first seeking out a trauma therapist, then with my name on a waiting list. In the meantime, I watched videos, read articles, and signed up for online talk therapy.
It got me through the waiting period, but I felt so lost, I had pretty much withdrawn from life itself during that time period. What if I’d had something more targeted to the trauma I was going through during that time?
How would that have changed my life during that time?
And–I mean, I love my therapist–but would it have changed my life so much that I would have not even have needed to see a therapist face-to-face at all?
I’ve had many survivors write to me to tell me they are having many of the same issues I had: being unable to find a therapist; long waiting lists; confused about options; and even therapists who don’t understand or blame them or unfocused therapy.
I recently decided to do a little research and I found an option I wish I’d known about before as it would have changed everything: Online-Therapy.com
One of the main things that makes Online-Therapy.com different is that they target therapy for specific mental health issues, unlike the other online therapy options I’d tried in the past.
For narcissistic abuse, this is good news because they have a program that specifically targets Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
You don’t just sign up and chat endlessly about what’s bothering you hoping they’ll “get it.” Not that there’s anything wrong with talking when you’ve been through a lot, but sometimes I needed more.
When you work with a therapist who targets and specializes in what you need help with, you can focus immediately on recovery.
How Can Online-Therapy.com Treat Narcissistic Abuse? Online-Therapy.com is the only online therapy program offering a form of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
I wondered why I hadn’t heard of them, and it turns out that they’ve done little advertising. They’re focused on developing solid treatment and building a less commercial background.
The company has actually been around since 2009. It’s been endorsed by Dr. Stephen Gans at Harvard Medical School and MacLean Hospital, and by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, who is frequently seen on The Today Show, Dr. Oz, and CNN, among others.
Using CBT, the program for PTSD developed by experts will guide you through traumatic memories, guiding you through situations with the help of the carefully-selected therapist under controlled conditions at your own pace.
If you’re not familiar with CBT, it’s an evidence-based treatment that can help reduce anxiety in a short period of time. It’s based on the idea that the thoughts we have cause our feelings, and that by changing how we think, we can change how we feel even if our situation is still the same.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been proven to be very effective at having long-term results at changing our behavioral patterns because it gives us concrete steps we can use to make changes in our lives so that we can start thinking and acting in different ways.
But what about if we are getting the therapy online?
When I looked at the research, I was thrilled to find that studies show that CBT works just as well online as it does in face-to-face therapy (Anderson et al., 2015).
What Is Included?
Okay, here is where I was just blown away. Take a look. This is what you get when you sign up:
A DEDICATED THERAPIST: Your therapist is professional, licensed, and qualified to treat you for trauma when you specify that you’d like to be treated for PTSD. You can get daily support from your therapist, if needed, Monday through Friday.
READING MATERIAL AND HANDS-ON TOOLS: If you sign up for PTSD treatment, you will be placed into a treatment program that consists of eight sections of interactive online material that requires you complete engagement, including exercises to try. This is not just you talking into a void. And you can work at your own pace, spending hours a day in practice or a couple of hours a week. There’s no time crunch or time limit.
WORKSHEETS AND THERAPIST FEEDBACK: In each section, you will have worksheets to complete, again at your own pace, that will require you to discuss your thoughts and feelings. Your therapist will respond to what you write within 24 hours and provide feedback, and use them as part of your individual sessions. Unlike a course you may enroll in, your interaction with your therapist will keep you engaged, disciplined, and on track.
LIVE CHAT AND DEDICATED THERAPY SESSIONS: Your subscription type can enable you to book appointments each week to chat live with your therapist on an ongoing basis. This mimics traditional face-to-face therapy in that you can anticipate regular sessions to work through long-term issues.
MESSAGING: You can also send messages to your therapist in addition to the dedicated therapy sessions in some subscription plans and the ongoing feedback in the worksheets. You have access to your therapist at any time Monday-Friday, so you are almost always able to reach out in case the time between live therapy sessions feels too long to wait out. In other words, you have the best of all worlds.
