We invest so much into our relationships. Even toxic ones. We give and give of ourselves, we sacrifice our wants and needs for another person. We give them the shirts off our backs, and then we realize they are only taking our love and giving us poison in return. This is what makes the relationship toxic.
It then becomes a choice between our own sanity or maintaining the insanity of the relationship. The home we live in and having to sleep on someone’s couch. Staying put or moving cross-country. Familiarity or the Great Unknown. Financial security or scraping by. Waiting around to be acknowledged for all we are and all we’ve done or acknowledging ourselves and expecting nothing in return but our own freedom.
Whether it’s a narcissistic mother, father, spouse, sibling, in-law, or long-time friend, there will come a time when it is necessary to wash our hands of them and walk away from our investments. The toxic dynamic isn’t just hurting ourselves, it’s permeating throughout all other areas and affecting every aspect. It is stealing from the world around us by sucking the life-force out of us and keeping us from fulfilling our purpose. Once we make the choice to let go of a toxic relationship, it becomes easier to make that choice every time we are called on to do so.
An Evolution of Walking Away from Narcissists
The first time I made a decision to walk away from a toxic relationship was when I went no contact with my mother. My very first human connection was also my very first conscious disconnection. It was a big one, a painful one, and a controversial one but it was the one in which I had the most intimate and intricate knowledge of how deep and real the toxicity was. It had poisoned my life for thirty-three years. It had nearly destroyed my health, self-worth, and my sanity.
I was in therapy and self-educating about the full spectrum of narcissistic personality disorders when I realized my mother was a malignant narcissist and would never be capable of self-awareness or change. She confirmed it when in our last conversation ever, I said I would be willing to work out our differences in the presence of a counselor and she screamed, “THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN!” At which point, I had to make a change for myself, my sanity, and my health. I left behind the story of my life. The story that had defined who I was and where I belonged in the world. I left behind the codependent dynamic that would have been a kind of safety net for me in bad times and way of sharing life in the good times. I walked away from any legacy, inheritance, or sense of belonging. I left behind my father and my sister. I walked away from my future children’s grandparents and any hope of being unconditionally loved by a mother and father. It was the best decision I ever made. It caused me to have the space in my head to focus on my marriage which had been tumultuous, to say the least, for all of its three years.
About a year later, I walked away from my marriage. With my therapist, I was able to connect all the ways in which I was drawn to my ex-husband because of his similarities to my mother and father who are both narcissists. I started to understand that my ex-husband’s behavior was triggering my Complex-PTSD symptoms. With every panic attack that caused me to feel like I was losing my mind, I sought answers to what was wrong with me.
By separating from my husband and physically getting away from the toxicity, I realized that, indeed, I was not going insane, my relationship was a crazy-making one, and that my husband was emotionally and psychologically abusive. I made a choice for my own good, for his good, and for the good of his two children to not be a part of the abusive crazy-making any longer. Rather than dragging my husband to therapy and trying to get him to change, I decided to change myself, my location, and my marital status.
As empaths, we can become so focused on reading the other person, that we don’t have any space to be present in our own bodies. When I was able to look inward and sense what I needed, a plan of action became much more clear. I left behind my home, career, a joint bank account, and my life partner with the clothes on my back, the debt I had incurred while supporting him, and my rusted out Chevy Malibu. I borrowed money from a friend to put a deposit down on a rental, and took nothing of my ex-husband’s except his name.
I spent some time out of town, visiting family, and traveling. I started to engage situations in which I felt used or manipulated with a better sense of self. Rather than acquiescing without question or flying off the handle, I started to think, “What is my boundary here? What are my choices as an autonomous human being?” I began to feel less pulled around by my nose, as I had my entire life, and more in control of my feelings, my life, and my choices. It wasn’t my job to tell someone they were overstepping their bounds, it was my job to maintain my own boundaries.
With this newfound sense of self, I came home to file for divorce and move back in with my former roommate. I had been living with her when I got engaged to my ex-husband. I walked back into her house five years later a completely different person than the one who had left. Since I had gotten married, emancipated from my parents, and divorced, I had a stronger sense of myself and a very low tolerance for toxic people. I had become a badass (only in the sense that I wasn’t a complete pushover any longer).
I had been living there about a week, and, in that time, my former roommate tried to gaslight and control me by using manipulation, lying, nitpicking and threats. It quickly dawned on me that our entire relationship had been built on this toxic dynamic. I hadn’t noticed it before, not like this. I knew she was bossy and demanding and left nitpicky post-it notes everywhere, but I didn’t realize that our relationship had only worked because I would jump when she said, “Jump.”
I had become impervious to her narcissism, and this agitated her. By simply maintaining my personal boundaries for a week, she suddenly flew into a narcissistic rage, threw all of my belongings outside and changed the locks while I was away from home. She sent a text telling me what she had done without any explanation as to why. The cops who escorted me into her house stated that I had several grounds on which to sue. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “She isn’t worth it,” and walked out.
Toxic people are not worth the energy and resources it would take to get back what they take from us. Whether it’s physical, emotional, or financial, the less contact with a narcissist, the better. Leaving behind the things and emotions that tied us to the narcissist makes room for things of great value; a sense of self-worth, the capacity for real love, and the room to pursue our true passions. Life without a toxic person or the things we left in the past with them is so much more enriching than anything we could have retained.
It’s All About Boundaries
As Adult Children of Narcissists, we never had a chance to develop personal boundaries. I used to tell my therapist, “It’s like I have a sign on my forehead that says, ‘Walk all over me.’” In a way, I did. The fences around my lawn had been removed years before, leaving holes where fence posts should have been, and the muddy footprints from the trampled sod were an open invitation to any and all narcissistic personalities I came in contact with. It isn’t that we are asking to be abused, our lack of boundaries just lets anyone who doesn’t believe in boundaries wander in where other people have deterrents that aren’t worth the narcissist’s trouble.
When we first start placing our boundaries, we’re having to work hard to figure out who’s been trampling our lawns and how to shoo them away when they nonchalantly start climbing the fence to come back in. It may be difficult to fully recognize emotional and psychological abuse as abuse. Once we start making connections and being present in our feelings, it’s like finding clues to whose footprints have done the most damage in our lives. We can then recognize who to enforce those boundaries we are building with, and understand how much energy will need to go into maintaining them Many times, with a narcissist, it will mean packing up and moving to a new homestead altogether.
Hope of Healing
I hope we all find a peaceful place to land in order to heal from our pain. Healing is within our grasp, we only need to take action. Leave the lions, join the empathic herd, and run, gazelle, run to a bigger, brighter future full of love, peace, and happiness.
How have you set boundaries with the narcissist in your life?