Steps to get over a trauma bonded relationship with a Narcissist
September 22, 2021 3:55 AM   Subscribe

So ya’ll were right a couple of months ago... I should have listened. His porn addiction was more than that. It was a complete inability to be intimate or open up. I eventually found him arranging to have sex with strangers at the drop of a hat. I’m broken by all of this… I knew it was bad for me but I couldn’t stop. Even now I ended it when I found him cheating I can’t stop obsessing about him.

I’ve been journaling, writing letters, lists of the bad things, doing breathing work, watching Youtube resources on narcissists and trauma bonds, joined Codependents groups and meetings, am seeing 2 therapists, affirming my self-esteem etc, but I still can’t stop! Why?
I go between extremes of looking through the pictures of our time together and pleasuring myself to taking down his friends and family’s social Media drafting messages to them with the screenshots of him cheating to get some sort of justice for all the pain he’s put me through, cause his whole life is one big secret.

He says he wasn’t to be my friend, pay me back the money he owes and sit down to finalise things before he moves country in 6 weeks (so i'll never see him again), but then leaves me on read for days and days sometimes over a week, while I know hes back on all the dating apps meeting strangers to get his next fix with his sex addiction, it enrages me so much that he’s gone from telling me he loves me several times a day, and telling me he could never do that to me for months (cause I was taking things slow and had trust issues from past relationships)… To literally the worst person imaginable, ignoring the questions I need answers to and pretending I don’t exist while out looking for the next victim. I can’t stop obsessing/staking, in either hope, pain, rage or just exhaustion!? What can I do? My heart is telling me if I don’t see him again before he moves away I will regret it, and I need to have some sort of closure so I can start to move on?

What do I do?
posted by krisb1701d to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, honey, you are already doing the right things. It's just going to take some time.

Maybe something else to keep in mind that might help - you aren't necessarily missing him, you are missing the hopes you had about him and the life you imagined with him that now you know beyond a doubt cannot come true. That still hurts when it's something you really really wanted and now you know you can never have it, even when it's something that was only a wish in your own head. But it can help to remember it was only a wish in your own head instead of something that was really ever going to happen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:23 AM on September 22, 2021 [14 favorites]

He's not sorry, he is not your friend, he's never going to pay you back, closure is a lie because nothing he can say will make this any better, and if you manage to make his mother mad at him on your behalf, do you think she's going to shun her son and adopt you instead?

BLOCK HIM. Do not let him contact you.

I know you want to hear more about what you can do but the bottom line is BLOCK HIM, wait out the six weeks, and he will be gone forever and it will be easier.

DO NOT make new memories with this dude. That simply prolongs the start date for recovery.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:33 AM on September 22, 2021 [60 favorites]

The disrespect is the closure.
posted by asimplemouse at 5:12 AM on September 22, 2021 [14 favorites]

Also, EMDR can be so helpful. This is real trauma, and the kind with intrusive images and thoughts it seems. EMDR might really help.
posted by asimplemouse at 5:14 AM on September 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

first, agree with the no-contact. seeking his attention and money at this point only gives him power over you again. he's not moving in six weeks, he moved today.

second, i'd stop spending so much time on trying to fix yourself and try to start just doing things. filling up your time will help distract you and let you explore your own life and desires. walk, read, exercise, cook- just keep busy. fill your time 15 or 30 minutes at a time and eventually you'll find yourself living life again and not always obsessing.
posted by noloveforned at 5:59 AM on September 22, 2021 [8 favorites]

as for why you can't stop obsessing/thinking about him- you spend every waking moment trying to fix this problem by thinking about him in journals, letters, lists, youtube videos, group meetings and therapists. gotta dial that way back or at least turn the focus back to you rather than him.
posted by noloveforned at 6:01 AM on September 22, 2021 [13 favorites]

How significant is the money he owes you? Is it a lot? Can you live without it?

If you really need the money message him once more to say you expect a bank check in the mail for the full amount he owes you before he leaves the country and that you will not respond to any attempts to contact you. If he doesn't know your address perhaps keep it that way and have him send the check to your parents' address, or to some other address. And that's it, over and out! No more contact, block him everywhere, don't look at his social media, etc.

