The Contortions of Time When We Heal from Narcissistic Relationships

By: Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Founder & CEO, LUNA Education, Training, & Consulting, MedCircle Doctor

Enough of you have seen me talking about narcissistic relationships on MedCircle that you get the general sense of it – short answer is that these relationships are not good for us.  These are relationships which are asymmetric and the low empathy, entitlement, arrogance, excessive need for validation and admiration, self-centeredness, manipulation, gaslighting, invalidation, rage, betrayal, and neglect take a real toll on people in them. And this happens across many different kinds of relationships – parents, partners and spouses, other family members, friends, colleagues, bosses.  The impact on people is consistent – rumination, regret, confusion, self-blame, self-doubt, loss of trust, anxiety, sadness, grief, hypervigilance, self-monitoring, physical health impacts.  Again, none of this is good. 

Is healing possible after or even while you experience one of these relationships?  Absolutely.  However, it can vary – more severe narcissistic abuse, that has lasted for a longer period of time may take longer to heal from than relationships which may have been briefer, or the abuse was milder – but either way it takes time.   Therapy is often important in this process, but it is essential that a person has a therapist who is not only trauma informed but also what I term “antagonism-informed” meaning that they understand how narcissistic relationships operate and impact people, and the essential steps a person has to go through and take to heal and work toward individuation, autonomy, and authenticity. 

But time can feel very confusing in these relationships – some people will say I was in the relationship for 3 years, but I felt I spent another 4 years healing – there is a distorted time math – these relationships hijack and overwhelm us, we lose our sense of self, identity, and we stop trusting our instincts and even our memory and experience.   If this was a parental relationship and THEN you get into an adult relationship with a narcissistic person it can feel like a multiplying effect, and then the work of excavating yourself becomes complicated by never really having the opportunity to figure out who YOU really are in the first place.  Children raised by narcissistic parents are given the clear message that the narcissistic parent’s needs take primacy and any manifestation of the child’s sense of self separate from the parent will not be tolerated – developing your own identity would then be unsafe and viewed as an act of anarchy (and punished accordingly!)

Narcissistic relationships have two calendars or timers attached to them – the time you were actually in the relationship, and then the time you spend healing – and it isn’t unusual for the healing clock to take longer.  That doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.  Disentangling ourselves from the false narratives, the manipulations, the labeling of our needs, wants, and hopes as selfish, all takes time.  It can take months to figure out what you want on your pizza or what time you like to go to sleep or your core values as you slowly take yourself back from the control and one-sidedness of these relationships – it’s not as simple as they want pepperoni on their pizza, they leave you believing that you do as well.  

And what about those of us who can’t step away from all of these relationships, we may not be able to break up with a parent, or you still have minor children and don’t want to endure the rigors of family court – is healing still possible?  Yes, but it looks and feels different.  Healing when you stay is more about workarounds, managing expectations, radical acceptance, having spaces where you are supported such as friendships and healthy, mutual relationships, and pursuing activities that are meaningful and purposeful.  It means disengagement, and working through the grief that may often pop up as you cope with the relationship.

When we lose ourselves and are in subjugated relationships, time gets distorted as well, and healing takes as long as it takes.  However, this is the reason that even a relatively short relationship, for example a year, with a narcissistic person, can feel like it goes on for years, because frankly, when you tack on the healing time – it does. 

My new book It’s Not You: Identifying and Healing from Narcissistic People is a manual for healing that recognizes that everyone’s story of a narcissistic relationship, no matter how similar it is, still results in very different healing processes and it takes as long as it takes.  Please check it out!! 

MedCircle Is Trusted By Millions Of Happy Members & Doctors Alike

1.5M+

Subscribers

153M+

Video Views

4.8

Apple App Store

4.7

Google Play Store

Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You May Also Like…

Signs of Covert Narcissism

Signs of Covert Narcissism

When people think about narcissism, they often imagine the grandiose behavior and outward attempts to be in the spotlight. The patterns are easily observable, and they can be frustrating for others...

Do I Have BPD?

Do I Have BPD?

Living with Borderline Personality Disorder It’s estimated that about 1.6% of people in the general population have borderline personality disorder (BPD), though this number skews much higher in...

Join Our Newsletter!

Stay up to date on latest article, free
resources, workshop invites, and more!