Healing the scars of narcissism and emotional abuse

Whoever said ‘sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words can do no harm’ obviously never grew up with a narcissistic parent.

Words cut deep.

Verbal and emotional abuse cuts to the core. It hurts. A lot.

Every time a supposedly loving parent (and later in life – friend, colleague, partner…) puts you down, humiliates you, shames you… you feel like you just got stabbed in the heart again… and again… and again…

It’s emotionally devastating and mentally exhausting.

It’s the reason why people end up with rock-bottom self-esteem and self-worth.

It’s also why people end up chronically sick.

I know, because I was one of those people.

Often when we grow up with a narcissistic parent or caregiver, because experiencing neglect or abuse was the norm, we did not know any different.

I’ve spent many years climbing back out of the hole of depression, chronic illness and low self-esteem which resulted from childhood emotional neglect and psychological abuse. It’s not a fun job, and at times it feels like it’s a journey which will never end.

The key, I have found, is in claiming back one’s power, one’s birth right to be happy and fully self-empowered. It’s about finding the inner strength which was taken away.

So how do we do this?

Well, first of all we have to recognize (re-cognize) that the abuse happened. The first step is always awareness.

Often when we grow up with a narcissistic parent or caregiver, because experiencing neglect or abuse was the norm, we did not know any different. It can take years to recognize what really happened and often that recognition comes when we find ourselves in a similar relationship as an adult. This is because whatever is not resolved from childhood will turn up again and again in adulthood until we get the lesson and can move on.

“It’s perfectly normal to want and need to be loved. But it’s the right type of love which is important. Unhealthy, dysfunctional ‘love’ is not love at all – it is unhealthy craving and attachment coming from a place of lack and fear”.

For me the recognition came when, through the law of attraction, I found myself in an abusive relationship at the age of 28.

Initially he was very nice, very charming (a classic sign of a manipulator). But once the ‘honeymoon’ period was over (not that there really was a honeymoon), another side of his personality started to reveal itself.

It was literally like living with Jekyll and Hyde. But because I had grown up with a similar dynamic, I could not see that there was something very wrong with his behaviour, and tolerated it for some time, my brain feeling totally confused over what was right or wrong. (Being confused is another classic sign that something is not right, but we don’t know how to discern healthy behaviour from unhealthy abuse).

A classic sign of managing abusive people is we always want to give them another chance, because our naturally empathic nature wants to be loving and fair.

One part of me (the gut and heart) kept on telling me ‘this doesn’t feel right’ whilst another part of me (the head) made excuses for his nasty comments and selfish behaviour. It was just my Mother playing out all over again, so I was used to it. The fact that my body was so stressed in his presence and wasn’t getting any proper sleep didn’t help. No-one can function on 3 hours broken sleep a night.

So for some months I tolerated the abuse, one minute thinking “I’m going to leave”, the next rationalizing (‘rational-lies’) to myself “Oh, he’s got a lot on his plate, I’ll give him another chance” (another classic sign of managing abusive people – we always want to give them another chance, because our naturally empathic nature wants to be loving and fair).

I was in an abusive relationship, and I had had no idea! If no-one had pointed it out or told me, I would never have known!

Fortunately the universe knew I needed help. I was in the library one day and whilst browsing the shelves a book literally, as they say, ‘jumped off the shelf’ at me: ‘Men who hate women and the women who love them’.

I opened the book up, and the chapter heading said ‘Jekyll and Hyding’. It started to describe the Jekyll and Hyde-like behaviour of emotionally abusive people: how one minute they will be nice as pie, and the next totally obnoxious and venomous. It was like I was reading my life in this book. I checked it out and devoured every page.

I continued to make excuses (rational lies) for his Jekyll and Hyde behaviour – there was always a reason to justify the angry outbursts, sullenness and nastiness.

It was as if I was the person in the book. Finally there was an explanation for what was going on in my life. Everything became crystal clear. I was in an abusive relationship, and I had had no idea! If no-one had pointed it out or told me, I would never have known!

