Stages of Grief in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Written by Angela Atkinson

Stages of Grief in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery – Yes, we do go through stages of grief in narcissistic abuse recovery – but it’s different than the “standard” stages of grief.  The difference between this and the “standard” stages of grief is that we can’t work through these stages in order; we will bounce back and forth, and the intensity of our feelings will vary.

You may have heard of the “standard” stages of grief when it comes to loss – the idea that after someone dies, you go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is true for many people. But when it comes to narcissistic abuse recovery, there are some stages of grief that are different than the “standard” model. I want to talk about these differences today.

By “standard” stages of grief, I am referring to the five stages of grief that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlined in her book, On Death and Dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages of grief in narcissistic abuse recovery are similar in some ways and dissimilar in others.

Are You Starting Over After Being Discarded by the Narcissist?

Some of the hardest changes are the ones that aren’t your idea. The changes that happen to us seem to be the ones that have the potential to scar and cause a lot of problems in the future. Having to start over when the change wasn’t your idea can be hard because it requires facing tough emotions like anger, confusion, and sadness. Research suggests that when a narcissist has discarded you, it can be more stressful than when someone you love dies. No, I’m not kidding.

What does it mean to be discarded by a narcissist?

The narcissist’s discard is one of the phases of the cycle of narcissistic abuse in which, either literally or figuratively, the narcissist “throws you away,” or pushes you out of their life.  While this can and usually does happen as part of a rotating cycle of abuse, in some cases, it can be a final “break-up” or end of a toxic relationship.

What happens to you when you’re discarded by a narcissist?

When you’ve been discarded by a narcissist and you wanted to stay together, you’re experiencing change that wasn’t your idea, and you’re going to need to grieve the relationship, as counterintuitive as it might sound.  The key to getting through this sort of setback is understanding the grief and loss cycle.

But let’s step back a minute and consider what it means to grieve the loss of a relationship with a narcissist. We’re going to be talking about a deep sense of betrayal, a profound feeling of loss, and a lot of confusion about what happened. It’s going to take some time to process all the feelings that come with this kind of change. We can’t just sweep them under the rug and pretend they don’t exist. They do.

What are the stages of grief in narcissistic abuse recovery?

The stages of grief in narcissistic abuse recovery can be a dark and unpleasant place for a narcissist discardee because the normal grieving process doesn’t allow a lot of room for anger. What happens to an abuse victim can be pretty horrific, though – that’s not something that is going to just disappear without having to go through some physical and emotional reactions first.

The grief and loss cycle is triggered anytime someone faces an unexpected serious life change. The power of the cycle is its purpose – which is to heal over time. The cycle has five stages that go hand-in-hand with facing and managing change that wasn’t your idea.

Stage 1: Shock and disbelief

You might not believe what you’re going through. You might be in denial, or you might just be flailing – spinning out of control – and you don’t know which way is up. You’re in straight-up shock.

You’ve just been discarded, or you’ve left the narcissist after realizing that you’ve been dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship. This phase of the grief and loss cycle begins immediately after a traumatic change has begun. It’s normal to be overwhelmed with what is happening and unable and unwilling to cope.

People in this phase of grief and loss are freaked out and in a lot of denial that something is really happening. The newness has no space for making important decisions or managing much. This is the time to lean on friends and let others help make decisions and offer support in very practical ways.

Stage 2: Toxic Hope 

Since most narcissists have an ongoing and rotating cycle of abuse, you might find yourself feeling hopeful that there’s a way to resolve everything so that your life can get back to normal. In this stage, you’re feeling like there might be a solution. You might be trying to figure out exactly what you can do or say to get the narcissist to take you back. You might be telling yourself that things will blow over.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Bargaining is what happens when the shock is wearing off and you begin to wrestle with the fact that your life as you planned it is ending. And while some people would say that you need to feel relief at this point – thanks to being out of an abusive relationship, you’re not ready to see the truth just yet.

You might be going over things in your mind and trying to broker for what you want, which is usually to return to whatever normal felt like before things happened. Bargaining can feel highly emotional and all over the map. You may wake in the morning thinking everything was a dream only to have the facts flood back and overcome you with emotion.

Stage 4: Justified Anger

When a narcissist discards you, you’ll (eventually) get justifiably angry. When the shock and disbelief have worn off and you can see every angle of why you are where you are, anger comes into play. Anger at someone, at something, or anger in general. This is normal. Anger is a healthy emotion and it is part of starting over after narcissistic abuse. AND, if you’re feeling stuck, justified anger can actually help to propel you forward after the discard, or even help you find the strength you need to propel yourself out of the relationship entirely.

Stage 5: Depression

Depression often feels like the beginning of the grief and loss cycle but it’s actually near the end. Depression comes after all the bargaining and anger has gotten out of your system. You’ve given up fighting against what is for what was. You’ve begun to let go and being depressed will actually pave the way for you to begin something new and start over after getting out of a toxic, abusive relationship with a narcissist. Feel the sadness as fully as you did the anger. Be ready to talk to someone who can help. Allow others to be there for you and do all the self-care you can during this phase.

Stage 6: Acceptance

This phase is where you can emerge from the depths of what feels like absolute hell and begin to rise like a phoenix into your new reality. Acceptance is where you begin to face what is and start to see a future despite living with this new reality that has been sort of forcibly pushed on you by the narcissist. Acceptance makes room for new possibilities and a life that includes this change. Though you didn’t ask for it and likely wouldn’t choose it for yourself, you can start over and rebuild yourself. This phase is filled with possibilities and hope. Emotions like anger and sadness may linger and that is normal. The good news is you have weathered the storm and you are ready to begin creating the life you want and deserve.

Stage 7: Evolution Into Your New Normal

This is the very best part of this whole grief process: choosing and beginning to manifest your new, improved self and your ideal life. This is where you’re really going to start over. Here is a guide to help you start doing that. 

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you might need help with narcissistic abuse recovery.

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