Last night I had the same dream twice, one after the other, only waking briefly in between.
In my dream, I was trapped and hiding inside my ex-girlfriend’s house, terrified she would find me. When she did, I responded by beginning to tidy her house to try to placate her. When that didn’t work, I tried to call my kids to tell them we had to leave. I kept calling them and eventually had to pull them away from playing with her kids so that we could go home. I remember her saying, “OK kids, we will spend the day together tomorrow so that you can play some more.”
I felt the familiar panic begin to rise, but unlike when we were actually together, I said, “Oh… actually we have plans with my mom tomorrow.” She looked at me, then turned to her kids and said, “Right twins! Obviously we have to make our own plans for tomorrow because Natascha can’t be bothered to put us first.”
Then I left with my kids, and that’s when I woke up.
My ex was an abusive narcissist, and the infantile pettiness I revisited in my dream was only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg as far as her abuse was concerned. During the 18 months I spent with her, I was viciously and relentlessly bullied. I was overruled, belittled, ignored, manipulated, alienated from my family and friends, lied to, cheated on and abused. She was a compulsive liar, even about the little things. She checked my phone, projected her own bad behavior onto me, gaslit me and made innumerable unreasonable requests, such as expecting me to look after and walk her dog and clean and tidy her house every single day, which involved the washing, drying and putting away of all laundry, defrosting fridges, making the beds for her and her children, tidying away toys, putting away the grocery shopping and if I wasn’t at her house at the exact time she wanted me there, she would tell me to go home, because I wasn’t putting her first. She expected me to put her wants and needs above the needs of myself and my children, and if I didn’t, she would give me the silent treatment.
Getting Out Was the First Step
When I talk to people about what I went through, their first question is often, “But why did you stay/why did you let her treat you like that?” There are two answers to this question; the first and most overpowering reason? Fear. I was afraid of what revenge she might seek if I left because she was well-versed in deception and renowned for her ability to deceive and convince others that she was the victim.
The second was that from the very beginning of our relationship I was unknowingly and gradually brainwashed, gaslit, bullied and manipulated. I was dead before I realized I was dying. It can be so easy to be taken in, and someone who is abusive will destroy your life and then make you feel as though it’s all your fault, and you are letting them down.
It took me a long time to gather the strength and bravery to leave, but the moment I did I felt relief. All of a sudden I realized she couldn’t touch me anymore! I was free, and I was OK! Whoever she spread her lies to, it didn’t matter. I had my family, my friends, but most importantly, I had rediscovered myself.
Now I have a fantastic therapist who is helping me recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) bought on from dealing with narcissistic abuse. I am healing, and I live happily in a quiet, peaceful town with my children and my wife, and even though I still sometimes have nightmares, these dreams, like last night, remind me that I was brave enough to leave.
The Second Step Is Healing
If you’re trying to heal after an abusive relationship, it can help to find a therapist to talk to. Take your time to decide on the right one for you. Test a few out, and try not to worry if it takes a few attempts to find the right one. It’s important that you feel comfortable.
When you begin revisiting and processing the trauma you may experience moments of dissociation, anxiety, panic, etc. It’s important to work on how to ground yourself alongside your trauma recovery process. This might mean practicing breathing tips, saying your feelings out loud, writing them down, being held by somebody you trust, walking or going outside in your yard barefoot, touching trees or holding a favorite stone or shell (a technique my therapist uses). As soon as you feel the first tell-tale signs of anxiety, panic or a panic attack, utilize these tools to help calm yourself down.
If you can, cut all contact with the person who abused you. If you absolutely have to maintain contact, or you are negotiating with an ex-partner about childcare, use a mediation service so that you are not dealing directly with the person who hurt you.
Join survival groups on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or other social media sites. Please bear in mind, however, that involving yourself in these groups, seeing the posts and reading other people’s stories could, for some people, be more triggering than helpful.
Process your trauma at your own rate. Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist to slow down, to pause or to tell them that you are struggling.
Consider downloading an emotional health assistant app like Youper, writing in a journal (or a dream journal if you are experiencing nightmares) or creating a safe space at home for you to help keep yourself on track outside of therapy. YouTube therapist Katie Morton has a great video on what it’s like to be in a relationship with a narcissist, and how journaling could help aid recovery. Most importantly, never forget healing after this kind of relationship is possible. You don’t have to do it alone.