I went No Contact with my sociopathic NPD/ASPD ex in February, 2014 — almost three years ago. Enough time has elapsed that I’ve seen that there are several stages one goes through on the way to recovery and healing. There does seem to be a clear pattern that I’ve seen in both myself and in others. The order of these stages never varies, though the circumstances may vary. Unfortunately, many people get “stuck” at a particular stage and can’t seem to move to the next one.
A person at this stage is still living with or involved with their abuser(s). They are in a state not unlike a victim of brainwashing or an active cult member. They have been led to believe (through the manipulations of the abuser — gaslighting, projection, isolation, and all the rest) that they are worthless, crazy, stupid, and the one at fault for all that has gone wrong. They question their own sanity because they have been told by the abuser that everything they believe is not true. They may even identify with their abuser (codependency) or look to them as their only reason for living. At this stage, they will do anything for the abuser, and can’t figure out why they feel so depressed and why their lives (and possibly even their health) is falling apart and everyone seems to have turned against them, sometimes even their own families. They blame themselves, and have no idea that this is something being done to them by their abuser. A person at this stage may have shut off their ability to feel any emotions, and tell themselves (and may even believe) that this is normal. Suicide is a real possibility.
2. Righteous anger and No Contact.
If an abuse victim is lucky, they will reach a point where they realize they have been abused, and that they are not the one at fault. Usually, this leads to righteous anger, and the victim may begin to express this. Because you can’t reason with an abuser, and they will not tolerate your honing in on the truth, in most cases the victim will realize they need to break away from the abuser. The anger the victim feels overrides the fear, depression, and numbness they felt previously, and gives them the motivation to do what they need to do to get away. In some cases, such as when there are children, going No Contact may be more complicated and it may be only possible to go very low contact.
The rage the victim feels may remain for a time (some longer than others). This is the stage that many narcissistic abuse bloggers are at when they begin to write about what happened to them. While unremitting rage will eventually poison the soul if the danger has passed and it has nowhere left to go, it’s still a lot healthier than remaining stuck in an abusive relationship and slowly dying a soul-death.
Unfortunately, many survivors seem to remain stuck at this stage. It almost seems as if the anger becomes a sort of addiction. But I won’t write about that here; I have other posts about that.
3. Asking questions, seeking answers.
At some point (for most people), the rage (which served its purpose) burns itself out. Some survivors grow weary of the unremitting hatred toward the personality-disordered and seek to understand the behaviors of those who caused them so much pain instead, while still remaining No Contact with abusers. They may spend time reading about the disorders of their abusers, and otherwise educating themselves. In time, this gives them a more balanced perspective, while they still acknowledge how dangerous such people can be. During this time, the survivor also learns how to navigate the world and relationships with better boundaries, practice being mindful, and also is better able to detect red flags to avoid being abused again (this may have begun during Stage 2).
4. Looking inward, self awareness.
It’s not until a survivor can forgive their abusers (while never forgetting the harm they caused) that the healing can truly begin. Survivors continue to practice having good (or at least better) boundaries, and practice being mindful.
At the same time they may begin to look inside themselves to see what their own role(s) might have been in the abuse they endured. They may realize they tend to be codependent, or didn’t set good boundaries (usually because they were never trained to have good boundaries by their own abusive parents) or in some cases, may even be personality-disordered themselves (this kind of self-awareness can come as a huge shock but isn’t possible as long as a person is stuck in anger and hatred).
Though the survivor might have played some role in the abuse they endured, this doesn’t mean what happened was their fault or that they could have stopped it. The self-defeating behaviors and/or codependency that led to a person becoming a victim are almost always unconscious and programmed into the person during early childhood by abusive parents.
It’s during this stage that a survivor will often decide to enter therapy or some other type of psychological or spiritual counseling (this can happen as early as Stage 3).
5. Coming together.
This last stage is when an abuse survivor begins to put all the pieces together, begins to understand the complicated dynamics between abusers and victims, and in some cases, becomes able to to use their own experience to consciously help others heal, even seeing what happened to them as a kind of blessing. It’s at this stage that real freedom and happiness can finally be achieved because the person has developed a sufficiently strong sense of self that is no longer attracted to (or attractive to) abusers.
I believe I’m somewhere between stages 4 and 5, though I have frequent relapses. Remember: relapse is part of recovery! Don’t beat yourself up.