The question about how long does it take to recover from a narcissistic relationship is a frequent one for victims of narcissistic abuse, both at a time when people first realize they are or have been in a relationship with a narcissist, and much later on when they have been struggling for months or even years trying to get the narcissist out of their heads.
This article will deal with those recently coming out of a relationship. If you have been out of the abusive relationship or out of the cult for some time, have been working on yourself and are still having problems, your can find more information about your situation here.
I tell my clients that it takes 12 to 18 months to fully undo the pseudopersonality, the personality imposed on the victims by the narcissist (more about this a bit later). For people who are just coming out of the narcissistic relationship, this is often shocking. Let's examine the dynamics of an abusive relationship in order to understand more about what it takes to recover from a narcissistic relationship.
At the start of an abusive relationship, the abuser has to hide their true nature; otherwise the victim would simply run for the hills. This is where the love bombing occurs. The narcissist presents themselves as the perfect partner, entertaining, caring, attentive, loving, intelligent, trustworthy, sensitive, understanding, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. If you are coming out of a previous bad relationship, they offer themselves as your savior. If you are struggling with something, they have been there and done that and they are going to be your guiding light through this difficulty.
The narcissist lets you know that they like you the way you are, that they have lots in common with you, that your secrets are safe with them and that you are perfect together. These things happen in normal relationships, too, but the manipulators run their victims through these stages very quickly. If you think a relationship is going very fast, this should be a warning to you.
Instead of taking weeks or months to get to know someone, a victim of a narcissist may think they have found their ideal partner in days, or even hours! The speed with which the victim is led, step by step, through building a relationship, means that the bond created with the narcissist is often stronger than in a normal, healthy relationship. This is evidenced by the fact that the victim, from very early on in the relationship, will often not listen to advice or warnings from family or friends about the new partner. They defend their 'soul-mate' to those issuing warnings, saying things like, "You don't know him like I do", "Stop trying to ruin things for me" and "I know what I'm doing, I'm in control."
The important thing here is that the connection between the narcissist and the victim is very, very strong. As time goes on, this bond is changed in certain ways. The narcissist assumes more power in the relationship, the narcissist takes more control and the victim becomes more and more dependent on the manipulator.
This is all managed by the narcissist, usually beyond the conscious awareness of the victim. The fact that there are things that are occurring that the victim is not aware of is very significant. It means that the victim cannot actively resist the influence and manipulation. It means that the beliefs and ideas of the victim are changed without the victim realizing it. It also means that even when the relationship is over, the victim is not going to be able to make sense of what happened because they don't understand the dynamics of the relationship. This obviously increases the time it takes to recover from a narcissistic relationship.
Not only do the beliefs of the victim change but their identity, their sense of who they are also changes in profound ways. Again, this change typically occurs out of the awareness of the victim. Close friends and family members will notice major changes, but the victim themselves often does not, partly because they are led step by step through a process.
For example, the alternation between compliments and criticisms from the narcissist typically amplifies the dependency of the victim on the abuser. The individual may come to believe that they have a 'dependent personality' or that they are codependent. This false diagnosis then causes a multitude of problems. (When the person fully recovers from the abuse, any trace of this dependency is also gone because it has literally been 'installed' by the narcissist.)
This change in identity is called the 'pseudopersonality' (pseudo means false) because what the narcissist does is to destroy the victim's personality, makes changes and then these changes are frozen in place, often with rewards and punishments.
This idea of the pseudopersonality is a very useful way to think of the effects that the narcissist or psychopath has on the victim. It explains the new behaviors and ways of thinking of the victim. For example, family members and friends may notice that the victim is more isolated, never speaks badly of the narcissist, justifies the bad behavior of the narcissist, the victim cannot seem to make independent decisions any longer but has to check with the narcissist first and so on.
This 'new' personality is the personality that the narcissist has imposed on the victim and this pseudopersonality is programmed to act in certain ways. The pseudopersonality puts the wants and needs of the narcissist first, it is dependent on the narcissist and it is programmed to accept what the narcissist says.
The pseudopersonality never completely destroys the real personality, which for all intents and purposes is dominated or controlled by the pseudopersonality. Many of the conflicts that the person has can be explained by the idea of the pseudopersonality.
