How to Heal From Narcissistic Abuse

Published on: 03 Feb 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
man sitting on bed with head down

Not everyone that struggles with narcissistic personality disorder will present abusive behavior in a romantic relationship, however, in some cases it can lead to abuse, or experiences of a toxic environment. If you’re in an abusive relationship with somebody who has narcissistic personality disorder, recovering from it can be painful. While healing from narcissistic abuse can be daunting, it is possible. 

You might go over and over in your head what you could’ve done differently. You might replay specific scenarios where you search for ways you could have handled things differently. Worse, you may even have the urge to rekindle the relationship. 

The tricky, and often devastating, part of narcissistic relationships is that they can be intoxicating. The cycle can be hard to break. You probably feel guilty about not leaving sooner, and ashamed that you were there to begin with. Still, you might find that you struggle to fully let go of the relationship. 

While these emotions are all common when coming out of a relationship that involves narcissistic abuse, it’s important to understand your relationship was not your fault. You also need to remind yourself that it wasn’t healthy. Remembering these things, and bringing to light the ways that your father, mother, or partner with narcissistic behavior mistreated you, can help you heal and move on to more rewarding, healthier relationships. 

Keep reading to learn more about signs you’re healing from narcissistic abuse, and to hear some of the top tips experts recommend to help you work through the process.

Acknowledgement

Keep in mind that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) doesn’t only affect romantic relationships. You might be in a relationship with somebody who has NPD in your family (i.e. “narcissistic father” or “narcissistic mother”), in a friendship, or in a romantic partnership. Acknowledging that you were in the relationship and have experienced narcissistic gaslighting is the first step you’ll need to take.

Once you acknowledge this truth, you can begin to accept that what you experienced was, in fact, emotional abuse. That means you can begin to let go of the blame you might be putting on yourself. Denial is a form of self-protection, and it’s perfectly normal that you might resist acknowledgement about the relationship in the beginning. That said, you do need to accept the reality so you can heal.

Set Boundaries

Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that the relationship was unhealthy, you’re ready to take the next steps in learning how to heal from narcissistic abuse. Setting healthy relationship boundaries is key here. 

Start With No-Contact (If Possible)

Typically, setting firm boundaries and cutting off contact is recommended at the end of any abusive relationship. Keep in mind that the no-contact rule goes both ways. At first, it might be hard for you to set that boundary and stick to it. Part of a narcissistic relationship includes promises of change and highs in the relationship that you might be tempted to try and recapture. Boundaries can help you resist going back. 

If cutting off all contact isn’t possible — maybe children are part of the equation, or it’s a close narcissistic family member that you’ll still occasionally have contact with — setting firm boundaries about what’s acceptable for you is important. Remember to not only inform them of the boundary, but to also let them know what the consequence will be if they can’t respect it. For example, you might tell them “I’ll see you during this time/event, but if you can’t respect my wishes [remind them of the boundaries you set], I will leave.”

Be Specific

Whether you’re setting boundaries with parents, a friend, or partner, it’s very important to be specific about what boundaries you consider necessary. This might include insisting they don’t share any personal information about you with anyone else. It might be something like they can only contact you via an email address you set up just for their communication. It might be that they can’t yell at you or talk down to you. Your boundaries are yours. You have every right to set them and be firm about them. 

Seek Help from Professionals

Healing from narcissistic abuse may require getting professional help. Particularly if you found that it was hard for you to get to the point where you were ready to set boundaries and leave the relationship, professional guidance can really help. A skilled online therapist can help you figure out why you’re drawn to somebody with narcissistic traits. They can guide you in determining what it is that makes you seek out these relationships or tolerate the abuse. 

“When you are dealing with narcissistic abuse, it is essential that you look for professional help; they have the knowledge and experience to help you heal, and you do not have to do this alone.”

Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CMHIMP

Therapists can use a variety of techniques to help you. Online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective type of therapy that’s often used to help people when they’re on the road to narcissistic abuse recovery. Working with a therapist, you can begin to:

  • Identify the reasons why you accept abuse
  • Build coping skills to help you navigate abusive relationships
  • Resist the urge to remain in contact with somebody who’s abusive
  • Become open and honest with others in your life about the abuse you’ve experienced
  • Figure out if symptoms of anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition might be coming into play
  • Deal with and overcome any thoughts you might be having about self-harm or suicide

“Clinicians that specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and personality disorders are trained to deal with narcissistic abuse issues. It is important that you see the right professional to make sure that you get the best help possible.”

Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CMHIMP

Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion can be instrumental in learning how to heal from narcissistic abuse. You might find that your first reaction is to blame yourself. It may take some time for you to stop critiquing your own behaviors that contributed to the relationship. 

Remind yourself that how someone treats you is not your fault. Reward yourself for finally getting to a place where you can heal and get out of the situation. Recognize the signs you’re healing from narcissistic abuse as you see them. Above all, be proud of how far you’ve come. One day, you’ll find that you’re able to forgive yourself instead of judging yourself for the past.

It might help to create some mantras to use when you start to feel down. Remembering that you’re strong, that you deserve love, and that you’re brave for getting out of the relationship, can all help you heal.

Be Patient

Even the best relationships can be difficult at times. When you’re recovering from a relationship that included narcissistic abuse, things can be even more challenging. Be patient with yourself and be patient with the healing process. 

As time goes on, you’ll find you can start to let go of the relationship and move forward. Eventually, you’ll get to a place where you believe that you deserve healthy and positive relationships in your life. Patience will be key in your recovery.

Exercise Self-Care

Taking care of yourself can be beneficial in many ways. It’s always important to practice self-care, but especially when you’re healing from narcissistic abuse, being kind to yourself is essential. 

Self-care is doing things that help you meet your own physical and emotional needs. Our mind and body are connected, so working on both areas of your life can help you feel stronger, braver, healthier, and more ready to take on the world. You might focus on:

  • Paying attention to your stress level
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating healthy
  • Taking the time to do things you enjoy
  • Connecting or reconnecting with people in your life who are positive  
  • Getting physical activity in your day
  • Using the coping skills you learn in therapy to help you manage your relationships
  • Practicing mindfulness, yoga, or other relaxation techniques

Lean on Support from Loved Ones

There may not be another time in your life where you need more support from your loved ones than when you’re getting out of a toxic or narcissistic relationship. Opening up about the abuse and asking for help can not only be good for your healing, it can also help you begin to reestablish trust in others. The healing process can be lonely, but the people in your life who love you and want to support you can:

  • Give you the compassion you’ve been lacking
  • Distract you
  • Keep you busy on especially difficult days
  • Validate your pain
  • Continuously remind you that this isn’t your fault

If you don’t have anyone in your life who can offer the support you need, consider reaching out to a support group where you can be with like-minded people who understand what you’ve gone through and where you’re at right now.

“If you do not know where to start, look online, ask a school counselor, or talk to someone you trust that has been in therapy before. They can guide you to find the right professional for you.”

Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CMHIMP

Any form of abuse in your life is unacceptable. You deserve to be surrounded by loving, positive, nurturing people. If you’ve recently gotten out of a toxic relationship, finding signs you’re healing from narcissistic abuse can be one way you motivate yourself to keep going. From getting professional help, to leaning on your loved ones, to focusing on self-care…you now have the tools you need to heal, and that’s a pretty good place for you to be.  

Sources:

1. Stinson F, Dawson D, Goldstein R et al. Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Narcissistic Personality Disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2008;69(7):1033-1045. doi:10.4088/jcp.v69n0701. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18557663/. Accessed December 24, 2021.

2. Narcissistic personality disorder. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000934.htm. Published 2020. Accessed December 24, 2021.

3. Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/. Published 2021. Accessed December 24, 2021.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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