JOURNAL: A self-contained journal is also included, to record your thoughts for use in your sessions or merely to help you decrease negative emotions or track your thoughts over time to use in conjunction with CBT exercises.
ACTIVITY PLAN: Use the planner to structure your time and stay on track by planning your day and scheduling things that will help you to avoid negative thoughts, stick to your goals, and avoid doing things that you might regret later.
FORUM: You will also have access to a private, anonymous online community where you can open up and talk to others who are going through some of the same things you are.
YOGA INSTRUCTOR: Yes, you read that correctly. Online-therapy.com has an online yoga studio so you can add mindfulness, meditation, and yoga to your recovery program.
Want to try it out for yourself to see what it’s like? Here’s the introductory video:
Introduction to Yoga with Petra (for online-therapy.com) - YouTube
Do you see what I mean? I really could not believe all this when I tried it out the program for myself.
As I said, I had tried other online therapy in the past when I was on the waiting list for a trauma therapist. These are the major differences between Online-Therapy.com and two of its major competitors.
Offers live chat
24 hour availability
Reviewed or advised by mental health professionals
Offers specific treatment for PTSD
Offers evidence-based treatment
Provides outside materials and exercises between chat sessions
Additional features such as yoga and activity calendar
Forum for interacting with others
Summing Up: The Pros and Cons
No therapy program is going to be for everyone and I’ve tried to be as honest and up-front as possible about what this program is like, what it includes, and why I like it so much, especially compared to its biggest competitors.
To sum up, here are the biggest pros and cons of Online-Therapy.com for survivors of narcissistic abuse looking for a trauma therapist to help them recover.
Specialized, evidence-based treatment for PTSD
Offers comprehensive hybrid treatment (therapy/coursework with exercises)
CBT is evidence-based to treat trauma
License professional who will be matched to you if you sign up for trauma treatment
Wide variety of types of contact available with the therapist available five days per week, depending on what type of subscription you sign up for: live chat, dedicated therapy sessions, messaging, feedback on worksheets
Dedicated therapy appointments similar to traditional face-to-face therapy to help develop structure
Forums for talking with other people who may be going through similar issues
Other features you won’t find anywhere else that are included and that you can learn to incorporate into your recovery routine, such as the yoga teacher
A 14-day trial–trials are no longer offered at either of the other two major competitors
No video or phone sessions available, although the company is currently working on bringing to clients in the short-term
No mobile app
So my final verdict: if you’ve been looking for something to try and haven’t been able to find the right option, if you haven’t been able to find a trauma therapist, or haven’t been able to afford one, this may be for you.
There is a reason why relationships with narcissists are fraudulent.
“Victims receive what is known as a ‘double hit’ – they are troubled by the loss of money as well as the loss of a relationship. For some, the loss of the relationship is more significant. Whitty found that victims appear to work through Kübler-Ross’s stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Denial can leave victims in a dangerous position of possible re-victimization. This type of fraud can lead victims to lose faith in their ability to seek out a future romantic relationship and lead to a drop in self-confidence. Victims often feel duped – tricked into believing that they were participating in a consensual, loving relationship… Individuals who are defrauded as part of romance scam are often blamed by others for being naïve, as outsiders often feel as though the scams should have been easily identified. It is crucial to remember that this is NOT the case. Victims unknowingly participate in these relationships under false pretences and the level of deception perpetrated against them can be highly sophisticated and complex. Financial fraud can exact a heavy emotional toll on its victims, whose reactions to being victimized may resemble those of other crime victims, including victims of violent crime.” (Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, 2016)
“Here’s the thing– it’s important to grasp what a sociopath is. It isn’t personal. No woman is any better than any other woman. She’s no better, we’re no better. It isn’t even a matter of consideration – sociopaths don’t love anyone. Sociopaths don’t like anyone. They don’t prefer anyone over anyone else. They have no feelings. We could be absolutely anyone to them. Their victims are interchangeable and replaceable. They run several hidden as well as visible ‘relationships’ constantly. This is the way it is. Always. It’s a faux relationship. None of us matter in the least except for one reason and one reason only: each target supplies something the sociopath wants or needs.” -Jennifer Smith (Arabi, 2016)
Let us first take the case of “romance scams” for comparison. It’s common knowledge that the purpose of “romance scams” is financial fraud. What we may not realize, however, is the additional repercussions. The “romantic fraud” that accompanies the financial aspect of romance scams may not be illegal, however, it can have consequences that can be just as devastating, if not more so.
