When Your Adult Child is a Narcissist

When Your Adult Child is a Narcissist

Do you have a strained relationship with your adult child? Do they seem to have an overblown sense of entitlement? Do they think the world revolves around them and get offended if you don’t agree? Do they ever try to control you or your choices, either directly or through guilt trips or manipulation? Do they make unreasonable demands on your time or expect you to pay their bills? Do they make up stories about things that never happened? Do they deny things that you know to be true?

Could your adult child be a narcissist? 

Have you found yourself wondering what you did wrong in raising them or what happened to the child you once knew? Have you asked yourself if your child might be a narcissist? How can you tell? And what are you supposed to do if you find out that your child is a narcissist?

What is a narcissist? 

We’re not talking about someone who takes too many selfies or is overly concerned with their appearance, necessarily, though those signs might be present. Still, those signs alone aren’t enough to identify a malignant narcissist.

In this case, we’re talking about a toxic or malignant narcissist, we mean someone who has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (or would be, if a psychologist had the opportunity).  Malignant narcissists are known to have certain features of antisocial personality disorder well as paranoid traits and ego-driven aggression. Additionally, you might see that they seem to have an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement.

In every malignant narcissist, you’ll see the lack of emotional empathy that drives their behavior.

As I explain in this video, narcissists often use “false” empathy to manipulate and control people around them.

What are the risk factors for developing narcissistic personality disorder? 

You’re probably asking yourself how your child could have become a narcissist, right? Maybe you did everything right and it makes no sense to you. Or perhaps you were married to a narcissist and you tried really hard to protect your child from them, and now you don’t understand why they would land on the “dark side” after all you’ve done. So, what causes a child to grow up and become a narcissist? In this video, I explain how narcissists are created.

While there is some research that says narcissism may be genetically predisposed, but there’s no official word on how it really happens. The nurture versus nature debate continues, of course.

With that being said, from a psychological standpoint, it looks like narcissists are created in a few different ways. For the most part, chances are that one or more of the following happened.

An Insecure Attachment Style

Most narcissists are found to have developed an insecure attachment style. This is according to attachment theory, which is a psychological, evolutionary, and ethological theory concerning relationships between humans. When it comes to narcissistic abuse recovery, the significance of attachment theory and attachment style cannot be overstated. The premise of attachment theory is that, during infancy, children have a deep, intrinsic need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver (specifically, the mother in most cases) for normal social and emotional development. When this doesn’t happen, the development of the brain and psychology are affected in dramatic ways, leading to unhealthy attachment styles. Certain attachment styles can naturally lead to both narcissism and codependency. Learn more about attachment styles and how they affect the development of both narcissists and codependents. 

In this video, I offer details on how attachment theory could offer insight into both narcissism and codependency. 

Due to Adoption

Maybe your child is adopted and spent a few days or weeks after birth waiting to be adopted. Maybe it was much longer than that. I explore the possibilities in this video, where I answer a question from a follower named Diana Gish, who wanted to know whether adopted children are more likely to become narcissists than other kids.

Diana said: Most narcissist videos I see relate to children who became narcissists due to parental behavior. Can you confirm the reverse – whether an adopted child fears abandonment more than a nonadopted child, and whether a child will display narcissistic behavior toward adoptive parents much like between spouses – blaming, poorly handling truth, failure to acknowledge anything good has been done for them, or bonding?

Due to an Extended Hospital Stay After the Birth

Perhaps your child was born prematurely or had some other condition at birth that caused them to need to be in the hospital for a long time for was in the hospital for a long time after birth, or you (or their mother, if you’re not their mother) had post-partum depression. In this case, as well as in the case of the adopted child who wasn’t properly nurtured in the first few days, weeks, or months after birth, your child could’ve developed an insecure attachment style, which may have contributed to the narcissistic traits you’re noticing.

