Four and 1/2 years ago I was a mess, spending whole days sobbing, unable to eat, paralyzed with fear yet manic as I purged him from my home. I lost 25 pounds and made a lot of mistakes when my narcissist of 23 years left me and our children. Fortunately, I had children, so the thought of giving up was unacceptable – I had to keep moving, keep my head in the game.
I was a shattered soul when I finally walked into the therapist office, the woman who changed everything. After listening to me for 20 minutes she said “you do know he’s a covert narcissist and you are a victim of abuse, right?”. These words changed my life.
During that 1st session she told me to Trust the Process. She said —
- I was heading into a long, difficult process of recovery. She said it would be hard but empowering.
- it would be up and down, even drawing a graph of the relatively even emotions of someone without abuse, comparing it to the intense ups & downs of the victim of abuse.
- it would be 3 steps forward, 2 steps back.
- I would most likely go through periods, during the rest of my life, when I doubted what I’d learned to be true.
- that I would watch in horror, disbelief and shame as my ex moved on and built a new, fabulous life. She reminded me, time and time again, that appearances are deceiving.
- to stand my ground, even when he stopped paying the mortgage and I had no money to pay my heating bill.
She said “this is a process, and you will make it through, like so many others before you”. And she was right! Today, I am happier than I ever remember being. I feel safe, and secure, and strong and satisfied with my life. I watch my ex building his new “brilliant” life and hear about how his new wife is “living the dream” and that pit in my stomach, that little voice that used to say “see, dummy, you were the problem” is gone. That voice has been replaced by the voice of reason that says “this is an illusion, a house of cards, and it will fall”.
Having been through this I’d like to offer a few concrete steps for others to take. I like to think of this as the trek climbers make summiting Mt. Everest. It takes them years to get there, the climb is slow and exhausting, attempts to summit often go awry, and, if the climber makes it to the summit, they aren’t done – descent is just as difficult. This is a voluntary trek few make, and even fewer succeed.
The trek you are on, recovering from narcissistic abuse, is not voluntary. Unfortunately, this is a trek you must make to survive. The good news is that like the climber who successfully tackles Mt. Everest, you will be filled with joy, strength, pride and happiness when you are done.
Like Everest, you must first get to your base camp.
Find a good therapist, one familiar with narcissistic abuse.
- Therapist = Sherpa. No one climbs Mt Everest successfully without a trained Sherpa. Good Sherpa’s can make the difference between life and death. Your Therapist may make the difference between your recovery or lack of recovery. This is your #1 priority. I know what you’re thinking – hey, what about my mortgage, heating bill, clothes for the kids? Trust me – this will all come together in time, but only if you survive this trek.
Protect your money.
- Separate your finances from your abuser. Open new accounts in your name only. Take every cent you can get your hands on and put it in your new account. Feel guilty about that? Don’t! Trust Me – he has money hidden in places you can’t even imagine, &, even if he doesn’t, he will manipulate his way into a successful new life.
- Accept every credit card offer you get. You are not over reacting, being greedy or gaming the system. Unfortunately, the “system” is not going to protect you – that is up to you.
- Scour the internet for financial assistant. Once your finances are separated you might be eligible for medicaid, free school lunches or internet, help with your heating bill. Put your pride aside and accept that the fact that right now you need the help.
- Don’t throw away your narcissists belongings. This seems counter-intuitive, right? Get rid of the reminders, right! Here’s the thing – the narc buys good stuff. While you’ve been scrimping and saving, he’s been buying the best of the best, whenever he wanted. Whatever he leaves behind is yours, and it is worth something. Ebay, Craiglist, Facebook yard sales, actual yard sales – this is your opportunity to make money that you can put away for an emergency, money your narc doesn’t know about.
- Talk to your kids about money. Set up new ground rules. Let them know that extras are on them. You won’t have money for ballet, or baseball lessons, a limousine for prom. When they push back, as they will, take a look around. Look at the millions of people who survive with even less and have wonderful lives. Believe that in the months and years to come you, and they, will find a beauty in life you missed being over scheduled and over stimulated.
- Role Model. Accept the fact that you are embarking on what might be years of insecurity, financial distress and fear. It will be terrifying, you will doubt the path you are on, you will cry and scream and fall apart. It is all part of the process, and it is worth it. The best part of all of this is that your children are watching. They will watch you climb out of the pit of despair and create a great new life. What a gift to give them! Watching you teaches them that they too, can survive anything that comes their way.
Find a Good Lawyer
- Hire your own lawyer. Your narc will try to convince you that his lawyer will protect you. Bullshit. This is an investment in your future. This is like student loans. College costs money, yet leads to a more secure financial life. So does a lawyer.
- Interview a few, because they are not all the same. In fact, there are a lot of narcissists in law. If you meet with one who leaves you with a knot in your stomach, don’t hire them! You have spent years ignoring your instincts – listen to them now.
- Set up a payment plan. Once they hear your story, a good attorney will accept a payment plan. Why? Because they know that your ex is hiding money and eventually you will get some of it. They know you are trustworthy, and they will work with you.
