Narcissistic Abuse = Prison Camp Effect
“Don’t judge yourself by what others did to you.”
~ C. Kennedy, Omorphi
I’ve been struggling in the aftermath of Narcissistic abuse. I’m still stuck in depression, low self-esteem, and an overall feeling of hopelessness. I’ve been reading self-help books and they help some, but I always go back to feelings of lowliness. I’ve also been following your blog, which is very helpful in understanding what happened, but emotionally, I can’t seem to move forward. How long until my life is normal again?
The feelings you are having are quite common. From what you’ve shared with me via email, you were controlled, manipulated, and forced to gain your partner’s permission for everything that you did. Even small things like how you wore your makeup, how you dressed, whether or not you could have friends, whether you could work outside the home, what you and your children ate for dinner, even which thoughts you were allowed to have…you had to do everything his way or there were consequences.
Subconsciously, you feel as if he still holds the power and that you need his permission to move on. Without it, you feel stuck. That’s exactly how he wants you to feel. Narcissists know what they are doing. They know that in the event the relationship ends, you will still look to them for validation for EVERYTHING. Since he’s no longer around, you wander the earth like the Walking Dead. Although your friends and family keep telling you that you are smart, successful, attractive, yet you didn’t believe any of it because you didn’t hear it from your abuser. That’s a sign you’ve been emotionally manipulated.
I often refer to the psychological tactics of the Narcissist being similar to those of prison guards. It’s not an analogy. Narcissists DO use the same mental brainwashing as prison guards. If you were to research the long-term effects of prisoners who were subjected to this type of abuse, you would find that they lost hope, too. Sadly, many prisoners went into a corner and died from the sheer lack of hope. They gave up. Even the ones who were freed felt like they were still in a prison. That’s what has happened to you.
Only YOU Can Set Yourself Free
You have forgotten that YOU are the one that holds the key. You no longer need his permission for anything. You don’t need to wait around for it anymore. You need to give yourself permission to move on.
Surviving narcissistic abuse is a process. It feels as if your abuser stripped away all of your confidence, self-esteem, joy, hope, and trust in other people. During my own recovery, my therapist told me that those things weren’t really taken away. They were buried underneath the mental abuse. Those positive feelings we once had about ourselves are like diamonds buried deep within the earth’s mantle, waiting to be unearthed again. She was right. We don’t have to start from square one and relearn love, trust, hope, etc. We have to uncover them.
With all of that being said, you will need to process your grief. These steps include:
- Finding a good therapist who specializes in emotional abuse and/or trauma. If you don’t have insurance, contact your local Domestic Violence center. They offer fabulous resources such as reduced or free therapy and support groups.
- Making sure you vent to people who have been through the same ordeal because they are the only ones who can understand and provide the proper support. One of the worst mistakes one can make in recovery is assuming that everyone will understand, and then being met with damaging responses such as, “If he was so bad, why did you stay with him so long?”, “Just get over it”, and the like. Quite frankly people who haven’t been abused won’t be able to help. Save your energy for people who will.
- Educating yourself about your disordered ex-partner. This helps you understand that the way they behaved has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. It also helps you discover that the hurtful, evil things they said weren’t true, but a product of projection and emotional manipulation. However, be careful not to spend too much time on forums. Doing so can cause you to feel worse, if not moderated.
- Understanding that there will likely be a period where you will be angry with yourself for not spotting their deception sooner. This is normal.
The Path Back to You
There comes a time in the recovery process where we have to let go of what they did to us. That doesn’t mean forget it as though it never happened. Letting go means acknowledging that you were abused, but taking the steps to move past it. Again, it’s realizing that you hold the key to your future, not your abusive Ex. Many people get stuck at this point because they fail to establish No Contact effectively. The truth is, as long as we keep exposing ourselves to our toxic abuser, we will not heal. There is absolutely no way around it. If you are leaving a crack open for your Narcissistic Ex, you will not have a normal life, and you will continue to be miserable.
Starting the Journey Back to Self is also a process. It’s best to take baby steps. This is where you go on “adventures” to reclaim the person you were before you met your prison guard. It will be different for everyone, but also the same in many ways. Here are some examples:
- If your abuser didn’t “allow” you to wear makeup or dress nicely, then fix yourself up and go out to the local library or bookstore. Don’t go overboard or you will feel out of place. Do what feels comfortable to you and makes you feel good about yourself.
- If your abuser refused to let you hang out with your friends, call one of them and set a lunch date.
- If you weren’t allowed to work outside the home, start looking for a job that you can ease into, perhaps starting part-time. If you don’t have any skills, take some classes at your local community college. Some community organizations offer classes for free.
These things will feel foreign to you at first. But, once you perform them a few times, you will feel your old self coming back, little by little. More importantly, you will realize that you DO hold the key to your future and happiness.
“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.”
~ Jim Morrison
© Kim Saeed and Let Me Reach, 2014
Do you have a burning question about your partner’s dubious behaviors? Submit them to email@example.com and your question will be entered into our database and possibly included in a future publication.
Want to heal from the effects of Narcissistic abuse? Check out the The Essential No Contact Bootcamp.
*Originally posted Dec 31, 2013 Narcissistic Abuse = Prison Camp Effect.