Abuse, Neglect, or Other Ongoing Trauma in Childhood

Your child was emotionally, physically, or otherwise abused in childhood. Whether or not it happened at home, if your child experienced any ongoing abuse in childhood, the effects of the abuse could have contributed to their toxic behaviors. Perhaps you were married to a narcissist and your child watched you go through the abuse yourself – and maybe their other parent even encouraged your child to join in on abusing you verbally or otherwise. Or maybe you had to work a lot of hours and couldn’t spend as much time as you’d have liked with your child. There might have been times where your child felt alone and abandoned as a result. There’s also the chance that a sibling or even someone outside of your home caused trauma through physical, sexual or emotional abuse. It might have been a teacher, babysitter, grandparent, family friend, or even a school bully.

In most cases, an adult with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has a serious fear of abandonment. They might be terrified of being found out for what they really are or for what they think they are not. They fear rejection, abandonment, and criticism. This is because, in their minds at least, their parents or caregivers in childhood abandoned them or rejected them, in reality, or emotionally. In this video, I’ll fill you in on exactly how and why narcissists develop their often irrational fear of abandonment. 

Acquired Situational Narcissism

Perhaps your adult child became rich or famous suddenly. This might have caused them to develop something called acquired situational narcissism. Acquired situational narcissism is most likely to happen when there were already some pre-existing factors that would have led to narcissism under the right circumstances. So, at least in some cases, narcissism can be developed by people who had good, healthy upbringings. In this video, I’ll share more about acquired situational narcissism and how it might be affecting your adult child.

How do you know if your adult child is a narcissist? 

They Feel Entitled to Your Attention and Your Money

  • Your adult child continues to engage in the same kinds of attention-seeking behaviors they did as a small child.
  • They demand your time or attention even when you are dealing with some crisis or other kind of personal stress.
  • They always minimize or ignore what you do for them, but you continue to help them anyway out of fear or obligation,despite the fact that you feel unappreciated.
  • Your adult child seems jealous or any when you show attention to others, including but not limited to their own children (your grandchildren).

They Don’t React React Normally If A Loved One Is Sick Or Passes Away

While inappropriate relations to death or illness can certainly be an indication of narcissism in your adult child, chances are that you’d have noticed this kind of behavior and types of reactions earlier in childhood.

  • Your adult child either over or under-reacts to family members’ or friends’ death or illness.
  • When you’ve been sick or otherwise in danger, your child may not have shown compassion or any genuine concern.
  • If you are visibly upset or even crying, your child would have either ignored or minimized you, or they would have somehow made it all about them and their own issues.
  • They also may over-or-under-react to the death of their pets.

They Have Unrealistically High Expectations

  • Your adult child has pie-in-the-sky expectations all the time, in nearly every situation.
  • They get angry or sad when they don’t get what they want (narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury)
  • They are always putting others down and pointing out areas where people don’t “measure up” to them or others.
  • They will become overly critical of you as their parent or as a person.
  • They will judge your life choices and the way you present yourself.

They Can’t Seem To Maintain Long-Term Friendships

  • Your adult child can’t seem to keep friends for long, or they have one or two friends who seem to be their little “minions” or “cronies” – flying monkeys who do their bidding at will.
  • They seem to idealize their friends or romantic partnerships initially, followed by a period of devaluation until they either discard them or restart the cycle. This might go on for decades.
  • You might also be idealized, devalued and discarded, over and over again in your relationship with your adult child.
  • They might have a spouse or partner who seemed absolutely perfect until the spouse or partner starts accusing your child of psychological or emotional abuse.
  • They might have lost a lot of friends who suddenly “ghosted them for no reason.” (There IS a difference between “ghosting” and “going no contact,” for the record).

They Cannot Accept Responsibility For Their Actions

  • Your adult child causes harm and heartache to you and others in their lives on a regular basis, but they will never actually accept responsibility.
  • They will deflect responsibility by saying things like, “Well, I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t (insert presumed mistake here).”
  • They will often blame the person they hurt directly.
  • They blatantly lie or “omit” the truth in order to avoid responsibility for what they’ve done.
  • They will never genuinely apologize, and if they ever do say they’re sorry, they prove they don’t mean it.

