9 minute read
If you are in the process of awakening to the reality of narcissistic abuse, you will get to the point of thinking ‘I must break free’. And right off the back of that, the next thought will be ‘but how’??? This question can keep you entangled for years. Don’t let it gorgeous one. Understand that this is all about how the narcissist controls you through fear.
In this piece you will find the answer to getting past your fear and leaving the narcissist.
Let’s be real. When you begin unravelling the tangled web the narcissist weaves, there won’t be one or two obstacles to setting yourself free. There will be many.
The focus of this article is what surfaces once you start thinking of possible obstacles: fear. Big, fat, ugly, suffocating fear. Let’s check out why the narcissist controls you through fear, and what to do about it to set yourself free.
Read on gorgeous one.
What drives the narcissist’s compulsion to manipulate and control you
The pathological narcissist is disordered. As you will know by now, this plays out in a bunch of maladaptive behaviours, traits and beliefs. Entitlement, superiority, envy, omnipotence, grandiosity, insatiable hunger for attention, exploitative relationships…to name but a few (for the full list check out Glossary and DMS-V definition).
All of this is a façade. In the sense that pathological narcissists have fabricated a false-self constructed of these beliefs which plays out in the behaviours. They need the false-self to deny the reality of their real-selves which is fragile, weak, flawed and out of control.
To maintain this fantasy world, they need supply. This being the hits of validation that their beliefs about their false-selves are reality rather than make believe.
The addiction to confirming that their belief system is factual can never be satisfied because it is rooted in their psychological survival.
Hence why they will roll out every trick in the book to get those hits of validation by manipulating and controlling you.
How manipulation and control show up in idealisation and devaluation
Let’s zoom in to the cycle of narcissistic abuse to illustrate how it works.
During idealisation you are manipulated into handing over positive supply through love bombing. By virtue of believing you are in love, you naturally mirror back the adoration they shower you with.
At the same time, the foundations to control you are also being built. Through love bombing your addiction to the pathological narcissist starts up, which is then exploited later in trauma bonding to fortify control further (for more on trauma bonding Why is it so hard to leave an abusive relationship with a narcissist & Why narcissistic abuse and trauma bonding is so powerful for codependents ).
When you devaluation sets in, the narc changes the focus of their manipulation.
By this stage, you will have at some stage faltered in your job of feeding constant positive supply. And the reaction this causes for the narc incites moments when they glimpse their own ugliness.
In an attempt to reverse the internal chaos this causes for them; the manipulation becomes 100% about control.
Because if they can control you into handing over supply whether positive or negative in a way that reinforces those beliefs about their false-selves, then they feel safe (for more on positive and negative supply read How to starve the narcissist of supply).
Why the narcissist controls you through fear
This leads us to one of the biggest reasons you feel stuck in the relationship with the narc, despite the urgency of that thought ‘I must break free’.
We’re going to set aside the concepts of positive supply, your addiction to the narc and trauma bonding in this piece (these are also significant though, so please do read up on these in the articles linked above on trauma bonding, as well as When hope is killing you: Narcissistic abuse).
This is about negative supply, and the cost of this to you.
I hardly need to tell you gorgeous one that negative supply is 95% of the devaluation phase of the cycle of narcissistic abuse. It is the psychological, emotional, mental and frequently also physical and sexual abuse you endure.
It is therefore unsurprising that as the target of this horror, you experience resistance (as well as a multitude of other psychological reactions and injuries).
This is problematic for the narc as it is diametrically opposed to the reinforcement they demand of you. After all, if they were truly beyond reproach, better than all others, all powerful, blah blah blah, – what’s to resist, right?
You reacting in this way is a threat to them of experiencing a narcissistic injury (for more on this see What happens when the narcissist knows you’ve figured them out). And this MUST be avoided at all costs.
This is how it plays out…as the narc’s abuse increases, so too does your resistance. Aware that this is what’s happening within you, they escalate further their attempts to control you (whether directly or indirectly by manipulating your environment and other relationships) to get those hits of supply.
You come to realise that if you do not comply, you will pay dearly.
So, you submit.
Despite not wanting to. Despite the harm it causes you. Despite hearing that little voice inside you begging you to resist.
And you do it gorgeous one, because you are fearful of what might happen if you don’t.
You are in effect surviving a fear constructed existence borne out of their manipulation and control.
Fear of what might happen
To be frank there is a lot to be fearful of. The abuse is horrendous…which leads me back to that thought ‘I must break free’.
Because of the programming you’ve experienced to submit to the narcissist, you know what you are up against. And this when your mind turns to ‘but how’???
As you begin to explore how you can make your freedom a reality, you seek practical steps to make it happen. And with every step identified, so is a corresponding fear based on your knowledge of just what the pathological narcissist is capable of.
Common fears faced are:
- Loss of family, including children; friends; and employment from the narcissist’s smear campaigns
- Financial hardship arising from the narcissist’s work in isolating you from employment and from joint bank accounts
- Homelessness as a consequence of the previous point
- Escalated violence
- Buy-in to the lies that you are incapable of standing alone without them
The list goes on.
These are without a doubt, significant and SCARY as hell. Engulfing, paralysing fear sets in. And based on what you know, entirely possible, perhaps even likely.
Simultaneously you know you need to break free, quite literally to save yourself.
It is one hell of an internal pressure cooker.
What tends to happen is this.
You struggle with the cognitive dissonance of wrestling this seemingly intractable problem (see Glossary for technical term refreshers).
It is entirely overwhelming. And because you can’t logically determine a way to eradicate the possible challenges, you turn to yourself and try to adjust the urgency of the need to escape.
