When Nina finally went “No Contact” with the narcissist, she couldn't wait to move on with her life. No more bullying, gaslighting, or walking on eggshells. Her nightmare was finally over — except she kept hearing the narc’s voice in the back of her mind.
She was surprised to discover how much she’d been relying on the narcissist to “guide” her. She’d gotten so used to letting her partner make all the decisions that she froze up every time she had to make a decision by herself.
When she went on a date, the narc’s criticism played like a Spotify list in the back of her mind. When she decorated her new apartment, she kept questioning her own taste. Her lack of confidence even carried over to her new job where Nina apologized and over-explained so often that she almost got fired.
Nina isn’t the only person who’s experienced a lack of confidence after leaving a narcissist. Most people think the abuse is over once the relationship ends, but going no contact doesn’t fix everything. Narcissistic abuse is so insidious that it can embed itself into your brain and keep playing nefarious messages on repeat. You might even need to purge your mind and habits of the ways you reacted to the narcissist before you can heal and have a healthy relationship with someone else.
Learn to Think for Yourself
The long term effects of narcissistic abuse can depend on several factors — the first is how long your mind was influenced by the narcissist. For instance, if you grew up with a narcissistic parent, the cumulative effect of the abuse in your formative years might make it harder to clear your mind and find your voice than if you married a narcissist in your adult life. This can go both ways —if you grew up in a relatively loving family, you’re more likely to recognize unloving actions when the narc takes the mask off. But if you grew up with narcissistic abuse, you might mistake that abuse for love because it feels normal to you.
The second factor is how much influence the narcissist actually had over you — despite how long you were under their influence. Some people (the black sheep) completely rebelled to their narcissistic parents as children, while their siblings (possibly the golden child) bonded with the narcissistic and did everything they were told. Compliant children can lose their individuality and ability to think on their own if their identity was swallowed up by a malignant, narcissistic parent. If they don't turn into a full-blown narcissist themselves, they might become a “lost child” and it could take years of therapy for them to find themselves.
This is also true of adult relationships. Your ability to think for yourself is related to how much influence your partner has had over you. If you’ve handed over your decisions and choices to keep the peace for years, then it’s going to be a struggle to think for yourself on your own.
Eliminate the Narc’s Messages From Your Mind
This might be very difficult if you grew up with a narcissist. The younger you were when those negative messages were given — the harder it is to remove them, but it is possible. Millions of people have risen up in spite of the narcissist and reclaimed their right to think for themselves.
Negative messages can come through many venues including the media, but messages from someone you know intimately stokes the fire of insecurity and self-doubt. It’s up to you to be the gatekeeper. You are probably discerning about who you will allow into your home. In a similar way, you can be careful about who or what you let into your mind. This includes everything from what you read on social media to those negative tapes from the narcissist in your head.
Perhaps you’ve heard these messages —
“You don’t know what you’re doing.
“If they know how stupid you are they’ll never hire you.”
“What makes you think you can get away with this?”
“You’re too fat.”
“You’re not qualified.”
“You don’t deserve this place, person, raise, etc.” (Fill in the blank.)
Echoes of gaslighting are like a disgusting earworm on constant repeat. Like a Trojan horse embedded into your psyche, the cruel and caustic remarks of the narcissist can attack your mental outlook for years— unless you take specific steps to erase them.
The good news is truth and time are on your side. You can start by writing down all the toxic messages the narcissist gave you. Once you’ve written them down, try correcting these lies with the truth. For example, if the narcissist said, “You aren't smart enough to manage a bank account,” don’t you dare believe it. Find a friend to teach you how to do it well. Once you know the truth it will set you free and that lie will never hurt you again.
Another way to stop these messages is to fill your mind with positive messages. Find mantras that counteract the negatives words spoken by the narcissist.
Counteract Your Own Self Doubts
The seeds of self-doubts can be planted by a narcissistic father telling his son he’ll never make something of himself or a narcissist mother telling her daughter that she dresses like a slut can affect us for decades.
