“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” ~Thomas Szasz
Do you know who you are? Do you know what you believe? One of the biggest complaints I hear from survivors of narcissistic abuse as they progress in their recovery is that they don’t feel like they even know who they are anymore – and in some cases, they never did.
That’s because, while you may have had your own identity before you met the narcissist, over time, “you” disappeared and your identity became whatever the narcissist wanted it to be – often, an extension of him or her self.
Add in the fact that narcissists really don’t have an identity of their own and that they often sort of leech off of yours, or whomever the “flavor of the moment” happens to be – and well, you’re left spinning when the relationship ends. You aren’t sure where you end and the narcissist begins – or you just feel like “nothing” – like you don’t matter and you’re not important.
This is a normal perception for people who have been in abusive relationships, but it’s not accurate. You ARE important and you DO matter. And you’re right about the fact that the narcissist tried to completely erase your identity. However, unlike the narcissist, YOU will be able to find your true identity, because it’s still in there somewhere.
I told a story a few years ago about how I had gone through a bit of an existential crisis after going no contact with one of the primary narcissists in my own life. You can read that here, but the gist of it was that I had all of these inaccurate beliefs and off-base ideas in my head that had been sort of planted there by this person. It turned out that in many cases, I didn’t actually believe what I thought I believed. This, for me, was the first step in really taking back my identity: I had to release limiting beliefs that were holding me back.
Are you struggling with limiting beliefs, too?
Narcissists love to keep you “stuck” and one of their most effective ways of doing this is to gaslight and manipulate you into thinking you’re worthless. This negative mindset is reinforced with nearly every interaction you have with them. When you’re ready to take back your life, one of the most important things you can do is to release those “wrong” perceptions and to create new, healthier ones – and then to operate from there.
So, in a nutshell, you need to by-pass the negative mindset that you’ve adopted and shift to optimism and positivity. That’s because what you attract into your life is highly dependent on what you think and talk about most of the time, as well as the beliefs that you hold in your mind. This means that being positive (and intentionally choosing/curating your beliefs and understandings about yourself and the world around you) will attract more positive experiences and outcomes in your life, while negativity will attract more of the opposite. Implementing a practice of repeating positive affirmations every day can help you attract and manifest everything you desire in life.
You can also use my favorite practice of writing down or reciting to yourself 10 things you’re grateful for and 3 things you love about yourself – it’s the ultimate “vibe changer” – I call this intentional vibration management. I discuss that concept in more detail in this video.
Once you’ve released your limiting beliefs, you can start working on sort of “filling your vessel” or deciding what it is you really want for yourself and your life. Figuring out who you are and what you need to do in order to have a fulfilling life could be the most important and satisfying questions you’ll ever answer – and this is true no matter what your age and no matter where you are in your own narcissistic abuse recovery.
So how do you “find yourself” after a toxic relationship? How do you decide who you are and who you truly want to be?
Start here: try these suggestions to guide you in your search.
- Clarify your values. Knowing your values helps you to make sound decisions and prioritize your activities. Consider how your values relate to your daily life. Look for opportunities to live in agreement with them. Summarize your philosophy into a personal values statement you can refer to when needed.
- Understand your strengths. Do you know where your talents lie and what you feel passionate about? You’ll accomplish greater things with less stress when you choose a path that lets you leverage your main assets.
- Build support. Finding yourself is tough work. You’ll need a sturdy network of family, friends, and colleagues you can rely on for advice and support. Being generous about sharing your resources with others increases the likelihood that they’ll want to do the same for you. **Note: since a lot of survivors of abuse find themselves isolated and removed from friends and family during the abuse, we often find ourselves feeling pretty alone afterward. That’s why I’ve created the SPANily, which includes several free online support groups and offers a great way for you to start building your own support network with people who truly understand where you are and where you’ve been.
- Create flow states. What activities boost your energy levels and make you lose track of time? Whether you love playing the piano or solving physics equations, chances are these flow states will suggest the fields in which you can excel. I discussed the flow state for survivors in this video if you’d like some additional context.
5. Set goals. Having a destination in mind guides your steps and keeps you on track. Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years?
Finding and Accepting Your Truths
- Listen to yourself. Finding yourself is about living authentically. Pay attention to what your mind and body are telling you. Notice when you feel engaged and when you feel lost. Is there a pattern behind these situations? You have to learn how to trust yourself again! I made a video about that – you can check that out right here.
- Accept your feelings. Acknowledge your emotions, even when they cause you discomfort. Trying to suppress the truth will backfire and produce more stress. When you accept your anger or sorrow, you can start thinking about positive options for dealing with it. Remember that during your abuse, your feelings were likely invalidated consistently. This is why it’s so important that you accept (and validate) your own feelings during recovery – because they do matter and they are worth having.
- Ask your friends. While you’re cultivating self-knowledge, you may benefit from listening to how others view you. Their feedback may point out the qualities and habits that you overlook.
- Keep a journal. Writing about your journey encourages you to learn and grow. Recording your activities and insights regularly can help you to find solutions to personal challenges and build your self-esteem. I have a course on Power Journaling for Narcissistic Abuse Survivors over at Life Makeover Academy if you’re interested in digging into that.
- Read literature. Observing how characters in movies and novels behave may teach you how to handle similar events in your own life. You may find yourself viewing a long-standing conflict in a new light or experimenting with a different way of responding.
- Welcome new experiences. Breaking out of your comfort zone is bound to reveal surprising facets of your personality. Taking an exotic vacation or leading a pilot project at work may inspire you to plan a bigger transformation.
- Get spiritual. For many adults, spiritual beliefs play an essential role in defining themselves and their goals. If your faith or spirituality is central to your life, study the scriptures in your tradition, talk with other members of your community, and put your beliefs into action. If you’re not already involved with a particular brand of spirituality, now is a good time to start thinking about what resonates with you. Whether you’re into traditional religion, science or something else, get clear on what feels spiritual to you.
Finding yourself is an ongoing process that lasts a lifetime. Remember that you didn’t “lose yourself” overnight – and that it might take time to fully embrace who you are and to step into your power. But being willing to discover the truth about yourself and to accept yourself unconditionally, flaws and all, is the first step you need to take.
I realize that the idea of unconditional self-acceptance and unconditional self-love is foreign to most survivors of narcissistic abuse, so I am also going to share this video with you, where I offer some tips on how to develop rock-solid self-confidence that leads to unapologetic, unconditional self-acceptance and self-love.
You can do this. If you’re still feeling confused and don’t know where to begin, consider downloading my free “Life Reset Button,” which will help you to really dig in and discover your true passion and purpose in life. Are you ready?
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.