Undoubtedly, the heartbreak of divorce or a breakup can take a toll on our mental, emotional, and even physical health. It can take awhile to move through the waves of grief and find your footing through the transition from married to single. However, there is a difference between a divorce with a partner with whom you became incompatible with over time and a breakup from a narcissistic or toxic partner. This is not your normal breakup, and you will likely not have a typical recovery.
In a divorce with a non-abusive partner, you may feel sadness, anger, loneliness, grief, and many other emotions. Your recovery time may vary depending on how long you were in the relationship and the circumstances of your breakup, among other things. You may even feel like you can't eat or sleep, or are eating or sleeping more than normal. However, over time, these feelings will pass and you will move on from the divorce. Everyone is unique in their grieving process, but these are fairly typical experiences.
However, if you have been with a narcissistic or abusive partner, your breakup may be entirely different. Perhaps you suspect or know that your partner was a narcissist (or had traits of this disorder), or maybe you’re unsure, but you know you were in a toxic relationship and just can’t seem to recover.
According to the Association for NPD/Psychopathy Survivor Treatment, Research & Education, up to 90% of women who have been in a "pathological love relationship" (meaning an intimate relationship with a partner who has traits or a diagnosis of narcissism, antisocial personality, or psychopathy) will have symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is astonishingly high, but not surprising when you consider the psychological, emotional, and other types of abuse that a narcissist, sociopath, or psychopath can inflict upon their partners.
If you believe or know that you were in a toxic relationship like this, and you are struggling to heal and recover, this could be why. What is important to note is that PTSD may look very different in a survivor of narcissistic abuse. This may make it difficult for you to realize that you are experiencing trauma. Even most therapists are unaware of this different presentation of PTSD in a survivor of these toxic relationships.
The problem is that victims have highly positive memories with a partner that occurred early or at varying times in the relationship. These memories are mixed with traumatic experiences from your partner’s Jekyll and Hyde personality, causing confusion. You may find that you vacillate between remembering both positive and negative memories.
Common symptoms of PTSD in someone who has experienced a pathological love relationship or narcissistic abuse include:
• Flashbacks of traumatic events OR flashbacks of positive, loving memories (flashbacks tend to come “out of the blue” and can make you feel like you’re re-experiencing the moment)
•Constantly thinking about negative experiences coupled with memories of positive experiences, feeling like you can’t “decide” if your partner was good/bad, loving/abusive, etc.
•Avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of your partner.
•Difficulty remembering traumatic events OR holding on to positive memories that occurred when your partner showered you with love.
•Avoidance of discussing what happened in the relationship and/or constantly seeking validation or replaying events with others in an attempt to understand the crazy making behavior.
•Nightmares of traumatic events and/or "dreams" of the positive memories.
If you believe you were in a pathological love relationship (or still are), and any of these symptoms resonate with you, it is important to seek trauma-informed care (specific to this type of relationship) help you heal. Trauma doesn’t typically heal on its own, which may explain why you feel you haven’t “moved on” from your relationship. If you can't find someone who understands these relationships, a therapist who works with trauma is the next best thing. Either way, it is crucial to find help so that you can heal.
If you are looking for resources to recover from narcissistic abuse, click here to learn about The Nest, a toxic relationship recovery program for women.