After spending years under the thumb of a narcissist, getting out from under him and not just surviving, but thriving may seem too far away to be possible for you right now. But as it turns out, once you decide leaving your narcissist is exactly what you need to do to become healthy and safe, it can become surprisingly easier than you initially think. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it does mean that it is not only doable, but necessary for you and your wellbeing.
So, what does surviving a narcissist look like? As a general rule, surviving a narcissist means getting ahead of him–his thought patterns, words, and actions. To do this, you must get yourself into an emotionally healthy place, surround yourself with the best support, and utilize all of the best legal avenues when detangling yourself from your narcissist.
Let’s take a closer look at each one of these steps.
Table of Contents
Surviving a Narcissist Means Becoming Emotionally Healthy Yourself
You cannot deal with your narcissist’s behavior and issues in a healthy way without first being emotionally healthy yourself. There are specific steps you must take in recognizing how being emotionally unhealthy led you to be in relationship with your narcissist. Once you realize how you got there, you can start to heal yourself. And then you can learn how to relate to the narcissist (or cut off all ties) as you need to in order to keep the relationship from swallowing you up again.
To Survive a Narcissist, You Must Learn How Your Own Unhealthy Patterns Attracted the Narcissist to You
You may have been raised in a neglectful or abusive home yourself. Or it could have been a loving home that wasn’t emotionally mature, causing you to not learn healthy relationship patterns that were necessary to your emotional health and growth.
Codependency is a common among partners of narcissists. They choose you because they know you will do whatever you can to make things better for them and to keep from rocking the boat. They capitalize on that because it allows them to get away with narcissistic abuse forever because you will never stand up for yourself and set appropriate boundaries as long as you let the codependency get in the way.
Unfortunately, codependents don’t even realize they are jumping through so many hoops. They just think they are being kind, caring, empathetic. They are treating others the way they want to be treated. But on steroids.
Every home is dysfunctional to a degree. That is just part of living in a broken world. Nobody is perfect. So relationships will never be perfect. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be healthy. Or that when things go wrong, we can’t fix them and restore relationships. Or that you can’t stand up for yourself if it means that the narcissist (or anyone else for that matter) might not be happy. You don’t have to trample on others’ feelings and thoughts. But you do have to stand up for your own.
If you would like to know how strong your tendency toward being codependent is, you can take my free quiz on codependency with instant results by clicking here.
Most, if not all of us would do well to speak to a counselor or therapist about our upbringing. Or to read a good book. I must confess, I am an avid reader, which proved to be instrumental in my healing and breaking away from my narcissistic mother and husband. I will share with you all the best books that were instrumental to my healing and new healthy life as the subject permits it.
To Survive a Narcissist, You Must Learn How Narcissism and Your Narcissist Works
By learning the in’s and out’s of narcissism and learning how to pick up on your narcissist’s patterns, you can learn how to keep yourself from getting blindsided by his narcissistic attacks.
The Narcissist in Your Life by Julie L. Hall is probably the most straightforward book on everything narcissism that you will read. Although the book is sizable, the chapters and sections are perfectly bite-sized so you can absorb it at your comfort level. And Ms. Hall organized it so perfectly that by the end of the book you will feel that you have a completely well-rounded understanding of your narcissist, how to recognize unhealthy behavior, and how to work your way through it to a healthier life.
Included in her book is a glossary so you can learn all the terms of narcissism. This is especially helpful if the concept of narcissism is new to you. The book consists of six sections:
- Reclaiming your life
- Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- The narcissistic family (and all the related issues)
- Partners of narcissists
- Children of narcissists
- Overcoming narcissistic abuse
It is the perfect beginner book for starting the journey of getting back on your feet after narcissistic abuse. But it’s also the perfect book for just making sure your knowledge of narcissism is on par. Check it out here:
Now that I have shown you the best starter resource, let me share with you my list of top books, resources, and supports that helped me to save myself and now help others.
Resources You Will Need to Survive a Narcissist
Here are my most helpful resources. Some of them are Christian oriented and others are not. I noted the ones that are Christian for those that prefer that angle as well as a warning to those who prefer a secular path.