- Make small payments. The best way to keep keep your lawyer happy is to make small payments. $10-$25 shows your attorney that you have no intention of stiffing him. These small payments ensure you will get his best work.
Go No Contact or Gray
- Reclaim stable ground. Your narc talked you into the life you are currently living. Don’t forget that. Your narc knows you better than you know yourself, and he will do everything in his power to get you off this track of recovery. He thrives on keeping you off balance, because you can’t think straight when you are off balance. Don’t let him. If you don’t share children or a business, go No Contact. All contact must go through your attorney. If you have children or a business, go gray. Gray means you are unresponsive, a blank stare. You are the sort of person who is asked a question and you never answer; you walk away, quietly, yet firmly.
- Get a new phone number* and don’t share it. Buy a cheap burner phone. If necessary, don’t share it with your children. Share this number only with people you are 100% sure won’t share it with your ex. This is the phone you will carry with you. Keep your old phone in a drawer and check it once every 3 days. Think of the climber at base camp – they can’t call home every day, yet lives go on. You too can do this!
- Get a new email address. Don’t share it with your ex or your children. Check your old one once every three days. When you check your old email, read only the 1st sentence. If it is not an imperative issue, delete it. If you find that each email feels imperative, ask a trusted friend to clear your inbox before you look at it.
- Change your passwords and share them with only 1 trustworthy person. Do not share them with your children or anyone else who has contact withe your ex.
- Do not respond to emotional pleas. He trapped you with his emotional abuse, and he will trap you again if you let him. Remember all the times he said “I missed that text” or “I forgot”, and emulate that. Miss his texts and emails, forget about him! Imagine yourself on Mt. Everest at base camp. You are not able to help with day to day issues. This is your life right now. All you can, and must, do is acclimate to your new life without him.
- Go Gray with Children. This is one of the hardest parts of this. You might have some children who side with your ex. If so, you must go gray with them also. Trust the Process! You will get them back, if you yourself recover. This process works. Your children will grow and change as you do. Keep the faith.
Examine your definition of an emergency
One of the greatest tool of the narc is keeping you off balance. What better way to do this than to create emergencies. Emergencies throw the most stable person off kilter. To establish a firm base you have to redefine “emergency”.
There are two key questions you should ask –
1. Does this concern you. Is he reaching out because he’s sick, or financially struggling, or not so happy with his new GF, or something else involving him. This Is Not Your Emergency. Ignore it. He is not your issue anymore.**
2. Is there anything you can do. Most often there is not. If one of your children is in the emergency room, you’ll get a call from the ER, not him. You will find that most often, there is nothing for you to do with his “emergencies”.
- Stick with it for 1 month. Going gray is hard for the 1st month. After that, you will Love It! Look at it like a new habit. It takes 3 weeks for something to become a habit. Accept that going gray is a new habit and, after 3 weeks of living with the uncomfortability, this will become your new normal, and you will love it.
Educate, Educate, Educate
- Read blogs. There is no shortage of good blogs out there. Google whatever is on your mind that day and read, read, read. When you find your story in someone else’s, save that blogs and read it over and over again.
- Take Quizzes. As with blogs, there is no shortage of quizzes you can take to ascertain if you were abused, or if your ex is a narcissist. Take them. And, when you have doubts, take them again. And Again!
- Write. Usually referred to as journaling, many of us feel incapable of writing. Write your grocery list if that is all you can manage. Write about the weather. Write gibberish, draw silly pictures, make up nonsensical poems or stories. Write down all the reasons you believe what I’m telling you to do is bullshit. The goal is to put pen to paper every single day. A new habit. Do it for a month and see what happens. Worse case scenario, you’ve wasted some paper and ink. Hopefully though, at the end of the month you will start writing something that helps you; clarifies your story, provides the next step, answers a question.
With these steps you are well on your way to recovery. You are now settled into your base camp of recovery. If you follow climbers, you know that they spend a period of time at base camp, acclimating to this new normal, before heading to camp 2. You will remain at your base camp for a while. It will take a period of time for you to acclimate to this new life. Like any new endeavor, this will not be easy, and it will not be comfortable.
Be patient but firm with yourself. Remember that this is part of the process. More importantly, these are the 1st steps in the process. You can not build a new life until you set this new foundation. Like a new home, the foundation is the part that holds the house up. If the foundation has cracks in it, the house will fall. Make sure that the time you spend at this base camp is firmly in place, so that the foundation of your recovery is strong enough to support you in the steps to come.
Remind yourself that you can not move to Camp 2 until you are fully acclimated to this base camp; until this is your new normal.
Keep the faith!! You got this!
*Isn’t it interesting how we went from having 1 home phone, to each person having their own cell phone. When I was a child we managed life every day with 1 phone for 6 people. Cell phones have made our lives easier, yet also more complicated. Cell phones have made every need or request an emergency. Cell phones have stolen our private moments, leaving us at the mercy of those around us, including our abusers. Trust me – a year without a smart phone will turn into one of the best years of your life.
**need proof that he is not your problem? Read my blog The Tractor. Fiction, but fun!