Some of the worst gaslighting can happen when the narcissist uses lies based partially on the truth. For instance, if you got used to the narcissist calling you fat all the time, you might begin to think it yourself when you look in the mirror. The verbal abuse doesn’t stop just because you went “No Contact.” If the narcissist made fun of your body for years and you know you’re overweight, it might be hard to see how the narcissist is lying because you already agree with your abuser, but that doesn't make it right.
It’s important to find a good therapist to help you decipher such lies and find the truth — which is that you have great value no matter what your body looks like. A million overweight people are happily making their dreams come true and it can be just as true for you.
The younger you were when these negative messages were fed to you — the harder it might be to remove them, but it is possible. Millions of people have risen up in spite of the narcissist and reclaimed their right to think healthy thoughts for themselves.
Find People You Can Trust
An inability to trust others can be the unfortunate result of living with a narcissist. This is due to the constant stream of lies flowing out of their liar-hole. When you live with someone who denies the truth and questions your ability to remember the facts, you begin to feel no one can be trusted.
The narcissist leaves a residue of fear in your heart. You might keep checking the bank balance or phone records or the whereabouts of your new love. It’s hard to go from being suspicious all the time to learning how to trust. Especially if you feel like a fool now that you’ve discovered the truth.
Learning to trust others will take time — perhaps more time than stopping the negative self-talk and learning to trust yourself. This is because the narcissist struck at the foundation of decent human relationships by acting trustworthy while they betrayed you.
The best way to build trust in others is to ascertain if a person is trustworthy before you invest too much. Find out what others think of them. One of my friends had the opportunity to talk to her new boyfriend's ex. She found out he cheated and lied and was addicted to gambling. It was easy to let go because she wasn’t invested yet. The next guy was well-loved by his church community and she knew he was honest when he told her about his struggles with alcohol twenty years before and how going to meetings had changed his life.
Once you determine that another person is honest and worthy of your commitment, it might help to communicate with them about your particular triggers around money, time, or stories shared outside of your relationship. Let them know you are learning to trust better, but still a work in progress.
Stop Thinking and Talking About the Narcissist
There comes a time to stop thinking, talking, and worrying about the narcissist. Yes, you were mistreated. Of course, you were abused. It’s good to find someone to listen to your pain. A good counselor can be a lifesaver. And it’s only natural to tell your friends what you’ve been through, but beware of what you say in public or to new people you meet. Not everyone is worthy to of your sad tales. Someone might even take advantage of you. This is how some narcissists find their next target. Here are some wise words—
Whining is not only graceless, but can be dangerous. It can alert a brute that a victim is in the neighborhood. -Maya Angelou
It’s good to deal with the things that have harmed us, but there comes a time to move on. As long as you’re talking about the narcissist, they’ll continue to influence your thoughts and life and moods. The sooner you can get over grieving for what you thought you once had and the faster you can get it out of your system, the sooner you will be free.
Ask your friends to help you steer onto a new subject if you start to talk about the narcissist. Time spent talking about the narcissist becomes lost time never to be found again. Life is too short for that. Plus it reinforces those pathways of thinking about the narc in your mind. Even if you were talking about a specific thing, just the mention of the narc’s name can invade your circle of peace and comfort. The narcissist doesn’t belong in the sanctuary of your mind or home.
You can do this. You are worthy of honest friends. You deserve to have positive and kind words running through your mind. You are capable of managing your own life and living it with competence and joy. Like a million other survivors of narcissistic abuse, you will rise up and have a good life!
Cherilyn Christen Clough has been preparing for this pandemic her entire life. She knows what it is like to live in isolation. She spent most of her teen years living in the Montana wilderness washing hands with her germaphobe mom, hiding from society with her survivalist father, while baking bread from scratch and canning huckleberries over a campfire. You can read more about her strange childhood in her Memoir Chasing Eden. If you want to know her secrets for surviving narcissistic abuse you can sign up for Little Red’s Survivor Tips.