The 6 Stages of Healing After Narcissistic Abuse | How to Move On?

Last Updated on April 12, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester

In many cases, victims of narcissistic abuse don’t leave the toxic relationship, they are discarded. You will feel as if you have been left in the middle of an ocean with no anchor and no way to swim back to shore. The confusion is immense, you don’t understand why he left you because you tried to do everything right, but it wasn’t good enough. It is important to remember that narcissists suffer from a mental disorder, they don’t choose to act that way. Therefore, what has happened to you is neither your fault nor your ex-partners. 

Due to his condition, he is unable to experience the natural progression of a relationship, there is no bonding stage with a narcissist. After they have come down off their dopamine high, they get bored and become overwhelmed with negative feelings, and it is this that ushers in the devaluation phase. The narcissist doesn’t sit down and plan this out; the fact that the majority of narcissists operate in a similar pattern is evidence that it is a psychological disorder. 

Unfortunately, you will have experienced a lot of emotional trauma in your relationship, it is possible to overcome the pain you have been subjected to, but it is going to take time and it is important that you become familiar with the 6 stages of healing after narcissistic abuse. 

The 3 Stages of Narcissistic Abuse

There are three stages of narcissistic abuse; idealize, devalue and discard. Victims describe the experience as living on an emotional rollercoaster. The narcissist will repeat the cycle as often as they feel is necessary to keep their partner in a place of submission. The 3 stages include the following:

Idealise

Narcissists don’t target anyone; they look for a combination of vulnerability and status. For example, an extremely beautiful woman who seeks constant validation is the perfect partner for a narcissist.

Beauty gives them status, and vulnerability means there is a high chance of her tolerating his abuse, which means she makes a good candidate for narcissistic supply. Once they decide a person is of value, they pursue them relentlessly.

The narcissist will shower their victim with gifts, compliments, and promises of the perfect relationship. The idealize stage is also referred to as love bombing; this charming side of a narcissist makes them impossible to resist. 

Devalue

When the narcissist launches their devaluing attack, in most cases, the victim is oblivious to what is taking place. By this stage, they are so enamored with the narcissist they believe he could never do anything wrong.

They cleverly disguise insults as compliments; instincts will tell the victim that something is not quite right, but the love-bombing stage has clouded their vision so much, they brush it under the carpet and act as if all is well.

The devaluing stage is very confusing because the narcissist starts displaying a split personality where they act one way in public, and another in private. They launch their attack slowly and may start of by targeting the victim’s friends and family in an attempt to isolate them. In this way, the victim becomes totally dependent on the narcissist. 

Discard

The narcissist will start dating someone because of what they can get out of them. Once the victim loses their value, and they are no longer providing a supply, the narcissist will discard of their current partner.

During this time, the victim will experience intense manipulation known as gaslighting, projection, scapegoating, and blame-shifting. The discard phase is an extreme version of the devalue stage, sugar coating has gone out the window, and the real reign of terror begins.

Victims find this stage especially difficult to deal with because the narcissist will blame them for the breakdown of the toxic relationship. They make every effort to please the narcissist so they can experience the love-bombing stage again, but there is nothing that can be done, the narcissist is ready to move on. 

The 6 Stages of Healing After Narcissistic Abuse

6 stages of healing after narcissistic abuse

Healing from abuse is a process, and you will go through several difficult stages on your journey to recovery. There is no specific order for these stages and you don’t have to experience them all. But these are the stages most common to experience after an abusive relationship with a narcissist.

Denial

It is not uncommon to experience denial after a narcissistic relationship. You will feel helpless, and out of touch with reality. Because you loved your partner so much, you will not want to accept the deficiencies in the person you had devoted your life to. You were dependent on him for your happiness, so you will feel safer blaming yourself for the abuse than accepting you fell in love with someone who was capable of treating you in such a horrific manner. This is not a conscious decision; it is a fact of human psychology; many people will experience this after a traumatic event. 

Guilt

Narcissists take out their life’s frustrations on their victims. They project their failures, disappointments, and hurts on the person they are targeting. Everything that is wrong, that goes wrong, all the imperfections they see in themselves, the things they cannot fix, is blamed on you.

After hearing this day in and day out, you end up internalizing it and become programmed to believe you are at fault. When you leave the relationship, you are still carrying this burden and feel guilty that you were not good enough to make him stay. 

Shame

Shame kept you trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship, and shame will keep you from moving forwards after getting out of it. In some cases, the feeling of shame will drive a victim back into the arms of their narcissistic partner. You will feel shame and embarrassment because you feel that you deserved the abuse and it was your fault because you acted in a way that made him lash out.

Additionally, friends and family members can be unintentionally insensitive and will ask you hurtful questions such as, “Why didn’t you leave earlier,” or “Why did you allow him to treat you that way.” Questions of this nature make you feel as if they are blaming you for the abuse.

