Ending a long-term relationship with a controlling person will lead to a sense of freedom, but it’s a pleasure that can’t always be enjoyed right away – there are many layers of conditioning to remove and a long-lost identity to find. Recovering co-dependents are often saddled with debilitating trust issues which go unidentified and hinder their chance of future happiness.
Self-protection kicks in to prevent the same thing happening again, and although barriers help keep other narcissists out, they often keep potentially rewarding relationships at arm’s length too. They project their own trust issues onto everyone they meet, including those who happen to be genuine and trustworthy.
If their parents were self-serving, emotionally unavailable people, chances are they already have trust issues. Very young children forced to grow up in an environment where there is no soft place to fall, often spend their adult life listening to an inner dialogue that is all doom ‘n’ gloom because this is all they have ever known.
But going through life mistrusting everyone, labelling them and presuming they must be ‘on the take’ is exhausting and ultimately depressing. If our firmly held beliefs are, for example, all men are narcissists, all businesses are ruthless and exploitative, and any person who initiates contact or shows us kindness, must be ‘after something’, we are bound to feel all alone in the world.
But here’s the thing – knowing or being aware of the above doesn’t help the people-pleaser or co-dependent personality, because they’re armed to the back teeth with plenty of evidence to back up their dark suspicions about the world and everyone in it. Their lifetime bout of bad luck is more than the average person’s because the ‘takers’ of this world have zoomed in on their poor ego boundaries and low self-worth. They’ve been taken advantage of over and over again.
Co-dependents (who routinely attract the narcissist in the first place) are largely dependent on the validation and approval of others – they need to know how they are ‘doing’ in order to feel OK and will even seek it from someone as self-serving as a narcissist. They accept blame readily and feel responsible for everything that goes wrong, even for situations that have little or nothing to do with them.
Their narcissist parent, partner, boss, ‘friend’ or co-worker can make them feel bad for things they didn’t actually do or have any knowledge of. Tactics like the silent treatment or noticing that someone has switched their behaviour from warm and friendly to cold, dismissive or even accusatory, leaves the co-dependent feeling bewildered and it can happen in a variety of situations where a narcissistic personality is attempting to assert their control. It’s known as having the rug taken out from underneath you.
Being on the wrong end of this emotionally manipulative behaviour feels extremely unpleasant for the sensitive co-dependent. They feel heavy guilt even though they are not sure what they did wrong, and they come to the conclusion whatever they supposedly did must have been really terrible to have caused the other person to react in such an extreme way.
They begin to feel even more unsure of themselves, which in turn, reinforces their lack of self-belief or self-trust. This injection of chaos and confusion serves the narcissist’s needs as it generates much narcissistic supply. Emotionally healthy people communicate genuine concerns in a clear, calm and rational way and don’t engage in these sorts of tactics.
A person with self-trust does not habitually watch and wait for the reactions of others to tell them how they are performing. So, if a person can’t trust themselves, or their own judgement, how on earth can they trust anyone else? How can they decipher who has the right answers or is the best guide, if they can’t trust their own judgement to find the right person to tell them?
The co-dependent’s inability to fully trust themselves renders them directionless and vulnerable – they routinely attract the wrong types of people and situations, which only serves to feed their negative assumptions about themselves and the world. If their life was a jigsaw, they’d be looking for pieces of the same colour and discarding all the rest. They’d be seeking, matching and aligning all the ‘pieces’ that fit their original life story or ‘their’ pre-existing beliefs (beliefs that are not even theirs) and then struggle to make the jigsaw fit together properly.
Steps to Recovery:
The recovering co-dependent must begin to challenge ingrained or conditioned beliefs by asking themselves – where do these beliefs come from? Whose are these really? Are they even true? How were they able to take root like they have?
When they feel ready, they can take a brave and honest look at their own history and patterns – while being mindful to not judge themselves (they’ve had enough of that already from toxic people) and then commit to doing all that is necessary to learn how to live a better life. This includes the practice of regular self-appraisal – the journaling and documenting of emotions and experiences for the purpose of increasing self-knowledge.
Above all, recovering co-dependents need to master the art of boundaries. Boundaries are used by emotionally healthy human beings all the time and without hesitation, so the sooner we learn about how to use them, the better things will become for us. When we are able to finally assert our own needs and preferences, our communication becomes clearer and as a result, the ‘takers’ start to lose interest in us.
Trust & New Relationships:
So how can a person who has had been emotionally and narcissistically abused to the extent that they routinely doubt themselves, learn to trust their own judgement when starting a new relationship? How do we enter into the world of emotionally healthy people?
Recovering co-dependents must proceed with caution here – can we trust ourselves to recognise the red flags this time? Or will our co-dependency sabotage any chance of a successful relationship with a ‘non-narc’ by labelling them boring? When our adrenaline spikes finally plateau out, will we replace the weird feeling vacuum with doubts about our new relationship? Will we start to become overly critical and convince ourselves that this person is not right for us?