Once a romance scam comes to an end, the loss of money may feel humiliating, embarrassing, or in some cases, may even cause a hardship. Investing in a scam and later learning it is a scam, without the romance, involves a material loss that remains external to the core sense of self.
In contrast, when someone “gets inside” someone’s emotional core to access that person’s financial assets, there is additional harm committed through the violation of that person’s trust. The con artist creates a false idea so believable that the other person invests not only money but a part of his or her life. Interactions genuine on one side only generate emotions and then memories that steal a part of that person’s mind he or she will never get back.
Learning that someone you trusted is not a real person can never be undone. It can only be accepted and, perhaps, moved past.
The fraudulent aspect of narcissistic abuse may or may not involve financial abuse. But it always involves a loss of the self.
Not a Love Story: Relationships with Narcissists are Fraudulent Because…
This is the story of Rob. Rob is a romantic con man.
Rob gets into a relationship with a woman sometime in 2012, Target A. She is a friend of his best friend’s girlfriend. All of them become a close-knit group and enjoy leisure activities together.
Later in the year, Rob travels to his country of birth for his sister’s wedding. Without telling anyone and while still in the relationship with Target A, he becomes engaged to another woman, Target B, a woman he has never met before.
When he returns to the United States, however, he does not any of his friends that he got engaged, nor does he break up with Target A. His father, however, who works with one of his friends gives the friend the news, who tells the others. Target A is shocked and devastated and breaks up with him. Rob is cold and emotionless at first, but then later tries to tell her he made a mistake and they continue to see each other on and off until she goes away to college.
Meanwhile, he dates other girls as well at the same time he continues to see Target A and stay engaged to Target B. At least one, Target C, he brings around the group of friends, but the friends force him to tell Target C that he is engaged.
Rob goes to London and meets Target D. He stays for three months and they have a very intense relationship. He tells her that he wants to marry her and bring her to the United States and tries to get her pregnant, but she takes a morning-after pill so that doesn’t happen. Other times, he barely acknowledges her presence and stands her up when they have made plans.
When he returns to the U.S., she gets a new boyfriend because he tells her he doesn’t know when they will see each other again, and his jealousy drives him to tell her that he got engaged to Target B to make her jealous– except he leads her to believe that it has just happened so she will believe that he did it in revenge because she got a boyfriend, instead of telling her that he had already been engaged when they met.
Rob turns to online dating apps to meet women but uses the name Bob instead. He meets Target E, who never learns anything substantial about him, including his real name. When she tells him she might be pregnant, he blocks her phone number.
Rob meets Target F, who he also at first told his name was Bob. After a couple of weeks, he tells her his real name.
Target F and Rob enter into an intense relationship. He asks her to marry him after six weeks–before he has even seen the inside of her apartment. He always has an excuse for why he doesn’t bring her around his friends.
Meanwhile, he continues to meet new women on dating apps and to see other women he has already known. Sometimes he cancels plans with her at the last minute.
Six months into the relationship is when the love-bombing really begins when Target F tires of the hot-and-cold behavior. Rob claims he truly loves her more than he has ever loved anyone and is sorry he has never shown it. He “has been so hurt in the past,” but now wants Target F to give him a chance to really open up. Believing that he deserves this chance, she decides to let him try.
She falls deeply in love and becomes more open and trusting with him that she ever has with anyone else.
Target F learns, however, that Rob is engaged to Target B. Rob tells her that it was a betrothal that happened when he was a baby and it has been called off, that he has told both his parents and the woman that he isn’t going to marry her.