They are looking at your situation subjectively, and don’t know how to relate to what you’ve been through. In their mind, they are asking these questions because they want to get a better understanding. But in your mind, they are blaming you for allowing the abuse to happen, which only intensifies the feeling of shame. 

Anger

Once you have freed yourself from the constraints of an abusive relationship, you will look back and question how you ever got involved with such a person. You will feel angry at yourself for several reasons; for not realizing what was happening sooner, for the lost time, for giving yourself to such a cruel person, for allowing your partner to convince you that your friends and family were no good. The more you evaluate what has happened to you, the angrier you will become. 

Depression

Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional abuse, in most cases, your partner will not have put his hands on you. But the residual effects of this type of abuse can lead to severe depression.Life will feel heavy, on some days, you will want to sleep the pain away; on others, sleep will fail you.

On some days, you won’t be able to eat, on others you will eat yourself out of house and home. You will feel disconnected from the world; but most times, you won’t feel anything, just numb. When darkness prevails, it is impossible to see any light, and it becomes easy to believe that this is the existence you will inhabit for eternity.

Depression comes in cycles, the moment you think you are getting better, it will creep up on you and take you right back to your worst days. 

Recovery

Recovery is a decision only you can make, after going through the stages of healing after narcissistic abuse. You will get to a point where you just want to get better, you will want to put it all behind you and start living again.

There is no timeline for when you will get here, as everyone is different. But at this point, you will either seek professional help, or you will start educating yourself on how to get better and implementing the recommendations. 

stages of healing after narcissistic abuse

How do You Feel After Narcissistic Abuse?

You will experience a range of unpleasant emotions and feelings; unfortunately, they are a part of the stages of healing after narcissistic abuse. Some of them include:

Confusion

During the love bombing stage He made you feel so special; there was no one in the world capable of making him feel this way. You were the apple of his eye, his everlasting and unfailing love. One day, you were going to get married and have a house full of children.

Fast forward to the devaluing stage, and your partner categorically denies ever mentioning marriage to you; he starts making digs at your weight, and might say something like, “I know I didn’t say that because I’d never walk down the aisle with a fat bride.” Then he reverts back to the love-bombing stage and starts talking about marriage again.

You were confused when you were in the relationship, and remained confused when you left because you never truly knew how the narcissist really felt about you. 

Loneliness

Whether you were in the relationship for one month or two years, your partner was the love of your life, you spent every waking moment together and now they are gone. It is only natural you will feel lonely after the breakdown of a relationship.

However, this loneliness is heightened because of the extreme highs and lows your narcissist partner took you through. 

Ptsd

The abuse you’ve experienced was a form of psychological abuse and it traumatised you. Trauma is defined as any experience that threatens your sense of security or safety. Being in a relationship with someone suffering from a personality disorder is incredibly stressful.

You never know where you stand with a narcissist. Your emotions are unstable, and you are in a heightened state of alert at all times. This can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms include: 

  • Having flashbacks or nightmares
  • Unable to control your emotions
  • Suicidal fantasies/thoughts
  • Destructive coping strategies such as prescription medication, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders and self-harm
  • Physical ailments due to the trauma such as irritable bowel syndrome, tingling limbs, dizziness, chest pains, tummy aches, headaches
  • Extreme tiredness and fatigue
  • Feeling numb/dissociative/disconnected/zoning out
  • Shame/guilt
  • Thinking the worst in every situation

Not everyone who has suffered from an abusive narcissistic relationship will get PTSD; however, post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious condition and if you are experiencing any of these problems, it is essential you seek professional help immediately. 

How to Recover From Narcissistic Abuse?

There are several strategies you can implement to overcome abuse, but in some cases, the trauma may be so severe that you will need a therapist. Here are some tips to get you started:

Grieve

Allow yourself to feel your emotions no matter how painful they are. Acceptance accelerates the healing process; when you grieve, you release the emotional energy stored in your system.

Confide in a trusted friend or family member about your feelings and allow yourself to reminisce over the good and bad times of the relationship. You can also express yourself in a letter, get all your emotions out on paper, and say a final goodbye to your partner. 

Confront Your Negative Beliefs

The abuse will have left you feeling terribly insecure. Narcissists are experts at making their victims feel unworthy, you would have spent months hearing that you are fat, ugly, stupid etc. When you hear something often enough, you start believing it; therefore, you will have accepted that you were discarded because you are so repulsive you pushed your partner away.

None of the negative things your partner said about you are true, and to confront them, replace these hurtful words with positive affirmations. When you catch your inner voice speaking to you in this way, tell yourself that, “You are deserving of love,” “you are attractive,” “you are intelligent,” “you will achieve your dreams.”

Change Your Perspective:

No one wants to endure pain, but if you change your perspective of it, you will find a powerful lesson in the midst of your sorrows. To start, you now know what a narcissist looks like which means not only can you ensure you don’t get into another relationship with one again, you can also help your friends and family members spot the red flags too.

