I am a psychotherapist in the Columbus, Ohio area. I have been working with survivors of narcissists for many years and during this time I continue to find new ways to help support the survivor as I learn myself. In my own evolution or increasing self-awareness as a psychology professional and a survivor of narcissism.
What I was stumped by for many years was how to really address finding a healthy relationship after a narcissistic parent and/or partner. And, usually, it is both. I supported and empathized with my clients, I gave them tips on finding the right person but I knew something was still missing. I had already begun to see my own dissociation that I faced with conflict, in relationships. I saw it but didn’t quite understand what to do with it. Especially when I was, unbeknownst to me, in a relationship with a covert narcissist.
I was blinded for fifteen months by love bombing and manipulation that was designed to look like a caring partner. At the end, when he gaslighted me, I truly experienced a trauma bond, where I was desperately clinging to my pain but, I consciously took this on in order to re-organize my thoughts and deal with this humiliation once more – until I got it right. While I understood that his behaviors were inappropriate and unhealthy, I needed to take personal responsibility for how I, as a psychotherapist got into this type of relationship once again.
As I began to go on my painful but enlightening journey, I began to realize in my clients what I was becoming aware of in myself. As I spoke these new truths, out loud, to my clients, I saw that they resonated with this and were realizing the same behaviors as well. The more I would speak out loud about this, the more they began to open up to these key elements of how to have a healthy relationship, post narcissist.
I am going to explain and examine these key elements for you today, as my gift to you while we transition into the new year. Take these gifts as an opportunity to explore your own ego, your own unconscious blocks that leave you vulnerable to unhealthy men or women.
1. Impatient Sexual Desires – This is the first area that precludes us from being in a healthy relationship. In our society, with our peers, in ourselves, we see that promiscuity and a form of self-soothing, is normal. This unhealthy sexual acceptance allows vulnerable people, like survivors of narcissists, to end up in bed with the wrong person. With a very unhealthy person. We can kid ourselves into saying things like “It was different with him,” or “But you don’t understand,” or “We have chemistry,” in the end, it is only lust, impatient sexual desires, and ultimately, we are saying to our unconscious – once more – I don’t deserve to be loved. Having sex with a person right away means we don’t value or respect our bodies, we are more focused on self-soothing rather than being true to ourselves. It would be better to have a piece of chocolate than to give yourself up so willingly to a partner who has not even said “I love you,” or you have not made up your mind is someone you want a long-term relationship with. You can’t be sure this person is right for you, until you have had many conversations with them and tested them on the following items:
2. Empathy, Self-Awareness, Respect, Personal Responsibility and Values – A person who has these qualities is someone who is an authentic human being, or at least working towards integrity with the self. Someone who values you as a person, as much as they value themselves. How you go about finding these answers, is going to take time and patience in getting to know them. It is going to be more than one date, more than a month, and you have to remain conscious and mindful of their responses the entire time. You have to think of this process of getting to know, really know another human being as a conscientious interviewing process. One in which you are evaluating whether or not, this is a human being that deserves to spend your quality time with and whom you want to share your life with. I am going to give you some suggestions on finding out whether they have these traits but first we need to look at our own awareness on a date.
3. Dissociation – This is when we are “space out,” “there but not there,” and when I ask my clients what did they say when you asked him that question, they will reply “I don’t remember.” They might even walk away having a sense of some of the words that were used, but can’t explain exactly what was said. This is because they were triggered. They will however, create a fantasy conclusion about the person by saying “He is so nice,” or some other positive statement. If they can’t recall exactly what was said, they have dissociated. If you are focusing more on creating an image of the person rather than listening to the person, you are in a romantic delusion.
We want desperately to be self-soothed and loved, or what we imagine is love. Going to be bed with a person, for a trauma survivor, without having a context of knowing this person loves you or that they want to spend their life with you, we are traumatizing ourselves all over again.
