There is nothing quite like divorce, unstable housing, poverty, mental illness and chronic pain to sort out friends from not-friends. Upon divorce, we discover who amongst our regular social group were attracted to our charismatic (narcissistic) partner but not us. With poverty, we soon find the invitations stop coming, since we now have to decline anything that requires reciprocation or splitting the bill.
Mental illness, such as the acute anxiety of PTSD (a moral injury) involves new behaviours like panic attacks, unexpected triggering, over sharing or the opposite – clamming up and being unable to engage socially. Since most people are ignorant of how mental illness affects behaviour, even old friends withdraw their compassion and support when we aren’t “over it” in a matter of weeks after the split.
Chronic pain instantly cuts us out of a multitude of activities, since even getting there and back is now a huge effort. Unless our disability has clear and undeniable signals, like crutches or a wheelchair, then people tend towards judging us as drama queens or hypochondriacs, or simply ignore or forget about our new physical challenges. “We’re building a rock wall on Saturday. Wanna come and help?” People drop off. Accommodating our disability is too much of a drag.
Partnership and divorce with a narcissist most likely involves financial abuse that results in poverty, and psychological abuse that creates mental illness and chronic pain in the victim. (You’ll find the prevalence of this in online forums). On top of these factors that create social isolation for a stunned victim, there may also be homelessness, chronic unemployment due to time out of the workforce caring for the narcissist or his children, social rejection due to vindictive smear campaigns, and even fear of physical retribution that necessitates going into hiding.
In short, covert narcabuse alters the social landscape of survivor’s lives forever. While the losses are happening, it is devastating. On top of the heart-break of losing everything to a love-fraud, we must suffer more and more loss, rejection and abandonment. Counsellors will tell us to reach out to people, but often the types of people who made up our social group with the narcissist are not the types of people to offer compassionate support. It seems that many empaths also have uncomfortable or toxic family dynamics (so many people do!). So if we reach out, we find we are asking for apples from orange trees, so to speak.
Empaths, in particular, have often learned to hide their sensitivity and tolerate bullying or even abuse from within their own families. Sensitivity, vulnerability or compliant co-operation look like weakness to bullies, and bullies always target those who are less powerful than themselves:- younger family members, children, colleagues lower down the work hierarchy, those in service positions deemed inferior, people with disabilities or poor mental health. Lots of families have bullies who bully their younger siblings or children.
Many of us realise that we have been unusually victimised by bullies all our lives, but if we disclose this observation, we risk being accused by Western psychologists of having a personality disorder ourselves: a persecution complex of some kind; a victim mentality. Only we understand that until the devastating narcabuse, we had coping mechanisms and social relationships that were perfectly functional and normal, but punctuated frequently with instances of bullying. Empaths are bully magnets.
We have woken up, but many people around us are still asleep.
The great paradox of being misdiagnosed and mistreated by professionals and not-friends alike is that in the acute stage of the early aftermath we actually do suffer fits of paranoia, irrational fear, overwhelm from too much manipulation, abandonment, rejection and loss. During the acute phase of PTSD, we need people to treat us differently – with gentle kindness and compassion – and this imperative starts us out on a search for a whole new type of social group. We need to surround ourselves with people who stand by us, people who are wise, kind, patient and loyal enough to give us the time and space to recover. This often means new people.
In order to find these people, it is our own kindness, patience, wisdom and discernment that we must cultivate. Empaths are natural-born and raised givers. We like to reciprocate. And the shift of focus from what we need to what we can contribute is what rescues us from our own miserable condition. Cultivating our finer human qualities – our character – is what slowly brings us out of the darkness and into a brighter, happier place. We can hurry this process along a bit with the time we spend alone. We can use this time to nurture our own good hearts. We can train our minds to overcome the relentless train of negative, self-defeating thoughts. We can face and overcome our harsh inner critics, our demons. We can use our alone time as real quality time where we teach ourselves to be our own best friend.
Some empaths have grown up to become other-referencing. That is, we rely on other people’s feedback to shore up our own self-worth. This now needs a drastic overhaul. We need to learn to reference internally. That is, we now start to give ourselves the validation, support and encouragement that we previously looked for from others. Therapy can help us learn to do this. A good counsellor or mindfulness therapist will pick up on our self-critical and self-blaming remarks, and help us to see that we are not such a bad person after all. Mindful-based-cognitive therapy can help us get right down to the fundamental beliefs buried in our subconscious and change them to healthier, adult beliefs. We regain our agency, self-worth and self-respect with the support of the right counsellor and the right people.