You're very brave and it will all get better.
posted by mareli at 6:16 AM on September 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hi there. I was married for more than a decade to a man who, after a head injury that led to a change in his personality, finally confessed that he'd had a secret sexual life the entire time we'd been together. That revelation led to a difficult, valuable, life-changing period of learning, healing, and moving on. Steps that I found helpful: ACT (specifically this workbook as a starting point, eventually getting an ACT-focused therapist), learning about attachment theory and its implications for my feelings and how best to move forward with them (this book comes up a lot as a starting point), as others have noted going no contact outside of the formal communications we had to have when divorcing (which went through a mediator and/or attorney), spending as much time as possible with and talking to my trusted friends and family who were willing to listen to me go through the tumult of the end of the relationship, and--honestly--the passage of time.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:38 AM on September 22, 2021 [6 favorites]

I got some good advice from a therapist, such as, go walking or exercise every day. And get busy with a hobby, doesn't matter what, just engage in something you are interested in.

She also validated my suspicions that my ex was a classic textbook narcissist. The love bombing, then the putdowns, the cheating, and finally being discarded and tossed away like yesterday's newspaper.

I couldn't understand how someone could act that way and not feel one ounce of remorse. It took time, but following her advice helped me get through it. There was no real closure, just, well, that was my bad boy phase, and I think a lot more of myself now to ever get involved with someone like that again.

If someone moves too fast and starts with the love bombing or any other red flags, block, delete, and move on. I don't have time to waste on people who don't respect boundaries or are critical (especially early on, before they even know me). It helps that I am not actively looking to date right now, and prefer my own company. I have several craft projects lined up to keep me busy this winter, and plenty of friends to talk to.

The other thing I realized about myself is that I am an overthinker and a problem solver, and part of this obsession after a break-up was just my brain: let's solve this problem! But it's not solvable, so my brain didn't like that. People are not math problems, and some act in ways we cannot fathom. Now I am very cautious who I have in my immediate circle of friends, and am on the lookout for red flag behavior, especially in areas like hobby groups where there are always a subset of men who think they can just prey upon the female members.

Try and limit the amount of time each day that you will give energy to this obsession. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes, then go to town with the journalling. Put it away after that and force yourself to do something physical, walking, chores, a hobby, and as mentioned above, it will eventually replace this constant obsessing.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:40 AM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It's not a lot of money, it's more the injustice. He's got away scot-free, nobody in his circle knows. He literally answered the door to have sex with the stranger (actually me confronting him cause u knew) in the shirt i gave him (of many clothes i gave him, shaved with the shaver i gave him, in the house i'd cleaned and kept for him, with his cat, i helped get treated. I done so much for him from dates to travel, to money, and i just cant understand how i meant nothing to him when he said all the things i wanted to hear for so long.

I know he had problems, but i feel stupid now, why did i think i could love him through the red flags, why did i think i could put him on the right path? I am an overthinker and a fixer, so i guess i felt like i was stronger for not giving up, hoping that if i was in that situation someone wouldn't give up on me.

He's no friends here and no money, and needs the little money he has to move his cat and belongings. He's going nowhere in life, and i don't know why i couldn't see it before. That's why i feel like i need to message his friends, cause he had STDs when I met him and with the pandemic, and all the other potential victims out there being put at risk, i hate the thought of it. At least if his friends back where he comes from knows, they can get him professional help for his addiction without their heart on the line. i dont care what they think of me for doing it, i know they wont take my side, but at least he has to face reality for once. He shouldn't be allowed to live this life of abuse. He literally told me his ex was crazy and the police were at the house a couple of times over how manic the ex seemed trying to get in touch with him and resume things. BUt i think i get the ex now, cause it's not about the last one or the next one, he just needs the next person who doesn't know about his flaws to try and fill that void, and he disappears and always runs away, cause he dare not look back.
posted by krisb1701d at 7:21 AM on September 22, 2021

About him giving you back the money:

My feelings about the guy post-breakup were a little different (I got through the mourning period fairly quick and was all the way into "righteous anger" already), but you may still get something out of the response I got to a letter I wrote into the advice column "The Vine" about a similar situation. It made me laugh, anyway, which helped in and of itself.