A lot of people who overcome difficult situations use their pain to fuel their purpose in life. They become so passionate about helping others overcome abuse that they become motivational speakers, authors and therapists.  

How to Move on After Narcissistic Abuse?

Moving on is not easy, but it is possible. It will take a lot of mental energy to heal the wounds you have endured; but if you are determined, you can live a fulfilling life again. Here are some tips to get you started:

Stay Single

The worst thing you can do after getting out of an abusive relationship is to get into another one. You need time to heal, process what you have been through and learn to love yourself again.

Jumping from relationship to relationship is a coping mechanism, it is a way of masking the pain. Since you are still vulnerable, you run the risk of entering into another abusive relationship.

Staying single is an essential part of the healing process. 

Be Kind to Yourself:

Get rid of anything connected to your ex-partner, gifts, pictures, text messages, and cards. Throw them out, burn them, or shred them, you don’t want any reminders about them whether good or bad. Go shopping, get a makeover, go on vacation.

Whatever it is you do to pamper yourself, do it, you deserve it after all the hell you’ve been through. 

Learn to Listen to Yourself

You are going to hear a lot of voices after the breakup. Friends, family members and associates will all think they have the perfect solution to help you get over the relationship. If you don’t feel comfortable with the advice, don’t take it, do what feels right to you. 

Final Thoughts

Life is going to look very different now, you are no longer in an abusive relationship, but you’ve got to go through the healing process.

Healing is difficult, there are going to be times when the pain feels worse than when the injury was inflicted. But you must decide to throw off the victim mentality and see yourself as victorious instead. 

Written by Alexander Burgemeester on

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more? Read my author bio page.

6 thoughts on “The 6 Stages of Healing After Narcissistic Abuse | How to Move On?”

  1. “But remember, things always get worse before they get better” is a very harsh and un-caring statement, i think. Always? Or is something lost in translation. Combined with what you write here that this is a quality proven blog, medically reviewed and all sources are double checked etc., this was not very healing. For me reading this blog was more harmful that calming and healing.

    Reply
    • Hi Norma, I am sorry you feel that way. That sentence is more a matter of speech than a hard statement. When you break up a relationship first there is pain from breaking up and later on there is healing because you are not in a toxic situation anymore. I do hope you liked the rest of the article. But I decided to delete that sentence as I don’t want my articles to be harsh and un-caring

      Reply
  2. I agree with Norma. It appears that the message you are relaying is that the narcissist is not responsible for their behaviour due to being psychologically disordered. Whilst victim-blaming; claiming one opens themselves to being narcissistic supply due to being an open and caring person, showing vulnerability, and “needing validation”. Narcissists absolutely target and look for their supply, they know full well what they are doing and continue to do overtly and repetitively, and yes, they do plan it out. They are, by no means, “innocent” of their behaviour due to being psychologically disordered. Being open and unafraid to exhibit vulnerability does not equate to “needing validation”, neither are they unhealthy attributes, leaving one open to being targets of narcopaths; only a narcopath would make such a statement. It’s the narcissist psychologically disordered individual that needs constant validation which, is in part, why they exhibit such toxic behaviours projected onto others. This blog post seems as though a narcissist wrote it and is doing what narcissists do best… project. Covert intellectual narcissist psychological disorder, perhaps?

    Reply
  3. This is all so tramatizing. I am 55 years old and uve been through some stuff. But this narcissistic relationship has been the biggest life lesson. At my age I didn’t have a decade to waste. And I gave it my all. I just knew he was my gift for every bad life thing in my past. He was my happy ever after. We are in the process of splitting up. And it’s so hard. I’ve proven to be a better tool then the rest. He isent interested in my but doesn’t want to let me go either. Narcissist should be allowed to do this no one should be able to do what they do to people. It’s not right.

    Reply
  4. As a recovering victim of narc abuse, I do agree that it does get hard before it gets better. It really feels like no one understands what I’ve been through and some make it seem so simple to recover when it’s really not. I just split up with my narc ex of 10 years and we have 2 children together. During the initial stages, I felt so alone, isolated, confused, hurt and I couldn’t understand what had happened to me until I sussed out that he was a narcissist. No contact is hard but it seems to be the best solution for me within the law. He has too many enablers but I am very lucky to have loyal friends and family (even though they didn’t fully understand), they were always rooting for me. Even after a year, he is still out to get me and keeps digging out the past trying to slender me. Through research and self help, I am accepting that he will never change and the best that I can do for me and our children is to stay silent rather than to engage with him. It hurts, yes. But I know now that it’s my choice to walk away and that I wasn’t at fault for all the wrong that has happened. I am slowly but surely finding myself. a new and better me.

    Reply
  5. I was in a relationship with one for 10 years. I’ve been free for 2 years. I still struggle with getting my emotions back. I turned them off so hard back then so as not to feel anything that I can’t seem to turn them back on again. I just want to be alone. Always.

    Reply

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