First to clarify, abusers are often, but not always narcissists and narcissists are often, but not always abusers so I’m including both because both types of relationships have very similar effects on people and healing from them takes the same journey.  These 7 insights and strategies plus some thoughts at the end about how to make a healthier choice next time, will be helpful for all who are torn down by abusive and narcissistic relationships.  It would be super helpful to get a journal; this can be a word page, or a spiral notebook from the grocery store; doesn’t have to be fancy, just a place you dialogue with yourself and keep track of the insights and strategies, plus all of the ideas and goals you come up with to help yourself heal.

  1. Recognize reality; the First and most important thing is to recognize the relationship needs to be over and commit to yourself that you will not be drawn back in.  two things to note; 
  2. you can still love someone and decide that the relationship is not good for you.  It’s a decision you make, not necessarily a feeling you feel; in our culture we put a lot of stock on our feelings and “follow your heart” and all of that.  If you’re in an abusive or narc relationship you cannot follow your heart because it’s being jerked around all over the place from the love-bombing to the abuse and discard to the love-bombing again.  You have to step back and look at the relationship rationally and you have to follow your wise mind; the analytical mind that can see the whole picture, the cycles of abuse, and that you’re being emotionally torn down over time.  This is a decision, often against your feelings so don’t wait until you don’t feel any love; you can love and leave anyway. 
  3. The cycle of abuse is seductive; Often in abusive relationships there is a cycle of a honeymoon period, a build-up of tension, an explosion of some sort, and then a honeymoon period.  Because the honeymoon feels good, people are often drawn back into the relationship over and over again; getting more torn down emotionally over time, until they forget what a normal, non-drama life feels like.  When you realize this is abusive, it’s critical you take stock; even write it all out for yourself so that you won’t get love-bombed back into it.  as you’re healing, you’ll notice this love feeling will occasionally still want to draw you back in; recognize reality and don’t allow your heart to dictate to your head.  In this you have to let your head have the last word.  When you get tempted to see that person or talk to them, just don’t.  it’s like a drug you’re addicted to, one bit of contact can lead to another entire cycle of abuse.  It’s not worth it; think it all the way through.  So this first step is to recognize reality;  the second is to;   
  4. focus on Rebuilding your sense of self.  The relationship with an abuser/narcissist, is all about tearing you down so they can control and manipulate you.  Everything is about them and their needs and wants and never about yours.  The longer you’re in this relationship, the more torn down you are and the more you lose touch with yourself, so give yourself time to take stock of who you are and what your sense of self is about.  Remember that who you are is about your character qualities and values, not your looks and charm.  In the aftermath of an abusive relationship, we don’t feel attractive and have often lost our ability to feel comfortable or confident talking with others.  In my experience, even very beautiful and wonderful women and very good looking and caring men feel hideously ugly and completely unlovable in these early stages.  Be gentle with yourself and realize that this experience has nothing to do with who you are, and how attractive or lovable you are; They tear you down to control you, and they say the things that will hurt the most to tear you down the most; that doesn’t make any of it true, just painful.  They will zero in on the most tender spots in a person’s heart during those moments of attack and leave you drowning in the emotional devastation; but none of it is true; it’s just the thing they knew would bring you to your knees and make you feel the worst so they could up their manipulations again.  So rebuilding your interior sense of self is a huge part of what the journey back is all about;  More than likely you’re a kind, caring, empathic, and giving person; all really good qualities in a person; but also really terrible when shared with the an abusive or narcissistic person!  So reclaim those wonderful qualities and promise yourself you will only share them with other wonderful and empathic people who care and share and are as kind as you. 
  5. Retreat; Take time for YOU; go on a retreat for a weekend if you can but if not, even small daily retreats where you take an inspiring book, a great cup of tea, and curl up in a quiet spot and just be with you.  Learn to be at peace within yourself and with yourself.  One of the worst mistakes people make is to jump back into the dating scene to soothe their raw emotions.  Without taking time away, we tend to get sucked back into the same kind of relationship with the same kind of person.  We get love-bombed again and we think this person is so different and we’re on another roller coaster with the same type of person.  Taking a break gives us the peace we need to reembrace ourselves, and commit to creating this calmer, quieter type of relationship that is nurturing and reciprocal.  When we become internally quiet and internally self-appreciative and self-knowing, we will not connect with someone who pulls us back into drama; we just won’t let that happen.  Our self-awareness being internally calm and strong makes us have a keener awareness of what others are really made of; our creep-o-meter will go off when we run into another abuser or narcissist and we will set boundaries and not wander into that minefield again.
  6. Rebuilding the exterior of your life is the next aspect to pay attention to.  The abuser has isolated you and made you feel inferior and ugly and like they are the only person who loves you or could ever love you.  Again, These are the tricks of the trade and need to be seen for what they are.  Isolating you is a huge part of how they keep control.  Keeping you away from family and friends who might be supportive, make you feel good about yourself, or bring fun, joy, enrichment or anything else to your life threatens their control-hold.  Family and friends could give you perspective and give you an out when the going gets ugly with the abuser/narcissist.  So isolation is a critical strategy of this control and you likely feel all alone as you emerge from the relationship.  Rebuilding your social and family relationships is critical to you staying away from the abuser and feeling like yourself again.  Many people say they’re too embarrassed to talk to friends and family again and they stay isolated, only to become easy prey for the abuser again.  The truth is; The people who really care about you will be happy to have you return to their lives and will understand what happened if you share with them.  If they’re not welcoming, then you need to rebuild with others; make new friends and connections.  We’ll get to that in this next strategy.
  7. As you assess and take stock of your character qualities, look at things you want to improve; in what ways is your life out of balance?  In what areas could you rebuild new passions/hobbies/activities/volunteer activities to enrich your life.  Another thing an abuser does is take up all of your time and energy; some people are drawn back into their abusive relationship because they feel lonely and bored; instead, fill in the holes left in the wake of that relationship; there are thousands of things to do in this life; in your quiet time, brainstorm and journal about what you would like to do to fill in some of that time.  Branch out; don’t be afraid to try something new or even a little off the wall.  Try something active if you can; look around and see what looks interesting and just go try it.  if you’re not as active or able to be active, look at volunteer opportunities in your area; there are literally thousands of non-profits needing help and it feels so good to be part of something bigger than your current sadness.  It’s a great way to get out of your funk and be there for someone else for a part of a day each week.  The sense of meaning and purpose, plus getting you around other people who are caring for others unselfishly, is really healthy.

