If you've ever been in a relationship with an abusive partner, you know how easy it is for that person to make you doubt your own reality. The abuser will twist the narrative to make themselves the victim of some imagined slight, justifying the verbal abuse they fling at you, the control they exert over you, and the ways they silence you.
Living this reality day to day, you inevitably begin to question if their narrative is truly the right one. "Am I abusive?" you'll ask yourself. "Am I the narcissist?" Abusers love to play these mind games because it gives them the sense of power they seek. They are so weak internally, they have to obliterate anyone else around them to feel superior.
It can be difficult to manage even five-minute interactions or short e-mail communication with the narcissist, and for that reason, it's recommended anyone dealing with a narcissist have no contact with the person whatsoever. If you have children with the person, though, that's a little trickier. It can be tough to tend to the scars of abuse, but it is vital to recover your sense of self and to reject the tall tales the narcissist has spun about you so that you can heal.
Here are four ways I have coped with the damage done when I got to the "healing yourself" stage:
Indulge in things you love
Baths, dancing, singing, and making mix CDs (because I'm old-school like that) have all helped me keep it together. The goal is to stay centered, so that you don't get knocked into an emotional whirlpool because of the narcissist. Your abuser has made every effort to make you forget who you are, to make you into a shell of a person, and by remembering who you are underneath the pile of crap they've continually flung on top of you, you'll be better able to wade through the muck.
Write things down
I write a lot because that's how I process my emotions and work out my worries. I also write to figure out my world, and in the case of narcissistic abuse, I write to remember that the narrative the abuser feeds me is not the whole truth.
I hardly ever have days now where I have to do this, but in the early days, I wrote down dreams I had that made me think about the abuse or that were directly related to it. I later reflected on those dreams, wrote down my thoughts on their meaning for me in a journal, and managed my feelings that way. Often, doing this reflection helped me see things I hadn't seen in the moment the abuse was taking place, and it helped me feel calmer because I felt I had a firmer grip on my own reality. This way, I felt I didn't have to buy into the lies I was being fed.
I also journaled when things blew up and when things were "good." Doing this helped me establish that there was a pattern to this and it helped me identify the patterns so that I could stay ahead of the blow-ups. In this type of dynamic, you have to become an expert at seeing beneath the facade the abuser puts up. For me, this (mostly) prevents me from getting sucked into the power play that inevitably arises
Tell others your story
Your abuser probably told you that everybody hates you," that "nobody wants to hear your shit," and that they are "the only one who knows you." This is a tactic they use to isolate you from others and maintain control over you. Don't listen to them if they tell you not to talk to anybody about your relationship, especially when you're having problems in it and your abuser says, "You're crazy." That, in itself, is abuse.
When I started telling others what was going on in my life, I found that some of the people I told could hold up a mirror for the story I told that helped me recognize a part of the story I hadn't seen before. When you are faced with such trauma, it can be really easy to blame yourself - the narcissist does a great job of convincing you their abuse of you is your fault - and the shame and embarrassment that we often feel around our abuse can keep us from speaking up about it.
Unfortunately, there are some people who victim-blame and tell you that you were at fault for the abuser's manipulation. Those people are not the right confidantes. When you tell others your story, you will learn quickly who will blame you and who will support you and validate your feelings. The dynamics of abuse are, unfortunately, not commonly known, so it is likely that you will face some victim-blaming as you open up. However, that should not stop you from opening up to people who don't blame you for the abuser's actions.
It is important to find people in whom you can confide who will provide the space you need to heal from the trauma you've endured as a result of this abuser's actions. Those people are out there, and when you find them, they are worth holding onto. You'll get a sense over time of who you can and cannot talk to about what you've gone through because you'll notice how you feel after you speak to someone about it. You'll notice whether you feel better about the situation or more hopeless. You'll notice whether you feel judged or supported. Do everything you can to build a support network of people who help you feel supported and relieved. Know that it takes time to find a good support system, but that it is out there. Don't give up the search.
At the time I met my ex, I was involved in the Middle Eastern dance community in Portland, performing regularly around town. I had started acting, with small roles as a background actor here and there, and I had also started working behind the scenes in film, as well. Once I became involved with him, all those things fell by the wayside and I lost touch with who I was becoming. The person I was becoming before he entered the picture, by the way, was someone I loved being.
When I was in the thick of my relationship with my abuser, he would tell me I was ridiculous for wanting to pursue things I loved. All my creative drive felt like it had been sucked out of me. This is a purposeful way that the abuser keeps you down. They hate to see you happy and are jealous of the joy your creative drive can bring you, so they do everything they can to sabotage that side of you. As a person who enjoyed a variety of creative disciplines before I met my abuser, it was like a triple blow to my sense of self to have my creative energy stifled.
When I was finally ready to reclaim the power he had stolen from me, I started dancing again away from his view. I wrote a lot. I really started to regain my creative drive when I moved out of the house we shared. When I moved out, I was in a safe environment where I wasn't going to be put down or ridiculed or sneered at for being creative. Having this space allowed me to return to the things that brought me great joy. Bit by bit, I started to remove the muck he'd keep burying me in through allowing myself to be creative when I was away from him.
Your creative drive is a part of the spirit and soul that feels lost to you when you are controlled by an abuser. It's the part of you that hides when you don't feel safe, and that core part of you is what needs the most nourishment after you've escaped an abuser. Remember to feed it, because as it grows, you will grow and heal.