My Adult Child is a Narcissist! What now?

So, assuming you’ve determined that your adult child is a narcissist, what are you supposed to do? Should you go no contact with them? How could a parent go no contact with their own child? Well, here’s the thing. These are difficult and painful questions, and even more so when you consider the possibilities – and the fact that by the time they’re an adult, there is little hope for a narcissist to really change. 

In this video, I offer insight into the possibility of narcissists changing for the better.

Sadly, your options for dealing with your adult child when they have narcissistic personality disorder will come down to essentially two choices – and neither one is one you really want to make.

  • Do you accept the abuse in order to continue to have a relationship with your child, who for most of us, is among the most important people in your life? OR
  • Do you end your relationship with your adult child in order to maintain your own sanity, health, and emotional wellbeing?

No one wants to have to make this choice when it comes to their own child, right? But when the adult child is narcissistic, they drain you of your energy and they absolutely will not respect your boundaries.

When Should You Go No Contact With Your Narcissistic Adult Child?

The last thing that any parent wants to do is go no contact with their flesh and blood. However, unfortunately, it is necessary at times when it comes to the adult narcissistic child. So, if you’ve decided that you cannot tolerate their abuse and manipulation any longer, when is it appropriate to go no contact with the adult narcissistic child?

When It Affects Your Health

Narcissistic abuse is well-known to both cause and complicate health problems you might be struggling with. As we get older, it’s important to remember to be mindful of this. If your adult child is disrespecting your boundaries repeatedly and it is taking a toll on your mental and physical health, it’s time to go no contact with your adult child. Keep a close eye on your overall stress levels and health. If you are struggling to get proper sleep, if you are struggling to eat, or dealing with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, the time has come to go no contact.

When the Behavior Becomes Abuse

There is never an excuse for abuse, but you might not really recognize that you’re being abused by your own adult child. If this is the case, you’ll often feel exhausted or like you’re walking on eggshells with them. In other words, if the blatant disrespect, lies, and personal attacks that your child dishes out are worsening, to the point that you feel you’re being abused, it is time to go no contact.

When They Try to Ruin You

It’s difficult to imagine that your adult child might actually do something to intentionally ruin your life, but it happens more often than you’d expect. If your adult narcissistic child is angry with you about something and they are smearing your name and ruining your reputation, that is the time to go no contact. You have had to deal with your child gaslighting you, disrespecting your boundaries, and devaluing you for so long. If they smear your name and violate your privacy, then you will want to consider going no contact.

Can you maintain a relationship with your adult narcissistic child? 

Can you maintain an adult relationship with someone who is a toxic narcissist? Sure. Should you? That’s entirely your choice. And listen, I don’t think anyone would judge you if you chose to stick it out with your adult child if they’re a narcissist. But you have to understand what you’re going to be dealing with if you do. So, expect that they will not change, and understand that if you want to keep them in your life while reducing the stress and overwhelm involved, there are steps you can take to minimize the damage and to reduce the friction of the relationship.

Steps to Keeping the Peace With a Narcissistic Adult Child 

Some people will swear that with enough validation and proper counseling, things could get better in your relationship with your toxic adult child. But the truth is that by the time someone is an adult, you cannot help them change if they don’t want to change.

As you are probably aware, your average non-narcissist is perfectly able to create meaningful change in their lives with intention (thanks in part to neuroplasticity). That’s because, not only might they want to change, but they can recognize that there’s something they’re doing that is causing some undesired result in their lives. They can take responsibility for that and be willing to do something to make their desired result a reality.

However, if your adult child is truly a narcissist, they definitely will not have a problem with their own behavior, so they won’t see a need to change. Rather they will blame you and/or anyone else for the things that go wrong in their lives.  Since nothing could possibly be their fault, they’ll literally destroy anyone who implies otherwise as they continue to refuse to accept responsibility for anything they don’t love about their lives.

With that in mind, here is what you can do to keep the peace with your narcissistic adult child. The steps aren’t fair and they’re not easy. They won’t allow you to feel seen or heard, and they will leave you feeling exhausted and emotionally fried.