So now you’ve committed to recognizing reality, you’ve reassessed your self, you’ve rebuilt your connections to family and friends, and re-enriched your lifestyle; now it’s time to be careful how you choose your next life partner; here are some critical tips. 

  1. Take the time it takes; don’t be in a rush; don’t get caught in the beliefs that you’re getting old or there’s no one out there for you or any of those old stories.  Be patient; it truly is better to be alone than to be with another abuser and if you jump back in with the wrong person, you’ll be missing out on the right person.
  2. Be so present with yourself and so caring for yourself that no one who isn’t can get into your life. 
  3. Learn how to stand up for yourself and to walk away from toxic people; it is NOT your job to help everyone else in the world to your detriment; I’ve had so many empathic people think it makes them “not a good person” to set any boundaries, not “be there” for someone who “needs” them.  Often the beginnings of a toxic relationship prey on this “be there” thing. You can be friends with someone who is needy and is a someone you want to help out, but never seek to be in relationship with someone like that.  Which leads to the most important phrase I want to impress upon you; 
  4. Find a partner not a project!  This means the person you’re looking for is like you; empathic, kind, caring, loving, giving.  If you have to teach them or make them be these things, move on.  If they are inconsistent in caring or giving or loving and are periodically really mean or vicious or selfish or hurtful, move on.  If you are already in a roller coaster of hurt feelings and apologies, move on.  Helping others is great, being there for someone who is challenging and needs loving support is wonderful but your partner is your refuge from the world and from your workday and from the hectic and painful aspects of life.  If you don’t feel a sense of peace and refuge in your partnership, and a sense of rejuvenation and revitalization from your time together, it won’t get any better or easier when you add the challenges of life later; don’t settle; find that person who is fun and supportive and interesting to you and gives you a sense of home.  Find a partner, not a project!

Originally Published on

Shannon Petrovich LCSW, LISAC, BCD Therapist, Author, YouTube Creator

Shannon earned her Bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Connecticut. She earned her clinical licenses in Social Work and Substance Abuse Counseling, and is a Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work.

Her new book, Out of the FOG Into the CLEAR, Journaling to Help You Heal from Toxic Relationships has attained Amazon Bestseller status in Self Help for Abuse, Codependency, and Personal Transformation.

On her YouTube channel Therapist Talks, she shares insights, information, perspectives, and strategies on a wide range of relationship and mental health topics.

With a very trauma-informed, strengths-based approach, she seeks to help people see the old stories that are in their way, and to fully become the person they were created to be.

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