The books, the blogs, the YouTube videos, the obsessive googling, the online support groups, the grey rocking, the no contact, the crying, the complaining, the worrying, the rehashing of the same problems over and over and over.

Does this sound way too familiar? Yep… me too.

It’s exhausting even reading that sentence much less living that life! However, if you have had the – cough, cough – “joy” of doing life with a suspected narcissist then you have probably wondered what the heck just happened, will you ever feel better, and how the heck do you make sure it never happens again? 

Unfortunately, while there are endless articles and information on narcissism there is very limited information about how to live your best life after a narcissist. And, due to the lack of information, most people try the following:

1. Become obsessed with narcissism

Why you think it will work. You know information is power so you apply the same skills to solving a toxic person problem that you would use to solve any other problem in your life. You believe someone out there must be a narcissist whisperer! If you just find them then they can tell you how to get your narcissist to change so your life doesn’t have to change. You believe you just need to know everything there is to know about narcissism and then you will know how to make it all better. So the plan becomes to:

1. Find out what’s wrong with them

2. Tell them what’s wrong with them

3. Develop a treatment plan which will be easy because you assume once they know what is wrong with them that they will want to fix it.

4. Live happily ever after.

Right? Wrong!

Why it doesn’t work. Toxic people know they are getting what they want and you are not getting what you want. This is how they want to live. They don’t need a BuzzFeed quiz to tell them they aren’t playing by the same set of rules. They don’t want to change because then they would have to give up being selfish. In fact, your life, your hopes, your thoughts, your dreams, your energy has been all about them. So, it’s not surprising you subconsciously fell into a healing process that is all about them, too. The longer you research them the longer you can give yourself permission to think about them. You tell yourself it’s all just so interesting, but in reality it allows you to avoid letting them go.

Pro Tip: The key to happiness after a narcissist is actually having a life after a narcissist. No one ever found happiness obsessively researching the root cause of personality disorders. This is not the life you dreamed of as a child. Reconnect with that life, not the puzzles of your past.

2. Time heals all wounds

Why you think it will work. Because so many people say this phrase when they don’t know what else to say! We humans like to feel like we have the answers. However, just because someone says it doesn’t make it true. Therefore, we humans can get very, very bad relationship advice from other humans. “It will get better with time!” is one piece of bad advice and why so many people find themselves in a cycle of bad relationships. However, so many people say it that it feels true! Remember everyone once thought the world was flat! We also want to believe it because we think if we just hang in there long enough then one day we’ll wake up and the pain will magically have resolved itself.

Why it doesn’t work. Time passing doesn’t “automagically” make things better. It is what you do with that time that makes it better. We all have friends that had money problems 5 years ago and still have money problems now. We all have a coworker who has been complaining about her weight for the last 8 years yet still refuses to make the gym a priority. And, we all have friends who continue to be taken advantage of in relationships. The players change, but the game remains the same. Orrrrrr the person is so afraid of going through pain again that they just hunker down, buy a cat, and shut down their life. They tell themselves “Healing just takes time” but in reality healing never happens because they aren’t doing the right things to heal. Besides, how much time is it really supposed to take? What if it is supposed to feel better after 6 months and you are stuck for 6 years? What could you have done with all that wasted time? Was that wasted time in your children’s childhood? Did you waste your 40’s? How much of your life are you really willing to waste?

Pro Tip: You probably thought the toxic relationship would magically get better on its own, too. It didn’t. Don’t apply the denial you experienced in the relationship to carry over into denial about the healing process. If you want your life to work you have to do the work. Things don’t get better because you really, really want them to. Things get better because you take steps to make them better.

3. Talking and talking and talking about toxic people and thinking it’s going to make you feel better

Why you think it’s going to work. At first it’s great because you loooooove talking about your toxic person. In fact, every thought revolves around your toxic person and yet you have the sneaking suspicion that your friends and family are really sick of hearing about it. And then…low and behold… you realize you can pay someone to talk about your toxic person. Hour after hour. Week after week. Year after year! Therapy to the rescue!

Why it doesn’t work. Talking about your narcissist to make sense of what happened to you is like a nice place to visit, but a horrible place to live. It is appropriate for a season to unravel your mind, but it doesn’t solve the problems of your life and if it goes on too long it just strengthens the addiction to the toxic person. Because…well…you’re still talking about them. A lot. Plus, while your life has revolved around navigating a narcissist it is unlikely that your therapist’s life did. In fact, many therapists are susceptible to being tricked by narcissists because they want to believe that everyone can change. They also are probably going to work with the person in front of them so be prepared to hear words like codependency, love addiction, trauma bonded, and CPTSD. Super fun right? Ugh.