This too proves a pickle to eliminate…which takes you to ‘I must first become strong and courageous. I must first overcome the fear. THEN I can set myself free’.
Dear one, this can keep you stuck for years. Do NOT let it.
Getting past your fear and leaving the narcissist
Tackling the belief: ‘I must first become strong and courageous. I must first overcome the fear’, is the key to leaving the narcissist.
Let’s unpack this…
1. Dealing with the challenges practically
Gorgeous one, I urge you to reach out for help in developing a safety plan with trained professionals to sort out how to mitigate possible scenarios. You don’t need to do this alone*.
2. Dealing with ‘overcoming fear’
This is the thing to confront. Focus your sweet self here.
All of us feel the fear. Because it is real. This is the abuse in action. Remember: the narcissist controls you through fear.
Some more real talk gorgeous one.
Striving to get to the point where you have overcome your fear is futile. It will not happen.
There will be costs to setting yourself free.
Accept this and let it go.
You have no choice in this. This is beyond your control.
What is within your control is your life and the choice you must make to take the costs of leaving vs. the greater ones of staying.
You must choose to either continue living with the narcissist knowing that the abuse escalates, and consequently so too does the harm done to you, with your fear intensifying proportionally.
Or, walk straight through the fear towards a life that will be fear free in the longer term.
It will be scary as hell.
There will not be one thing about walking through the fear and out the door, that will be easy in the short term.
But walking through that fear is the only way out.
3. Dealing with ‘becoming strong & courageous’
Set yourself free. Do it now. It will never become easier. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes because of that cycle of upping stakes and deepening fear.
You’ve got to bite the bullet.
And here is the secret. The moment you make the decision to save yourself knowing the fear cannot be overcome, strength and courage comes.
The sheer act of deciding and committing 100% to saving yourself…no matter what…knowing it’s going be the hardest thing you have ever done…infuses you with strength and courage.
Because you are finally returning to your true-self. By hearing your urgency to set yourself free. By taking action for yourself. By backing yourself.
It is the first true act of healing.
Making it happen
Hold tight to your decision to save yourself.
Use these anchors when touchstones of truth are needed:
- Remember what has led you to this point. All the horror you have SURVIVED. Because of your strength. Because of your courage. You, gorgeous one, are a warrior.
- Remember that the very fact you have survived, is proof you will survive and surmount all the obstacles that will come your way.
- Remember that the obstacles that will arise will not compare to those you are currently facing on a daily basis.
- Remember that alongside your strength and courage, an element of fear will walk with you because it won’t begin to leave until you do.
There’s another secret afoot…
As you smash every barrier and hardship that rises up on your mission to set yourself free, you will realise how very fearless you are becoming.
This is what you have to look forward to. A freedom like you’ve never previously known.
‘The only way out is through’. Make this your mantra gorgeous one.
You’ve got this. Now get to it. Set yourself free.
For more tools & knowledge building pieces on the issues in this article read:
- Proof the narcissist abuses you intentionally and will never change
- Emotionally unhook yourself & starve the narcissist of supply: Here’s how
- Stop feeling sorry for the narcissist now
- Invalidation and narcissism: Why they slowly erase you
- Narcissistic Invalidation: How to stop them erasing you
- How No Contact supports narcissistic abuse recovery
- Blueprint for recovery from narcissistic abuse
- Personal Bill of Rights for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
As always, please share your thoughts, experiences, and insights on the issues in this article in the comments below. The more we share, the more we teach & help one another in reclaiming our freedom.
*If you need support in preparing to leave, reach out to your local domestic violence service providers or call your national domestic violence hotline for referrals and develop a safety plan.
For support with self-harm or suicidality, please contact your local suicide prevention service. For services near you please refer to the resources provided by the International Association for Suicide Prevention.
If at any point you fear that you or anyone else is in imminent danger, contact emergency services immediately.
Thank you for writing this very informative post. I think the secret to breaking free is understanding how narcissists operate and why they do so. That’s the way I managed to untangle myself from him.
Dear pascaleshealingjourney, such great points. Thank you for sharing. With gratitude, Maggie x
thanks for a great post. little did i realize that my devaluation has been on-going for over 2 decades. it was VERY subtle at first, like trying to cut an oak tree with a razor and it has intensified in the later years.
getting over the fear and just doing it is absolutely right, but sometimes, the kids become casualties and that’s something that needs to be balanced out. very difficult decisions, indeed!
Dear pan fried. What an apt analogy ‘like trying to cut an oak tree with a razor’, this is precisely what it is like! I also completely agree regarding the difficulty of decisions, and the importance of striving to do one’s best when children are involved. The interests of children must be paramount. The course of a childhood to a significant degree, shapes the course of a life. Where narcissistic abuse is concerned, this is particularly pertinent. A balanced decision it must indeed be. What will offer the best opportunity for healing for children involved? Narcissistic Personality Disorder exists on a spectrum, and can of course be milder than it is for others. Where it lies at the other end of the spectrum, where abuse is a constant, balancing harm from staying versus leaving must be confronted. As you so rightly note, balancing all considerations for children involved is necessary. pan fried, I hope the heat under your pan dissipates, ideally extinguishes. After two decades, some fridge time is well deserved. Sending you much light & love. Maggie x
Thanks a lot for the support and the explanations you offer too…i’m a psychologist and i think what you wrote here is absolutely useful and real and practical in order to help anyone…great. Well done.
Thank you Sarah for taking the time to leave your thoughts here. With gratitude, Maggie
The best writing on this underexposed trauma that I have read yet. Keep writing and freeing those of us that read and follow your words. After I am free I pray I will do the same.Thank you is not adequate in expressing my gratitude.