If you want to maintain a tolerable relationship with your adult narcissistic child, here’s what you do. 

  1. Accept them for what they are, without questioning anything they do, say, think or feel.
  2. Recognize that they will not offer you the same courtesy.
  3. Never argue with anything they say, want, think or feel.
  4. Offer them as much praise and validation as possible.
  5. Avoid criticizing them if at all possible.
  6. If you DO criticize, do the “compliment sandwich” thing. First give them a compliment, followed by the (gentle) criticism, followed by a compliment.
  7. Be prepared to accept all responsibility for anything that goes wrong in the relationship or outside of it.
  8. Be prepared to pay for or take responsibility for their bills or their behaviors.
  9. If they attack you, try to use the gray rock method and avoid confrontation if at all possible.
  10. Never try to “fix” them or “help” them get better. They do not want to change and cannot see a reason they should.
  11. Avoid telling them you believe they’re a narcissist. If they are diagnosed, allow them to deal with their psychiatrist and only discuss the issues with them if they bring them up first.

Do you think your adult child is a narcissist? If so, here are some resources that might help you.

Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Resources

These resources might also be of interest if your adult child is a narcissist.

 

Can You Go Back To Being The Person You Were Before Narcissistic Abuse?

Can You Go Back To Being The Person You Were Before Narcissistic Abuse?


(See video on YouTube)

When you’ve dealt with narcissistic abuse for a long time and you finally get out, you’ll spend a lot of time first grieving and then healing. The narcissistic abuse recovery process can be long and complicated but at some point, you’re going to want to start “being your old self again.” You know, the self you used to be – before you met the narcissist.

And listen – I absolutely get it. I felt that way too. Who doesn’t want to get their old self back after going through a whole self-altering toxic relationship? After all, you’ve been walking around feeling like a ghost or a shell of yourself. The narcissist caused you to put all of your own interests on the back burner, or maybe they shamed you out of actually even thinking about the things you once enjoyed.  It makes total sense that you’d want to feel like yourself again.

Can you become the person you were before narcissistic abuse? 

So, I’ve got good news for you, and I’ve got bad news. First, the bad news: here’s the thing. You’re never going to be able to become your old self again.

But don’t stress too much because, with that being said, here’s the good news: you can most certainly become an even more amazing version of yourself. Even better? When you create your new self with intention, you can almost literally become exactly the person you want to become.

Desperately Seeking Self

There might be a part of you that feels angry and overwhelmed by the idea that you can’t get your old self back. So before I tell you why you can’t be exactly who you were before narcissistic abuse, I want to remind you of something really important here.

You’ve got to first be compassionate with yourself and realize that you have been through an abusive relationship with a narcissist who did everything possible to tear you apart.

Most likely, you did not realize how profound the damage was until the relationship ended – because often, narcissists keep us in a sort of “spinning” state, where we are so busy trying to get through the days without upsetting or angering them that we don’t have time to slow down and recognize the extent of the effects of the trauma.

And now, here you are, maybe riddled with depression and anxiety, and if you’re anything like most other survivors, you might also be suffering from C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) and/or other related issues.

You can absolutely heal and you can totally take your life to the next level. But your old self is gone. And that might feel really scary.

Why You Can’t Be Your Old Self Again After Narcissistic Abuse

Is it really true that your old self is gone after enduring narcissistic abuse? In so many ways, yes. But is there a way that you can go back to being the person you were before the abuse? Not exactly – but at the very least, you can heal and move forward and live a satisfying life.

Still, there are a couple of pretty simple reasons that you won’t be able to become exactly who you were before narcissistic abuse.

Time Changes Everything

First, let’s look at the practical side of things – there’s the fact that time has passed. Maybe you’ve had kids. You’ve had more experiences. And you’re older now. You might have been in this relationship for 20 years – or maybe your whole life, if the narcissist you’ve dealt with was a parent or family member. Even without the trauma, you’d be a different person today than you were when you began the relationship. Time changes everything, and you are no exception.

