Going through a breakup with a narcissist, sociopath, psychopath or a malignant borderline can be gut twisting, heart wrenching and depressing.
It will test your boundaries and strength. It will turn you inside out and leave you exhausted.
This is not your average breakup, in which a relationship feels ‘complete,’ so that you can grieve, gather yourself and move on.
Far from it.
In this twilight zone, anger and grief dance a dark waltz with an unquenchable desire for the person to return.
This mixed bag of intense feelings stretching from repulsion to attraction is the result of what’s called trauma bond.
The distinctive feature of trauma bond is amplified rumination about the past that can take up near 100% of your brain’s real estate and hijack your nervous system for months and even years.
The mind churns clashing memories as if they were happening in real time, making it difficult to be present.
Instead of being here and now, you obsess about whether you ex still cares about you, what they might be thinking or doing right now and recycle a list of guilt-inducing what-ifs in you head.
Trauma bond is not love. It’s a form of emotional addiction.
Put in another way, trauma bond is the result of being put through a dramatic roller coaster that leaves you craving the highs.
Highs in an abusive relationship will seem exceptionally pleasurable because they are preceded by agonizing fights, deeply hurtful insults and exacerbated fears of abandonment.
It’s the contrast of the seething pain that makes the good times with your ex seem so awesome. They are not.
If seen out of context, those breathtaking moments would not be as impressive to you. Your swallowing of their contempt and the ensuing sense of unworthiness you are now feeling is what makes something average and fake feel like a heavenly panacea.
Being in love with a narcissist is like getting exposed to a sneaky infection. Your love, trust and receptivity opened the door for the virus to enter and now you are battling two perceptions at once — theirs and yours. One has to die. Illness and wellness cannot coexist.
The Opportunity in Distress
When such relationship ends, it is usually at the painful stage, or a deep low. There is no more up, no more high. It leaves you in deep pain, craving the antidote, all the while you know you need to walk away.
This is a very tough thing to do.
Just like abuse training conditions you to expect less and less from other people, walking away is the start of a new form of training — that of your emotional and psychological endurance.
You can’t learn this in school.
Even though for some time the background radiation of hurt and pain will be drowning out the benefits of the good work you are doing, know that this single act that you keep reaffirming preps the ground not only for a great relationship down the line, but also for success in all other areas of your life.
In other words, by saying NO to the abuser, lies, manipulations, toxicity, etc. despite being deathly afraid and highly addicted, you are saying YES to yourself and the possibility of something new and truly awesome.
You have just broken a pattern. You have turned the Titanic. And you are choosing to stay with the aching discomfort because you know this is right.
Psychologists call that self-esteem boost. I call it the beginning of a new life.
This is huge change. I can tell you from my own experience, that had I not persevered through the pain, I would still not know what sharing real love feels like. I would keep feeling unworthy of success.
And I would not know the sweet and tangy taste of travel and adventure, which I have memorialized on my YT channel along with sharing with you my insights into narcissistic abuse recovery.
The Fast Glue
Forming bonds in relationships with other people is generally a healthy sign of attachment. But things can quickly turn abysmal when the bond is between a healthy person and someone with a Cluster B personality disorder.
People with narcissistic, antisocial, histrionic and borderline personality disorder (malignant end of the spectrum) are characterized by a hardened sense of self-importance mixed with an overwhelming drive to act in dramatic-erratic ways that invade the space of others and leave no regard for their needs and even rights.
Being around such people can be highly arousing and addictive. They know how to hide their vices, seduce with their aliveness and intrigue with their cunning intelligence.
Having their attention on you makes you feel like you’re basking in limelight. Getting their ‘love’ can be absolutely intoxicating.
Most people on the erratic-dramatic spectrum know that they are different. Their emotional affect differs from that of people not affected by the disorder. They lack empathy and don’t really care how others feel as a result of their actions.
But they can put on a good show faking care and affection in a way that’s convincing even to a Harvard graduate. Add to it their lack of conscience and sharp mental acumen and you have the makings of a dangerous predator.
Such people’s life is characterized by instability and a string of failed relationships, so they need constant supply from new sources.
But because their cognitive abilities are intact and unburdened by the breaks of conscience, they learn early on how to charm others to get their instant gratifications.
Some can get so good at it that to the untrained eye of an empath who wants to believe int he innate good of others, they can appear not only as benign but even as benevolent.
But there is a significant weakness these people possess, which can be the saving grace of potential victims. Narcissists and other Cluster Bs are unable to sustain the illusion of being a caring, understanding, loving person for a long time.
Which is why they need to make their new partner attach quickly and deeply. And they can be quite the pros at this.
The Spiraling Down
If you are someone who’s been in a relationship with a narcissist, or another Cluster B combo, you know how easy it is to slip into one and how hard it can be to detach.
They will use all sorts of tactics to get you there. They will:
- Push intimacy and sex to seal the feeling of a connection;
- Amp up drama and intensity to focus all of your attention on them;
- Share their secrets with you so that you do the same in return (this will give them leverage for later blackmail and using shame to control you);
- Lie and make up overwhelming success or pity stories to get you to buy into the image of themselves they are trying to sell you;
- Use trance-induction to alter your perception of reality. I wrote a long post about this titled: How Manipulative People Use Trance Induction to Lure You into Their Trap.