Even so, I carried on in the relationship for a while, not really knowing what to do (another classic sign of getting out of an abusive relationship: we tolerate it far beyond the time we should walk away). I was freshly arrived in New Zealand and had no friends (another classic sign of a manipulator – they isolate their prey – I hope you’re taking stock of all these tips!). The prospect of moving out and getting on with my life by myself in a new country was scary.

In any abusive relationship there will at some point come a time when this last straw moment happens. It can often be something quite innocuous.

I continued to make excuses (rational lies) for his Jekyll and Hyde behaviour – there was always a reason to justify the angry outbursts, sullenness and nastiness. Often I would think to myself ‘I’m going to move out’, and then I’d find myself giving him another reprieve.

Then one day the ‘final straw moment’ happened. In any abusive relationship there will at some point come a time when this last straw moment happens. It can often be something quite innocuous. And so it was for me.

I came home on a Friday afternoon after a long week at work to find him washing the dishes after cooking his dinner. At the time I was earning for us both while he set up a new business. I couldn’t believe it. He had made himself dinner and not thought about cooking for me. It was the last straw.

Dysfunctional relationships tend to be very ‘sticky’. There’s a sticky energy which keeps the two dysfunctional parties together, and it’s not so easy to disentangle oneself.

Calmly and silently in my mind I decided I would move out. The next day I looked in the paper, found a place, and announced I was moving out.

His only words were “So, you’ve had enough then?”. Ha! So he really had known what he was doing!

Even though I moved out within a few days, it did take some time to completely extricate myself from the relationship because dysfunctional relationships tend to be very ‘sticky’. There’s a sticky energy which keeps the two dysfunctional parties together, and it’s not so easy to disentangle oneself.

For months he begged me to come back, promising he would change although he never did (another classic sign of a narcissistic personality: even after visiting a counsellor for one session he declared the counsellor had told him he didn’t have any problems).

It took every ounce of strength to walk away, because the part of me inside that had never been fully loved was just desperate to receive love and attention, even if it was unhealthy, dysfunctional love.

Wow, he was good at pulling the wool over peoples’ eyes. Abdicating any sense of personal responsibility for inappropriate behaviour is another classic sign of a narcissist. They just don’t want to admit any part or responsibility in what is going on, and will usually turn the ‘fault’ or blame around on others.

Finally an invitation back to the UK for a wedding drew me far enough away (you can’t get much further than the other side of the world) to be able to start creating very clear boundaries and find the strength to fully say ‘no’.

I remember sitting on the phone as he begged me to come back. It took every ounce of strength to say ‘no’, because the part of me inside that had never been fully loved was just desperate to receive love and attention, even if it was unhealthy, dysfunctional love.

This is what keeps so many people stuck in emotionally dysfunctional relationships: our human need to be loved.

It’s perfectly normal to want and need to be loved. But it’s the right type of love which is important. Unhealthy, dysfunctional ‘love’ is not love at all – it is unhealthy attachment coming from a place of lack and fear.

When I work with clients I take them through an ‘emotional needs audit’ to measure how much these essential childhood needs were met (or not) in childhood. Usually if someone experienced childhood neglect and abuse, the score will be very low, along with rock bottom self-esteem and self-worth. Fortunately this can all be turned around, with commitment, desire and dedication.

The 3 steps to getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship

Experiencing authentic love and care is a basic human need. When we experience emotional, psychological or verbal abuse as a child, it erodes our sense of self, self-value, self-belief, self-worth… all the healthy ‘selves’.

So step one of getting out of an abusive relationship is awareness of what is really going on.

Step two is doing something about it.

This is when we have to put up boundaries, say no, stop tolerating the behaviour, and if necessary, if nothing improves and the situation is not resolved, move on.

Step three is refilling our emotional needs and learning to love ourselves again. This takes time.

Our solar plexus is where we energetically ‘attach’ to our parents. We literally have invisible ‘chords of energy’ connecting us from our solar plexus and / or heart. Once it’s time to extricate ourselves from these toxic relationships, these chords must be cut.