Books That Will Help You Heal From Narcissism
Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed by Wendy T. Behary
This book was recommended to me by a personal friend who is also a therapist. She read it and loved it. And because she has been a part of my DivorceCare support group in my local church, she knew it would help me both in my past life with narcissists and my current ministry helping others to heal from narcissistic partners/family members.
It kind picks up where the book above leaves off. It goes more in depth on how you will deal with your narcissist. Ms. Behari takes a look at how your narcissist triggers you and how to make yourself impervious to those triggers. It also helps to give you a glimpse into your narcissist’s world so you can better understand his perspective and how to work through that, especially in coparenting and other circumstances where you will have to relate with your narc.
This book basically proves how you can continue in healthy patterns in spite of still having to deal with your narcissist. You can check it out here:
The Scars that have Shaped Me: How God Meets us in Suffering by Vaneetha Rendall Risner
This is an overtly Christian book, as indicated by the cover. But it may be my favorite book in all of my recommendations for you today. Actually, about three or four of them are my favorites. This is one of them.
I read through this book as a study with my former pastor’s wife when I was coming to the end of my 31-year marriage. I was devastated and wondering where God was. She, in her beautiful wisdom, would gently remind me of the various ways God was showing me that He was very much with me. Every single day. This book was instrumental in helping me see that.
Ms. Risner shares her own journey through divorce while living with a lifelong debilitating disease and burying a son at just two months old. If she could emerge from that, I could recover too! There was even a project in the book that was one of my favorite ways to show that God still loved me and valued me through such a dark time in my life. As a side note, my project based on her Ebenezer board in the book was very different than hers. While hers was various shells on a board that held special meaning for her, mine was jewels on a velvet background in a shadow box frame. I would love to see a picture of yourse when it is finished!
You can check this book out here (and start working on your Ebenezer board as well):
The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope by Leslie Vernick
Okay, this one for sure is my all-time number one favorite. The reason for this is that Leslie Vernick gives you a test to help you see exactly where you stand. Then she shows you how to heal. And the best part: she allows you to be informed and knowledgeable about whether you should stay in or leave your relationship. By the time you finish this book, you will legitimately feel like you are in charge of your feelings and needs. You will have taken action steps that make you feel significantly healthier emotionally. And you will feel ready to take control of your life, because so much of the fog of abuse will be clearing.
In this book, which is overtly Christian, Ms. Vernick talks about C.O.R.E. principles that help you to maintain healthy boundaries and a good life regarding your relationships. Here is what each of the letters of CORE mean:
C – I will be committed to truth, both internally in my own heart and mind and externally. I refuse to pretend.
O – I will be open to the Holy Spirit and wise others, teaching me, maturing me, and guiding me into his way of living my life.
R – I will be responsible for my own responses to destructive behavior and commit to being respectful without dishonoring myself.
E – I will be empathic and compassionate toward others without enabling people to continue to abuse and disrespect me.
In a response to a follower, she goes on to say, “When you know and believe that you are a loved, valuable, worthwhile human being and live from that core place, toxic people lose their power to manipulate you. They can’t control and intimidate you as they once did when you felt worthless, dependent and needy.”
Once I learned these 4 really important steps and started practicing them, my whole world changed. If this book has been significant in your life, I would love to hear your story. You can share in the comments below or contact me here. In the meantime, you can click on the book below to get all the information you need:
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzaro
Ironically, this was the first book my counselor recommended when my ex dragged me in to counseling to make me “obey him better.” I have no memory of that. When I showed her over a year later that I had found this book, she laughed and said it was the first book she ever recommended but that my ex had instantly refused to accept or read it based on the title. So she put it away. What a God-send that I ended up finding it!
As you can probably tell by the title, this book is also a very Christian book. I read it after Leslie Vernick’s book above, and it could not have been a more perfect complement. Where Leslie’s book showed me how to learn to stand on my own in the face of abuse, this book showed me how to make myself emotionally AND spiritually healthy independently of my circumstances. This book was also life-changing for me. It was the point that I could see myself traveling on an upward trajectory with every book I was reading.