99% of the time, such partnerships begin like a dream. You get showered with attention, ‘love’ and adoration. You feel sexy, smart and so alive!
You are told things that make you feel like the two of you are a match made in heaven. Even if life has made you a bit of a cynic, your faith in fairytales returns.
But soon enough, things will start to fall apart. In place of compliments, enter bitter criticisms and biting remarks.
Gradually, the relationship deteriorates until you are faced with making the big decision of whether to stay or get away.
The Mess After the Storm
Recovering from a relationship with a Cluster B is not easy. It takes time and work on yourself. But I can promise you that it will be the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.
The feeling of abandonment and emptiness such relationships leave behind can echo all the way back to your childhood, scraping the scabs off old wounds.
It is a betrayal that cuts so deep, it can temporarily shatter your sense of self-worth and meaning.
Three Steps to Breaking the Bond
For each of you, the process of breaking the toxic bond will look a little bit different. If you need personal help and guidance, which can significantly speed up the process, you can contact me and set up a personal consultation by clicking on this link.
The three steps I’ve distilled from the work I did on myself and with my clients are as follows:
One: Make Truth Your Ally
Narcissists and other abusive characters will repeatedly gaslight you in order to make you doubt your reality and buy into their skewed perceptions.
In essence, the price of admission you pay to enter into a relationship with them is giving up your sanity. It happens slowly, so you don’t notice it for some time.
One of the first signs might be getting an off-putting feeling in your gut. That’s your intuition picking up that something is off.
In order to snap out of the trance that being in such relationship brings on, you will have to anchor yourself back in reality.
This can be tricky as the reality after a breakup seems dull, dark and depressing. But it is only an illusion — the result of thoughts and feelings putting a veneer on what you see.
To get back to the more neutral here and now, try the following truth exercise:
Write down, or record on a voice recording app, as many of the things your ex did to hurt you as you can recall. Then boil the list down to a few bullet points and put it in a place you can easily see.
Finally, distill a one-liner from the list, such as: this person is a parasite and I have no room for parasites in the beautiful life I’m creating.
Commit it memory and repeat it each time ruminations threaten to hijack your mind.
Two: Recover Your Attention
Another part of breaking the trance is practicing mindfulness.
Being mindful means actually the opposite of what it connotes. When you practice mindfulness, you want your mind as empty of thoughts as possible. This allows you to immerse yourself in presence and not let your perception, which at the moment can be rather haphazard, to color reality.
You do this not by erasing your thoughts, which is impossible, but by watching them from a neutral vantage point without letting them get a hold of you. You become a scientific, non-judgmental observer of your mind.
Returning to the present moment is easier when you have something nice to look forward to. I recommend starting your days with making little plans of recovery for yourself.
Grab a piece of paper or open your journal and write down the 1–3 things you can do for yourself today that will be nourishing to your soul. It can be preparing a dinner, going on a walk with your dog, practicing yoga, getting a massage, playing with a child, or watching a comedy show.
Whatever it is that you do, get into it completely. When thoughts of your ex intrude, spell out the one-liner from above.
Three: Heal Your Sense of Connection
It’s only natural to want to isolate yourself after you’ve been through the hell of betrayal. Your body, mind and Spirit need a rest and a reset. You need time to gather yourself.
It will be difficult to trust other people for some time. It can also be hard to trust yourself and the Universe after such an heart-breaking ordeal. Know that that’s normal and okay.
Your connection to yourself will return the moment you accept that getting into the relationship with an abuser had nothing to do with the level of your intelligence.
If you were never taught how to recognize the red flags of a narcissist or another character from the spectrum, it will be easy to miss them until you are up to the neck in the world of narcrazy.
You wanted to love and be loved. The rest was trickery. Forgive yourself. Now, take a deep breath and begin excavating the deeper whys.
To tend to your sense of connection, I recommend getting out in safe environment, such as spending time in nature, with a pet and/or with your trusted friends.
Going to the movies or making dinner together can offer much needed respite from falling into the trap of overthinking. If possible, plan a little getaway to a local park or another city.
Attend a class, seminar or an event where you can be exposed to like-minded people and inspiring ideas.
Practice being in the moment and let the beauty of nature soothe your pain. Watch a bird, hug a tree.
Redirect your attention to getting started on the project you’ve been putting off. Spending time with your Muses can be incredibly healing and rewarding.
The key is to stretch yourself by trying new things.
Also, give your new relationships time to grow. Honor yourself by getting to know who they are before you invest yourself emotionally. That’s both for friends and potential partners.
The path of self-healing after abuse is not for the faint of heart. But left unattended, it will fester and can set you up for another abusive relationship later on.
You are best to invest your time and energy now into your recovery. Combined with all the knowledge you’ve gained in the process about the shadowy side of humanity, you will be well equipped to make much better choices in your future.
Even the seemingly small shifts and decisions will add up over time.
You will be able to say ‘no’ to things and people that don’t resonate with you and instead pour yourself more fully into the things that really matter.
And best of all, you will gain a deeper connection to yourself.
There is no better guarantee than this to having a great life. Because now you are in the driver seat and at last holding the keys.
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