Healing after Narcissistic Abuse

Healing the Lasting Damage After Narcissistic Abuse

| Healing After Narcissistic Abuse Takes more than Time, Alone | Updated |

People who have been subjected to narcissistic abuse may suffer long-lasting symptoms that adversely affect quality of life afterwards. The cluster of symptoms commonly associated with narcissistic abuse could be diagnosed as Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) or Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome.

I use narcissistic abuse here as a general catch-all. An abuser responsible for creating the psychological problems associated with narcissistic abuse may not necessarily be diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The kind of psychological and emotional abuse considered here could be meted out by people afflicted with a number of disorders, but particularly, cluster B personality disorders of which, narcissism is only one. Sociopaths, histrionics and borderlines all also fall on the spectrum of cluster B personality disorders.

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In my own experiences, I couldn’t say for certain where, exactly Tina landed on the Cluster B personality scale. She exhibited destructive traits that overlapped into antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders, but as far as the damaged state induced in a long-term partner of someone suffering a cluster B disorder, it’s generally the same result.

Narcissistic abuse takes many forms and the exact nature of it can depend on the type of narcissist (or other cluster B disordered person) you’re dealing with. Covert (or vulnerable) narcissists and histrionics might attack in passive-aggressive, under-handed ways while overt narcissists and sociopaths might directly belittle and rage at their victims. Borderlines are also prone to frightening fits of rage, but may behave more covertly as well. All of them tend toward dishonesty and gaslighting is the most insidious kind of lying. It’s a deliberate campaign aimed at making a person doubt their own sense of reality.

Narcissistic abuse is aimed at gaining control and a sense of superiority through manipulation, humiliation, fear and destruction of a victim’s self-esteem. It’s especially mind-warping and traumatic abuse because the person doing the torturing simultaneously claims to love his or her victim profoundly!

Of course, “my” Tina also had co-morbid substance abuse issues to contend with and it’s been said that all addicts are narcissists. Because of that (and other factors) it’s not possible to be certain what behaviors stemmed from what disorder. My therapist once advised that it’s hopeless to try to pinpoint it, but that seems like a natural instinct of many (or most) who experience this kind of abuse.

Among the worst and most persistent fallout I personally experienced after surviving narcissistic abuse and gaslighting was loss of confidence in my ability to reason. That’s a commonly reported problem among victims (see: Symptoms of Narcissistic Abuse).

I experienced decision paralysis for a long time after leaving Tina for good. I was constantly second-guessing myself and as a result, everything took much longer to accomplish. A lot of things had to be sidelined. Even simple decisions seemed to become mind-benders.

One day, after a few months on my own, I was standing in the bakery section of the grocery store, deciding on a treat. I picked up a box of tasty-looking donuts. I noticed apple fritters. I haven’t had those in a long time. Do I like apple fritters? I think so. Maybe I should just get the donuts…

I stood, contemplating the two boxes for a good five minutes before I became aware that I must have looked pretty odd just standing there, staring back and forth between two $4.00 boxes of pastry. Even realizing how long I was taking, it still took another minute or two to break the decision paralysis and put the apple fritters in the cart.

That’s just one example. It was daily struggle. Even deciding which T-shirt to put on could be a challenge, but that was just minor stuff. More importantly, I lost confidence in my ability to do complex work. I had to cease all political involvement, for example. I couldn’t even fathom how I used to give speeches, testify at the state legislature or devise legal arguments and strategies. When I thought of those things, which had been my professional work for a decade, I felt completely overwhelmed and asea.

Gaslighting is no small thing. It’s extremely harmful. It warps a person’s whole sense of reality, destroys confidence in their mental prowess. It can take years to dig out and recover from this kind of psychological and emotional abuse.

My former user and abuser (it wouldn’t be accurate to call her my ex-girlfriend or fiance, because I’m fairly certain she never actually thought of herself that way), Tina had managed to convince me that I was the problem – that it was all in my head. I was misinterpreting what I saw and heard. My memory was faulty. I was being paranoid, possessive and unreasonably jealous. She suggested that I needed psychiatric medications because something was wrong with me.