The insidious part of being narcissistically abused for years is that not only is it hard to find someone decent, it’s also hard to accept them – we’ve been programmed to want the bad guys. We may be lucky enough to find a wonderful person, who ticks more than the average boxes, but lo and behold, we find faults with him. Our friends let out a big sigh and plead with us to reconsider – “What’s wrong with him? He’s lovely! It’s only been three weeks; give him a chance!” But we remain steadfast in our decision and confidently say, “Look, he’s just not connecting with me the way that I need” – Mm, you’re dead right there! He’s not a self-centred con artist without a soul; he WILL be connecting with you differently.
We may become overly conscious of his movements and how quickly he responds to our texts – regardless of his schedule. We have a clear idea of what we want, and this may be the exaggerated version of the opposite of what we’ve previously had. In short, this guy is being set up to fail because he needs to be perfect. Our Ego then notices things going pear-shaped and pipes up, “I told you so!”. Before we know it, we’re back to being single where it’s ‘safe’. If this new beau is emotionally healthy, they WILL be different from what we’re used to. So, what do we do now? We’re at a crossroads – we’ve no previous relationship history with a decent man, yet we’re making confident, hard and fast judgments as if we are experts in healthy human beings and relationships.
New Man checklist:
First and foremost, get Narcissist Clearance – is he displaying arrogance, control, boasting, dismissing you, overly charming the pants off you, rude to others, gossiping and ripping others apart behind their back, etc.?
Does he seem too good to be true?
What do your close friends think about him? What do they suggest?
Does he seem interested in what you are saying, and wants to know more about you?
Does he take longer to get ready than you do, and arrives looking and smelling better than you?
Does he talk about himself most of the time or other people he knows?
Do you feel ready to start a new relationship? If so – what makes you think this?
What does ‘being single’ mean to you, describe how you feel as a single person.
Are you ready to learn about a new type of person?
What are your expectations for your new partner? Are they realistic?
Do you feel you can be yourself with this person? In what ways?
What are your deal-breakers?
Do you feel comfortable talking to him about your past relationships?
Is this person worth spending more time with – even if it’s just to see where it goes?
Does this new relationship seem honest and transparent?
When we start to value ourselves as a person our vibration changes, and we begin to attract different kinds of partners. But we’re left with the challenge of adapting to this new type of person when we haven’t a clue how to do it – we’ve no prior experiences to guide us. If we’re lucky, we’ll get the chance to experience and ‘file’ into our databank of pain, an emotionally healthy ‘normal’ relationship, and we can be shown what it looks like, what it feels like, and how it plays out.
We can set the intention to allow ourselves to feel all aspects of it, even if we don’t fully understand everything. We need to be patient because most of us will be learning about this new experience from scratch. We need to acknowledge the things we need to work, so we can be accountable – sometimes WE are the toxic person. We need to set an intention to not outwardly blame here, this is an equal relationship and entirely new territory. We need to monitor any knee-jerk reactions that could sabotage the relationship before it gets a chance to develop.
We were very important to the narcissist for a time and received lots of attention in one form or another, but all of it was given for the wrong reasons, and none of it was healthy or authentic. Regular, emotionally healthy people don’t bring others up and then tear them down. Recovering co-dependents may feel this loss of connection (toxic as it was). They may miss the ‘highs’ that came from feeling validated. But it was never our partner’s job to validate us, and it won’t be our future partner’s job either.
We may equate lesser amounts of attention as a lack of interest when it is anything but. We adopt the stance of taking no prisoners, and think, “Well, if he can’t at least text to say good morning, or ask how my day is going then we’re done – this isn’t what I want.” We’re still running the same co-dependency tape – “Keep a close eye on everything he does/doesn’t do/says or doesn’t say, as all of it directly relates to how he feels about you.” This may be true in some cases, but if he’s not a narcissist, there’s a good chance whatever he’s doing will have little bearing on what’s going on in our head, and at the end of the day, he has no reason to stick around if he doesn’t want to.
If we’re feeling confused and miserable, then, of course, it’s wise to step away from the relationship to assess things. But instead of blaming the other person for all the relationship problems, we can at least consider some other possibilities. Maybe it didn’t work because we’re not ready for this type of relationship, we’re not ready to be in a relationship at all because our co-dependency is still tripping us up, or perhaps we’ve identified so much with being single, that we’ll do whatever it takes to remain so. There will always be new and/or existing things to work on because our recovery is a life-long learning experience. ‘Banking’ good experiences and getting to know healthy, regular people will reveal that there is another way to live life. But first we need to give ourselves permission to step outside our previous stomping grounds so we can learn more about life and people, and this will in turn help us disprove our conditioned messages.”
If this post resonates with you or someone you know, please comment and share! My goal is to connect with others to bring awareness and choice to those affected by childhood emotional neglect and narcissistic abuse.
Zoe is a Kinesiologist and Natural Health and Wellbeing Practitioner, specialising in the healing from co-dependent relationships. See www.innerhealthandhealing.net to learn more about kinesiology and how it can help us recover and energetically heal from toxic relationships and previously held co-dependent patterns, so we can live more meaningful lives. Follow the BLOG – “A Recovery of Self” for notifications of upcoming posts on recovery and healing from childhood emotional neglect, co-dependency and narcissistic abuse.