So, I am asking you, to be in touch with who you are being in the conscientious interviewing process of getting to know a person. Stay present by writing down questions to ask. Wait until the date is over to go home and make decisions about whether you heard all the answers or not. If you have not, ask them again. Tell them you weren’t sure if you understood their meaning when they said an answer. Tell them you want to hear more about what they think about a question. It is okay to re-visit a conflict. If you are dissociating on a date, you are in conflict with yourself or with what has been said.
Perhaps you don’t think you deserve to be in a relationship, so you rush through the dating process, imagine you and they are in love and go to bed. It “feels” right, the astrological calendar said your sun signs matched up, he smiled at you in a way that felt good, you both seem to “get each other,” whatever excuses you give yourself to go to bed right away or to continue going forward blindly, unless you are closely examining yourself and the potential partner, you are not in a relationship, you are in a fantasy. You are exposing yourself to another human being by saying “Take advantage of me,” just as if you were on the date naked and chained to the chair.
Because if you quickly consummate your version of a relationship, and this is an unhealthy person, you will soon find out as you begin to shut down, walk on eggshells, close up emotionally, become a people pleaser and get sucked into the illusion of a relationship.
4. Empathy – Back to the ways of identifying what a healthy person looks like. Empathic people are listening to you and asking you questions to further have a sense of who you are. You might be doing this to them, but are they doing it to you? And, a narcissist can ask questions, early on but do they really seem to care about what you are saying? Do they tip the waitress? Are they pulling your chair out for you to sit down? Do they address you respectfully, compliment you (but not overly), challenge you with introspective questions “What do you want to see happen, in your future, with your career?” Are you having a conversation, not just bantering? Bantering is speaking lightly but without much depth. Do they have children? How do they speak of their children? How do they speak about their ex? On a first date, they shouldn’t tell you all the graphic details of their split. How many people have gone in and out of their child’s life? What are their values in regard to their children? Maybe they don’t have kids but have animals. How do they talk about them? And if neither, how do they address their family?
A person should not be overly involved or under involved. Some situations preclude under involvement, such as they are being held back from that relationship with their child. Or, they have an unhealthy family and they are trying to establish boundaries. You really have to gauge which is which and it takes time to get to know which IS which. A couple of dates don’t determine whether or not a person is telling you the truth or if they are healthy. Narcissists are great pretenders and distractors. It takes six months to a year before they drop the act. Unless you are really cunning in learning and staying focused to this person, in the dating process, you will be fooled once more. Unless you are not distracted by your evolving fantasy in your head, you will be taken advantage of. AND, big clue, your friends do NOT know the answer and are not the key in determining whether or not this is the right person for you. ONLY you know what is right. Only your gut instincts can determine this.
5. Self-Awareness – With regard to your date, what can they tell you about what they have learned about themselves? Are they intrigued and do they ask you questions about what you have learned about yourself? Self-awareness means that a person does not avoid your questions (a narcissist will or they will say “What do you think,” so they can mimic you).
If they are spiritual or religious, what exactly does this mean to them? Are they quoting some religious book or are they explaining what they believe it means to them? Are they judging people by making statements like “All people should believe in XYZ or they will go to hell?” or some similar phrase in relation to their beliefs? If they are spiritual, what journey have they gone down? It is cliché to say someone is “spiritual,” these days but most people don’t have a clue what this means nor have they actually engaged on some path toward enlightenment. It is just like a person who does yoga but doesn’t even know it is a Hindu tradition and has never heard the Sanskrit term for down-ward facing dog. They are doing it to be fashionable rather than for the spiritual rewards of the practice. Or they are focused on their body or the clothing they wear to the gym. And, it is okay if they are, but you need to realize there is a difference.
Self-Awareness is not JUST about spirituality either but cleaning up their mind, their bodies (and yet that is a spiritual quest still). Being on a date with an obese person means they have very little self-awareness. Just as being on a date with a man who has been married more than once and they sit they’re vocalizing and blaming their anger about their exes. Someone who is constantly blaming is not self-aware. Someone who is questioning themselves and their actions and life and the world around them is self-aware.
