One of the biggest struggles for survivors of narcissistic abuse is learning that they need to start putting themselves first – or at least to consider themselves a top priority. This seems easier than it might actually be, especially for those of us who have been through the hell of being connected to a toxic person. In addition to our own perceptions about what we SHOULD be, we have society telling us that we’re supposed to always put other people before ourselves.
Think about it: how many times did your mom tell you not to be selfish? How much social pressure is there for you to be selfless?
Those who haven’t experienced these toxic relationships really don’t understand how difficult it can be to start prioritizing yourself without feeling guilty. If you’re having trouble putting yourself first, maybe it’s time to look at what limiting beliefs might be holding you back. It’s time to start letting go of those beliefs and taking control of our perception (and our own lives).
1. People won’t like me anymore
This belief is the bedrock of the “putting yourself first is selfish” credo. If you start to say no or set some boundaries, then maybe people will stop thinking you’re a good person. They might even stop being your friend. It’s a fair bet that if you’ve been a pushover in the past, once you start saying no you’ll get some pushback.
The thing is that the people who might push away from you might also be toxic. But for those who are your real friends and who really care, you’ll find something very different happens. If you’re polite but firm, they’ll accept that you can’t run yourself ragged doing what everyone else wants all the time. They might even respect you more for your honesty!
2. But I’m the one who’s always there!
The eternal caregiver is an insidious role to take on, and it’s one that is commonly accepted by survivors of narcissistic abuse. It can even become emotionally manipulative. Look deep into your heart and ask yourself why you feel the need to take care of everyone. What would happen if you didn’t? Who would you be? How would life be different? And if you don’t start taking care of yourself, might you become someone who gets burnt out and resentful?
Cut yourself and everyone else some slack and let other people help too. As a bonus, if you make sure your own needs are satisfied, you’ll be in a much better position to give.
3. I should put others first
Elementary schools and Sunday schools teach that you should always put others first. Sure, it’s important for kids to learn to take turns and be polite, but in adulthood, it can become emotionally toxic to always put others’ needs before your own.
When you do this, you’re telling your unconscious mind that your own needs don’t matter, that other people are more important and that you are undeserving. And if you think about it, that is exactly where your narcissist wanted you to be.
Plus, it’s a recipe for thinking small, believing you can’t achieve anything, and you don’t deserve to succeed.
These three core beliefs need to be challenged and overcome if you’re going to develop a healthier attitude to putting yourself first. Like changing any habit, you need to practice and take baby steps first.
Have a look at what your own needs and desires are, and practice saying yes to what your body, mind, and heart need.
You may have developed a bit of a negative attitude after having dealt with a toxic relationship, and that’s totally understandable. I’ve got good news for you, and I’ve got bad news.
The bad news is that your attitude impacts everything in your life – from here on out, anyway. Your happiness, satisfaction, career, and relationships are all impacted by your attitude.
But hey – that’s also the good news because you have complete control over your attitude. Honestly, you do. Especially once you’ve left the toxic relationship.
Obviously, your toxic relationship (and even healing from one) can make maintaining a positive mental attitude even more challenging. But, if you want to turn your life around, having a good attitude is the first step to making everything else possible. A positive mental attitude is crucial to success and happiness!
I know it feels difficult for you right now, but I’ve got your back. Try these strategies to maintain a positive attitude, even when it feels impossible.
1. Plan an exciting future. If you have a future that excites you, it’s easy to feel positive about life. Even if things are challenging today, you have an exciting life to look forward to. Think about the kind of life you’d like to live. Plan your future and ensure that it’s appealing to you. It should be motivating enough to put a smile on your face. After all, you’re not used to having the freedom of choice after having spent so long connected to a narcissist – take your power and run with it, baby!
2. Be successful each day. Set yourself up to be successful each day. You can do this by making a short to-do list that you know you can complete. Give yourself the experience of being successful each day. You can start with something as simple as making your bed and flossing your teeth before work. I like to use a bullet journal to help me stay on track.
3. Keep your thoughts positive. Positive thoughts lead to a positive attitude. Your brain is always thinking something, and you have control over your thoughts if you choose to exercise that control. Pay attention to what you’re thinking and keep your mind occupied with thoughts that serve you. I like to call this intentional vibration management.
4. Remember your triumphs. If you’re feeling down or hopeless, take a few minutes to remember all the amazing things you’ve accomplished. It’s easy to forget all the things you’ve already mastered and succeeded at, especially when times are tough.