When she was getting phone numbers from other men at the bars, there was a perfectly valid and innocent reason for it. When she wanted to spend weekends with her “former” sex partner, it was just to spend time with his sisters. When she came back all marked up with intimate bruises or bite-marks, that was just from her mom’s boyfriend, Scott who worried that his hands weren’t strong enough to inflict pain and bruising on a woman anymore. Evidently, that was supposed to be  a perfectly normal and innocent explanation. How dare I question it?!

I was essentially trained over a course of years to doubt my own judgement. “Word salad” and gaslighting kept me confused and off-balance. It’s especially malevolent behavior that causes lasting harm in order to rob a person of their free will, manipulate and control them.

How can one make rational decisions in one’s best interest without a clear understanding of the circumstances?

My conscientious nature combined with conditioning to walk on eggshells around Tina’s moods and an occasion when I actually did get something quite wrong all led me to be very cautious with my suspicions. After years of gaslighting, questioning my own judgement became commonplace.

Tina convinced me that I needed anti-depressants because I was sad and confused and terrified about Tina’s relationship with her supposedly platonic friend Nate becoming inappropriate. Sure, she lied about staying with her girlfriend in order to sneak off to his hotel room for the weekend, but I was overreacting. “I mean, what are you going to be like when I really do something wrong?” Tina asked me, accusingly.

Once free of Tina’s direct influence I was able to  begin reassessing numerous past incidents with eyes newly free of scales. Behind every door, it seemed, was fresh torment, humiliation and chagrin. Difficult realities slowly replaced contradictory memories that had been clouded by cognitive dissonance (or my semi-conscious avoidance thereof).

New revelations come unbidden, often enough that it caused undue rumination. Humiliating and painful memories played on a relentless loop. The emotional flashbacks made it feel like I was freshly experiencing it all again – over and over with no abatement in intensity.

Documenting all of that is one way I began coping with it all and trying, in particular, to dispel feelings of shame and embarrassment.

I always thought of myself as a reasonably intelligent man. I got far on my wits so I struggled with understanding how I could have been so astoundingly stupid for so long! How could denial and loyalty to someone who had so little regard for my feelings override the advice and urging of truly caring friends and family? They tried to warn me, but my reactions to those well-intentioned warnings were generally either hostile or dismissive.

More than once in my life, I’ve seen men in similar situations. I judged them harshly for their willful ignorance and tolerance of obvious abuse. but I found myself that poor sap. My pride made that hard to accept.

Loss of faith in humanity in general is a commonly reported symptom, post-narcissistic-abuse. I had that in spades. My cynicism was ratcheted up at least ten notches after the reality of what I’d been through began to set in. My ability to trust other human beings plummeted to almost nil and the parts of me that were designed to form bonds to other people were closed indefinitely for repairs. I don’t know if those particular repairs will ever be complete. That’s long-lasting damage.

Before I met Tina, I didn’t experience chemical dependency to the point of withdrawals. I hadn’t ever felt the need to get counseling and I wasn’t taking any medications for anxiety or depression (I called them “my Tina Pills” for years). The relationship was toxic. Tina was worse for me than booze, but harder to quit.

On the positive side, over the years since quitting Tina, I got reacquainted with an earlier version of myself. The happier, curious and artistic guy I used to be (before I fell into the crazy-making fantasy world of narcissistic abuse) began to resurface. It took effort. I’ve written before that narcissistic abuse doesn’t create a “time heals” kind of wound. One needs to be proactive about recovery, as well.

The damage caused by narcissistic abuse can’t be looked at as “merely” psychic. There is a major, measurable physical component that needs healing just as much as one’s soul and psyche. It can be done, with patience and effort.

Time can’t be regarded as the only factor, but it also can’t be discounted entirely. The efforts required to heal will take time. Some of it might take a long time.