It was also at this time that my then 15-year-old son began stealing all of these books off my nightstand. Often before I had a chance to finish them! And one of the silver linings coming out of decades of abuse and a bitter divorce: my son is now 24 years old and a therapist at the counseling agency that my ex forced me to go to. Which, of course, now my ex says is “unbiblical and unacceptable.” Because if he acknowledged the validity of the agency, he would have had to heal.
Anyway, you can get more information on this book by clicking on it right here:
Those are the most important books that helped me out when I was healing from narcissistic abuse. I recommend them regularly in my support groups. And I know they have helped a whole lot of people. I hope they are helpful for you as well.
I have many more books and resources I personally recommend. I have read or used all of them and know they will be helpful for you too. Check them out here. You can also access my resources anytime by hitting the Resources tab at the top of my home page.
Websites like this one are also hugely important to help you recognize the issues and heal.
To read about the crazy games narcissists play when divorcing, click here.
Personal Care to Heal Yourself While Working Through Narcissistic Issues
Now that you have a good handle of what you need to do to get started on the road to healing, there are some things you can do to heal even faster. Here are some of my top suggestions:
- Keep a journal for yourself and your path of healing. You can put your thoughts, feelings, triggers, anything in it. But you can also have a journal for all of the notes you are taking of the books and articles you are reading. That will help you to target healing to what is going to work the best and fastest for you. Going back through the journal later will help you to see tangible steps in healing and how far you have come! Nothing is more motivating than that!
- Set and keep safe boundaries so your narcissist cannot freely abuse you. Boundaries may seem foreign to you in a marriage if your narcissist accustomed you to not having any. You must learn what boundaries are acceptable in a marriage (or whatever relationship you are in with your narcissist). And once you learn and set them, you must be diligent in keeping them so the narcissist cannot wear you down. If you need a book to help you learn these concepts, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is far and away the most popular and effective book for you to do this.
- Surviving a narcissist means that communication with your narcissist needs to be limited to in writing or in the presence of other people that can verify what was discussed. It is the only way you will be able to get the narcissist to keep his story straight. Additionally, he won’t be able to gaslight you if there is someone around to see his behavior. Narcissists thrive in isolation. So when you take that away from them, you take away a huge tool in their toolbox. Surprisingly, they may still gaslight and lie to you in written communication. But you will have proof of it in black and white. When I changed to all communication in writing, it changed everything for me. I had proof of gaslighting. And my head became so much clearer because I could actually see what was going on.
- You will need to take incredibly good care of yourself to survive a narcissist, especially if you have not been taking very good care of yourself. Victims of narcissists tend to sacrifice many things that should be a normal part of life for them. Time alone to think, time with friends for support, camaraderie, and relaxation, a hobby for healthy living and enjoyment, healthy food, plenty of time for sleep and rest, and time to treat yourself to special things are all beneficial to your wellbeing. If you share custody with your ex, these things will be easier to do. But for those who are awarded sole custody, you will have to be strategic about your self care. But it is still absolutely necessary to your healing.
Surviving a Narcissist Means Surrounding Yourself With the Best Support
When surviving a narcissist, your support will come from literally everywhere around you. That support will take various forms, but every time you experience it, you will feel your bravery and strength grow by just a little bit. Here are some good examples of the support that you will have:
- A few of your closest personal friends that you can spill all the tea with and they will not judge you or hold your feelings and healing process against you. On the other hand, they won’t let you stay stuck for long either. They will tell you what you really need to hear. Friends like this are few and far between. Be careful as you make your selections.
- Family can help you with your narcissist. But you have to be careful. If your history with family is finicky, this is not the time to openly trust. If you have a history of being candid with closer family members without judgment, you are probably safe. But if you are in a family that likes drama, you may need to steer in a different direction. If you aren’t sure, test the situation with a few small issues that won’t make or break your safety and standing in the family. It’s not worth a family war!
- Counselors/therapists are a great way to get the support you need. This will probably be your first line of support when you realize things are going south fast. They will already know your situation and can talk you through the best ways forward. They also may have a good system for recommending backup support for you–mediators, legal help, and various community organizations that can help. Make sure you relate well with your counselor and can trust them with your whole life! If that isn’t the case, keep looking until you find that counselor! I did on my first try and can’t tell you how much it helped. Most websites have extensive descriptions of their staff so you should be able to get a good idea.