Trauma Changes YOU

And then, there’s the science of trauma. See, the ongoing trauma of narcissistic abuse changes you. It changes who you become. It changes what might have been a happy, confident, secure person into someone who doubts their worth and their value every day. It takes away your ability to have a healthy, full life and causes you to hyper-focus on it as you try in vain to resolve it, repeatedly, over and over again. All of this ongoing abuse and trauma leads to literal brain damage.

That’s right. Narcissistic abuse causes brain damage and brain damage of any type changes you.

Here is just a quick overview of how that happens. There are three significant parts of the brain, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and cortex.

The amygdala is the area of the brain that is known as the ‘fear center’. Each time you become scared or anxious, that area is activated. It also keeps the memories of the abuse in it and each time anyone talks about it, that activates the amygdala. the abuse you had endured is what caused the fear center to keep activating. And the constant activation of the fear center will cause it to increase. This can lead to mood disorders and anxiety disorders.

Then there is the hippocampus which is the area of the brain that stores short-term memories (which it then converts into long-term memories). The hippocampus dictates how and when you can learn anything new. However, uncontrolled stress will shrink the hippocampus. So, as you might imagine, the constant stress you’re dealing with when you’re in a toxic relationship with a narcissist will it to shrink. This leads you to struggle more with learning new things in addition to being extra forgetful.

And finally, there is the cortex of the brain. This is the area of the brain that is located right behind the eyes. This is the area that is in charge of planning, making decisions, attention, and memory. The cortex also shrinks the same way the hippocampus does when you are under too much uncontrolled stress. This causes decision-making tp become a challenge. Your attention span gets shorter. You’re far more likely to deal with depression. You might be dealing with apathy, meaning you just don’t feel like you can do anything at all – that feeling of being just stuck. And you stop caring about yourself. You might even stop showering or brushing your teeth. Self-care becomes a thing of the past.

But the good news is that the brain can be retrained, and you don’t have to feel stuck in this trauma loop forever. And there are things you can do on your own at home to actually start to sort of “rewire your brain.” That is thanks to neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity offers hope for survivors of narcissistic abuse like nothing else. See, this is how our brain can “rewire itself” by forming new neural connections throughout life. This means that the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain can compensate for injury and disease and to adjust themselves in response to new situations or to changes in their environment. Even better, we can intentionally control this process if we choose to do so. I’ll link to a video with additional information about this in the description below.

How to Become the Best Possible Version of Yourself After Narcissistic Abuse

So, thanks to both time and the effects of the ongoing trauma you experienced in a toxic relationship with an abusive narcissist, you cannot technically be exactly the same person you were before enduring narcissistic abuse. I mean, if we’re being honest, any profound experience changes you.  But again, you can heal and move forward. Let’s talk about how you can do that.

Feel Your Feelings

When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you learn really quickly how to ignore your own emotions. You learn that your feelings don’t matter, at least not as much as the narcissist’s feelings. And so, when you get out of the relationship, you might keep going in that direction. For me personally, that was one of the worst things that I dealt with – forgetting how to feel my feelings. And honestly, I didn’t even WANT to feel them!

The truth is that one of the most significant mistakes I made in my own recovery was shoving my feelings down and trying to move on without feeling them. I really believed that this was the right thing to do at the time – I didn’t like how it felt to deal with those emotions and I didn’t fully know how to process them. It wasn’t until several years later – when I still hadn’t managed to heal – that I really got my head around this concept. That’s why, when I work with my narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and counseling clients, I make a point of teaching them how to feel their feelings and how to move forward from there. You can work on this at home by taking some time to sort of grieve the relationship. Cry, scream, throw things, break things – whatever you need to do to get through those emotions. It sucks, but you’ve got to do it if you want to take the next step toward healing.