5. Remind yourself that you’re making progress. Even if you’re struggling in your narcissistic abuse recovery, you’re NORMAL, and you’re still making progress. It might be challenging to see, or it might be less progress than you like. However, it’s still progress and a good reason to have a positive attitude.
6. Have something fun to look forward to. What do you have to look forward to in the next month? It could be a movie with a friend or a weekend getaway. Maybe you’re finally going to buy that shirt you’ve had your eye on. Get your groove on, already!
7. Eliminate the negative from your life. The negative things in your life can drag you down. Removing as many of these negative things from your life as possible can make positivity a lot easier to find and maintain. You know exactly what (and WHO) we’re talking about here, right?
8. Surround yourself with people that support you. Rather than spending time with toxic people who seem to suck all the air out of a room, try surrounding yourself with those that lift you up. Life is much easier and more enjoyable with positive people in your corner. Make a list of the people in your life and give them a rating. Determine which of them help you and which are harmful. Start making a few adjustments.
9. Forgive yourself. Okay, you’ve made a few mistakes, picked a toxic partner, maybe, or put up with a toxic friend or family member for too long. And maybe you even squandered a few opportunities. Who hasn’t? It’s time to forgive yourself for your missteps and enjoy your life again. What do you gain by holding a grudge against yourself?
10. Shift your focus. I mean, focus on what you CAN control and not what you can not. This is a HUGE deal. Why waste your energy on anything that you cannot change or affect in any way? It sounds much simpler than it actually is, but it truly works to make your life better (and to keep your thoughts more positive!).
11. Try my daily gratitude practice. Every day, think of 10 things you’re grateful for and 3 things you love about yourself. Talk about raising your vibration! You will be shocked at how effective this can be!
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Journaling Prompt
Ask yourself the following questions and record the answers in your journal.
- Do you have a positive attitude in general?
- Are you optimistic or pessimistic? How do you think that influences your life?
- How has being in a relationship with a toxic person changed your ability to stay positive?
- What do you need to do in order to release the negative energy from your life.
Be honest with yourself, but also compassionate. After you write in your journal, set it aside for the night. Then, take a few minutes to review what you wrote tomorrow. What insights can you gain? What changes do you need to make? You might be surprised at how very effective this exercise can be.
Remember this: Having a positive mental attitude leads to much faster recovery from narcissistic abuse. You’ll also be happier and be more attractive to others if you choose to be. Try to see the bright side of things and expect the best – just maintain your awareness and your boundaries at the same time. Life is more challenging when you have a negative attitude.
Helpful Resources for Shifting Your Perception and Taking Back Your Life
Editor’s Note: This story was submitted by a fellow survivor of narcissistic abuse. Read more stories right here, and submit your own here.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Maya Angelou
I have probably sat down in front of this very laptop and started, erased, and restarted this story many more than I truly even remember. Until recently I was unable to figure out why it was that a story that I can recall in my mind so vividly was so hard to put down into words.
My whole life it seems, helping others to tell their story, remember ever slightest detail is something I have done naturally, and in a lot of cases without even trying. People have been coming up to me my whole life to tell me their “stories”, I can see them as if they are words that flow together in my mind with total ease and comfort, but when it comes to my own story I have been at a loss for almost a year.
I guess it is kind of like one of those book report projects we all had as kids. First, you panic, then you procrastinate, sometimes never even reading the book, and then when it is about time to turn in the report you try and cram all the knowledge you should have been learning about the whole time into one or two nights of no sleep and anxiety.
Not that my story is a report that has to be submitted, there is no time limit on such things. I just didn’t have the parts of the story that I hadn’t researched in a way. What I mean is, how can you tell a story about a story if you don’t have all the information before you begin to write the report? You can’t really, I mean not completely, and as a trauma survivor with my personality type, if it isn’t honest, correct and just right all the way around, nobody is ever going to read it, because I will never finish it.
That was the struggle of the story of me. I know or I knew that in order to get over what had happened to you in the past, and to get beyond what was I had to at least put down the story you read today on paper, and if I gathered a little courage along the way, like I have done today, and be able to share this story then, I guess, I am all the better for it.
Where do you start if the beginning was a lie and the ending was not happy, don’t all stories need an ending and a beginning? Don’t all fairy tales end with “Happily ever after?” I didn’t have the facts so telling this story as I was saying was truly hard……….until today. Today is a whole new day and the fact that today the ending of the past and the beginning of the future that I have had stolen from me my entire life.
I am not going to start the story from the beginning as most stories are told, I can’t really start there for that story has yet to be remembered or told truthfully, so I can’t tell you a story I haven’t the whole or even the right pieces. Those pieces you need to put that puzzle together. This story is the story that brought me to this place today, to be writing this story, I share with you this day.
