How to Heal from a Narcissistic Relationship

young ethnic couple arguing on street
Two Healthy Homes | Co-Parenting Classes

by Dr. Erica Ellis

Founder of Two Healthy Homes. Licensed psychologist, best-selling author, and a leading global expert on co-parenting and child centered divorce.

Healing from a Relationship with a Narcissist

Being in an abusive relationship with a narcissist takes a profound toll on all aspects of your being. It can result in psychological trauma, damaged self-esteem, inability to trust yourself and your perceptions, physical/medical problems, and a reduced ability to deal with life’s challenges. Throw a divorce into the mix and the emotional toll becomes even greater. 

It is therefore essential to utilize proven strategies to heal from the toxic relationship and the narcissistic abuse, both for your sake and for the sake of your children. 

The Personal OATH

The four part Personal OATH will provide you with a roadmap for navigating the stages of healing after narcissistic abuse.

OOwn what is in your control

A-Accept what is not in your control

T-Take charge of your future

H-Heal yourself and your children

This healing process is based upon the principle of re-claiming and proclaiming your power and responsibility. If you don’t take the lead and make the necessary changes to create a healthy future for yourself and your children, it is probable that no one else will. You cannot wait for your narcissistic partner to change since that will likely never happen given the long-standing nature of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and narcissistic behaviors and traits. The change and healing are up to you. 

Step 1: Own what is in your control

The first step in this process is to honestly assess your situation and determine what is in your power to change. The single most important thing to accomplish in this stage is to recognize the abuse and to label it accurately for yourself. Throughout your relationship you have been blamed for everything and told repeatedly that you are the problem. Your goal now is to reject those abusive messages and to start replacing them with more self-affirming ones that speak to your strengths and worthiness. This is the process of re-building your self-esteem and that is what is truly within your control to accomplish at this time.  

If you have children, it is also within your control to prioritize their needs during the divorce process and beyond. The worst thing you can do is wait around for your ex to change their behavior and give up hope of your children emerging from your divorce without emotional damage. You have the power to become their role model for positive parenting rather than getting sucked into your ex’s inappropriate patterns of engaging with your children. You have the power to show your children what it means to be a loving, empathic, non-abusive parent rather than trying to tell them all the ways that their other parent fails in these pursuits. 

Step 2: Accept what is not in your control

You have probably spent years trying to change your behavior to make your narcissistic partner happy and to reduce their abusive behavior. They have convinced you that their bad behavior is your fault. This is gaslighting at its best. You do not have the power to change the narcissist’s behavior. They are who they are and will remain that way regardless of how hard you try to make them happy. Accepting this reality will truly be a huge step toward setting yourself free from their controlling abuse. 

If the two of you share children, you will unfortunately remain connected to your former partner in a variety of ways. It is important to accept that you have little or no control over their parenting with your children (unless you are pursuing legal interventions if your children are at risk of harm). Attempting to exert that control will inevitably fail and will only lead to continued conflict. As previously discussed, your counter to their inappropriate parenting is to provide your children with a consistent model of a predictable, empathic, affirming parent who is emotionally always available for them in an unconditional way. 

Step 3: Take charge of your future

The next step in the healing process is to start taking steps to re-build your life separate from your narcissistic former partner. The key to successfully accomplishing this goal is establishing and maintaining boundaries. Part of this can be done through the legal process if there are children involved and the rest can be accomplished through your own behavior.

Legally, you can create a parallel parenting plan that by definition limits your interaction with each other. Each of you will have your own areas of responsibility for the children and communication will be limited and ideally not in person. 

Regardless of the legal plan that gets established, you will need to set boundaries and work hard to maintain them. Your former partner is highly skilled at sucking you into conflict and you will need to become equally skilled at no longer allowing that to happen. It will take discipline and effort, but you have the power to change the dynamic and no longer give them control of your reactions and emotions. 

Step 4: Heal yourself and your children

The first three steps will provide the foundation for the actual process of healing. You have acknowledged the abuse, have accepted that you have no power to change your ex, and have committed to the boundaries that are necessary to protect yourself and your children. Your goal now is to heal from the emotional damage and move forward in a healthier way. 

There are many ways to accomplish that goal, all of which involve facing the painful emotions head on. Trying to push past them without fully dealing with them is never a strategy that works, even if it appears to be easier in the moment. Those powerful emotions will only continue to follow you if not fully addressed, and now is the time to make that happen. 

Trusted friends and family members can be a powerful support during this healing process. Push aside your concern that you are being a burden and allow your loved ones to be there for you as you would be for them. 

Participating in a support group can also be a highly effective strategy for healing from an abusive relationship. Talking with, and getting support from, other people who have gone through the same experiences as you and who truly understand your feelings can be very therapeutic.

Practicing self-care during the healing process is also essential given the extreme stress that inevitably exists at this time. Getting enough sleep, eating well balanced meals, exercising regularly, meditating daily, and utilizing relaxation strategies can all be powerful tools in managing stress. These should not be considered selfish luxuries but rather life-saving essentials. You will be unable to care for your family if you don’t take care of yourself first. 

Given the trauma that being in an abusive relationship can cause, these sources of support are often not sufficient to fully work through the healing process. Seeking the help of a mental health professional is often necessary to fully recover from years of being in an abusive relationship. There are many therapeutic modalities available, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Explore your options, find a therapist that fits your needs and interpersonal style, and stick with it despite how painful the process can be. The growth and healing that you will achieve, and the healthy future that you will create, will be well worth the time and effort you put it now

This four step OATH process can help guide you through the challenging healing process and empower you to take the steps to move beyond your painful relationship with your narcissistic partner. It is a process that is going to take time, but you can make it happen with the help of the important people in your life. Trust yourself and you will get there!


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