It's here - scroll down to the last letter in the column, it's the letter which refers to the ex-boyfriend as "Zitbrain" and is signed "I Feel Like The Paper Boy In Better Off Dead".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 AM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am an overthinker and a fixer
You can't fix him.

i feel like i need to message his friends
They can't fix him either.

He literally told me his ex was crazy and the police were at the house a couple of times over how manic the ex seemed trying to get in touch with him and resume things. BUt i think i get the ex now
I bet she was after closure and getting answers too, and I am betting that she didn't get either.

You absolutely will regret ceding the power to get closure over this relationship to someone else.
posted by sm1tten at 7:35 AM on September 22, 2021 [12 favorites]

It's very hard to get over a bad relationship because of all the effort and hope you put into it. You not only lose the partner; you have to give up the hope as well.

Even though the relationship is officially over, in your head you're still involved with him. You need to take all the energy and effort you're spending on thinking about him and direct it toward making things better for yourself. Don't message his friends, because he'll just lie and tell them you're crazy. Assume you're never going to get your money back. When you start thinking about the stuff you gave him, the work you did for him, his sick cat, or anything else about him, force yourself to turn your mind to something else. Don't go down the rat-hole of harmful thoughts. It's very hard, especially at first.

It's such a cliché, but you need time. Focus on yourself.
posted by wryly at 7:48 AM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

He is a predator. They choose their victims very carefully. But that doesn’t say anything negative about your character, it usually means you’re kind and compassionate. Those are the characteristics required for them to get away with it all. You can take red flags more seriously in the future without beating yourself up for your previous compassion and acceptance. I hope you can get over that aspect of it and keep the blame where it belongs.
posted by asimplemouse at 8:21 AM on September 22, 2021 [11 favorites]

All that stuff you just said is your subconcious legitimizing reasons to stay involved.

Make better choices.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:26 AM on September 22, 2021 [19 favorites]

Best answer: There's a reason that going no-contact is so frequently advised, and that's because among other things it is necessary to do so to end your addiction to the stress and reward neurochemicals that you get every time you feed it.

Block his friends and family on social media, stop talking to him. You're not going to "regret" it, you're just trying to manufacture more neurochemical hits.

Also stop pretend-interacting with him in your head constantly. Stop trying to fix/change things that have already happened, stop trying to solve him, stop trying to "get" him or punish him. Stop having an imaginary life with him in it in any way, whether you're still together or you're getting revenge. It all already happened, it's finalized, it's done. The only thing you can do anything about is deal with how you acted and don't want to do again. Have an imaginary life where you're emerging from the fog of this whole business, single and forward-facing with renewed purpose and more tools in your toolkit for maintaining a higher quality of person you allow in your life.

It's time to tell your therapists (stop trying to take him to therapy) that you are obsessing and you need help redirecting back to working on the issues that arose for you in some situations you recently had, instead of just picking apart the details of that situation. Maybe discuss with them how to re-frame your therapeutic narrative so that his name/personality/behavior and unnecessary specifics about that relationship are not the focus. Maybe specifically ask to work with them to understand how punishing people doesn't change or fix anything.

You have identified you are an overthinker and a fixer. Talk to your therapists about that. It's something that is serving you poorly and is dangerous and you want more productive relationships in the future.

EMDR sounds like it might be a useful step, but I think you need to just start with being really honest with your therapists about where your head's at first so they can come up with a plan of action that is therapeutically appropriate.