Time Soothes Trauma

In addition to allowing your feelings to flow, you’ve got to give yourself the time you need to heal. Let’s face it – there’s a chance that you may not be 100 percent healed because triggers and reminders of the abuse will come up. Even if you get to the point of handling it well, you can still be affected one way or another. This is the time to get to know yourself again. Depending on your circumstances and the specifics of your situation, you might need to find a therapist, counselor, or coach who specializes in narcissistic abuse recovery to help you find yourself again. It also helps to find a narcissistic abuse recovery support group so you can find support from others who have been where you are. Most importantly, remember that is no standard time limit for healing – each of us is a little different and will have different needs. You need to do what feels right for you, and to take as much time as you need to heal.

Firm Up Your Boundaries

During the relationship with the narcissist, your boundaries were repeatedly crossed, and no matter how firmly you’d had them set before, you might have almost forgotten how to set and stand behind them. When you are healing from narcissistic abuse, you’ve got an opportunity to learn or relearn how to set firm boundaries and how to ensure that they stick. And honestly, setting boundaries is not only necessary for your healing and continued wellbeing, but it is literally one of the best forms of self-care around. Whether it happened before or during your relationship, you might have been a people-pleaser – and while you don’t have to be rude or disrespectful to someone to enforce your boundaries, it might feel a little unnatural to you at first.

This video offers details on why you need to learn to set boundaries after narcissistic abuse (and exactly hw you can do it). 

Forgive Yourself for What You Didn’t Know

Maya Angelou once said, “Forgive yourself for what you didn’t know before you learned it.” I love this quote because it so perfectly expresses one of the most important things about narcissistic abuse recovery. Most survivors are relatively intelligent people who can easily read most other people. That’s why we are so likely to blame ourselves and beat ourselves up for taking the abuse as long as we did. And listen – I totally get it.

It is easy to blame yourself for not realizing what was happening and for accepting the abuse, and if you’re anything like me, you might be beating yourself up about it. You wonder how you fell for it – why you allowed it to happen in the first place, or why you didn’t leave sooner.

Some small part of you might even secretly think you deserved it all along. But my friend – it is not your fault. You did not sign up for this relationship with the full knowledge of what would happen. You certainly didn’t know that you’d be forced to endure narcissistic abuse. And for the record, you definitely did not deserve it. No one deserves this.

So take the time to acknowledge that you have encountered a traumatic and devastating situation, and recognize that, regardless of how you feel today, at one time, your ability to accurately perceive the situation may have been sort of clouded by your feelings for the abuser.  Once you’re out, your perception will start to get clearer – and while it might take a little time, you’ll get to the point where you can see the truth.

Rewrite Your Story

Years ago, I wrote a course called Rewrite Your Story for narcissistic abuse survivors. (And then there’s this book on the same topic!) That’s because, so often, we sort of “misidentify” ourselves or see ourselves in a skewed way, thanks to the lies and gaslighting thrust our way by the narcissistic abuser in our lives. Basically, the way the abuser saw you is how you see yourself, at least on some level.

Now, you probably recognize that you’ve been gaslighted, and you realize that the abuser had every intention to ruin your self-esteem. You probably understand that this was all about control and keeping you “in your place” so that you could continue to provide narcissistic supply, while not realizing that you were really too good for the narcissist. The narcissist has known this all along, and that’s why they play these mind games – they don’t want you to recognize it and leave them.

Now, you struggle with low self-esteem because you see yourself through the narcissist’s eyes. When you begin to see your worth, you can really start to rewrite your story and realize that what the abuser said about you and you were a rubbish pile. If you’re struggling with this, you can work with a narcissistic abuse recovery coach, a therapist, or even do it on your own by taking my Rewrite Your Story course.

Remember That Knowledge Is Power

Before you got into an abusive relationship, you might not have known what kinds of warning signs or red flags you should watch for to keep yourself safe. Narcissistic abuse is so subtle and pervasive that you can literally be right in the middle of it and not see it.  Or, maybe, like probably 90 percent of narcissistic abuse survivors, you were raised in an abusive family or had some other kind of trauma in childhood. This would lead you to have both a higher threshold for abuse as well as trouble setting boundaries. Your expectations for a relationship may have been lowered as well,  and because toxic might have felt sort of “normal” for you, you might have tolerated or overlooked the early signs.

