“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
I have always been a hopeless romantic and I have always believed in love. Not just love, but particularly in the redeeming power of love. I don’t believe love should ever be used to move you from a place of hurt and through a journey of healing; that work is important enough and hard enough that it has to be done on its own. You have to feel all the feelings in order to be whole and to eventually be ready for the next great adventure. You have to grieve, rage, cry, and sometimes, just be.
But my belief in love- my overly optimistic, romantic, fall hard and fall fast style – it was wrecked. Gutted. I’m talking completely and totally shattered. For days and weeks and months and then nearly a year, I promised myself that I would never fall victim of love. I’d never trust again. I’d never hope again. I’d never let my heart be terrorized again.
If you’ve heard me tell my story before, you may have heard me recount how I was sitting in a local coffee shop in Pittsburgh in the midst of the worst part of my divorce proceedings with my ex and a pastor from our church. It was a particularly horrible few days. Over the course of an hour of back and forth conversation and begging and pleading and a lot of frustration, our pastor said “Krista, you are a terrible God. Just let Him do his job.” It was the singular most defining moment in my codependency recovery and a phrase I repeatedly come back to when I catch myself falling back into old habits.
I eventually turned over whether I was ever to love again to God, too, although it took a little longer. I simply decided that I would let God make the decisions, since it turns out I wasn’t so great at it. And that applied to this area of my life as well – if he wanted that for me, for me to just be content with the kids and not share my life with someone, then I would accept that. I would be thrilled to accept that. But if he had other plans, I’d need to prepare myself for that too. And this post shares some of the things I’ve learned about loving after narcissistic abuse as I’ve prepared my mind and my heart for that possibility. At least what I’ve learned through books; I’ve not had the personal experience to back it up. Yet.
Learning to love after narcissistic abuse is incredibly difficult. There’s not a right way to do it, per se, but definitely a bunch of wrong ways. And when you suffer from this type of abuse, you may be particularly inclined to connect with someone again as your relationship with the narcissist is void of emotional intimacy.
Friends, I’m diving into the waters and dating again for the first time since getting divorced, which feels pretty wild to say as this was the furthest thing from my mind. I should note that my healing journey isn’t over. While I’ve been working it hard for over three years, and particularly the last two, but I have lots of work ahead of me that I’ll continue. But I am happy to say that someone has unexpectedly captured my heart and has been patient with me as I tread these waters.
A few weeks ago I wrote about learning to trust again, and I thought that, in light of my new venture back into love, that I’d follow that up with a post about learning to love again.
Getting To Know… Me (Continued)
The first step in my post Trusting Again fell under the same header, and that’s because it is insanely important. You have to know who you are first and foremost- what makes you tick, what makes you happy, what sets you off, what makes you irrational, what makes you emotional, what parts of you caused you to relate in such an unhealthy way in the past. You have to know this so the pattern doesn’t repeat itself; unfortunate as it may be, statistically you are much more likely to be the victim of narcissistic abuse after having already been one.
You have to learn and understand who safe and unsafe people are. You have to figure out what things are important to you. You have to be so versed in the language of narcissism and codependency that it’s second nature and you can recite it to anyone and everyone, because one of the most devastating parts of having loved a narcissist is that their ghost stays around much longer than the relationship.
Knowing yourself is a critical first step to loving again.
You may never get the mountain of “I’m sorrys” that you so rightly deserve. That is outside of your control. However, squarely within your power is the ability to accept yourself. That means accepting that you are not the trauma you suffered. You are not the crazy person you were made out to be. You are not the damage that was brought onto you, nor do you bear the responsibility for the way he acted. You are not responsible for the destruction he wrecked in his own life, and you sure as hell are not going to let them win by continuing to pay the price in every future relationship you enter.
Critical to loving again is accepting you as a beautifully broken but entirely worthy and whole person. Of course, it takes a lot of work to get back to that. But you’ve been doing the work. You can get there. You simply need to accept yourself as the next step in your healing journey.
When you fall in love with a narcissist, you have two main things in common- 1) you are both in love with the narcissist, and 2) neither of you love you. You need to learn to love you.
At first glance, loving yourself could easily be conflated with accepting yourself, but they are different in critically meaningful ways. Loving yourself goes farther. It means more than simply acknowledging who you are. It means choosing to honor yourself, choosing to make yourself a priority.
It means actively working to demonstrate the same kind of care and concern for yourself as you did the narcissist. It means setting boundaries and understanding your limits and enforcing them. It means discipline and accountability, whether through yourself or through people God places there to help you with this task. This can be especially difficult for empaths and codependents.
And it’s going to be really hard. It’s going to be hard to look at your reflection in the mirror- someone that you may not even recognize anymore. But don’t look at your reflection with disbelief of the person you used to be. Don’t look at your reflection with disdain or disgust. Raise your head proudly, and look at the person staring back with admiration because it takes a very strong woman to love a narcissist.
And you know what? It takes an even stronger woman to walk away. So find a way to love the fierce warrior that you are, because you are worthy.
Other Healthy Relationships
Often times people that have been in abusive relationships will step out and look back years later and recognize other unhealthy relationships in their life. Whether foundational in nature or tangential to the narcissist with whom you were in a relationship with, there are usually patterns in how one relates. Taking note of those and working to change them, if possible, will help transform them into healthy relationships. Having healthy relationships with others is one of the best ways to set yourself up for healthy romantic relationships in the future.
A Personal Note
I very much plan on continuing to share my recovery journey with you all for as long as you all are interested in reading, and I hope to be able to reach more of you as I add in my experience with love after narcissistic abuse. I hope you’ll stick around for it.
To start, I wanted to tell you a few things I’ve learned over the last number of weeks as I’ve contemplated what entering a relationship meant for me right now:
It takes a very special man to show you what you never deserved. It takes a man with an incredible level of security and self-awareness to meet your doubt with confidence and your fear with assurance. It takes an honorable man to regularly remind you what you are to him and that he values your time and attention. It takes a strong man to know the very worst parts of you and love you more because of them, not in spite of them. It takes someone that is willing to earn every single ounce of trust you give him, and respects the pace you set.
I don’t know what will be for this relationship, as the mountain of logistical hurdles that this working out would entail is as high as the Alps, but I do know that with a foundation of 26 years of friendship and 2 decades of loving each other, wherever we end up will be fine. My heart is safe and so am I, and that’s something I haven’t been able to say in a very long time.
Plus we’re cute and stuff.