Todays blog post is something completely new for myself and the blog. I have never had a guest blogger write here before but a few weeks ago one of my sorority sisters from college reached out to me asking if I would be interested in reading something personal she had written. She had recently left a very emotionally and mentally abusive relationship and wanted to know if I would be willing to share her story.
My initial reaction was shame because I knew the exact relationship she was talking about and it was one that appeared very loving in healthy while we were in college. I had never realized she might have been in an abusive situation and I wished there was something I could have done to help. After taking some time to process this news, I read her story and knew that I just had to share this with others. If not to help others by sharing this story than at least to help free herself from the weight of the story she was carrying.
My hope from this is that if it can help even one person decide to leave a bad relationship than it is worth sharing. I think it is really important to be open and candid with my readers and by sharing this story I hope you feel you can do that same with me too.
3 things I learned after leaving a Narcissistic Abusive Relationship
Narcissism. Narcissists. Narcs. There are so many wonderful online resources that define Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how these individuals abuse or manipulate their partners (This article from Thought Catalog is one of my favorites: 11 Signs You’re the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse). It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel while you’re in the relationship, but it’s especially hard after you’ve left. Almost a year after leaving a 4.5 year long relationship with a narc, I still come back to these three lessons.
1. Rediscovering yourself post-abuse is possible.
Each day away from the narcissist is a success. Even if you feel lost, even if you aren’t sure how to move forward, even if the thought of starting over or finding yourself again feels crippling, you’re doing wonderfully. After being in a relationship that robs you of the very core of your being, it’s hard to know where to start. For example, my ex used to control every aspect of my life — imagine not being able to pick out your own toothpaste. Well, that was my reality. After leaving, I remember going to the grocery store on a particularly overwhelming day. How was I going to find a new apartment? How was I going to furnish it? How was I going to be happy again? What was it like to laugh? I couldn’t remember. But, in the toothpaste aisle, I somehow found the answer. I automatically reached for “an approved brand” that my ex liked. But, arm out, I stopped. I reached for the brand I’d grown up with instead. The brand of toothpaste I used until I met him. I felt relief wash over me; I felt euphoric. I felt free. I was regaining control over my life, one decision at a time, after all control had been taken away for so long. Relish in these moments, they’re all part of your rediscovery, and they’re all important, even if they seem small.
2. Rely on your support system after leaving the relationship.
One way narcissists can abuse, is by forcing you to distance yourself from your support system. They make you feel guilty for having lunch with your mom, or for going out with your girlfriends, or talk down to you for spending too much time with your family and not enough time with him. He also may lash out or yell after you get home. Regardless of the technique, eventually you find yourself turning down invitations for various reasons. But, att the core of these reasons, is that you don’t want to get yelled at. You don’t want to feel guilty. You don’t want to upset him. But your family will always love you. Your friends will always love you. They’ll welcome you with open arms when you decide to leave. They won’t make you feel guilty or ashamed, they’ll help you pick up the pieces of your heart, and of your life. They’ll keep those pieces safe as you put yourself back together again.
3. It wasn’t (and isn’t) my fault for not realizing I was in an abusive relationship.
Narcissistic abuse is insidious, and my partner was as textbook as they come. But I didn’t know I was being abused. I knew I was unhappy, but it wasn’t until I left after 4.5 years together, that I realized how deeply I had been manipulated and abused. I didn’t realize, that for years, I’d been fooled into thinking I wasn’t good enough, that I needed him, that I didn’t have an identity or a personality or even a life without him. I realized I was abused the day that I left. I years of living in fear wash over me. I was terrified. Terrified that I’d left my life behind. Terrified that I was starting over. But more than anything, terrified that I’d done something wrong, that he’d find me, and I’d have to go back to the nightmare that was my old life. I realized how alarming these almost automatic thoughts were, how ingrained this fear felt. After several fervent hours of Googling, I realized I’d been in a narcissistic abusive relationship. It still isn’t my fault for not realizing.
Since leaving (a year ago in June!) I feel like I’ve grown in every way possible — mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But what sticks out the most, is deciding that I want to share my story; wanting other individuals that may be in the same situation to read a story similar to theirs. To know that those controlling moments aren’t okay. I think being ready to share my story and the lessons I learned is a huge growth milestone. I’ve grown enough to process what happened, what I’ve learned, and how a dark period in my life led to light. The time I spent in that relationship feels like a lifetime ago in the best way.
Alyssa is a technical writer for Cherwell Software in Colorado Springs, CO. She’s passionate about coffee, eating gluten free comfort food, playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends, as well as being an average yet enthusiastic trail runner. In the winter months, she spends weekends cross-country skiing and being a blanket burrito.