Coping Strategies - after having left the narcissist
There are principally three areas of how to deal with the issues once
you left a narcissistic relationship. These are co-dependency, safety
and post traumatic stress.
For various reasons you feel that you depend on the narcissist. One
such reason is, that the narcissist has been telling you how useless
you are. Another reason is that the narcissist will have done
everything possible to make you physically dependent as well
(withholding money and your belongings). Additionally, the narcissist
will have tried to turn people against you and you feel that you can be
validated only through the narcissist.
Quite clearly, you have to break this co-dependency. This is not an
easy thing at all. First of all you have to learn to admit to yourself
that the narcissist did all these evil things to you not because (s)he
loved you but because (s)he enjoyed seeing you suffering. It made
her/him feel great. Her/his one big goal was to break you. Accept that
you have been abused by your narcissist. Do no longer except the crazy
explanations your narcissist used to give you. The narcissist gave you
these explanations to keep you as her/his slave.
Secondly, see the narcissist for what (s)he really is and allow
yourself to feel angry and express this anger. Allow yourself wild
fantasies of how you hit back. I used to imagine that I would return to
my old home with a sword, cut the narcissist's head off and throw it
down the stairs. Do not however, act upon these fantasies. If you want
to regain your life, you must never ever cross the line of the law.
Generally, it is best if you keep away from the narcissist. However,
there are times when the co-dependency seems so strong that it pulls
you towards the narcissist. It actually is not such a bad thing to see
your narcissist from time to time shortly after the separation (make
sure that the circumstances are safe though - for instance bring a
friend along). This will also help you to see for yourself how evil the
The co-dependency gets worse when the narcissist attacks you. For
instance you might receive a nasty phone call or letter, and you cannot
bear the tension. Hence, you feel pulled towards the narcissist in
order to harmonize. Do not give in into such a pull - rather than that
take a sleeping pill or drink yourself to sleep. However, be careful
about any such self-medication that you do not end up with another
dependency. If you are not sure, talk to a friend or your general
practitioner. Alcohol is a common drug taken by people suffering from
post traumatic stress and it generally does not help the situation but
adds another problem to it.
Remember the only happy times you had with the narcissist were when you
gave everything, or when you enjoyed something regardless the bad temper of the
Everything on the side of the narcissist was nothing but a nasty act.
Safety is most important. You will have to work hard to work on
your safety. Do not seek to address your psychological problems too
much at this point. Definitely do not make use of regression therapy or
psychotherapy, both will only make you even less safe. This is not to
say that psychotherapy can be of use once you feel better, but there is
evidence that talking too much about your experiences brings back too
many unsettled emotions.
You need to work on the three main areas: Secure financial
independence, secure a safe home and secure yourself and your personal
belongings. Everything else is of secondary importance. The very fact
that you will feel safe will contribute to you feeling better all round.
Accept all help you can get but no help from the narcissist.
Post Traumatic Stress
Post traumatic stress can be very severe. The symptoms vary, but if
your heart beat is increased, if your startle response is exaggerated,
if you feel outbursts of hot/cold sweat, you might have a light form of
post traumatic stress. However, if the symptoms include severe
nightmares, inability to focus on anything, blind panic and the wish to
curl up somewhere, and severe shaking (at one point I found myself unable
to hold a cup) you might need to see a doctor. There is medication
which can help you. Be always very careful about self-medication. There
is a chance that you harm yourself. However, if it helps you to take a
sleeping tablet or a drink in order to calm down for some time, this
might be safe. Always interrupt such self-medication for a day or two
at least, to ensure that you are not falling into some new dependency.
Besides medication there are three main psychological tools. These are deconditioning,
interrupting automatic thoughts and forced regression.
If you respond to the sound of a slammed door with an exaggerated
startle response, you can try to decondition yourself. Bang doors
yourself. If you are shocked each time a car starts up, start the car
yourself until you feel you are in control. This is what we call
deconditioning. You have been conditioned to be scared about sounds,
situations even smells, now you undo this by deconditioning yourself.
Interrupting automatic thoughts
Each time you feel that an episode of post traumatic stress is coming
over you, there will also be automatic thoughts such as "here, I go
again", "I am sliding" etc. Interrupt those thoughts and tell yourself:
"No, this time I am not going down this road", "My heart beat might be
up, but I don't care", "Don't panic it will all pass" etc. However, before you can interrupt these
automatic thoughts, you need to learn to listen to them. They are fast
and most of the time you are not aware of them. Very often we actually
feel bad not because we feel bad as such but because such an automatic
thought has been triggered off (e.g. "I am a looser", "Everybody is
better off than me", "I'll never cope" etc).
When we feel overpowered by a problem, we tend to regress to an earlier
developmental stage. For instance when you break down, you curl up and
cry like a baby in the embryo position. You can see this really well
when you watch children. If a 7 year old is distressed (s)he falls back
into the baby stage. Regressing means to return to a place where you
felt safe. Now, in order to fight the effects of post traumatic stress,
you can try and force yourself to go back to stages where you felt
safe. If such a stage is coloring in pictures, do this. If it is
playing with a toy train, do it. Listen to music which made you feel
good. Go where you felt good. Do anything you remember that was good.
Whatever you remember what made you feel safe in the past, just do it.
This is what I call forced regression.
Dr. Ludger Hofmann-Engl
Group of Composers © 2005