When you have enmeshed yourself in another person to the extent that you lose a major part of your identity, it can be hard to imagine life without that person. Even if that person is clearly not for you in terms of compatibility, letting go can be painful. So it is with a number of my clients at present who are all struggling with a situation where they have found the courage to push toxic people out of their life but are struggling with the emotional aftermath. Much of this aftermath involves far too much focus on the ex partner and a large dose of self doubt as to whether they made the right decision or what lies in store for the future. Some of this is part of a natural process of healing but if maintained for too long can drive bad decision making and depression.
As stated, recovery from a break up and or narcissist abuse is scary but is a process that has a beginning, a middle and an end. It is extremely important to realise that the length of the process will depend very much on the individual and how soon they are willing to start it. Before this, there is an extremely high chance that the relationship will revive itself or a new codependent “object” will be found. I use the word revive, not especially in a positive manner. Many codependents will amazingly take back narcissist or abusive partners to avoid the process of healing.
A number of my clients are in this phase at present and times are tough for them. As a therapist, I am helping them to see that the very process mentioned above is functional and essential for recovery. It is hard for some of them to ever imagine they will be ready for this. Let’s take a look at what a healing process could theoretically look like. I have heard this phase described as a “love hangover” and that is not far from the truth. In the same way that you would avoid alcohol for a while after a binge, so it is appropriate to do the same in this case. That means that the fist step is to go no contact with the ex (unless children are involved, then a different framework is needed). Especially if there has been abuse or the ex had narcissist tendencies, this is essential to avoid been abused or used for supply. That said, much of what happens to people in this phase is less to do with external events and more to do with an internal state of mind. Once this is established, the following will guarantee that in time, things will improve :
Start To Think Instead Of Feel
At the start of the process, feeling and emotion take over. We are paralysed with self doubt, romanticising the ex mixed with a healthy dose of self pity. It is important to feel and to recognise that these feelings are part of the process but listening too much will stop us moving forward. I have known clients who have become overwhelmed at this stage and even the simplest task becomes difficult. They define themselves in this thinking instead of clearly understanding why they are in this position. Tough as it is (and this is generally the toughest stage), it is essential to reach a point where logic and rational thinking take over. Rational logical thinking means asking yourself why this thinking is in place, what it is protecting you from and how you can release yourself from it. It also means having a realistic view of the ex and the relationship including learning why it was difficult to set boundaries. This might take time and need professional help.
Answer The Important Questions
Once you can start to think rationally, then you can start to ask yourself key questions that will help you move on and learn from the experience. These could look like :
- Why did I allow myself to stay in this relationship for so long ?
- What were my expectations going into the relationship?
- Why did I not ask for my needs to be met?
- Why did I put this person on a pedestal?
- What was the cause of the break up?
- What are the real advantages for me being out of the relationship?
- What can I learn from this to move forward?
- What do I want for me now?
- What do I need to get there?
- What is stopping me getting there?
These ten questions are in my view a very functional grounding for assessing a bad relationship and help to ensure that the same pattern does not repeat itself. In terms of codependency, question 2 is especially relevant. Many men go into a relationship hoping and expecting to find a mother substitute who will take care of him and make his life easy. Many women go into the same trying to “fix” their man to provide excitement, financial and emotional security and relieve the anxiety of finding a partner.
Restore And Replace
Coming out of a relationship of such emotional magnitude can feel like a huge loss in our minds. Even if logically, we know that the ex was not for us, there is often still an emotional attachment as this person was part of the fabric of our lives. In fact, in some cases, was the fabric. Recognising this loss is valid only in the respect of restoring and replacing elements of the relationship lost. This could be very practical issues such as taking over financial matters or finding someone to do practical jobs around the house (this might sound basic but it is surprising how many people cannot cope with this and it eventually overwhelms them). It also calls for more social activities, friend contact, self-care, etc. This process of replacement needs to happen as quickly as possible. Restoration takes a while longer because it deals with the emotional aspects that prevailed that left open the possibility of meeting an abusive partner. This calls for deeper work that looks at the roots of codependency. This should be undertaken with a professional who understands codependency and has ideally gone through a process of recovery themselves.