I had a great conversation with my internet friend Jenny Elliott from Career Mom Podcast(episode forthcoming- will share once it’s live) on Wednesday night, and among other things, we reflected on finding our identities again after becoming moms. She also challenged me with what I thought was an incredibly poignant question – how did I manage finding my “mom identity” during and after narcissistic abuse?
I am not even sure how I answered her question – guess we’ll have to wait to hear how the podcast turns out – but it’s something that has had me thinking a lot since our discussion.
Identity After Abuse
Recovering your identity after any type of abusive relationship is very difficult. Learning to trust again, not just others but yourself, is a tall order. Learning to love again, not just others but yourself, might be even taller.
Even without entering motherhood or exiting an abusive relationship, I know many people that don’t actively create their identities. They form opinions, take jobs, attend classes, associate with others… and all of this passively forms their identity. They build dreams. They have hopes. They travel and plan. Their identity just kind of… happens.
So whether you are a new mom, or recently exited an abusive relationship, or heck- are just human that hasn’t given a lot of thought to what your identity is, relationship or not… a global pandemic isn’t a bad time to think about who you are, what you believe, and what lights the fire in your soul.
My tips below focus on identity following abuse, but some of them can be applied to finding and forming an identity generally.
-Surround yourself with the people you pushed away during the narcissistic abuse. One of the most heartbreaking parts of choosing my narcissist was the friendships that I lost. I lost three best friends, a few cousins, two very close friends, and even my father at some point because of my choices. Some I pushed away, others made the choice. When you are free, go back to them. You don’t need to apologize for your choice, you just need to bring them back (assuming the relationship is otherwise healthy) or bring back those that you feel know who you are/were to begin with. Reconnect with people that make your soul happy.
-Set boundaries and enforce them. I would love to tell you I have this one all figured out, but the truth is I don’t. My biggest work right now is on understanding where the line of a boundary starts and ends and juxtaposing that with where recklessness starts and ends. I hope to write more as I continue this work. Nonetheless, I know that this is a critical step, I just haven’t mastered it yet.
-Live life on your own terms. The narcissist told you lots of things that weren’t true, including the many things that you couldn’t do. Do them all. Do the things you thought were no longer possible. Do the things that make you happy.
-Guard the doorway to your life with armor. Make sure that everything you let in is growing you, not slowing you. People. Activities. Jobs. Relationships. Thoughts. You are the guard and the wall and the moat and you have to protect the treasure that is in your castle- YOU!
Understanding The Narcissist’s Lack of Identity
It may also be helpful for you to try to understand the narcissist’s lack of identity. Full disclosure: if you think you spent enough time on the narcissist, that’s okay too. But if you’re like me and you operate best with as much information as possible, consider taking this path of exploration, too.
Have you seen the Disney movie Moana? I’m a parent of three kids under 4, we’ve seen it a LOT. I can recite most of it, I’m sure, although we’ve been on a two month Moana hiatus lately as we’ve spent more time on PBS Kids’ Word World and Dinosaur Train. Anyways — the character Maui, “demigod of the wind and sea,” is described as a shapeshifter. A shapeshifter is someone that can change their physical form at will. Maua shapeshifts from his larger than life self to a shark, an insect, an iguana, and a hawk, off the top of my head.
A narcissist is like a shapeshifter. They change their emotions, thoughts, feelings, words and personality depending on who they are trying to manipulate at any given time. I coined this term with my therapist years ago as the “magnet” personality. They become whatever is convenient for them to be depending on who they are around. Their sense of self is extremely surface level. By engaging with a narcissist, your identity becomes wrapped in theirs. When the narcissist is gone from your life, you don’t know who you are. That explains the rug being pulled from under you feeling that happens following narcissistic abuse.
How To Know If You’re Losing Your Identity
–You’ve Hit a Wall. When you feel like your life is standing still or you’re on a hamster wheel constantly running but not going anywhere, you’re probably on the way to losing yourself. Take note.
-You’re Unsure What To Do When You’re Alone. The Narc is controlling, even in ways where they make you think they are not. If you’re finding you don’t know what to do when they’re not around or controlling your time, if that ever happens, then you may be at risk of losing yourself.
–They Are Always Dominating Your Thoughts and Actions (not in a cute way). The narc is always needy. The narc is always needing you to do something for them that they should be able to do for themselves (this is called caretaking). The narc is always needing saved from the latest destructive thing they’ve done or needing you to plan how to rebound them from the next thing they will do (this is called rescuing).
–You Have a Hard Time Focusing. One of the biggest signs for me is when my mind couldn’t seem to focus on anything that didn’t involve the narcissist. I was constantly worrying about him, praying for him, begging God for him, concerned about him… that it interfered with everything else I needed to do on any given day.
-You Have Low Energy. Because the narcissist is an energy vampire, because they suck all the emotional and mental strength you have right out of your soul, you are tired. You are weary. Sometimes you are delirious. Even when you get a full night’s sleep. Even when you should feel rested.
I don’t know who needs to see this right now, but the you that is fading away slowly, the you that is lost, is worth fighting for and getting back. I have been on a mission in 2020 to be my most authentic self, and that means knowing who the heck I am or who I want to be and wholeheartedly, unapologetically embracing that.
You are worth it. Don’t stop fighting for the person they took away.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you lost yourself within a relationship, even one that wasn’t abusive?