I’ve gone from spending my non-working hours ruminating in a dark bedroom to learning to fly. Literally. I’m working on a pilot’s license. I’m drawing and creating music. I’m writing books (and not just about narcissistic abuse). I worked at it with determination and though I’m not fully whole, I’ve made tremendous progress in that direction. There is lasting damage, but I’m getting better by degrees, all the time.

Read next: Healing Strategies After Narcissistic Abuse

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  • Anonymous (Chris Stowe)

    Wow, been reading this one for a little while now and with this post I think I can say without any doubt that you're a special kind of nuts there, buddy. Getting dumped or cheated on sucks, sure but you're taking the victimhood to a whole other level. Maybe get yourself a goldfish or a cat or something to help deal with the neediness.

    • Al Corrupt

      I think he’s actually done a pretty good job of identifying what the problem was, and recovering from it. Until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, you should STFU.

      • Dan,
        You did a great job describing your experience. I’ve been there. 12 years. Don’t know if I’ll ever trust anyone again. I’m a mess and hope to find some of the strength you have.
        As for the person who wrote in so ignorantly…. I believe you hit the nail on the head: my first thought was: ” this is Tina trying to pretend she’s some moronic guy…..just enjoying antagonizing you.”
        Do not even respond to them. Not worth your energy. You have a whole community of supporters who are educated on this, and who can truly empathize. Keep up the great work & thanks for sharing:)

        • Dan

          Hi, Leda. Thanks for reading and thanks for your support! I’m glad to hear you are finding something of value, here. No one should have to endure the harm caused by narcissistic abuse and it’s my fondest hope that sharing my own musings and efforts at recovery will help others along as well. It’s always gratifying to hear that my work has positively touched a reader!

    • Tamra

      Oh wow Chris.. maybe you should look into taking some quizzes on Narcissistic Personality Disorder yourself there Bud! Frankly, you didn’t have to say much for me to realize very quickly that you are a severely miserable person inside! You aren’t you? It really is pitiful. I pity you because you are a doomed soul and unfortunately will die miserable as well. Oh well. Good luck though on all your endeavors. At least Dan found happiness and is recovering and your obviously pretty badly but ssimply Pea Green with envy. Your welcome buddy!!

  • Dan

    Yes, asshole. It is a special kind of nuts. It even has its own name. It's in the very first paragraph. That was kind of the gist of this post. Glad you understood what I wrote.

    After years of being manipulated and trained to doubt my own observations and conclusions, I find that I now significantly lack confidence in my own judgement and my mental performance has seriously deteriorated.

    That's why I'm in therapy. Thanks for the constructive feedback. I don't think a goldfish will help me understand how I allowed myself to be put in this position.

    Since it doesn't seem like you are seeking insight into abuse you may have suffered yourself (the audience I expected might be interested), I have to wonder why you've been following my musings. Was it just to ridicule my difficulties? Voyeurism/Shadenfreude? Or are you personally invested in my story, Anonymous Poster?

    Who ever said I got "dumped," by the way? I don't think I've written about how the relationship between Tina and I came to it's final conclusion.

    That's beside the point. I've had relationships end before. I've been cheated on before. As you say, it sucks, but it isn't traumatic. This post is about coming to terms with the fallout of years of psychological and emotional abuse and manipulation.

    • Well said Dan.

      It is difficult enough when any relationship ends. Unless of course you are the narcissist with no empathy and the new supply all ready in place.
      Nothing could prepare you for the trauma that is experienced at the end of an emotionally abusive relationship. Especially when that trauma escalates “Post Separation”. When the person that you thought loved and cared for you, can treat you so badly and continue the emotional and psychological abuse after termination of the relationship. Using current laws that seem to be unfair and unjust to further destroy you emotionally and financially. With no regard for your wellbeing at all. When they have moved on so quickly and they then present themselves as the victim and point the finger at the real victim who is battling to stay afloat in a tiny boat in the middle of rough seas.
      When they use DARVO, Deny Deflect, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender.

