Life Lessons from Escaping Abusive Narcissistic Relationships

Sylvia Clare

Mindfulness theory teaches us to see the good in everything, and to accept everything as a gift. So this is my take on one gift I received.

My mother was a psychopathic narcissist, completely impossible to please and completely impossible to be loved by. My unconscious desire to heal that relationship led me into another narcissistic relationship with a covert, charming narcissist that lasted for five years. I wanted it to last for ever. I wanted so badly to win that man over to loving me. It took me far too long to recognise that I was repeating a cycle of abuse, but by this time it was a common form of self-abuse, and largely unconscious.

Narcissists are addictive

I hadn’t realised I was addicted but looking back I can see how the love bombing stage fed my own desperation to be loved. When we got together, I was led to believe I had given him back his happiness, his self-esteem and his dignity.

That should have been my first warning sign. You cannot give anybody their self-esteem, that must and only ever comes from within. But briefly it made me feel good and I wanted that feeling to last. It made me feel worthwhile against the narrative my mother had laid out for my childhood, that ‘if it wasn’t for me the whole family would be happy’. I was her scape goat and whipping post and it wasn’t until some decades later did I realise that she was actually projecting that onto me and in fact knew it was true about herself.

But I was too naive and still had a long way to go before I could reach that stage. I wanted to have some power in my life and the power to ‘make others happy’ seemed like a great one. I was hooked. I have since learned that this sense of power releases all sorts of good mood brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) which give you the illusion of being happy. Just like other addictions, this briefly releases a flood of oxytocin, and dopamine, which make you feel very complete and relaxed, happy even. Alongside that it releases the excitement/ stress neurotransmitters cortisol and adrenaline, which are normally associated with fear, but mixed with those feel-good ones are more akin to exciting adventures. I have since learned a far deeper and genuine happiness which put that chemical one into the shadows but at that point it was the only kind of happiness I had ever known, brief snatches that I always wanted more of. It is addictive when you are empty inside yourself.

This respite from the emptiness creates the thing called a trauma bond where you depend on your abuser to make you feel good and so are addicted to them in person too. Trauma bonding is what makes people in abusive relationships stay, or go back even after they try to break free. They try to fix the relationship constantly, whilst knowing it hurts and will continue to hurt them.

Breaking free

It doesn’t happen in one blinding flash but many. There are so many layers to learn from and from which to detach yourself.

The lessons I learned from my experiences are as follows:


Power in a relationship is always uneven and always a bad thing. It suggests control and superiority / inferiority imbalances in the relationship that are ultimately destructive to one or both parties. In a loving relationship there is no power needed because both parties are themselves and give themselves to that relationship freely and willingly but always retain their own sense of self. The word relationship is built on the word relate so both parties relate closely to each other, but that relating process is negotiated and open. You should neither want power nor yield power. As a child I had not choice in the power imbalances with my mother and father but as a woman in my late thirties I should have claimed my own power and still had not been able to do so, not understood the need for that or even what it meant.

Once you are empowered from within yourself, which may or may not be through a spiritual connection, you are free to be yourself in future relationship and are unlikely to become addicted. I found mindfulness and Buddhist psychology, emotional intelligence and therapy. I read copiously, as if my life depended on it. It did of course. It led me to a place of inner peace and self-worth that allowed me to find my second marriage to my complete soulmate. That narcissist did all he could to prevent me from developing and growing as a person in this way, ridiculing me at every opportunity, putting me down and then saying I had lost my sense of humour and couldn’t take criticism. HE continued to try and control me through these gaslighting manipulations but the were no longer working, I was building my internal locus of self.


I stopped trying to control people so that I could feel safe with them and instead learned to trust them. This was a huge step for me. No one in my family had shown I could trust any of them. I had learned to trust that I could survive them though, and trusting yourself in that capacity is a positive step in the right direction. Although I am a deeply spiritual being, I do not believe in a higher power that is separate from me, I believe I am part of all that is, so there is no higher power, there is just the oneness of everything, of which I am an intrinsic part. So if I connect with my own connection to that oneness then I have no need of power anyway, I just am, a state of self-acceptance and simply being


From ‘being’ comes the ability to stand aside from others, to know that you cannot make their lives for them and you are not responsible for the lives of others. You are and can only be responsible for your own life and how you live that may affect those around you, but that is your responsibility, your own life and how well you live it. Don’t go for self-esteem or self-love, when they are so assailable I found simple self-acceptance worked the best for me. It gives me the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them without self-punishment or inner critics starting up. I am a human who is working on improving daily but who will also slip up and make mistakes, and so is everyone else too. This I can forgive others more quickly and easily, though trusting them might be hard for a while. Just becoming internally referenced makes yo more balanced and life feels lighter.