Meeting the Narcissist
This story begins in October of 2009 when I accepted an invitation to a Halloween party that I knew I didn’t belong at. I had attempted to decline the invitation on several occasions before finally giving in, but this would turn out to be a night that would change my life forever (and not for the better).
When we arrived at the party, I was excited and terrified all at once. I mean I had no idea where I was, I hadn’t a clue whose party this was, and truth be told, the one who had invited me to go so many times on this fateful day was no close friend of mine, but rather a relative to a friend – who wasn’t so close either.
I was nervous, to say the least, and I truly wasn’t looking for a date; I was just getting over the fact that the man that I loved had been cheating on me with other people, not of the female gender.
To say my ego was a little shot would be putting it mildly.
We arrived in the normal fashion for this girl I speak of…loud and obnoxious but not in the way that was in any way attractive or appealing, more like in the way a bull runs through a china shop. She wasn’t single at the time, so not only was I at a party I wasn’t too thrilled to be attending, but now I was also the third wheel to a party I didn’t think I was going to enjoy. This would not be the only wrong choice I would make this evening.
As I was wandering around this compound of bikers in the middle of the city, full of people laughing and the most incredible Halloween Party décor I had ever seen, I turned around to see him walking towards the gate. He was a pretty large man in stature, wearing a cowboy hat with a long trench coat; he looked like every man I had ever dreamed up all into one guy. He was handsome, assure, assertive, sexy…and he had this grin that mad me melt right there that very evening.
Love Bombing: The Idealization Phase
I had no idea who this man was when he strolled into my path, but it seemed that everyone else had some idea and he could not keep his eyes off of me. I found it hotter than the longest day in the desert and sexier than Brad Pitt in the movie Legends of the Fall.
I could not look away either, it seemed.
We spend the whole night talking, laughing, and making out like we were teenagers in his truck in the parking lot of that very clubhouse parking lot, and from that moment, from that very night, I would be his to do, ask, or demand from without hesitation or thought.
He promised me everything and more. He told me of the places we would travel together, and the things I would see. He said I would be safe and have nothing to fear for he was my night on a white horse and it was true…steel horses, but for a girl who has never ridden any other kind of white horse, he was perfect in every way.
We spent every waking moment together from that moment on – at least when we had the moments to spend. By Christmas, we had moved in together. My son was like a gift from God to him, and I was a woman who had all he ever needed and more. He said all the things every girl (okay, every girl like me) would love to hear, and for the first 2 years, he did just that. I could do no wrong and he took me places I would have never seen on my own. He made that first Christmas for me and my son the most amazing Christmas ever. He did everything perfectly. He promised things, and most of the time he would deliver on those promises.
The Devalue Phase – Drama and Manipulation Begins
After about two months of us living together in this honeymoon bliss, the red flags started. Maybe I noticed those small hints that things are not right, but I did as he had hoped and ignored them all. I told that little voice inside, and my intuition and even that little chick on my shoulder to shut the hell up, I was just being paranoid; that this could not be real I was imagining it. I told myself I would stop thinking this way now.
Things would go downhill from here. Despite the many signs I should’ve taken seriously, the worst part was that I had brought my son with me into this relationship. This would lead to devastating consequences that I pay for even to this day.
It might have been around this time that I started to think of him as “the boogie man,” you know, the evil creature who hides under your bed when you’re a kid, lying in wait for the perfect moment to do unspeakable things to you?
He would use my son as one of those tools he spoke of on a daily basis. The ones I wouldn’t come to understand, even to this day. He would speak of these tools that he would use to help to train the human brain to be more submissive. There were micro hints that he would make, but not so clear to the point where a girl who swore that she would give this relationship everything she had and more everything she had.
Hindsight would tell me now that I did give him my all. I am no longer the girl that you hear of at the beginning of this story. I am not as naive to speak as I once was. I am no longer the girl who will give all that she is to someone she thought would fix all those things inside her she wasn’t even aware had been broken.
By 2014, things in my life had gone downhill in a hurry. I was no longer that bright shiny new toy that he treasured with all his lies. The girl that could do no wrong. Now, I was the girl who could do no right, with a son who was the devil incarnated. He wouldn’t hurt him, no not physically, but being one who is so highly empathetic I can literally feel the weight of the world some days, the pain he was causing internally would leave emotional scars I have yet to heal even 280+ days after running from this hell of my own creation.