Closure comes from within. It's work you do yourself about yourself.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:27 AM on September 22, 2021 [25 favorites]

Agreed with the advice to think about something else, and to take up a hobby. Right now thinking about your ex (and all the associated activities of therapy, books, watching videos, writing letters, lists, etc.) is your hobby. Channel aaaaall that energy into researching about and focusing on something else - anything else. E.g. read all the books of your favourite authors, train for a marathon, walk all your local trails, Marie Kondo your house, learn something new - cooking, a language, musical instrument, whatever. Choose something you're interested in, do it for a day, a week or however long - stick to it or don't, then choose something else. You need a project to throw yourself 100% into.
posted by foxjacket at 8:44 AM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Paying forward what a therapist once said to me:

Yeah, it's unfair and unjust. Lots of things are unfair! Life is unfair! More to the point, you can't make life in general and this situation specifically fair or just. You can't.

Give yourself permission to STOP TRYING.
posted by humbug at 8:49 AM on September 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

Chiming in with a vote for immediate, permanent no-contact. Also, have patience with yourself about controlling the intrusive thoughts about your ex. It's not going to stop on its own for a while, although EMDR, therapy, hobbies, and some distracting other Serious Drama (work? family? local politics?) may help. Like, you can't just start substituting all your chips with kale and not expect to be obsessed with chips every damn day. Your system is used to a certain level of something is seriously amiss and it's looking around for a certain kind of personally-relevant anxiety. Getting rebalanced through things like therapy takes time, and progress often seems glacially slow, like learning to meditate. It sounds like you're doing all the right things for long-term healing, so in the short term, find something that you really get het up about to distract you. Trust me, whatever it is deserves more attention than that piece of work ever did.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 10:19 AM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Honest, trustworthy/trusting people get manipulated by liars, narcissists, greedy jerks. It's not your fault. At some point, I think anger helps stop the nostalgia. Eradicate any rose-colored glasses, and see him as a parasite. you'll come to a place where you can value what good times you had, and think of it as a learning experience that makes you wiser.
posted by theora55 at 10:21 AM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

The righteous indignation of knowing that you're better off without him but also just being SO ANGRY that he's just out there waltzing along with no consequences for his actions is really tough. I dealt with a bit of this toward the end of my last relationship, and it can be tough to not really dwell on it, even when you know it's not useful.

First thing: leave his friends and family out of this. Even if they approach you first, tread lightly. They are unlikely to take your side over his even if they are not already fully aware that he is a dirtbag, which they likely are. Also, if you don't REALLY need that money back, I'd go full block no contact with both him and anyone you might be tempted to contact him through. Like sm1tten said so well: You absolutely will regret ceding the power to get closure over this relationship to someone else.

You want the opposite of scorched earth here—aim for tundra.

I also agree with everyone who said that it sounds like this is way too fresh for you to process with things like journaling and writing letters that keep your mind centered around this chump. Therapy and codependency groups sound a little more goal-oriented, but if you find that your sessions are functioning more to wind you up than to help you process, it might be worth taking a short break to get a bit more distance between you and this breakup first.

If ever there was a time to go all-in on some sort of all-consuming, physically exhausting personal quest (training for a marathon, taking up karate or boxing, getting real into modern dance, starting a bodybuilding regimen, etc.) this would be it. Nothing interrupts a rumination loop quite like moving your body a lot until you are very tired. Other hobbies where you're channeling your thoughts directly into action (crocheting, model making, playing Tetris or something, etc.) would probably also help a lot, but I think there are few things better than utter physical exhaustion to help you get out of your own brain for a bit and sleep like an absolute champion.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:16 PM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

This guy SUCKS and I'm sure he thrives on this chaos. Honestly, I think the most frustrating and annoying thing you could do to him -- if you want to annoy him, which I would -- is luckily also the most healthy thing you can do for yourself. BLOCK HIM. Have literally zero reaction to him or his shitty behavior ever again for the rest of his life. Trust that all of this WILL come home to roost for him one way or the other -- I bet his friends know more than you think they do -- without you having to get even more entangled in this person's nightmare behavior. Block him and never ever ever speak to him again. He does not deserve you spending your precious energy on him.

You absolutely will regret ceding the power to get closure over this relationship to someone else.

posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:51 PM on September 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

You don't miss this narcissist at all. You miss the guy you thought you had a relationship with. You are missing an imaginary person, who was very important, very loving, very compassionate. Your situation is a bit like someone who used to believe in God. You experienced a profound connection, were affirmed, were loved, were valued, were recognized. Not only was it important to you in multiple ways, but it also contributed to your concept of who you are and to your self worth. That's the relationship you are now missing. Only you've just discovered that there actually was never anyone on the other side. Every instinct is to scramble back into what you had before, to try to find the safety, the sense of belonging, the self worth, the fun and the joy.

