Learning How to Heal After Narcissistic Abuse
Narcissism is a type of mental illness that often has damaging effects on family relationships, especially when left untreated and unaddressed.
That’s because narcissists can develop abusive behavior patterns as an unhealthy way of trying to cope with their mental illness without proper support.
The Mayo Clinic defines it this way. A narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.
I got a message recently from someone with a narcissistic parent:
“I grew up with my mom constantly making me feel guilty for not doing everything she said, even when she wanted to control who I spent time with and where I went. She always had to be the center of attention, and if she wasn’t, she said cruel things to me, my dad, and my sister. I don’t really talk to her very often, but I can’t help but feel worried that her abuse is going to ruin other friendships and relationships for me and my sister. Do you think I’ll ever be able to love someone again after being raised this way by my mom?”
I really felt the pain of this person when I read their message. It is natural to wonder, if you were raised by a narcissist, how your relationships and friendships might suffer.
While there will be some struggles you have to overcome as a result, you’re not doomed or damaged goods because you have a narcissistic parent. Everyone’s parent relationships left them with challenges to overcome, and plenty of people who grew up around narcissists have gone on to have many healthy, happy friendships and relationships.
It’s important to remind yourself, as often as you need to hear it, that the abuse you suffered from the person who raised you is not your fault. While it may impact relationships, you are not defined by it. You are still your own person, and you have the ability to heal from the pain you experienced growing up, especially as you’re building new relationships with supportive people.
Here are some steps I’ve counseled people to take to help them learn to love and trust others after growing up around narcissistic abuse.
1. Understand Your Triggers
Relationships are often complicated by a parent’s past narcissistic abuse when something your new friend or partner does causes us to “flashback” to something harmful your parent did or said. This can happen even if no harm was intended and can lead to more conflict than necessary.
Understanding your triggers can be a helpful way to counteract this. If you know when certain feelings (such as guilt, shame, obligation, or fear) come up, let your friend or partner know.
You won’t be able to prevent every triggering word or action. But if talking about certain topics, hearing people make certain jokes, or even being in certain places, causes you to have spirals of undue guilt or shame, telling the people you care about means you can work together to heal your relationship from the effects of poor treatment by a narcissistic parent.
2. Distinguish the New Person in Your Life from the Narcissist
Whether it’s a new friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend, this new person you’re getting to know is not the same person as your parent whose words and actions hurt you.
They will have different reactions, different strengths, different ways of communicating and relating to you. You are not doomed to repeat the same relationship over and over. If it helps, you can think through positive differences between the two relationships that help you to learn and trust this. Every time this person:
- Says or does something kind
- Encourages you to be yourself or do something for yourself
- Celebrates one of your accomplishments
- Gives you space to make mistakes and learn from them
They are showing you ways that this relationship is different from the parent relationship that caused you pain growing up.
3. Give Yourself Time
Trust is earned, and that’s okay and normal. Even if you aren’t raised by a narcissistic person, it takes time to learn how your new friend or new romantic partner communicates.
Don’t beat yourself up if you have some trouble communicating here and there, or if you find yourself feeling like some things are similar to your relationship with your parents. That doesn’t mean your friendship or relationship is doomed, especially since you’re actively looking for ways to grow and heal after narcissistic abuse.
Give yourself time and space to learn and grow, and don’t forget that the new person you’re getting to know is learning and growing with you.
4. Ask for What You Need
The narcissistic person who raised you made you believe that asking for what you need isn’t okay, but it is! In fact, if someone you’re getting to know is ever making you feel it isn’t okay to speak to your own needs, then they’re not for you. Let people know:
- What you need from a friend or a partner
- When you need alone time or space
- How you need to be supported after a hard day or during a stressful time
The more open you’re able to be about your needs, the greater sense of connection you can have as you learn to support and be there for one another.
5. Learn to Love Yourself
Self-love is not selfish. Truly learning to love yourself is a process that involves treating yourself with patience, kindness, and grace. Being raised by a narcissist has likely hurt your self-esteem and self-worth. But those parts of you can heal. They have not been damaged beyond repair.
If it seems especially difficult to love yourself, try thinking about how you treat others whom you love. Then think about how you can treat yourself the way you treat your friends and loved ones.
- When you’re discouraged, how can you be kinder to yourself?
- When you’ve made a mistake, how can you be patient with yourself?
- What can you let go of that you’ve been beating yourself up for? What is one thing you can forgive yourself for today?
My faith helps me a lot because I believe that God created me out of love to connect with others in a meaningful way. I’m not sure how you feel about God, but please know that He loves you unconditionally, and nothing that someone else tries to do to hurt you, your feelings, or your self-esteem can diminish the unique things He loves about you in any way.
6. Get Extra Support
Narcissistic people are very skilled at manipulating others to get what they want from a relationship. Because manipulation is hard to notice until after it happens, and because people who abuse often try to convince us there’s nothing wrong, recovering from narcissistic abuse is difficult.
You should be proud of yourself for all the efforts you’ve made to heal. But don’t feel like you have to keep going on your own steam. Some days, it will be harder to keep working on your new relationships than others.
If you’re struggling right now to be hopeful about your new relationships, you can get help here. Talk to a HopeCoach at TheHopeLine today about what life was like growing up. Find support to heal after being raised by a narcissist and get the encouragement you need to feel more confident in new relationships. We are here for you, and we’re ready to listen and help.
Are you trapped in a cycle of emotional abuse? Listen to my podcast as I talk to three young adults dealing with emotional abuse from their parents.