During the summer of this fateful year, I had learned that my daughters (who had been abducted by their father 10 years earlier) had finally been found by social services. So, after a decade of not seeing or hearing from either of them, they called and wanted me to give up my parental rights.
It seemed that the department had caught wind of where they were, and after another evaluation of the situation, had come to the conclusion that the man that had taken them was insane and they would be better off where they were.
The boogie man would not only not care that this was happening in my life, but would go out of his way to make it impossible for me to do anything other than sign this piece of paper.
By this point, I was doing my best to make sure that anybody who I cared about in life was as far from me as possible. I had seen the alternative and the emotional and physical pain this would cost them and myself certainly outweighed any thought of me actually fighting this order. So I signed the paper. I had lost my girls before I had even gotten them back. Again. He had no care or thought or even a nice word in this time of total pain. He would use this day later on as a knife to drive deeper into my soul.
Shortly after losing what I had thought was left of my heart, my son would be walking back to our place in hell. One day that summer, he was approached by a girl with a semi-automatic weapon and a demand for his money he had worked all summer to obtain. I would lose a little more of my soul this day, not because of the loss of my son – he was the bravest, most quick-minded kid I would ever know. I would lose because of the boogie man’s statements afterward and the things that had yet to come.
One month after this trying event, school started a new year, my son would gain the courage to walk and attend this school, even though his brush with death had happened on that same property. The girl who’d robbed him attended the high school less than a block away and every day as he walked out the door, I would die a little more. The boogie man loved this thought immensely. It would turn out to be another one of his tools for manipulation.
By August of this year, things had calmed slightly. I mean not completely, the house main water main had broken, and the pipes under the house had burst, and life could not get much worse, or so I thought. I also learned that you can’t fly without wings, by jumping off the roof of this very house and landing on my feet. If you ever find yourself in this situation and have any presence of mind, I recommend not landing on your feet for it shatters every bone in your ankle and crushes whatever is left of your soul.
After having the 3-hour surgery it requires to put these bones back together, I didn’t feel much of anything anymore. The boogie man would come to believe that any kind of physical therapy would be too much for him to be able to assist me with. I could walk to the physical therapist if I would like and he left the state for the next two weeks. Leaving his “family” without money, transportation, food or even a thought. I would proceed to try and fix my own ankle, find food for my son and myself, take care of every phone call need and requirement, and not lose my mind. By the end of this two week period, I would lose one of these very important tools needed to proceed with life.
The Discard Phase
After what felt like forever, I finally found the time to slip into a bathtub one morning, not easily; everything hurt at this point. I couldn’t afford the pain medication or the trip to the pharmacy, which was miles from my home, and trust me walking to the 7-11 for cigarettes was enough to stop me in my forward motion.
To be honest it just plain hurt.
So here I am in this bathtub, laying there with my leg lying outside the tub because it truly had holes the size of a quarter in different places. Then the phone rang.
Great, I thought. I will just let it go to voice mail.
Then it rang again, and then again, and then the boogie man’s “There’s an asshole calling” ring would ring. This would get me out of this tub to answer the phone, to answer to the screaming insults from the pit of my soul, only to find that the prior two calls were the junior high school.
It seemed that there had been a rumor that a pipe bomb had been placed upon the roof of the school and they were evacuating all the students to the high school. At this point, I was about to lose it.
Remember the girl, the one with the semi-automatic weapon? Yeah, she attended this very high school, and they were sending my son to the mouth of hell. Even though the administration had been alerted to this matter, they seemed to have forgotten that this girl was attending this school. I lost it. Literally.
Do you remember “The Count” from Sesame Street? He did the neatest trick with numbers. He could pull number calculations or even just numbers out of his ear, and they would literally come out in a puff of smoke.
Now as a kid this really didn’t mean much to me, but on this day, this day of sheer panic and devastating mind-blowing torture, I was back there in that very show. I was standing there in my towel crying, as I had never cried before.
Nobody could tell me where my son was at this moment.
I wasn’t walking that well because I was still on crutches and the boogie man, although on the phone non-stop, wasn’t helping.
In fact, he was explaining to what an idiot I was for not knowing that someone wanted to blow up the school my son was attending and that they would send him to the place I feared every day.
I stood there in fear, and all of a sudden I was The Count in that morning kids show. It was truly the weirdest thing I had and have experienced to this day. I remember telling myself that I was going to need what I saw floating away from my head so easily and that I was going to miss it, but for now, I needed to be stronger than I had been and whatever it was floating away was getting in the way.
Then I got the biggest smile I had had in years for a split second, before being left in a fog that I still struggle with to this day.