It's terrible to lose what you've lost. It makes perfect sense to grieve it. And like a relationship with God, the relationship you were in was more than any relationship you could be in with a real person. So you can't even try to meet another guy and have another shot at another relationship as good as the lost one, the one that was an illusion.

The suffering you are going through now is real, even if the relationship you believed you were in was not. The adjustment to no longer feeling loved, valued and connected is a hard one. It's not going to help to say you shouldn't mourn for what you lost, because you did lose something.

Self love is one direction that might help - everything you believed about yourself in the context of the relationship - that you are someone who deserves to be cherished and valued, someone who has interesting ideas, whose mind and body and knowledge and culture are valuable, someone who is extraordinarily worthy is still true. You are the person who the relationship made you think you are. You can't get that reflected back at you any more - you can't see your image in that mirror of his regard for you. But even though you are not standing in front of a mirror that rightfully glosses over the petty less worthy parts, and magnifies the fine things, you haven't changed. You're still you.

Getting over a big loss is a slow process. You will never get back to what you had but you can get back to other good things. All your eggs were in one basket with your one perfect lover. At this point you can try to find different ways to fulfill each of those individual needs. You might want to find "someone to do for," and someone else to talk to, and someone else to work with. You might want to rearrange and redecorate the space you shared with him. You might want to move away from any interest you had in common with him - say you used to share an interest in certain shows? Instead of watching those shows and being reminded that he is not there, find something different, such as finding new music, or a game, or a different set of shows and schedule them for the time that you shared with him. Or look for someone else, on line, who appreciates the same show, or music or games that you used to share with him. Look for casual friends in the fandom, so you can exchange your gleeful appreciation of the latest episode.

You need to increase your self-care, to replace whatever caretaking he did, or that you did for yourself when you believed you were worthy of that self-care. For example if you used to dress up for date nights you need to be dressing up again - but not necessarily for going out. An equivalent that wouldn't remind you that there is no date after the outfit is put on and the accessories picked, would be to equip yourself for a different activity, such as putting on work out clothes and joining a different non-romantic work out buddy to run laps and do yoga in the park.

There are a hundred different ways you feel your loss. Each one of these needs to be dealt with differently. If every morning you checked for your messages from him, then you replace that routine with checking a new web comic or a new forum. If you planned to someday travel to Europe with him and visit Germany, then start making pie-in-the-sky plans to someday visit Europe with a tour group and visit Denmark. If you used to bake cookies for him, bake tarts instead and bring them to your workplace. Try everything, because at this point many of them will probably still feel futile and unrewarding, but once you've done half a dozen things you'll find one thing that does make you forget your loss for a little bit, so you can do more things like that and build on your success.

Part of what happened is that you fell really hard and we susceptible to his love bombing because there was a need in you. Someone else might have felt overwhelmed and unsettled when he started his intense campaign of seduction. But you were ready for a deep connection, and for the affection and appreciation he appeared to be showing you. This means that you probably want to do some deeper work, examining if, for example, part of why you were so grateful to be admired is because inside you don't admire yourself. It may be that on some level you don't accept your appearance at all, but he made you feel like you look the way you want to look, instead of the way you do. Or maybe you feel a little bit dumb and he made you feel clever. You were vulnerable to an illusion because there was something about the illusion that was so much better than real life. Maybe you want to look like an influencer's publicity shots and feel ugly because your skin has pores, or maybe you want to be smart and well informed, and you keeping encountering people who make you feel dumb. Sometimes we fall for illusions because they squelch little voices inside us that criticize. This kind of work is tough, but will probably help you understand what attracted you to the illusion, and what is missing now. If you can figure that out you can work on meeting those needs without looking for another illusion to replace him.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:33 PM on September 22, 2021 [7 favorites]