Target F also learns about Target D, whom he calls crazy and obsessed with him. She also finds evidence of online sex chatting with random women, which he promises was at the beginning of the relationship and hadn’t happened since and won’t happen again.
Target F and Rob move in together in their fourteenth month. Eighteen months into the relationship, Target F learns the following in the span of about three days:
Rob had cheated on her multiple times;
Rob had not, in fact, been betrothed as a baby but had just gotten engaged three years before to Target B while with Target A and that the engagement was still on;
Rob is still talking with Target D, telling her he wants to marry her and is trying to bring her to the U.S. from London and put her in a hotel while he and Target F live together.
Rob grows livid when Target F confronts him with what she has discovered. Rob will not move out of their apartment or let Target F move out and threatens her with financial harm and feeling under duress to agree to his terms, hoping that one week will allow her to have her freedom from him.
During the trip, however, he intermittently withdraws, stonewalls, makes threats, smears her to strangers, emotionally and physically abuses her, threatens to rape her for the rest of the trip, and claims to be sleeping with women he has met on the trip while they are there. He also in other instances claims he can’t live without her and she is the love of his life. She begins to fear for her life, believing he might have brought her to the Caribbean to kill her for insurance money.” Two people who don’t know each other have told her that he has mentioned the amount of money she makes.
Target F cannot stop financially or legally interacting with Rob when they return, and this is when the true mind control begins, also including more physical abuse and isolation so intense, he is now the only person left with whom she is interacting.
Rob has claimed once again that he has called off the engagement to Target B once and for all.
At some point, Target F learns that Rob had a girlfriend several years ago, Target G, whom he had already discussed with Target F. He had claimed that Target G had gotten pregnant by his best friend and that is one of the reasons for his lack of trust. At present, however, the story morphed into the child being Rob’s when Target G appeared in Rob’s life again. Rob claimed that Target G had told him that the child was his at the time and he hadn’t taken responsibility, but that his best friend had decided to start raising the child as his own. So it was a double whammy. Target G had not a child with his best friend, a storyline he’d used to act victimized, and Rob had a child of his own, which he’d known about all this time.
As contact continued between Target F and Rob, she learned that Rob was still talking to Target B about marriage–the engagement was not called off (although he kept putting it off). Target B claimed that Rob had told her Target F was just a friend, an American whore and not to worry about her. He told Target F that she didn’t understand him, she was someone who grew up in a different world and they had nothing in common and didn’t want the same things out of life and he would be bored and
Rob claims to both Targets that the other is lying. He asks Target F to get married or run away with him, but she won’t. He marries Target B, who has met him only once and knows him only through text and phone call communication. He continues to contact Target F and ask her to marry him after he is already married.
Target F goes no contact through a series of events that ended with more questions than answers.
After Target F goes no contact, Rob’s friend contacts her to ask if Rob tried to sleep with an ex-girlfriend that Target F knew, Target H. Rob would have met her after his own wedding since that was when the friend had dated her.
I am “Target F” and This is Also My Story
I can’t tell it in fifteen minutes.
I can’t tell it in one hour.
It is three stories in one.
The First Story
The first story, the story above, is his story his way–the one where there are no secrets. It is a first-person story from beginning to end as he lived it, not as he narrated it for others. He is the quintessential unreliable narrator.
Relationships with narcissists are fraudulent because they benefit only the narcissist. They are fraudulent because actions don’t match words, because actions don’t even match actions. They are fraudulent because lies pile upon lies, even when it makes no sense for a new lie to be told.
The Second Story
The second story is mine and is narrated much differently. It begins in the middle.
For me, it all began that moment we met, that day he took me out and we stood in front of a pool table placing bets–the best two out of three…
“If I win I get a kiss,” he’d said. It sounds like the beginning of something.
And it was. Oh, yes, it was. Just not the thing I’d believed it was.
Telling it his way is like giving away all the clues I never had, all the backdrop to a mystery that everyone can only see a part of at a time before he shines the light somewhere else lest they see too much.
