In the past few weeks, I’ve had the usual number of clients calling to express their rightful anger and outrage about the men in their families, their spouses, their bosses and our culture in general. Even if the person is familiar with the mental health world and the concept of a personality disorder, the idea of waking up and seeing, perhaps for the first time, the imbalance of power, the lack of kindness and blatant disrespect is overwhelming. Up until now, the treatment for recovering from relational trauma and abuse has been through traditional psychotherapy. It is a wonderful place to start but is not the totality of the journey.
I have a great deal of empathy for these clients. I have not only professionally studied abuse and trauma (with the amazing people at the Institute of Violence, Abuse and Trauma in San Diego and at Tulane Medical School) with an emphasis of working with narcissists and difficult personalities — I, like so many other mental health professionals, have lived through it. From narcissistic and abusive family members, to being sexually harassed in graduate school, to dealing with a toxic dating environment to having my heart and life torn apart by someone with narcissistic tendencies — I know first hand how long, hard and arduous the warrior journey is to full recovery. I also learned early on, that for me, psychotherapy was only the start and that the return to happiness and joy occurred elsewhere. At the end of the day, true recovery from narcissistic abuse requires us to soften and open our hearts again. It becomes the scariest and yet most empowering experience of your life.
Healing Stage 1: Identifying Narcissistic Abuse
Over the past few years it has become quite the buzz word in the mental health community to help people see that they may be “trauma bonding” or are currently involved in an abusive relationship. It makes sense. You are not awake. You have been taught to not rock the boat and to go along with the status quo. In severe cases, it is warranted to worry about your life. You feel alone, abandoned, and ashamed. If you are lucky, you end up in a therapist’s office who can give you a safe place to start grieving and learning.
I have seen very severe cases in my career. The last forensic psychological assessment I did was to identify an instance of Battered Person’s Syndrome following a very long history of narcissistic abuse. A well-educated woman had been so severely abused that it caused her whole life to fall apart and become homeless. He got the children in the divorce not necessarily because he was a fit parent but simply because she had been so beaten down that she no longer had a place to house her children. Not to mention the experience of trauma also starting triggering spiritual awakening symptoms that were labeled by opposing counsel’s expert as severe mental health issues. This is not an unusual case and we have only been open to discussing such toxicity as a culture recently. Shadows really do lurk and since 2016 we have been working actively to help educate everyone on what narcissistic abuse is. We’ve done such a good job we are now likely to see everything with this lens! What we have not done is educate you on that these relationships, for some of you, will be an opening to a spiritual journey you did not necessarily ask for.
Healing Stage 2: Grief, Anger, and Emotional Processing
Traditional psychotherapy is also a wonderful tool to begin the grief work associated with experiencing narcissistic abuse. Unfortunately, what I see start to happen is that the repressed anger starts to be acted outside of the therapist office and the rage is directed at the legal system (not without merit as many systems are not set up to truly deal with such situations). Unfortunately, maintaining some semblance of balance is often not possible and so the advice of counsel or the education in how to work with the system rather than against it, is not possible. This is where re-victimization occurs and the emotions run the show.
Most people do not leave stage 2. The anger and the rage, which again are appropriate and need to be experienced, find their ways into facebook groups and instagram posts that vehemently blame the narcissist for all the bad behavior. It fuels the righteousness and need for justice. And we all believe that we have to work that hard for change to occur. For some of us, advocacy will be our path to giving back after healing like Angela Rose of PAVE. For others of us, our contribution to the world will be different than advocacy and you may provide healing in other ways. Therapists without extensive trauma training often fall in the trap of supporting you in the angry and righteous phase for far too long and it is easy to find books, podcasts and other social media material to support your worldview. The reason this happens is that psychology as a discipline is largely disconnected from spirituality and the concept of an overall life path.
The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect. — Peter A. Levine
In order to progress to healing, one has to be willing to look inward and question whether this horrible experience will catapult you into the next chapter of your life.
Stage 3 of Healing: The Call to Step on Your Journey
If you are meant to be on a spiritual journey in this lifetime, an experience with narcissistic abuse may be the catalyst for your healing not only in this life but in past lives as well (if you believe in them). Our concept of spirituality is often relegated to our religious upbringing or a sitting under a tree or in a cave by yourself meditating. There has been very little discussion about another path toward enlightenment — it is the path of love and relationships.
All of us on on some kind of journey but most of us are not aware that the people we meet, the people who are in our families, the people at the office are all part of that journey. We sleepwalk through these connections until one day, usually because of a traumatic relationship experience, we realize we have had enough and step on the path of education, healing and learning.
It is usually in this place that real psychotherapy begins. It is also in this place, that if you are intuitive and insightful, you realize that psychotherapy may not be enough for you to recover. Most people need adjunctive healing work to deal with the body and help with the reconnection between the mind, the body and the soul.
For this reason, we often find people heading to yoga and meditation for the first time. The call to reconnect with the body is incredibly strong albeit often unconscious. We often do not know that we are being called in the direction of soul development and most do not believe they are being called into the direction of experiencing past life talents. We simply feel better after an intense yoga session. Sometimes we don’t need to know why we are drawn to a new hobby or activity, we simply need to keep showing up.
This stage really is the soul’s call to begin to remember who you really are.