But now, you’ve recognized what you’ve had to deal with, and you may have even had a full-on epiphany that led you to this point.  And, now that you know more about what a toxic relationship looks like and what kinds of behaviors are not acceptable to you, you are empowered to make better choices in the future. Knowledge really is power when it comes to healing from and growing forward after narcissistic abuse.

The bottom line is that while you may never be the person you were before the narcissistic abuse, you can absolutely heal and become the person you want and deserve to be afterward. You with me?

Question of the Day

What has changed about you since your experience with narcissistic abuse and what is the best piece of advice you’ve learned along the way that has been helpful for you? Share your thoughts, share your ideas and share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.

Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support

 

When You Can’t Stop Obsessing Over the Narcissistic Abuse You Endured

When You Can’t Stop Obsessing Over the Narcissistic Abuse You Endured

“Why do you still think about the abuser after you have been removed/no contact with the abuser for months? Not longing to be with them, but thinking about the abuse and what happened,” a YouTube follower asked me. Here’s what I told her. 

Going through a relationship with a narcissist is absolutely soul-crushing. It sounds like you’re dealing with rumination and most likely trauma bonding. Depending on how long you spent with them, and depending on how you were raised (and by whom), you might struggle with rumination for a long time. But there are things you can do to overcome it, and there are ways you can move forward. Let’s talk about it.

What is Rumination?

Rumination is what we call it when, during narcissistic abuse recovery, when you can’t stop the repeating thoughts in your head. These thoughts tend to be sad or dark, or replaying your abuse over and over in your head. This habit can be dangerous to your mental, physical and spiritual health because it prolongs and can intensify the struggles most of us have during recovery. You might find yourself feeling increasingly depressed and you might be having a difficult time thinking straight. This will make processing your emotions feel next to impossible.

Why Do Narcissistic Abuse Survivors Struggle with Rumination? 

Rumination keeps you feeling stuck, and it is sadly common for survivors of narcissistic abuse, especially after the relationship ends – but even when they’re still in it. In my opinion, there are a number of reasons for this.

After a relationship with a narcissist, a lot of us have become “overthinkers,” even if we weren’t before. See, the narcissist’s selfish, manipulative behavior has led us to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to “fix” our broken relationships (and often, ourselves) while we were still in these relationships. And even if we recognized that something was just kind of “off” about it, or that we were dealing with a toxic relationship during the relationship, we might have either second-guessed ourselves, doubted ourselves, or blamed ourselves – or some combination of all three, thanks to the ongoing invalidation and manipulation we suffered at the hands of the narcissist.

We find ourselves trying to figure out exactly what went wrong, and we try to understand why. We want to know how much of it really was our fault, and we try to wrap our heads around what we’ve gone through. We wonder if the narcissist ever loved us, and we wonder what the heck is so wrong with us that we would put so much of ourselves into this toxic, abusive person. We doubt that we can move forward alone (sometimes as a result of being told that we’ll never be loved again, or that we aren’t capable of doing so). We think we are worthless and we doubt we deserve to be happy, anyway.

All of this leads us to struggle with cognitive dissonance, which is a form of psychological stress or discomfort that happens when you simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. In other words, because we see one thing and are told (or shown) it’s something else by the narcissist during the relationship, and because we try to (or actually) start to believe it, it messes with our heads in some big ways.

Closure is Essential to Your Healing After Narcissistic Abuse

So, how do you begin to overcome overthinking and ruminating about the narcissist and what they did to you? Let’s start here: you need closure. And as it turns out, that isn’t something most of us get from narcissists.

The Narcissist Didn’t Give You Closure

Most narcissists do not offer their victims any sense of closure. Either they leave without a word or they aggressively discard you and refuse to acknowledge any fault at all – or, in some cases, their victims find the strength to leave them and they play the victim. In nearly all cases where a narcissist is involved in a relationship that ends, they leave you with no closure, feeling confused and spinning. They either do this intentionally or instinctually, depending on their intelligence, their “level” of narcissism, or their place on the Cluster B spectrum. The higher their intelligence and level of narcissism, the more likely they do this intentionally.