It’s a time-travel story where I had to go into the past to understand the present. When his story began colliding with mine, it unraveled into nothing then rebuilt itself from the ground up. The real version with all the missing pieces.
The Third Story
The third story is every survivor’s story. It’s the one that explains how and why. It’s the one that cannot be told through the narratives or the facts of the story, but through an understanding of the psychology of the mind and the social world we inhabit.
Why does he behave that way? Why do I?
It’s the story of why relationships with narcissists are called fraudulent, each pairing a fierce cult of two.
Are Your Questions the Questions I Use to Have?
Here’s what I know now about what happened. Understanding it has helped me to get my mind back and turn my own life around. I’m dropping these here in one place in case they can help anyone else.
Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. (2016, January). “Helping Victims of Fraud Recover.” Accessed April 25, 2019 at https://crcvc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/helping-victims-of-fraud-recover_Jan2016_final.pdf
Once you have gone no-contact, no matter how much you wanted to do it, it may still feel like you have ripped out a part of your own body and you can do nothing but wait for the bleeding to dry up. There are ways of moving on after going no contact with a narcissist, however, even the thought of doing so can leave you inexplicably frozen in either turmoil or indecision.
For me, what was even harder than moving on was feeling like the narcissist had left a part of himself with me. I could see him everywhere I turned, especially in the places we had spent time together. I could feel him with me at all times, in my mind and body, as if he was telepathically reaching out to me.
I would sometimes have the thought that the fact that we were both on the earth meant we would never be far enough away from each other for me to truly be free of him. Despite everything he had done to me, I feared that a part of me would always be in love with that undefined piece of him that he had left with me for the rest of my life.
Moving on After Going No Contact with a Narcissist Means First Moving On From Holding On
The strange thing was that a part of me did not want to lose that feeling, even though I didn’t understand it.
There was another part of me that wanted, needed, to be free of that tie, so I took conscious actions to force myself to start letting him go. What anyone who has never been in a relationship with a narcissist doesn’t understand is that there are actions that have to be taken to move on from the feeling of holding on before one can move on with one’s life.
These were things that I did after I went no-contact in order to help myself move on from him and begin to get my own mind back, to gain control of my life. They didn’t work overnight, but they did work for me pretty quickly.
If you’re struggling to let your narcissist ex go and to remove him or her from you’re sphere even if you’re in no-contact, here are five things you can try to purge him or her from your heart and move on.
1. Write a List of Everything The Narcissist Ever Did to You That Was Damaging.
This item comes in two parts.
First, make the list. make it as detailed as possible. What insults did he or she hurl at you? How many times did he or she cheat?
Write it all down. Nothing is too small. The invalidation, the smears, the lies, the gaslighting, the double standards, the verbal abuse, the physical abuse, the things they used against you, the silent treatments… it all goes on the list.
The caveat here for me was that sometimes I’d get so angry, I’d feel like telling him off. Do not do this.
Instead, write all the lists you want and need to. Perhaps put them in the form of letters, telling him or her what a jerk he or she is and do not send the letters. Write, write, write until you can’t write anymore.
However, the goal is to purge yourself of emotion about the relationship for the moment, to rid yourself of the desire to reach out or hold on, not incite the emotion.
What that means is to stop often and get a read on what you are feeling. If you find your emotions are building, rather than fading, then stop and use another form of emotion management, such a soothing activity or distraction.
2. Keep reading your lists and your letters until you can no longer deny all of those things you may have put out of your head or repressed.
By actively reading and writing, with a consciousness you may never have done or been able to do with the narcissist present in your life, the pieces may start to come together about what was done to you and how. You may feel less sad and more indignant–but this is a good thing. That indignation will build a wall in your heart and help you mentally to “stand up” to the narcissist in case he or she returns.
Even if he or she doesn’t, that emotion will help you put the distance there emotionally to analyze what took place and then help you move past the connection you were unable to break before.
