What do addicts and survivors of narcissistic abuse have in common?

This is a question I think about often because I have clients who struggle with addictions and I can really relate to some of the experiences that have been shared with me in my office.  In my humble opinion as a therapist there actually are quite a bit of similarities between us survivors and individuals suffering from addictions. At the very least I have seen them in myself.  Let me try to explain what I mean here. If you have ever been with an addict when they need their next hit or are in withdrawal you can almost feel their panic, anxiety, and sense of urgency. Depending on their level of dependency and what their addiction is, certain addicts would do almost anything to find their next fix. Once they take that drink or drug, the addict feels a sense of calm and relief and temporarily all is good in their world; however, this calm and peaceful state doesn’t last too long and before they know it, they are desperate for that next high when the substance leaves their system.  

If you are a survivor or still in a narcissistic relationship you probably know all too well the power of trauma bonding and the confusion that is caused by the cycle of love bombing, idealize, devalue and discard. Many narcissists like for us to be dependent on them either emotionally or financially so they can control, manipulate and abuse us. They are masters at creating this dependency without their victims understanding or knowing that is their goal.  The prince or princess charming act sweeps us off our feet and that mask that they showed us during the love bombing phase becomes the drug that we crave.

I know that when my narcissist would play push-pull games I would feel so confused, panicked, and anxious. I would rack my brain trying to figure out what was going on and how I could make it better. I was willing to do anything to make the relationship work and felt so dysregulated when he would suddenly disappear. This caused such disruption in my eating, sleeping and even my ability to go to work. I just didn’t feel like me!  Eventually he would come back, show me attention, give me just enough affection and I would feel that sense of relief, just like the addict does when he/she takes a hit. I would then feel hopeful that my wonderful romantic thoughtful most perfect partner (who never really existed) was back or at least on his way back…… but then the cycle would start all over again. Before I knew it, I was in another state of panic and urgency trying to get him to come back and make things better.

The more times that you go through this cycle and the more extreme differences you see from the love bombing to the discard phase, the more you are going to feel confused, panicked, and  anxious or the more you may present like an addict looking for that fix.  Just like how your body can develop a dependency on a substance, unfortunately the way the central nervous system works and the chemicals that your body releases during the cycles of narcissistic abuse, you can feel the same way about a person. Cognitively I knew that my relationship was unhealthy and that this was a self-destructive pattern but I was so deep into the trauma bond and so desperate for love and that “fix”, I kept engaging in behaviors that were bad for me again and again. 

Also, similarly to some individuals struggling with addictions I was in denial. I focused and put too much weight on how I felt when I had my narcissist and decided to ignore the chaos, pain, and problems he was causing in my life when he would disappear. My friends and family would try to intervene and tell me I needed to “quit” him but their words went in one ear and out the other. I wanted what I wanted and unfortunately that was a toxic relationship.  I just wasn’t able to think clearly because both my brain and central nervous system were offline!

Going no contact, just like quitting a substance cold turkey, is hard work and sometimes depending on your circumstances, not realistic right away. But just like with drinking or drugs, you need to quit and not use the substance anymore to kick the habit. You also need to distance yourself from people and things associated with your old “addict lifestyle”. Just like with addictions, there is so much temptation “to use” and many people relapse, just like us survivors can during hovering.

The good news is that addictions and narcissistic abuse recovery also have something important in common; these are two very treatable conditions. You do not have to stay stuck here. You can break free, get treatment, figure out the patterns and get healthy. Even if you relapse and fall off the “narcissistic survivor wagon”, you can start over and get back on. Remember to be kind to yourself if this happens.  Your central nervous system and other centres of your brain have been altered and impacted by toxic love but you can heal and become healthy……. And you will!

Jenny Tamasi, Survivor and Author of The Psychologist & Her Narcissists A Guide to Surviving Toxic Relationships


Don’t Get Stuck on the “Whys, Hows, or Whats”

Being in a relationship with a Narcissist is so confusing. I remember talking on the phone for hours with my best friend trying to put the pieces together. “So he told my parents and me yesterday that he wanted us to get married and today he said he didn’t love me and was just acting for three years”“What the heck just happened?” I was so convinced that my Narcissist had a brain tumor or some rare type of Bipolar Disorder, how could he just flip a switch a change like that? Now I know the answer is, well because he is a Narcissist and unfortunately, that is just what they do. Ouch!

 It was the worst feeling… how could things change so drastically so quickly? In my book, The Psychologist & Her Narcissists, A Guide To Surviving Toxic Relationships, one of my tips is not to waste your valuable time trying to decipher the “whys, hows, or whats” of your toxic partner.  Crazy just does not make sense; try to work on accepting that.  I know, much easier said than done.

It takes people in some narcisistic relationships years to figure out the patterns and to understand the cycle. It really is super confusing and hard to accept and I spent many years in school studying and then training to be a psychologist and it still makes me scratch my head.  Do not beat yourself up for being caught in their trap or wanting to stick around to see if things could change. It is so easy to be temporarily stuck. 

One day you are their prince or princess and then all of a sudden, they hate you. This drastic change in emotions and behaviors creates that yucky feeling caused by cognitive dissonance, or two competing ideas in the brain. Of course, you want that loving, charming, romantic, fun version of your partner back. Who wouldn’t? Now you have to accept they have another side, a cold, hurtful, unreliable, abusive side. This is very painful.

So if you are like me, you asked yourself the “whys, hows and whats” over and over again. I spent hours ruminating and trying to figure out these questions:

“Why did he do those things?”

 “What does this mean?” 

“What is going on here?” 

“How could he abandon me like that?” 

“How could he say that? “

 “What did I do wrong?” 

And here is the worst one I think, “HOW CAN I FIX THIS?”

Let’s start with the worst one, “How can I fix this?”  I know this hurts and if you are a problem solver, giver, and hard worker like many targets of supply are, then you may feel like you have a chance at changing your partner.  I am sorry to say that you do not. Change comes from within and you can only change yourself if you want to change, and you cannot change anyone else. Moreover, personality traits like pathological narcissism are extremely difficult to modify. Do not waste your precious time attempting to fix such a broken person, you deserve better! Healthy people do not abandon, humiliate, manipulate, and hurt their loved ones repeatedly. Remember Narcissists are creatures of habit and these behaviors are patterns. If you were discarded once, you will be discarded again. If they cheated once, they will cheat again. If they lied once, they will lie again. 

If you have discovered that you had the misfortune of being in a relationship with a Narcissist that is the answer to all of your “why, what and how” questions…. It’s because they are a Narcissist.  If you want to work on something more therapeutic to heal yourself, turn those questions into something useful and look at your behavior.  Ask yourself these questions, maybe try journaling your responses:

“How am I feeling right now?”

“How can I heal from this relationship?”

“How can I show myself compassion?”

“What will help me move on?”

“What red flags did I miss?”

As you approach recovery, please gently work on analyzing your behavior, motives, and feelings. Do not waste your time trying to figure out your Narcissist. It will not change their behavior and it will not make you feel better. They are disordered individuals and their hurtful ways are patterns. Remember when your wheels start spinning to tell yourself that you already know the answer to all those questions, it’s because they are a Narcissist.  Invest your energy and thinking skills into your recovery and wellbeing. Be well and take good care. I know you can do this!

Much love and support,

Jenny Tamasi, 

Survivor and Author of the Psychologist & Her Narcissists, A Guide To Surviving Toxic Relationships