- Legal officials are one of the hardest pieces of the puzzle. There are reviews, but they tend to be good review from people who won and bad reviews from people who lost. One of the best ways to find a good lawyer is to talk to friends or other people you know personally and trust because you can ask questions pertinent to your case. There is also the consultation that you can do. Just have all of the important questions you need to ask ready so you won’t forget them in the heat of the moment.
- Support groups are critical in surviving a narcissist. I lead a DivorceCare group in my local church. It has been an amazing healing tool for me as a student and now I am able to help others going through similar experiences with their exes. It is for people who are separated as well as divorcing. Other groups that are available are Celebrate Recovery, or you can google “narcissistic abuse support groups” to find local ones in your area. If for any reason you don’t feel safe at any of these groups, you are free to leave at any moment. Do it if you are not comfortable! Keep looking until you feel you are getting the support you need.
- Church or other community groups are good to a degree. If they have an official program in their church, then you will be able to safely gather with likeminded people. But if no groups exist, be careful about who you talk to. Many churches and community groups don’t know how to handle delicate narcissism issues and can make things unbearably worse for you. Like I said above, step lightly and see what happens. Progress if you feel safe, find other support elsewhere if you don’t.
You will actually find other support throughout your process of separation and divorce. I found it in the sheriffs, utility customer service, military clerks for paperwork in various agencies, the clerk of court, bailiffs, and just about anything that saw what was going on in the process of all of the paperwork and life changes we were involved in. When you are dealing with surviving a narcissist, emotionally stable people will see it in your situation. You don’t even have to say a word about why you are where you are. In fact, the less you say, the easier your circumstances will speak for you!
Surviving a Narcissist Means Going Down ALL the Best Legal Avenues
I know I just threw a lot of different things at you. Writing them down and checking them off as you confirm them will help you to be less overwhelmed. And as you work through the process, you will start to gain a feeling of control and strength. You will start to realize that you are stronger than you thought you were and that you can actually make it through this very difficult time of life successfully and well.
The further you get down this road, the better you will feel. It reminds me of all of the people who come to my support group for the first time. Most of them are in tears and devastated by where they now find themselves. Most of them never thought they would be where they are.
By the end of the first 13-week session, they already feel like a different person. And when they go through it a second or third time, concurrently with their separation and divorce, they barely resemble the scared, unnerved person that first walked into that room. They are now whole people with the ability to live a wholesome life independent of the broken marriage that brought them down so far.
Surviving a Narcissist Means You Either Have to Stay Well or Leave Well
Leslie Vernick said this in both of her books on destructive marriages or destructive relationships. And truer words have never been spoken. Regardless of whether you decide to stay or leave, you must do it well. People will be watching you.
Your narcissist ex will likely have smeared your name in one way or the other, maybe not even with words, but with expressions when someone is talking to them about you. Or it could be criticism couched in concern. Because you are dealing with a narcissist, expect whatever he did to smear your name to be underhanded and cruel. The better you behave under the circumstances, the more his mask will fall.
Whether you stay in the relationship or choose to end it will depend on your narcissist. Narcissists are not all the same. Their behavior falls on a scale. The most severe cases are diagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
The further down the scale they go, the better the behavior and the better response to talk therapy because they can see their behaviors more so than a full-blown narcissist will. At least they will admit it more readily than a full-blown narcissist. I think they see way more than they let on. Because if they tell you they know what they are doing, they would have to turn away from the behavior and heal.
Check out my article on How to Safely Leave a Narcissist for Good
You will figure all of this out with the research, help, and support you receive.
You’ve got this! If I could break away from a narcissistic mother, then a 31-year marriage with a narcissist, you can do it too! Blessings and hugs to you!
If you found this article helpful, I think you will also be interested in many of the following articles:
- How Narcissists Use Religion to Control and Manipulate You - December 26, 2023
- Do Flying Monkeys Ever See the Truth? - December 16, 2023
- Flying Monkeys Spying: Understanding and Dealing With It - September 21, 2023