  • Anonymous (Chris Stowe)

    Sounds like a lot of excuses to me. Just the kind of thing that a beta would say. Your therapist is just gonna charge you money to tell you why you're a victim instead of telling you how to take control. You need to ditch the money waster and start looking up Jordan Peterson's stuff. His books, his videos, all of it. You're letting a female run things. Letting her control you. That's how I know you didn't dump her, you're a beta, betas don't dump women, they sit around and let a woman walk all over them until they get dumped because she's bored or because finds an alpha who wants her to himself. And then they complain because they couldn't be a real man and either take control or kick her ass out early.

    I came here because someone posted a link on reddit in a thread about screwing over whiny beta cucks, and it was funny. But now it's just kinda sad and pathetic. You let yourself get cucked by this female and all the guys she was seeing on the side and then throw out all of the psychobabble stuff to try to excuse it when the truth is that you were weak and so she did what women do and used you until she got bored. Wake up, take control of your life, and ditch the beta victimhood. I did it and now I'm married to a woman who would never pull that kinda shit on me because she knows I'm strong.

    • Dan

      How did that “wants her to himself” thing work out? Or that wife who knows you’re so strong, Mr. Alpha? LOL. POS.

      • Kim


        Just ignore these idiots. There’s no point in even engaging. For those of us who are also victims of this horrific abuse, we understand. Your story helps validate what we too endured. Psychological damage takes a long time to recover from. These are not normal relationships that you can just get over. We were dealing with individuals with a mental disorder who made us question our own reality and sanity.

        Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Clam

      Every guy who uses the term beta towards others is a weak man trying to feel big

  • Dan

    So AWALT is your general philosophy? I don't subscribe to that notion.

    Here's something I found about the clinical psychologist you mentioned (and thank you for the actual advice – I'm looking into it):

    "Psychologist, Dr. Jordan Peterson, in one of his lectures, talked about how people may be devastated by tragedy but eventually could withstand it. What he says people have the most difficulty overcoming is malevolence. It causes trauma, cognitive dissonance and if not processed properly, the aftermath can last for a long time."

  • Dan

    Your Reddit link is fictitious. You're either in Tina's circle or one of the people from mine that she seduced to further humiliate and gaslight me (Chris, Mike, Tom, Nate, Cassidy, Doug, Selah, Justin, Mr. Purple, et-al, et-al).

    Men aren't supposed to be abused. If we are, we're not real men, right? That's why men don't talk about this kind of suffering – others will ridicule and heap more abuse on. I've dug into a well of courage to express humiliating experiences to take the feelings of shame and embarrassment head on.

    You seem to think Tina and women like her just need a big strong alpha man to claim and control them. Because they're strong – how? By smacking them around? Who would want a relationship like that?

    My strength is best applied to protecting and providing. If I have to waste energy policing my spouse, she doesn’t deserve my love.

    Being the #1 guy in a woman's harem isn't good enough. I deserve to be the only guy.

    Yes – there were many instances when I should have seen the light and bailed out, but the connection I had felt like it was spiritual and euphoric, so I tried applying patience, forgiveness and reason. I knew Tina had her flaws and I loved her, not just in spite of them, but even because of them. She herself is deeply wounded and lives in a torturous world. She had my compassion.

    It wasn't easy to walk away. I'm fiercely loyal and devoted. It required horrifically bad mistreatment to finally flip my switch from unconditional love to loathing.

    I feel what I did was right. Don't try to blame me for Tina's psychological problems and bad behavior (and perhaps your own). You're just heaping the same BS on me that she did with that.

    And I know I'm a better man than you'll ever be, Mr. Anonymous. I think you know it too.

    • Mohit

      Absolutely Dan! This idiot should have tasted a share of that relationship to be honest. Had he done that, maybe he would have realised what demons look like in human skin. On top of that, we all know psycopaths/narcissists target empaths. So this guy getting into relationship with one such devils isn’t even an option as he himself is one. Demons don’t attract demons.