Healing Stage 4: Dark Night of the Soul, Purging, Detox, Death, and Transformation
I think if people were really honest with everyone about how long it really takes to heal from significant trauma, people would be less hard on themselves. It is normal to believe that you have dealt with an issue only for it to come up on your spiritual journey for real processing. There are many stories of spiritual teachers in the self-help market that talk about the profound difficulties associated with the journey. Few, however, discuss the journey in the context of relationships. We are often taught that the spiritual journey is solo — and it is. Yet, some of us receive our life lessons and messages through our interactions with others. If narcissistic abuse is one of the things you need to heal, you have been on a path of learning your spiritual lessons in the context of relationships. Relational spirituality is the feminine’s way of healing and moving us toward the path of enlightenment.
Because of our lack of understanding of relational spirituality, we have only taught one way to reach enlightenment. It is a path that has not resonated with many people who are actually meant to enjoy love, relationships and family. We have done an extreme amount of damage to people, mostly women, who are supposed to bring the divine feminine energy of creativity, nurturing, and love to the world. If you are walking this path now — welcome. You are greatly needed to help give birth to a new world — you are just on the journey of giving birth to a new YOU first.
It is in this phase that you may meet a fated relationship to help you on your healing journey. Traditional therapists and many spiritual teachers will often tell you not to pursue relationships at this point. Yet, if you are on this version of the journey, this person is showing up to help with the healing and teaching process. They are giving you an opportunity to say, “no.” They are testing to see if you are ready to move forward and take what you have learned and put it in action. Very few people are able to get through this stage without the professional help of spiritual teachers, healers, energy workers, yoga instructors and meditation. Given our love of self-help and our cultural worshipping of independence, most people never leave this stage because they do not ask for help. Learning to ask for help is part of the path of healing through relational spirituality.
Healing Stage 5: Leaving the Therapists Office and Yoga Studio in Search of Connection and Healing the Heart
The path of healing through relational spirituality is a more intuitive and creative call. You can’t CBT your way to this point. In fact, by this point, your entire left brain has likely shut down leaving you confused and swimming in the dark for awhile. Your healing eventually means stepping outside of one’s safe place and interacting with others and then brining that wisdom back into their healing work. It is at this point that creativity and passion become vitally important. In order to heal and open the heart, your soul needs to find something not someone to love. It also needs to be pushed outside of its comfort zone.
For me, this took the form of social dancing and now takes the form of tango dancing. For many years, the idea of fully embracing a stranger was so difficult and I did not know why. I had completely dissociated my early childhood trauma. The body never forgets its trauma and so new things for healing come up when you start to interact with others in an intimate way. It was at this stage of my own healing journey that I found a tango instructor whose energy was conducive for me to feel safe enough to explore new connections and begin to put into use what I was learning in other aspects of my journey.
We forget that to fully come back to life, we need to have fun. The healing of trauma and PTSD does not need to be all doom and gloom. Your soul is usually trying to push you into activities that would be fun for a reason and yet we resist this part of the healing process in favor of seriousness thinking that only a doctor with certain credentials will “cure” us. Your heart will not open again until joy is re-experienced and so it is at this stage that it becomes important to focus on healing the heart.
I will never forget the day in my tango lesson when I finally felt my heart again. It is an amazing experience to truly wake up in the arms of a safe person and believe that your future has hope.
Healing Stage 6: How the Twinflame and the False Twin Help You Find Unconditional Love
And now the really hard work begins. At this point, you may feel better and have experienced joy. Your heart may be open and you believe it is time to find love again. The path of relational spirituality is not for the faint of heart. It is definitely much easier to leave it all behind to seek, find a cave and meditate by yourself. It is at this time that the Universe sends someone to wake you up further and start a final clearing process of any lingering trauma and pent up emotions. It is here that you do a deep dive into your familial and ancestor work as well. Anything that has lingered in this life and has not been transmuted from past lives will come out when you meet these people.
By this point, you’ve had a ton of karmic relationships. You didn’t know that Tinder and Hinge were setting you up with people who are really here to help you in your healing. Many of these people are likely to have been narcissistic or have some other issues. You may have met them and had an abusive relationship. Your twin or false twin will look like and possibly feel like someone you should fall in love with. And you will but their purpose is not about rainbows, babies and marriage. They are here to help you heal and then teach you about unconditional love.
Most of us think we already love universally if we have a mediation practice. I call bullshit on that. Just look at how divided our country is and think about the lack of unconditional love that permeates our world. The journey with your twin or false twin will rip apart anything you thought was true of the world and give you the opportunity to see everything in a new way. It will be where your ego dies if it hasn’t already.
Healing Stage 7: Awakening to the New You
At the end of this phase, you will feel like you have walked for 40 years through a desert devoid of the basic necessities. You will be worn out and exhausted from all the energetic changes in your mind and body. And when the time is right, because we are not fully in control, you may experience what it is like to awaken. When that moment arrives, your experience with the insignificant narcissist will make sense.
Not everyone is supposed to travel this far in their lifetime. You must follow your intuition and decide if this is where you are headed. You must be brave like a warrior and find the professionals you need to help you. You will need to walk away from people that do not align with where you are going. You will be forced to leave co-dependency and any other toxic relationship behaviors behind. And it will only be at this point that a true soulmate will appear to help teach you what truly divine love is. It is a gift to make it this far on the relational spirituality journey.
Just remember, when you do find that “happily ever after,” your next lessons will simply occur within the relationship. The spiritual journey never ends but the joy will grow!
Previously Published on Medium