Pro Tip: Work to move from talking about your problems to solving your problems as quickly as possible. Someone with a deep understanding of designing a life you are excited about living after a narcissist will know this. If they just let you talk obsessively about your narcissist for an extended period of time they don’t know what they are doing. It is okay to ask a therapist what book he or she has read, if they have recovered from this personally or if they are just talking about others experiences, or if they have toxic people in their life now. There is a phrase that says “Bad help is worse than no help.” There is no greater application to that phrase than a coach or therapist who doesn’t understand the pain of living with a narcissist leading your healing efforts.

4. Hope and hop healing

Why you think it will work. You hope you can do it on your own. You hop around and try this book and this blog and watch a few videos from this person and then circle back around again. You take a trip and just push the thoughts to the side. You tell yourself that you aren’t worth investing in. You just need to meditate to zone out. Go to a concert. Plan dinner with the girls. Try retail therapy. Just keep busy and maybe it will go away.

Why it doesn’t work. If you don’t know where you are going then you will never get there. “Feel better.” “Understand narcissism.” “Love myself” are nice theories but horrible outcomes. You need a map, you need a plan, and you need to commit. Hopping from one healing strategy to another can go on for years and you never know if it’s working because you don’t know what you are trying to do. You don’t know where you are trying to go. You just hope someday you get there. You just know you feel bad and you hope then you hop around guessing what will make it better. Of course this doesn’t work! It’s also exhausting and long. I have also never heard of anyone getting a prize for doing things the hard way. We tell ourselves we are strong enough to handle it and don’t need help, but I doubt we look at others and applaud them for making their lives hard. Healing from a toxic relationship on your own isn’t just hard. It’s downright impossible. After the difficulty of a toxic relationship never getting anywhere feels normal. It’s not. The right plan for healing has direction and that direction is forward.

Proip: The more complex a culinary dish is the more important the recipe is. You may be able to throw together cinnamon toast or a burger, but it’s unlikely you would try to figure out creme brulee on your own. The reason people become obsessed with researching narcissism is because it is complex. The reason they stay stuck so long or repeat the same old patterns is because they try to figure out the recipe on their own. You deserve a creme brulee life. You are going to need a recipe to follow. And, you’re going to need someone to tell you the pitfalls ahead of you so you can avoid future problems and future pain.

5. Becoming a helpaholic

Why you think it will work. You love helping others. You are a great friend, a loyal daughter, a fabulous mother, an amazing employee. You give back to the community. Others come to you for advice. You comfort yourself with thoughts of putting others before yourself and think this will earn you love. Experts tell us helping others will make us feel better. And it does…for a while. You like feeling needed. You like feeling important. In fact, it feeds your soul – until it kills your soul.

Why it doesn’t work. People who have been in toxic relationships are trained to solve everyone else’s problems but their own. You have been trained to feel guilty if you take care of yourself. You have been trained to think you are selfish if you aren’t constantly solving other people’s problems. But…you are exhausted because you can’t solve other people’s problems. In fact, you quickly realize they keep having the same problems over and over. And, you keep having to save them from those problems. Truly changing someone’s life means empowering them to save themself. The only problem is if you don’t know how to save yourself then you always feel like you are living a lie when you are trying to help others. So, helping others can become as much of a distraction as anything else. Plus…it’s really difficult to fool people for long. You want to become someone that inspires them, not someone they can use because you can’t seem to say no.

Pro Tip: You probably put a Herculean effort into trying to fix your toxic relationship. You probably put enormous effort into making sure the people in your life are taken care of. Put the same amount of work into fixing your future and you are guaranteed to succeed.

For far too many of us healing can become a hobby. A journey we hate, but can’t seem to get out of. It echoes the same rumblings as the toxic relationship. A relationship we hate, but just can’t seem to let go. Our minds have been trained to believe the same lies. “If I have faith it will all work out.” “I just need to give it a little more time.” “I’ll think about it later.” “I’m sure it isn’t really that bad.” “It will change.” “Maybe they will come around.”

Happiness after a toxic relationship is achievable, but you can’t use the same strategies that kept you in hell to get you to heaven. You have to realize if you could have created a new life for yourself on your own then you already would have. You have to break through the denial, take a real look at where you are and make changes if this isn’t where you want to be. You have to strategically walk toward a new future not just comfort yourself with vague ideals of “Learn to love yourself.” and “Let it go.” Happiness is found when you take the time to figure out specifically what happiness means to you, figure out how you are going to get there, figure out who you need to help you on your journey and take a step. And another and another and another.

And, one day you will look back in joy and see how far you have come!

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Sarah K Ramsey