      • Dan

        Well, actually, this particular guy is one of my “ex,” Tina’s flying monkeys – one she seduced into assisting her in her campaign of debasing me. He tried (and failed) to bully and humiliate me into silence when I first launched this blog. He’s now a fairly prominent character in my book.

        • Tamra

          Dan, I wonder if you e mail me. I am fresh out of a narcissistic abusive relationship and am doing not so good at all. I can’t break away and have had severe suicidal thoughts . My email is below . If not I understand.

  • Pingback: Lasting Damage After Narcissistic Abuse - DanMcGrath.net

  • Kait

    OMG. Thank you! I’m years seperated from my narc ex and still have these kind of problems. I’m so glad i stumbled onto this article. It gives me inspiration and hope

  • Bella Brown

    I’m pretty sure I’m not a great person, because I cried reading this story, and after reading the first comment I started cracking up laughing, because I said out loud “C’mon, we all know that’s really you, Tina!” Hahaha I’m sorry. That’s terrible for me to be so much of a sarcastic smartass. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, so I do struggle with the urge to push people away, and have been known to cry afterwards, because I am abandoned. I guess it’s going to be a while before I can heal from the trauma of being ghosted after a four year relationship that ended on account of my mother in law lying to my husband, stating that he and I are not allowed to have contact. I remain faithful to a man who hasn’t spoken to me for about two months, after I did things I never imagined I’d be capable of doing to assist him during a ten month incarceration. In these last few months, I’ve been suffering from extreme depression, miss the support I had from my husband, (although phone calls from a jail payphone weren’t ideal, they were better than no words at all) and even the female “friends” I asked to help me through this sad time have requested nude photos of me. Wow… I have become a diabetic and the Dr. Informed me that if I can’t quit smoking cigarettes, I’m at risk of losing my fingers and toes. My husband and I both have heart problems as a result of his legal issues, but after spending $6000 on an attorney, the attorney simply stopped speaking to me and accepted thousands more dollars from my mother in law. I’ve got no way of getting in contact with my husband, as he’s been placed on house arrest with mommy dearest serving as a third party, on tribal land which I’m not authorized to enter, for some reason I’m not aware of. My 14 year old cousin, my brother, father and uncle have passed away within the last six months. Our son that I didn’t mention to my husband, in order to not cause more stress is gone, leaving me with funeral arrangements that I have been unable to handle in every way imaginable. I’m completely broken, and pray everyday that I’ll be freed from whatever this hellacios thing I call “my life” is. I also beg on my knees that some higher power will help me to receive, by some miracle, a simple phone call from my husband. It’s tearing me into shreds to live with the stress of everything I’m going through, alone, hoping to hear something… Anything! Even one word would be lovely, even if it was a mean one! It pisses me off to not know if I’m still going to be in a relationship, and think I’m not being told anything as means of being controlled and strung along. He must have never been real, I tell myself. That’s my sick way of coping (or trying to) just to prevent myself from having a nervous breakdown! I hope that none of this is reality, because it hurts more than my nightmares do, and I often feel there’s no way! I’m sorry for all you experienced, and think you did a good job writing your story. Honestly, I am grateful to know more information about this. Learned a few things I hadn’t been aware of. It hurts to know this is actually more common of a problem than I’d thought, but I’m also glad I’m not as crazy as I was trying to convince myself I was. Whew… Gonna be a long time getting over the trauma, but hopefully I’ll be better somehow in the end…It’s not easy to be open in a world full of people who also suffer through these hard times. I appreciate all the things I’ve read on here, and hope things will get better for us all. Thank you for sharing. ☮️

    • Ron charles

      Chris you’re just running your mouth. Go jump off a cliff, mate. Unless you walked in someone’s shoes who was committed, raised a family, got cheated on, got robbed of finance, your sanity, your happiness, you have no idea what people go through with these narcissist bastards – unless of course you’re one, your self. Shut your stink inconsiderate ass, ok?!

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