Self-awareness is a personal path, it is not something you can share with anyone. You and your partner might go to the same church, but this does not mean you can trust them, that you both have the same realizations or that you are meant for each other. It just means you go to the same church. We frequently get caught up in these “things” that we add to our romantic delusions. For example: “We both shared the same birth date,” it means… “We both grew up in the same neighborhood and never knew it,” it means… “We both said the same word at the same time,” it means… None of it means you are supposed to be in a relationship with each other. It is just cute little anecdotes that occurred. Little moments of cuteness that mean nothing if it doesn’t add up to a person with empathy, self-awareness, respect, personal responsibility and values.
6. Respect – This is an easy one to see right away. Is the person cleanly and properly dressed? Are they shaven, is their hair washed, do they have a nice smell emanating from their body (I don’t mean perfume or cologne either), are their shoes clean and in good shape, are their clothes in good shape. A person can wear blue jeans and look like a million bucks. They would wear a casual suit jacket, a shirt under it, clean jeans without rips or tears, clean shoes (even if they are tennis shoes), hair combed, teeth brushed, etc… If the person has these visual qualities, they obviously have respect for themselves. If you have the same qualities, then you both have some respect for yourselves. A person who is dressed appropriately for a date, is interested in you because they cared enough to look good for you but are also interested in themselves and how they come across in the world.
It isn’t just the clothes you wear though. Overt narcissists can dress very nice, even covert narcissists, but have no respect for themselves or you for certain. How they greet you on the first date, how they respond to your questions, how they ask questions, these – as I have already pointed out above, show respect for you and themselves.
I don’t care how modern our society is today, a man should pick up the woman’s tab. If he doesn’t have these good manners he has no respect for himself. It is so easy to see entitled men, in today’s society, when they give you some ridiculous excuse for why they aren’t paying. You want to go Dutch, great, but see how long this relationship lasts and whether or not they are a healthy person. There are always exceptions to a rule but more likely than not, they are trying to get away with something. Good manners make good people. It doesn’t make them, not a narcissist, but it is a good character trait to have or to add with all that I am explaining here.
Respect has to do with their homes too. What does it look like the first time you see each other’s homes? Are they filthy, boxes left unpacked (after living there for a year), clothes strewn all over the place, dishes in the sink, last years Christmas decorations still left up, pizza boxes sticking out from under the couch, floors un-swept, you get the picture. A chaotic household is a chaotic mind. An organized household is part of an organized mind. Not healthy, as nothing I am saying stands alone in this conversation. A healthy person is all of these things in this discussion, not one.
How do they treat others? Do they have integrity? Do they know who they are? This is all about respect for themselves. Not an idealized version of themselves either. We can hear narcissists talk all day about themselves and how brilliant they are, or with a covert, how the world is out to get them and they are such a good person. Respect is multi-layered and multi-faceted. It is paying attention to you and being conscientious of you.
7. Boundaries – Let’s stop and go in this direction for a moment. If you have boundaries and they respect them, this is a good clue that you are on the right track. If they have boundaries and you respect them and they appreciate and even notice this, they don’t take advantage. People who stay true to themselves in a relationship – and you can watch two of my lengthy videos on Youtube with Ellen and Evelyn, where we talk about their 50 + year marriages and you will see more about what I mean about Staying True to Yourself in a Healthy Relationship. Their boundaries kept the men in their lives enamored by them. Both went through major hurdles in their marriages and yet, they remained together after all these years. Yes, both had breaks, but they both got back together and stayed together, and it was an ensuing bond of many years that brought them back.
Women and men who have boundaries and know what they want and articulate this in a strong but not mean way, get what they want from a partner. They attract healthy relationships. They discard unhealthy people.
8. Personal Responsibility – Holding themselves accountable. When I listen to someone blaming other people and not taking any breath to realize their own part in the matter, it really frustrates me. It shows me that it is all about THEM and they have no role to play whatsoever in the situation. Even when you look at history, the victims played some role historically whether willingly or not and in the aftermath, they are not to blame, anymore than a victim of abuse is to blame, but there is something in taking responsibility for the tragedy that can help us to heal. This is why you have people like Dr. Viktor Frankl (a concentration camp survivor), writing books on self-empowerment rather than talking about blaming Nazi’s. It is also why a child survivor Dr. Gabor Maté is doing the same thing. He was not a survivor of a concentration camp but of the holocaust as a little baby boy. He too, talks about the pain we suffer and how to rise above this. From these two examples, we learn about emotional intelligence and working with the pain you face and how to over come this. None of them waste their time talking about Nazi this and Nazi that, instead, they focus on the healing process. This is taking personal responsibility. Both are teaching us how a horrific ordeal helped them to grow as an individual.
While you are not expecting a great teacher in the dating process, who is well-read, articulate and this intelligent as the doctor’s mentioned above, you are wanting a person who is able to take personal responsibility for their actions and the actions they have lived through in their life.
Even if a person is still struggling with something, such as a family dilemma. How are they dealing with this? How are they working on themselves? Do they sit around all day in denial? Are they working around the clock, never taking a break, never taking time for themselves? Are they giving excuses? OR are they sharing with you how they are taking responsibility and how they are continuing to find answers on how to be strong and work through this family situation so that they might be mentally balanced through this all?
Someone who takes personal responsibility and does not blame, is on their way to becoming a healthy person. As Dr. Polly Young Eisendrath says in her book “Love Between Equals,” A Healthy Relationship is one in which both people are working on themselves mentally and spiritually.
9. Values – If a 20-year-old is saying he isn’t sure yet what he wants for his future, this makes sense. If he is 40, 50, 60, or older, this does not. Even a 30-year-old should have some indication by now. When you face a person who says “I am not sure what I want from a relationship,” run for the hills. Don’t stay involved thinking that your love will help persuade them to “pick you.” It won’t. This is the sign of a very unhealthy person that they don’t know what they want. It more than likely means they want to have a sex partner or someone to feel sorry for them. You don’t need this.
Values are another hallmark in a healthy person. Many times, survivors of narcissists are afraid to assert themselves in any of the topics I have already approached here. We are quick to conclude our values are their values. We want to be loved and so we try to match ourselves and our words to their game plan. This is going to bring you trouble as you continue to create your romantic delusion. You are going to walk away with more anger, hurt pride, licking your wounds in therapy when you don’t make yourself clear what you want from a person. If they don’t agree that this is what they want or end up leaving the table and not coming back, GREAT! You have just saved yourself any trouble of being with a narcissist – or someone who is not right for you.
Don’t run after someone, don’t beg or plead, don’t grovel at their feet. Be clear what your values are, assert yourself to this person and be clear that both of your values match. If you really want to be in a healthy relationship, be patient in finding out who this person is. Once you have waited and gotten to know them more, you will enjoy the lovemaking much more because it will be “love,” not “lust.” You will join with each other in the bedroom and have romance and even great sex because you have waited to find out if you actually do have something there and to find out if this person and you actually have love for each other. Not sympathy, not lust, not a romantic delusion but true love.
Read this over and over and take it to heart. It is long and lengthy but filled with truth, personal lessons, professional experience and concern for my fellow sisters who have had to find out the hard way what their partner was really like. Just like I did.
If you live in the Columbus, Ohio area, give me a call and let’s get started. I only do in-person, not telehealth because I truly wish to be there for my clients face-to-face. If you are unable to do this in person, I have a workshop on Udemy.com called Surviving the Narcissist, where you can learn more about having been with a narcissistic parent or partner.