By Kim Saeed
When people think of trauma, they tend to imagine isolated events like natural disasters or car accidents.
But trauma can take many forms.
Narcissistic abuse is a soul-crushing form of trauma because it slowly builds up like an avalanche. In many cases, it affects your identity on a very deep level for several years.
That’s why healing from narcissistic abuse is an ongoing process – not an instantaneous event.
Healing from complex trauma and PTSD from narcissistic abuse requires a much different approach than recovering from isolated traumatic events.
Just like someone working through drug or alcohol recovery, it’s crucial to work through the phases of trauma recovery.
It’s not fast or easy, but you’ll come out the other end more dignified, stronger, and kinder than you ever were before the abuse.
Why Healing from Narcissistic Abuse Is Different
In reality, complex trauma from narcissistic abuse is similar to living under siege from war (fighting and psychological torture) and a blockade (emotional, spiritual, and even physical isolation) for many years.
This is not to say narcissistic abuse is on par with living in a war zone but that the same psychological implications are at play.
Like someone living under the threat of war for several years, you start to wonder why this abuse happens to youwhile others get to live in peace. It feels like you’re being tortured by a blockade restricting your access to the rest of the world.
Surely, something must be wrong with you or this abuse wouldn’t continue.
This outlook generally doesn’t apply in cases of trauma from car accidents and other isolated events.
Sure, some folks might suffer a car accident and wonder why God would allow such a thing to happen to them. But in general, people tend to recognize that car accidents and natural disasters are random events over which they have no control.
People don’t usually blame themselves for fires and earthquakes but we blame ourselves for narcissistic abuse. Healing from narcissistic abuse is different because it attacks your very sense of self, your psyche, and your spirit.
How Narcissistic Abuse Affects You on a Deeper Level
At first, you might suffer through a heated fight every now and then. Things calm down and you write it off as a one-time event.
You ignore the red flags. They’re just a tortured soul, right?
But then the fighting increases its pace. You start to notice that in every scenario, you’re wrong – even when you started the conversation by asking for an apology or basic respect.
How many times have you tried to confront the narcissist – even politely – about something they’ve done that hurt you only to have them turn the conversation around? How many times have you found yourself apologizing to the narcissist at the end of these conversations?
The narcissist must always be the victim – even when they’ve treated you horribly.
If the narcissist always has to be the victim, that means someone else must always be the perpetrator. Yep, that’s your role: You’re the antagonist and they’re the protagonist in the hypothetical movie playing inside the narcissist’s head.
The problem is that after weeks, months, or years of this very subtle manipulation, you start to actually believe it on a deep level – usually without even realizing it.
It impacts how you view yourself and everyone around you. You start to believe that you’re worthless, can’t do anything right, and no one could ever enjoy your company.
Healing from Complex Trauma and PTSD Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Complex trauma from narcissistic abuse takes a long time to develop – sometimes years or even decades. It’s imprudent, then, to believe that healing from narcissistic abuse can be instantaneous (and you shouldn’t trust anyone who tells you otherwise).
The narcissist spent years slowly chipping away at your sense of self and spirit. As a result, healing from complex trauma and PTSD should be an ongoing process.
To be honest, complete freedom from the past isn’t really an attainable (or even an ideal) goal.
This is what people realize as they work through the phases of trauma recovery.
The abuse doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be your whole story, but it isa major chapter in your book. It’s unwise, and quite frankly unhealthy, to think that you can simply “snap out” of this mentality while healing from narcissistic abuse.
Healing from complex trauma and PTSD simply doesn’t work that way. And if it did, it would be a dreadful form of spiritual bypassing.
It’s crucial to work through the phases of trauma recovery.
And that new identity? It will never be the same. It will be stronger, more assertive, and even more compassionate than it was before the narcissistic abuse happened.
Healing from narcissistic abuse is a difficult and continual process but it does get better.
The Phases of Trauma Recovery
You’re probably already familiar with the five stages of grief. But what is grief? It is a traumatic event that affects you on a spiritual level.
The phases of trauma recovery are very similar. Believe it or not, the five stages of grief are more than just a plot concept for comedy shows. It’s very important to work through each of these stages with an open heart and support system.
No one ever expects people suffering from substance abuse to recover overnight, right? No, they work through the 12 steps (or other concrete recovery programs). Ask anyone in drug, alcohol, or gambling recovery and they’ll tell you it’s an ongoing process that continues every day, sometimes indefinitely.
This may sound daunting, but have you ever met someone with years of solid recovery? They’re resilient, in control of their emotions, and living their best life.
It gets better. And the five phases of trauma recovery can help.
1. Emergency Stabilization Phase
You finally go No Contact from the narcissist and aren’t sure if you’ve made the right decision. (Maybe the police even made the decision for you.)
You’re still overstimulated from the narcissistic abuse which might still be flowing in the form of texts from strange numbers or relayed messages from mutual friends.
What you need right now is support and reassurance. The trauma has felt “normal” for so long that experiencing safety and calmness feels foreign and very wrong. You’re still vulnerable and afraid of how the narcissist will respond to everything you think or do.
2. Punching Upwards Phase
This is when you start to pick yourself back up off the floor. Your energy starts to return after the narcissist drained it for so long. (Being the target of narcissistic abuse requires a lot of your time and attention.)
You might experience surges of anger towards the narcissist and even at yourself for allowing the abuse to go on for so long. Without proper support and recovery, you might slip back into phase one. It’s important to note that while support groups on social media might help in the beginning, they are not a source of proper support and can ultimately set you back in your recovery.
3. One Foot in the Door Phase
You start to rebuild your identity, but your past tends to get in the way. You might start to give the narcissist too much credit and think “we both treated each other poorly” or “they’ve experienced abuse, too.”
Although it’s less common than during phase two, you can revert to the earlier phases of trauma recovery at any time without much warning. That’s why support and guidance from experienced professionals are so important during the entire process.
Now that you’re starting to feel confident in yourself and your decisions, you might feel compelled to reach out to the narcissist on casual terms. Maybe they’ve changed? (They haven’t.) You’ll find yourself seeking closure or an explanation. But take heed, reaching out to the narcissist will set you back in your recovery, or worse, land you straight back into the cycle of abuse.
4. Objective Analysis Phase
At this point in healing from narcissistic abuse, you can look back at your past objectively without feeling overwhelmed with emotions like anger or too much regret.
You’ve spent a great deal of time looking inwards and identifying emotional triggers left over from the narcissistic abuse. Now, you’re ready to start helping others who are in the early phases of trauma recovery.
Although you’ve put a lot of work into rebuilding your identity, you might find yourself slipping back into feelings of worthlessness or doubting your ability. You might not realize this is a hold-over from the abuse, but it is.
5. Acceptance and Reintegration Phase
You can see things clearly and as they are. You know your abilities and limitations – not the ones the narcissist railed into you.
At this point, you understand how to develop healthy relationships and you have the courage to take action if someone tries to treat you poorly.
Don’t ever let your guard down too much though – narcissists are everywhere. But you’ve learned how to stand up to their abuse before it gets too far.
Healing from Complex Trauma and PTSD from Narcissistic Abuse
It’s absolutely crucial to move through the five phases of trauma recovery as you’re healing from narcissistic abuse. You need to analyze how the trauma developed in order to unravel it for good.
But with the right support, you can – and you’ll be shocked how amazing it feels when you can flourish on the other side.