The Healing process is very complicated. There are elements of bereavement and there are elements of post traumatic stress. Panic attacks too are possible.
Firstly, you will grieve over the lost relationship. This involves firstly denial. This means, you will find it very hard to face up to the fact that you lost a so called partner - maybe a house and children - maybe a whole life style. Because of the denial of the loss, you will also deny that abuse form the partner, who is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, has taken place. Here, you will have to keep reminding yourself that someone who loves someone does not hurt the other person on purpose. Remind yourself of the actual abuse. Bring images to your mind. Once you can face that abuse really has taken place, a mixture of feelings will set in. Unlike in a situation where you actually lost someone, you now will be faced with the fact that you only lost an image which was not based in reality.
The second step is anger. As you move forward allowing yourself to face the fact that you lost so much, you will feel angry that this should have happened to you. You want to blame someone for it and you might turn against almost anybody - parents and friends included. However, most of the anger will be directed against the narcissist. Ensure that you are not going to be violent and not violent against yourself.
The next step is grief. Clearly, you will grieve over the losses (not so much actually over the abuse yet). The lost home, the lost life etc. This is a very painful period and you might feel that you wish to be on your own most of the time. You feel, you cannot speak to people about the loss without bursting into tears.
The next step is acceptance. You accept the loss of what happened to you. This is often accompanied by falling back into earlier stages of denial, anger and grief. However, most important now is the fact that unlike during a normal period of bereavement, elements of post traumatic stress will set in. Typically, you will have symptoms such as automatic hyperarousal and an exaggerated startle response. This is, hearing the banging of a door will make you jump. People arguing will worry you. The starting up of a car might frighten you (most narcissist are dangerous drivers). Your body is in constant alarm mode. This has nothing much to do with what you think, it is an automatic reaction. If these symptoms persist and if they interfere with your life, you need to seek help urgently. There are things you can do yourself too. Put yourself into a calm environment. Listen to calm music. You also can try to decondition yourself. This is, if banging doors makes you jump then try banging doors yourself. You could have nightmares too, and if the symptoms are really strong, you might feel apathy and unable to be involved in what you used to like. If this is the case, you have to seek help.
The final stage is re-investment. You feel that you can accept the loss and you feel strong to invest into a new life. A very positive way of doing this, is not to deny your past but to integrate it into your life. You have to make sense about what happened to you. This can be in form of wanting to help people who too have been affected by the issue. Maybe even more important is to learn your lessons and to be able to assert yourself in the future. The feeling that nobody will walk over you again, does feel good.
As you restart your life, there will be periods where you falter. These periods are quite worrying because you feel that you might never get right again. However, in such a situation remember that you are going to get better slowly and that you already are doing better than - let us say - one month before. Restart your activities slowly and not all together at the same time. Make your environment aware that you are just overcoming a very difficult time in your life.
The question when to be involved with a new partner again, is very difficult to answer. This is something which depends on you and your potential new partner. A partner who too has been in an abusive relationship, is probably not a good choice. However, if your potential new partner is willing to help you along the healing process, you could quite possibly be involved fairly soon. But your partner has to be able to understand when you fall and has to be wanting to be patient and wanting to pick you up when you falter. However, the most important question is not when you can start a new relationship again, but the question whether you have changed enough to ensure that you are not walking into the next abusive relationship. You have to remember that the reason you were abused has to do with the fact that you did not assert yourself and did not say 'stop' at the right time. Make sure that you have grown enough to be a complete and assertive person before entering a new relationship.
Dr. Ludger Hofmann-Engl
Chameleon Group of Composers © 2005