A Powerful Way to Create Your Own Closure

One powerful way you can get closure is to write the narcissist a special kind of letter. This exercise actually came to me personally in a very strange way. At the age of 20, I found myself ruminating about a painful experience I’d had with a person I’d been involved with. While I was, in so many ways, finding peace and happiness after ending that relationship, I could NOT stop thinking about this person and feeling angry about what he had done to me.

One morning, while I was having my coffee and again feeling all this anger, I threw my hands up and screamed at the ceiling, “What do I need to do to get this person out of my head?”

I realized in that moment that I had continued to allow him to control me, even though I was no longer in contact with him. And it was right about then that I thought I was going crazy – because, though I was alone in my apartment, I literally heard someone whisper in my ear. I was FURIOUS at this mysterious voice and knew for sure it didn’t come out of my own head, because it said something absolutely ridiculous – it said, “you have to forgive him!”

Well, after calming myself down and getting my head together, I sat down with a pen and a notebook, and I started writing a letter that would not only help me to create my own closure, but one that would change my life forever in some surprising ways – and I inadvertently created an exercise I have used with my clients over the years.

How to Do the Letter Exercise

Create Your Own Closure After Narcissistic Abuse

Here’s how you can do the same thing.

  • Get yourself a pen and a notebook. If you struggle with writing by hand due to some physical issue, then you can type it out on your computer or phone – but if at all possible, I suggest you write with a pen or pencil as it seems to have some additional therapeutic value here.
  • You’re going to write a letter to the narcissist. In the letter, say ALL the things you wish you had said to them but never did, or the things you needed the narcissist to hear and they refused.
  • Be sure to take your time, and if you need to, write a little bit at a time, put it up, and then come back to it when you’re ready or when you have time.
  • Put all of your anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, and any other feelings you have about the narcissist and the way they treated you in the relationship in the letter.
  • You can say all the curse words you want or need to say, and you can scribble all over the paper if you want to – just put all of your feelings into the letter. No thought or feeling is too small to include – think “brain dump” or “soul-cleansing” – so make sure you include any and everything that comes to mind, no matter how petty or unimportant it seems in the moment.
  • When you’re finished writing, let it sit overnight or for a couple of days. Then, pick up the letter again, and read through it.
  • Add anything you’d like to add, and if you want to, you can rewrite and edit the letter.

This is when you’ll add the final paragraph in the letter, and you’ll want to make it something like this:

And now, though you do not deserve it, I am forgiving you (or releasing you, if forgiveness feels too painful right now), not because you deserve it, but because I no longer want your toxic, negative energy in my space. I trust that you’ll get exactly what you deserve from here on out and I release the need to know what happens for you next. Goodbye, forever. 

At this point, you have two choices. You can mail the letter, or not. Personally, I did not need to mail the letter and would not necessarily recommend that you do – because, in reality, the letter is for you, not the narcissist. It’s all about getting the negativity out of your head and out of your life, and it’s an ideal way to start to create your own closure. I suggest you burn or shred the letter and get it out of your life – and as you do, you imagine the negative energy and anger and all of the other emotions burning away – or being shredded up. Some people like to float their letter down the river or to clip it to a balloon and let it fly away. Do whatever feels best to you. Heck, you could even just throw it in the trash. But whatever you do, once the letter is written, get it out of your life.

This simple exercise provided me with SO much relief, and many of my clients report the same thing. Have you tried this? Will you give it a shot now? Let me know in the comments section, below.

There is additional information on why you feel stuck and how to overcome it in this video.

Question of the day: The question of the day is: have you struggled to stop overthinking what happened to you in your toxic relationship? If so, were you able to get past it, or are you still struggling with it now? Have you tried the letter exercise, and did it work for you? If not, what did work? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experience in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it. 

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