From Victim to Survivor to Victor
When you are dealing with a covert narcissist, it is so incredibly hard to see the abuse, especially at first. You may know that something is wrong in the relationship, but you are just as likely to blame yourself as you are to blame your partner. In fact, you are probably more likely to blame yourself. I think all of us begin in denial.
“I’m not being abused. This doesn’t apply to my relationship. He’s just…… or she’s just…….” Fill in the blank. Tired, cranky, busy, angry, not feeling well, socially awkward, recovering from an abused childhood, and so on. How many years can these excuses go on? For me, it was 17 years. For others, I have heard as many as 45 years. Excuse after excuse after excuse. At some point, I started to realize that the “He’s just….” was not an excuse but rather a definition of who he was.
If I’m always making excuses for him because he is cranky that day, but it’s every day, at some point I have to realize that cranky is just who he is. That “recovering from an abused childhood” becomes an excuse and a crutch when it explains their bad behavior for years and years. He is never going to get better. He likes his crutches and hides behind them.
So the fog started to clear from my mind. I felt like a beaten down puppy, living with a justified owner who could talk to me anyway he pleased without a care in the world. The denial went away, and I ran head first into the realization that I was a victim! It took one visit to a therapist to really get me to see it for myself.
“OH, $^*&^%*&^*&!!! What is really going on here?!?” This realization was incredibly painful! I thought he loved me. I committed my life to him. I thought we were teammates, facing the battles of life together.
As quickly as the clarity came, it would also disappear just as fast. One minute the abuse was clear in my mind. I could see it. I could explain it. But the next minute, it vanished into thin air. I couldn’t grasp it anymore. I couldn’t explain it. Instead I doubted myself and blamed myself, for the millionth time.
But I continued pondering, watching his attitude, listening to his words, observing my feelings and reactions. He was the reason that I felt beat down and insecure. He was the reason my anxiety level and exhaustion were so high. At this point, I found myself all over the board emotionally. I rotated between disbelief, resistance, despair, grief, denial, anger, even rage. This was the roller coaster from hell!
At this point, the need for external validation is incredibly strong! You have received practically no validation from your partner or anyone else up to now. Many victims, including myself, will desperately try to get their partner to see how they are treating them. You want them, so badly, to see the abuse they are dishing out for what it is. Maybe this is in hopes that they will change. Maybe it is because you want them, just once, to finally feel bad about it.
In this stage, anger is strong in the victim. They vent to anyone who will listen. The desire to expose the abuse is huge. Revenge is screaming at their heart. “Look at what they did to me! This isn’t right! It isn’t fair! Look how much it has hurt my children!” Daily, you gather more evidence and more examples of the abuse. You want to scream this from the rooftop!
A problem arises though, your friends and family don’t see it. They don’t understand what you are saying. They don’t agree that you have been abused. They tell you that you are over-reacting or being petty. This is incredibly painful!!! A harder hit than some of the abuse itself. Despair and self-doubt replace the anger.
What do I do now??
The second phase is that of the survivor. When does it hit? It hits when you run out of fuel in the victim phase, when you just have no energy left and can’t take it anymore. This is when you fully realize that they are never going to get it and you stop trying to explain it to them or change them.
Everyone stays in the first phase of being a victim for different lengths of time. How long you stay is based on various factors:
Your own awareness of the abuse
Length and intensity of the relationship
If you have kids with them and the age of the kids
How hooked you were by their love-bombing
The extent of your own support group
How secure or scared you feel about leaving
How determined you are to change them
Your willingness or unwillingness to accept that they will never get it and move on
Your willingness to stand up for yourself
None of these things make you a bad person or the one responsible for the break-down of the relationship. They do however play a huge role in determining the amount of time you remain hooked in the narcissistic relationship. Some people run for their lives early in the relationship, maybe one year in and before marriage or kids. Others, however, remain for decades, as many as 40 or 50 years.
For me, the survivor phase hit when my energy tanked out. I had nothing left inside me. My fuel tank was empty, and I hit rock bottom. I no longer had any desire left to try to explain anything to him. I had tried so hard, and he combatted everything I said, all the time. I was done!
At this point, I realized that this was having a huge effect on my physical health and mental and emotional well-being. So survivor mode kicked in. It was time to quit trying to help him and instead to focus on helping myself. I became completely indifferent to him. I no longer cared what he thought or said. I no longer reacted to his attempts at baiting me. I no longer wanted revenge, as this just kept me trapped in his web. I just wanted out. I later discovered that this is called going Grey Rock. I didn’t know it had a name until much later. For more on grey rock, read my recent post When I told my Covert Narcissist that I was Done
One other gigantic step to move from victim to survivor is to quit gathering evidence of the abuse! This is extremely necessary. Yes, in the beginning, you need to gather the evidence. You need to prove to yourself that you aren’t crazy and that he/she is abusing you. You need to get clarity in why you feel the way you do. But at some point, in order to move forward in your own healing, you have to stop gathering evidence. You need to trust what you have learned and close your case. You must be able to say, “Now, the prosecution rests.”
The realization that they are never going to get it is a tough one, but also a very freeing one. You no longer feel responsible to be the one to show them. It wasn’t my job anymore. I can’t change him, but I can change me. So I started taking steps toward moving one. Everyday I simply did the next right thing, whatever that was. Sometimes they were small things and sometimes they were huge things.
It is easy to get stuck in the victim phase. Move on!! You have much better ways to spend your time and energy. You have other things to think about and do. You have other people that need you in their life. Your thoughts and feelings do matter in this world. They don’t matter to your narcissist. So staying in the victim role, still battling with him/her, will keep you feeling like you don’t matter. You will continue to desperately try to prove that you do. There is life outside of narcissism. Start taking care of you and your family because you deserve it.
The Victor phase is amazing!! This is a phase of empowerment and growth. You have truly moved on in life and no longer think about this narcissist thing.
How do you know when you have reached this phase?
When you no longer wake up every morning with him/her on your mind.
When the constant internal arguments are gone.
When you all of a sudden realize that you haven’t thought about him/her in a long time.
When you realize that you carry positive energy for a change.
Please know that it is impossible to get entirely to the phase of victor if you cannot get him/her completely out of your head. If you are still seeking revenge, you won’t get there. If you are still holding on to the anger, you won’t get there. If you are still checking their social media, you won’t get there. Unfortunately, if you are still raising kids together, you won’t get there….not entirely….not yet.
If you are not quite to this phase yet and want to be, you might ask yourself these questions.
What would I be thinking about if I wasn’t thinking about him/her and all this narcissistic garbage?
What would I be doing with my day if he/she had never been a part of it?
What would I be researching on the internet if I wasn’t googling narcissism, emotional abuse, unhappy marriage, etc?
Find a few things in life that you really enjoy, things that make you feel happy and satisfied. Think about these things. Ponder them and explore them. Learn more about them. Make them a hobby and use them to begin to occupy that time you are trying to fill with other things. Learn about the resources out there. Find others who share this interest. What kind of things? you might ask. I don’t know where to start. Here are a few suggestions: dancing, nature, reading, music, sports, cultural history, photography, a new language. There are so many wonderful options out there.
In this process, pay close attention to your thoughts. They will try to wonder back to all the garbage of your past, especially at first. Don’t sweat that too much. It is that way for everyone. Just be aware of it and purposefully shift your thoughts back to your new positive things to ponder. There are a ton a great resources out there on mindfulness. To get started, check out my Resources page. Give yourself permission to move on and enjoy life once again.
There is life after narcissism!!