Experiencing authentic love and care is a basic human need. When we experience emotional, psychological or verbal abuse as a child, it erodes our sense of self, self-value, self-belief, self-worth… all the healthy ‘selves’.

Instead we end up with low self-confidence, self-doubt, shame, guilt, uncertainty, frustration and fear. It’s not a pretty sight, and it affects every part of our life because it sits so deep inside us.

One of the classic end-results of such a childhood is that we feel dis-empowered – a victim of life. This is intimately connected with our solar plexus, our power centre. Our solar plexus is not only a brain in itself (gut brain), with a complex ganglion of nerves and gathering of neurons, it is also where we energetically ‘attach’ to our parents (and other people in our life).

We have to re-build self-love and self-empowerment. These are two absolute essentials if we want to restore ourselves to our true self, to the part of us which we disconnected from and gave away as a bargaining chip for love.

We literally have invisible ‘chords of energy’ connecting us to other people either from our solar plexus and / or heart. When we have experienced abusive or dysfunctional relationships, once it’s time to extricate ourselves from these toxic relationships, these chords must be cut. This is another process I lead clients through called ‘cutting the ties that bind’.

So we have to re-build self-love and self-empowerment. These are two absolute essentials if we want to restore ourselves to our true self, to the part of us which we disconnected from and gave away as a bargaining chip for love. Not that we can ever give away our true self, because it is who we innately are. So really we have to re-find our true self and reconnect with that part.

All of this is possible with commitment, perseverance and dedication. But we have to be ‘in it for the ride’, which means we have to keep going when it gets tough, which it will do, because those old feelings and beliefs of low self worth, lack of  self-belief etc will keep rearing their heads.

This often will happen if we are still in contact with the people where the original dynamic was set up: our parents (or caregivers). If they do not change, our ‘buttons’ will be pushed when we interact, because they are behaving the same as when we were a child.

Even as an adult it takes great courage to be strong in the face of controlling or abusive parents, because deep down inside there is still a part of us that wants their love, wants their acknowledgement and positive attention. But if they are not going to change, at some point we have to take it upon ourselves to walk away, be strong, stand up for ourselves and believe in ourselves.

That inner strength is to be found in the heart and gut, especially the gut, our power centre. Finally at some point we have to feel strong enough to stand up and proclaim “I’m good enough, I deserve love, and I’m enough as I am”.

It’s not easy, but we have to finally and fully separate ourselves from those people who, because of their own unresolved painful pasts, cannot love themselves or others. We have to stop allowing ourselves to be held back by the pain and people of the past, and claim our right to happiness and success.

It’s all possible, with commitment and perseverance.

Summary of classic signs you may be on the receiving end of emotional abuse:

  1. When we grow up with a narcissistic parent or caregiver, because experiencing neglect or abuse was the norm, we did not know any different. It can take years to recognize what really happened and often that recognition comes when we find ourselves in a similar relationship as an adult
  2. The abuser is initially very charming. They are also often charming with other people and totally different (mean) to you. This leaves you feeling confused because other people can’t see what you see and don’t believe you when you say you are not being treated well.
  3. Feeling confused over their behaviour: your heart and gut don’t feel right, but your head rationalizes (rational lies) away their behaviour and makes excuses for them
  4. You feel stressed and walk on eggshells most of the time
  5. You can’t sleep because your body can’t switch off the stress response in their presence
  6. You keep giving them ‘just one more chance’
  7. It’s like living with Jekyll and Hyde
  8. It’s hard to extricate yourself even when you want to, or even after the relationship has ended, because of the ‘sticky’ dysfunctional energy between the two of you
  9. You are afraid no-one will love you if you leave
  10. If you feel something isn’t ‘right’, and say so, they will turn it around and make you ‘wrong’, leaving you feeling confused and doubting your inner feedback

If you need help dealing with or getting out of a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship, get in touch, it’s my speciality!

Or check out some of my DIY online self-empowerment programs.

I truly wish you an empowered, love-filled life.

www.kimknighthealth.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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