When women come to me looking to do more than survive abuse in their relationships, they usually want to know one thing: Will I be okay?
Their second question is more about the people in the relationship they have escaped: Will they ever change?
I tell them these are two entirely different questions and so are the answers, particularly if you talking about surviving and thriving after Narcissistic Abuse.
What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Today the term Narcissistic Abuse usually refers to the physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or financial forms of abuse that a narcissist inflicts on others. Their tools are power, control and manipulation and the abuse can range from mild putdowns, coercive control or power-over tactics to severe, life-threatening physical violence.
When you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you can frequently feel angry, confused, or alone. Gaslighting is a common practice – making you feel like your world is being upended by their view of it. They will challenge your beliefs and life values as invalid or silly, including that you are a good person who deserves to be loved, honored and respected. Their tactic is to convince you that whatever is wrong in your relationship is all your fault. You are not submissive enough, you’re “crazy,” or just too demanding of their time and energy. They will rob you of your self-esteem, self-confidence and, in some cases, your will to move forward with your own life. Why bother? They will always be in control, watching and waiting for you to slip up.
As a society we tend to use the word “narcissist” to describe a person who is very self-centered, sees the world only in terms of themselves and lacks in empathy towards others, even toward their partner as well as their own children. But narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a legitimate mental health condition that requires diagnosis by a mental health professional.
Surviving and Thriving after Narcissistic Abuse
Surviving Narcissistic Abuse usually means leaving that relationship, getting safe and stabilizing your life for yourself and your children.
It would be great to know that with the loss of their relationship and the disruption in the lives of their children, narcissists might change their ways. Instead, the women tell me, nothing changes and they find new outlets for continued control. That may mean bringing you back regularly to court to argue over financial settlements, child support payments, or even custody of the children.
Bottom line, your relationship with your ex-partner will not end upon your break-up or divorce. Rather it will evolve into a new phase, whether you have children with them or not, because narcissists crave control and attention. They always have to be in the right and they are really good at maneuvering every situation to their advantage, including ignoring what is in the best interests of their own kids.
Where does that leave you, a person desiring to move forward and recover from being in a relationship with a narcissist or anyone who displays some or all of the tendencies mentioned above?
I define “recovery” for the women I work with as thriving after abuse, not just surviving. It means taking the journey from victim to survivor to thriver and reclaiming your life. Seeing that you are on that journey, not a victim or survivor forever, is Step One of my Seven Steps to Thriving After Abuse. But this is not a linear journey. By that I mean you don’t decide one day you are a thriver and never slip back into victim or survivor again. Instead, as I do on my own journey from victim to survivor to thriver after the death of my niece Maggie, you can go back and forth between these stages of recovery and will likely do so for the rest of your life.
What is a Thriver?
So while life is a journey not a destination, I do have a “working definition” of a thriver for us all to aspire to. Why is it a “working definition?” Because I don’t think we have made this “thriving” thing big enough yet!
It’s a work in progress but here it is — so far!
A thriver is a happy, self-confident and productive individual who believes that she has a prosperous life ahead of her. She is primed to follow her dreams, go back to school, find a new job, start her own business or write her story.
She believes in herself and in her future so much that she will not return to an abusive relationship. She speaks knowledgeably and confidently about her experiences and is not stuck in her anger or need for revenge.
Living well is her best revenge! She has found a network of women who understand and share her desire to move forward after abuse.
When women come to one of the My Avenging Angel Workshops™ that I facilitate or work through the exercises and worksheets in one of my books in The Thriver Zone Series™, they see their journey and want to be thrivers. They feel the strong pull of that thriver energy and it makes them want to work on accomplishing goals and making their dreams come true. That could mean getting a new, better-paying job, going back to school, singing or painting again, starting a business or just feeling better in their own skin – happy, free and at peace.
It doesn’t mean, though, that they can’t fall back to that victim place, or even feel like they are just surviving all that has happened to them. People and things will trigger them back to those places – particularly narcissistic ex-partners who are still in their lives, manipulating and demeaning them and never changing. Remember, narcissists may have little intention of altering their lives or behaviors no matter who or what comes their way.
Stay on Your Journey
All I can tell these women – and myself as this happens to me too – is that it’s your choice as to who and what will trigger you back to an earlier stage of recovery. You also choose how long you stay back there. Will you let yourself feel like a victim — a punching bag and full of fear — for a day, a week, a month? Or will you remember in that moment of slipping back some exercise, thought or affirmation that can bring you back? Sometimes for me, it’s just telling my Inner Critic to shut up (Step Two: Quiet the Inner Critic) or bringing up my Happy Person Inside (Step Three) to move me forward into my bright future and I’m good in minutes!
I am so proud of the women who have done this work with me and how they have kept themselves on their journey for days, months and years now! Particularly women like Adrienne, one of the Thriver Success Stories in my book, Living in the Thriver Zone: A Celebration of Living Well as the Best Revenge.
Thriver Success Story
Adrienne experienced narcissistic abuse in a long-term marriage and had been divorced for a while when she came to one of my workshops. Here’s how she described her state of mind at that time and her progress since then going forward:
When I first met Susan, I’d been divorced about five years. I was a “high-functioning” survivor. I might have felt like I was moving forward, but actually Susan helped me realize I was vacillating between victim and survivor. I didn’t even know what “thriving” was. I was doing the best I could, but it was always a struggle and nowhere close to thriving.
True, I had come a long way from the years of being a victim, and I survived a marriage with an abusive partner. When we divorced, there was a long, drawn-out custody battle over our children, and financially there were days when my children were young that I struggled to find ways to feed them and myself. We were so poor!
Today, I am a thriver! In the ten years since I met Susan, I have accomplished many of my goals. I’m living in a place where I feel comfortable, happy, free and at peace. What I learned from Susan is that to get to thriving, I had to get positive energy into my life. Every step of Susan’s Seven Steps to Thriving After Abuse helped me to do that and it was a healing moment. Today, I revisit exercises in those steps regularly whenever I get triggered back to an earlier place. For example, Susan helped me see that I already had a positive pattern of overcoming fear in the past. I could use that pattern to confront my present-day fears and work toward a better, more positive future.
I know that what’s next is going to be big because I’m always going to dream big – bigger and bigger now that I am thriving! This is truly my best revenge, making bigger and bigger dreams come true each day!
If Adrienne has made this journey beyond abuse and stayed on course for years, you can do it too!