My new focus in life is to be the best Sylvia I can possibly become. I compete only with myself and my last best. MY second husband and soulmate shares that journey with me, we work on ourselves together and in tandem, sharing our struggles and our grief, giving support and space for each other to do that work and always understanding that no one can be more than they are. We are all humans — a work in progress. This allows you to feel humble without any sense of worthlessness, so competing against others or thinking you should be better is simply not relevant any more. How other people treat you I all about them and their inner world, where they are on their journey. They cannot know you unless they are extremely close to you, as my husband and I are, and then there is no judgment. I am always reminded of what Jesus — one of my favourite psychologists — said — forgive them they now not what they do. I remember the time when that phrase came back to me in regard to my parents and I did totally forgive them for all they did to me, even my complex post traumatic stress disorder. I think Jesus was an amazing psychological healer and psychology originally means study of the soul. But I also believe he was a human who was way ahead of his time and was just part of the oneness as I am. We chat from time to time, as I do with the buddha.

Surrender to the present moment

Gradually, as I work through my delusions about myself and my worth or purpose, I am able to surrender more and more to the present moment, to living with what is, to learning how to say no to what I believe is harming others and to work with forgiveness and compassion for all those who still have a long way to journey before they find their connection in the universe, compassion for those who still believe in ego and power and being right or wrong. I still have some work to do on that latter one myself when I see people harming others with no good reason for it that elusions of power or wealth. But I must step back and allow them to learn that in their own time.


In forgiving others I must also forgive myself for harming myself but also for harming others too. When we are lost in our own hurt damaged selves it is very easy to overlook how we hurt others. We must learn from those past mistakes too and make sure we do not repeat them. Sometimes we can put things right but often we must just do that inside ourselves and let it go. Going back to someone might just dig up things they want to move on from too. Going back might be a selfish thing that makes you feel better but not the person you originally hurt. BE aware that your need to heal must not become a source of further selfishness on your part but also know that my letting go on the inside you are actually liberating them too. On subtle energy levels you are helping them more by letting it all go with love.


I continue to practice my mindfulness and continue to work on myself all the time. I also try to enable other people to find that for themselves by teaching mindfulness and running practice groups or sangha. I write books and articles that tell my own story with the intention of letting people know they are not alone in this world and they are not the only ones going through this. I work to create solidarity and support, mutual compassion and forgiveness, BUT I never forget that I cannot make it better- I can only contribute my part to that wisdom or making life better for others. I am powerless to fix other people’s lives, but I can facilitate others to fix their own lives. ‘Horses and water’ always applies, you cannot force anything but you can make room for it, allow it and support its growth.

What now?

I have known narcissists since then and am uncomfortable with their energy. They can trigger my PTSD symptoms sometimes and I am very wary of them. I can also spot them very quickly nowadays. They simultaneously terrify me and I feel huge compassion for them. I know they cannot harm me but my amygdala is taking a long time to learn that too and still sees them as a total threat, which puts my body into lockdown, the freeze mode of self-protection. The thinking part of one’s brain cannot override that automatic threat processing part. That has been scientifically proven, so I have to accept that I may get triggered from time to time and I may have to cope with that until I end this incarnation.

I hope to become a tree next time around, the planet needs more trees but it doesn’t need any more humans. I have asked to be planted with a tree when I die so al the molecules of this body do indeed become tree and tree environment. As far as I can tell, trees don’t have problems with narcissists, they live in communities co-operatively and provide life support for many thousands of others. I would like that to be me.

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I write about my lived experiences of relationships, mindfulness, spiritual experiences and aging as a feminist, woman and someone with mental health issues. Happiness in life matters more than anything but how we find happiness is often one of our greatest struggles in life. I have degrees in psychology and prefer to base my writing in verifiable data whenever possible.


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