Why do you have two therapists?
posted by dancing leaves at 8:12 PM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

That's why i feel like i need to message his friends, cause he had STDs when I met him and with the pandemic, and all the other potential victims out there being put at risk, i hate the thought of it.

his friends have no right or need or interest to know the details of his sexual health, his sexual compulsions, or even that he cheats on his girlfriends (the last one, they might like to know because people love gossip, but they quite likely do already know. they know him.)

telling his friends that he fucked around on you will not do anything whatsoever to protect future victims of whatever you think he is going to do. what it sounds like is, you feel like he burned your life down so you want to burn his life down. what is wrong with an attempt at that kind of equalization? well, first, it equalizes the two of you and equality can seem like a decent substitute for lost intimacy, but it's not. and superiority to this kind of guy feels nicer than equality.

but more importantly, you do not have the right or the standing to stalk and intrusively contact friends of his to tell them your private heartbreak and his private sins, unless you already have independent relationships with them as your own friends. and it doesn't sound like you do. you will not be bringing him to some rough justice; you would only be harassing people who are not at fault and freaking them out. if you just want somebody to be jarred and freaked out the way you have been--? very understandable. very. but you still can't do it. and ruminating on how cathartic it would be is dangerous, if you are at any risk of talking yourself into actually doing it. I don't know if you are actually likely to do anything like this, but you might know it about yourself.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:20 PM on September 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

[for "girlfriends" read lovers. sorry, missed the edit window, didn't mean to assume & gender's not relevant to the point.]
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:29 PM on September 22, 2021

It may be cold comfort, and I get that it’s hard to not witness him experiencing consequences, but I do think that most narcissistic or highly selfish people do end up suffering some kind of karma. People who know him in a less superficial way will start to notice a pattern of relationships that ended badly, and it will get harder for him to engage in the same behaviors as he ages and alienated groups of people in his community. And there is also the likelihood that someone who behaves in an exploitative manner, is, at his core, insecure and unable to be genuinely loving.

This is a tough process, but you have to commit and have faith that you’ll make it through and get better. Not only is there the same grieving process as one might experience with any breakup or severed attachment, but it’s also really hard to regain self worth after a person who you valued has communicated that you are “disposable” or somehow unworthy of being fully loved, through their words and patterns of behavior. I think the only thing you can do is reach out to your support network and make an effort to engage in activities you love that might have fallen by the wayside. Good luck.
posted by jennyesq at 11:17 AM on September 23, 2021

He won't give you any closure. He doesn't actually know you, is the thing. He just used you to play out his fantasies, whether they were love fantasies or power fantasies or anger fantasies or good partner fantasies. Actually, his entire relationship with you was about suppressing you, minimizing your self-expression, knowing you as little as possible, in order to minimize conflict between you and his fantasies.

The real closure, if there was any justice, would be in him recognizing this, and then actually doing the work to learn who you are, understand how he has hurt you, apologize for it, and make reparations. It's very unlikley he's gonna do this but that doesn't make it right, and I think this is why you're so upset and can't let this go -- he should face consequences, he should be held accountable. Yeah, I agree. Everyone in his life should know about who he really is. It's maddening that abusers are allowed to walk around and that society gives them so much cover and leeway. It's kind of shit to tell you to just block him and move on. Because like, no, this dude committed serious crimes against you, he should be the one in turmoil, he should be the one in the shit right now and most importantly he should be stopped so he doesn't do it again.

Yknow, my partner has been through abusive relationships in the past, and the moments that have meant the most to her is when she fought back. LIke, kicked her abuser in the shins. Called the cops on her dad when he threatened her. etc. She said it was very empowering. So I dunno, I don't think "he'll just lie and call you crazy" is necessarily a reason not to out him to his friends and family. Of course he will. The point is, who cares what he does? Why let that influence your decisions? You may be able to reach women in his circle who are vulnerable, and the friends who enable him because they don't know the truth. So in the absence of real closure coming from him, which you are sadly unlikely to get, you can give yourself closure by deciding on what you want to do to satisfy your need for justice.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:47 PM on September 23, 2021

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