Complications and Navigating the Fog
I would spend the next 3 years walking around in circles in this fog. I had no idea what it was or why this was happening. I would find the strength to send my son to live with his dad to keep him safe from the boogie man and I would stay to take care of the monster I had created.
In the summer of 2017, I would receive a phone call from my aunt, who I had not spoken to in over 10 years about my mother, the one who had left me behind at every turn in my life.
Turns out, she had developed Alzheimer’s from a stroke nobody had known she had.
Before I knew what hit me, I was thrown into taking care of her, and the boogie man every day of my existence. Back and forth between his house and hers. Not caring is I lived, not caring if I died. The fog that had come in, and that made it pretty easy to not have any personal feelings whatsoever; that was until the day I accidentally downloaded an app onto my cell phone that would open my eyes to the reasons for the fog I was in, the world of toxic personalities, the torture that comes with loving these people, and the fact that it was ok to choose myself.
Finally, Choosing Me
I made a choice in July of 2018, a choice that I had never known was possible or even an option. I chose myself, for the first time since the age of 14, I chose myself, and I walked away. From everyone. Everyone I had ever known, everyone I had ever loved. The boogie man, the woman I called mom (who turns out may not even be related to me in any shape or form). I just walked away.
I made a great choice, choosing me over death has defiantly put the mind back into my fog, but the place I would choose to land was even worse than before, for I went to a friend’s house who would spend the next 269 days doing her best to lead me back into the mouth of hell.
Two weeks ago I choose to leave there as well.
I’m writing this story from a Domestic Violence Shelter. I am homeless. Jobless. I haven’t the direction or foresight most people take for granted every day, but I can feel life is becoming worth living again. I still don’t dream, although this may be a good thing for I haven’t any nightmares either. Not the kind where I am awake, nor the kind when I sleep. A new life. A new beginning. A new me, for the girl at the beginning of this story, died that day with The Count from the show I watched so long ago. A life that was never lived at all. A life where it is ok to just be me. Just Jenn.
Are you struggling to leave a narcissist? Consider checking out our free PLAN to Leave a Narcissist. Want to help the author? Email our business manager Melina at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Help Jenn” in the subject line and let us know how you can help and we will be sure she gets the message.
“Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do.” ~Rachel Wolchin
As an empath, you’re a giver. Often, you give more than you should, and often beyond what you can. Trust me, I get it.
As we both know, that leads to becoming a people-pleaser – and before you know it, you’re overwhelmed with toxic “emotional vampires” – also known as narcissists. The worst part is that even when you clear all the toxic people out of your life, chances are that at least every now and again, you’ll meet someone who tests your patience. You know the type I mean – those people you just need to enforce your boundaries with, or they’ll overwhelm you.
Often your body will start sending you signals that this person isn’t respecting your boundaries, but sometimes you can be so preoccupied with wondering if they’ll like you or not, that you can miss the cues. If you start feeling uncomfortable, here are seven signs that you need to up your boundary work and protect yourself from other people’s egos.
1. You feel exhausted. Egocentric people (toxic narcissists) don’t respect other people’s boundaries. They are exhausting to be with as all they do is take, take, take. If you have to have contact with someone who makes you feel like this, manage the time and place, so your exposure is limited, or you can share the energy suck with someone else, a friend, family member or colleague.
2. You feel angry and resentful. When your boundaries aren’t respected, you end up feeling angry and resentful because someone is taking advantage of you. Does this person always cancel at the last minute or ask you to pick up their child or do the monthly project report? Do they take all the credit and do little or none of the work? Time to stand up for yourself and draw some lines in the sand.
3. You feel defensive. Is your boundary predator always finding fault or criticizing you? Do you constantly feel on the defensive? People who don’t respect boundaries make themselves feel better by criticizing others. Don’t fall for this, it’s abusive, and you don’t have to put up with it.
4. You feel you can’t refuse. It’s easy to end up in a position where you feel you can’t say no. And once you establish that pattern, it’s hard to refuse. But it’s always ok to say no, it’s always a choice available to you. Unless it’s an emergency, you are perfectly entitled to refuse to do anything you don’t want to do. End of story.
5. Is your body trying to tell you something? Notice how your body reacts when you’re around a manipulative or gaslighting person.
- Does your stomach tighten?
- Are your palms sweaty?
- Is your mouth dry and your heart racing?
Your body is signaling that this person isn’t safe to be around. Put yourself first and get out of there! Pay attention to the cues you’re being given and keep those boundaries strong.
Need help keeping your boundaries in check? Check out my free ebook and mini-course and start changing your life now.