2. Avoid People Who Are Victim-Blamers.
You’re trying to make a major life change by recovering and letting go of the narcissist so you can move on. The last thing you need right now is someone judging you for having been in the relationship, or even judging whatever emotions you may still be having even though you’re no longer in it.
Victim-blamers make it harder for you to make the changes you need to make because they have an image of you as someone who somehow invited the abuse. The pre-conceived role they have defined for you in their minds colors their interactions with you.
You don’t need that negativity and lack of support holding you back while you’re trying to break out of an old mindset and take the next steps to move forward.
What you are doing is trying to break the connection. The narcissist used manipulation tactics on you that can work on anyone, regardless of their own state of mind, and codependence for these types of relationships especially damaging for victims of mind control.
You will be in a better frame of mind to examine any particular once you have moved on from holding on. This examination could actually be categorized in the second aspect of moving on from this type of damage.
3. Keep Reading About Narcissism and Narcissistic Abuse.
The influence the narcissist had over your thoughts will fade away the longer you’re in no-contact, but continuing to read about narcissistic abuse will validate your experience when you start to have doubts. It will remind you that nothing about what happened was normal or acceptable. You will see your own story reflected in other people’s stories over and over again.
The similarities between what you read and what happened to you will start to drain what the narcissist left behind out of your sphere. It will start to sink in that we are all feeling the same thing, that there is nothing to miss because all of our stories are carbon copies of one another; we are missing ghosts.
You will be so disgusted by the narcissist’s manner of viewing people and relationships, that you will want no part of it. You can start applying what you read generically about how they think to your own situation, and start giving yourself pep talks, especially if you start to get nostalgic or miss the narcissist: Why do you want to hear from someone who seeks to use and control you like this? If it actually worked, he would be secretly laughing at you for falling for it. He doesn’t even miss you. Do you really want someone controlling you like this, and so blatantly, now that you know what’s going on?
You will, maybe for the first time, be able in your own mind to start rejecting the narcissist (instead of the other way around) as you reject the narcissist’s way of thinking.
5. Take Yourself and Your Life Back.
Were there things you changed or hid about your life just to keep the peace and keep him or her from questioning you (settings on your phone, for example)?
Change them back. Now. Do what you need to do to that is in your power to do to purge the narcissist from your sight or your psychic influence.
If there are things in your home environment that remind you of him or her, get rid of them. Get new sheets. Redecorate. Do it in colors you love, maybe ones that the narcissist would not have approved. Move furniture around.
Stock up on food the narcissist didn’t like that you love. Watch some television shows or a movie that the narcissist never liked or wasn’t interested in. Do some things you had put on hold because he or she was dominating your life and you never had time for, or you shied away from because he or she mocked them.
Take up a new interest that had always looked appealing. Invite a friend out that you haven’t talked to in a long time, especially if it’s someone the narcissist had isolated you from in some way.
Anything you put on hold, left behind, put off, ignored, didn’t explore, felt bad about, or changed to appease the narcissist, drag it out and let it shine. These are the things that are going to take the space that the narcissist was squatting in. That space belongs to you and you can and should put in it whatever you want to without guilt, without fear.
I engaged in these five things to keep the narcissist from having any more power over my life.
I had made a deliberate decision that I did not want to be in love with someone who had only not really loved me as I had loved him. I did not want to stay connected to someone who had lied to me about the nature of his love and had repeatedly and intentionally done things to hurt me.
It hurt to let go of my love and to believe these things. I wanted to keep believing the lie–but believing it was hurting me.
Although these actions are not a substitute for therapy with a qualified therapist, they can be done in the absence of one. It is a really good idea to seek out a therapist who has a background treating trauma and abuse, particularly one who is either knowledgeable about narcissistic abuse or is amenable to learning more about it.
In the meantime, however, believing a lie was keeping me from getting my mind back. Giving over control of my mind was and keeping me from doing the type of moving on that would help me get my life back.
If you’d like to get a copy of the toolkit that I developed to help take your life back, it is available at this link: