Divorcing a Narcissist: Building the Courage to Leave the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse by Healing Your Shame

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” American Novelist and Playwright, James Baldwin

After many years of providing legal representation to those who are commonly involved in extricating themselves from toxic relationships and from going through my own harrowing personal experiences, I have learned so much about personality disorders.

The one question that our clients and members of our domestic abuse support group regularly ask me is this: Why do I keep trying to reconcile a marriage that is so toxic and harmful? Sure, there are real psychologic reasons that we keep going back to narcissistic relationships, which include: cognitive dissonance, trauma bonding, and fears of abandonment (or that we may never find another relationship partner), but intellectualizing these things (understanding them from an intellectual point-of-view) may help you figure things out in the short-term, but to really take control over the things you can control long-term to help you begin to understand the role your upbringing plays in your adult life, I believe that we will keep finding narcissistic partners, friends, etc., unless we heal our own shame.

Remember, personality disorders exist on a spectrum or continuum. In my experience, people who have serious high-conflict personality traits are more likely to be on the far-end of the spectrum.

We Can Help with High-Conflict Divorce

Our firm’s continuing uptick of new client consultations for potentially high-conflict divorces is because we have a very keen understanding of how difficult and brave you are to make the decision to leave or to deal with the consequences of having been left. In my experience, even though it may seem that your narcissistic spouse has completely moved on and has completely caste you aside, often, because of a narcissist’s quickly changing internal state and lack of controlling impulsivity, many do come back if you try hard enough. Obviously, this depends upon availability (narcissist lacking narcissistic supplies) and the value the narcissist once saw in your relationship. However, fortunately, most of my clients refuse to ever live in that abusive environment again. There are some that reconcile because they’re unwilling or unable to face their own inner healing and childhood trauma.

How Can I Deal with a Narcissist?

For years, I’ve told my clients and members of my support group who are healing from intimate partner narcissistic abuse, that we victims/survivors of narcissistic abuse are very similar to our partners in various way.

Narcissists use coping mechanisms of devaluing, narcissistic rage, blocking, withdrawing, silent treatments, etc., because their internal shame required them to do whatever is necessary to avoid feeling shame. Narcissists are children of childhood trauma, and people with a high degree of narcissistic traits or features do whatever is necessary to avoid feeling their deep shame developed during traumatic abuse from their parents. Narcissists may use hatred and anger (narcissistic rage) to protect their inner children. Surviving their childhood abuse required them to develop grandiosity as a defense mechanism. A budding narcissist may think, “I don’t deserve this childhood abuse. To avoid feeling like I do, I’m going to instead turn my inner shame outward onto others by hating them. By hating them, I protect my inner self (avoid intimacy), and will therefore, be safe. If I stop hating, I may actually have to start dealing with my shame and pain (subconscious). 

On the flipside, those of us who end up with people like this, use a similar defense mechanism, but instead of turning the shame outward, we turn it inward, and we subconsciously believe that we deserve the shame. I’ve blogged several times about the reasons so many of us have ended up with very narcissistic partners. 

All Narcissists are Emotionally Abusive

Recognizing Emotional Abuse in Your Marriage

Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse

How Can I Heal from the Process?

You will not be able to make sense of a narcissist’s tendency to devalue and discard others. Just know that you can heal with distance, time, and therapy. Experienced trauma therapists can help you learn to deal with your own toxic shame. One day, you will learn to identify what triggers your shame and how to identify when you feel shame. For example, when you feel reactive because your supervisor makes a comment about your work, learn to stop yourself from immediately reacting (this takes so much work, I know), and when you want to say something, take note of what you feel at that exact moment. Does your face feel hot? Do you feel attacked? Do you feel like you have to immediately say something and take the focus off of you and to point to another co-worker’s wrongdoing? This may be your shame at work.

It may take journaling, or it may take serious mindfulness training to help you identify when and why you are feeling this shame. When your narcissistic partner threatens divorce or abandonment, do you immediately become angry and begin yelling or pleading? Could this be your own shame that is stopping you from letting that person leave? Is it really true that this person is the only person suitable for you? What are the flawed internal beliefs about yourself that you can change and re-script? Could this partner know that you may be an open book and that your own childhood toxic shame led to some deep-rooted abandonment wounds you now have? Once you make the brave decision to stop repeating the narcissistic cycle of abuse, you can really start doing the inner work necessary to help you process just how abnormal the situation really is/was.

Rebuilding from childhood trauma takes a lot of hard work and time, as many of you know. Sometimes, our parents, themselves also the victims of serious childhood trauma, are responsible for helping us develop serious shame issues, and often our shame-filled minds lead us to develop harsh internal critics. In turn, this leads us to develop subconscious beliefs that if we pick abusive partners, it is our fault, and we don’t deserve to be treated any better. After all, says our inner critic, if our own parents abused us, we must be unlovable and very damaged. If we’re so unlovable and damaged, how can we expect others to love us? Childhood trauma leads to shame, sometimes so subconsciously debilitating, that we use primitive defense mechanisms to avoid feeling shame.

Shame makes us feel that we have no choice but to stay locked in toxic relationships, unhealthy patterns of relating, and sometimes, temporary paralysis. As children, the self-defense mechanism of denial helped us survive and became a necessary and useful tool. After years of emotional healing from narcissistic abuse and childhood trauma, I’ve been able to understand that for many decades, I simply denied the childhood trauma I experienced by telling myself that many people, including my own parents, had it much worse than I did, and I was being “soft” by taking the time to heal my own childhood trauma. As children, admitting our parents were extremely abusive would most likely have destroyed our young selves and souls. Denial kept us from hurting ourselves and keeping our inner child safe. However, as adults, denial can initially help us in the same way, but as adults in adult bodies, we are capable of moving past denial, helping our inner child, hushing our inner critic, and leave abusive situations.

As you become emotionally healthier, you will begin doing the healing work necessary to leave toxic situations and abusive partners. In my case, it didn’t take much time after I realized that trying to make a narcissist care for you and love you by mentally and physically exhausting yourself in an effort to make the narcissist happy (keeping your home impeccable, taking on the burden of raising your children alone, doing all of the shopping, etc.) was not only more shame-inducing for me, but an impossible task.

Fairfax Family Law and Divorce Lawyer: . An attorney with experience in divorcing a narcissist can help you redirect the blame to the narcissist, and help you understand that although people can fall out of love, it doesn’t happen so abruptly and silently, as it does in a marriage to a narcissist.

If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family and divorce law attorney, contact Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC today by calling (703) 865-7710 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office. We have decades of legal experience in high-conflict divorces.

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