For example, the real personality may want to leave because it's fed up of the poor treatment at the hands of the narcissist but the pseudopersonality is programmed to stay and take care of the narcissist. The person ends up staying in the relationship for years. The real personality may want to spend time with friends but the pseudopersonality knows that it would be better not to upset the narcissist by going out with them, so the person 'chooses' to stay home. People often describe this internal conflict as being at war with themselves.
The pseudopersonality is programmed to take care of the narcissist or psychopath and basically the narcissist becomes the core purpose of the pseudopersonality. The life of the victim is literally organized around the narcissist.
The pseudopersonality is put in place with very powerful influence techniques and it does not disappear simply because the victim leaves the relationship. This is very significant. It does not disappear on it's own.
This explains why people continue to have the narcissist 'in their head' for years after leaving an abusive relationship or a cult. The narcissist has changed the person at such a profound level that these changes persist, unless the person works at undoing them. The beliefs that the narcissist has installed, the personality changes, the behavioral patterns that have been worn in, all these have to be attended to.
But it's not enough to just recognize that they are there. Many people recognize things about themselves that have come about as a result of the abusive relationship. But knowing they are there is not sufficient to recover from a narcissistic relationship. This is just the first step.
It's important to understand how they were put in place, what techniques the narcissist used to change you, why they used those specific techniques, what effects the techniques had on your thinking and on your emotions. Only when you have this information do the effects of the mind control loosen and the pseudopersonality begin to disappear.
Many victims can recognize some of the things that the narcissist or psychopath has done to them and they can read other people's stories and spot the similarities. But the patterns of thinking and acting persist. The fear is still there, or the inability to trust others, or the floods of uncontrollable emotions, or the nightmares, and so on.
The time it takes to recover from a narcissistic relationship is the time it takes to undo the pseudopersonality. The pseudopersonality has to be taken apart and the identity of the person has to be built up again. All the programming of the pseudopersonality needs to be recognized, the origins understood (how it was put in place) and alternatives developed in order to have other strategies for dealing with relationships, emotions and events in the world.
This is not a simple task and it takes time. It is also not something that can be done alone. The expertise of a person who understands mind control, narcissism and psychopathy is invaluable. An expert in this field will not just save you time and effort, but will also help you learn and achieve things that you cannot do on your own, because of the nature of mind control.
Most of my clients work with me for 8 to 12 months, by which time about 90 to 95% of the pseudopersonality is gone and they have enough information and understanding to undo the rest of the pseudopersonality on their own.
By the time many of my clients come to me, they have been out of the abusive relationship or cult for some time but they recognize that they are still having problems because of it. Or worse, they have been caught in another abusive relationship or cult!
As I explained above, the pseudopersonality does not disappear on it's own. Certain aspects may, of course, disappear over time, but the effects of the narcissist or psychopath are so deep seated that it takes work and effort to undo these effects.
This work involves reading and watching movies as well as regular sessions where you get to talk about your experiences with an expert, who does not criticize or blame you for what happened. Rather the expert understands what you have been through and guides you through a process of education where you learn how specifically mind control works, what was done to you, and you get to change unhealthy beliefs and behavioral patterns to ones that are aligned with your own identity. Having someone to guide you skillfully through this process obviously reduces the time it takes to recover from a narcissistic relationship.
The end result is not a situation where you learn to manage the recurring thoughts and fears and where the thought of the narcissist doesn't upset you so much anymore.
A good result when you fully recover from a narcissistic relationship is one where you don't think of the narcissist for months at a time. And when he or she does come to mind, there is no longer any anger or upset or strong emotions about them, and then, after a few seconds, you think of something else and the narcissist is gone from your thoughts.
Also gone are any nightmares, sleep problems, and memory or concentration issues. Once more you know how to trust yourself and others, the relationships with the people around you are satisfying and pleasant and you have time and space in your head to think, ruminate, ponder and make decisions in your own time.
To recover from a narcissistic relationship like this takes time and effort. But it's not enough to talk over and over about the same thing with anyone who will listen. Nor is it enough to read a few books and read other victims' stories.
You need to be able to understand the subtleties of mind control and how it was used against you in your specific case. Only then does the pseudopersonality disappear completely and you become free of the influence of the narcissist or psychopath.
For more details about how long it takes to recover from a narcissistic relationship or from a psychopathic relationship, there are more ideas here and if you are divorcing a narcissist there are suggestions here.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Find out more
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?
Learn how to break free, and why you need to!
Do you think you may be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that your life is not how you want it to be, despite following your group's ideas faithfully?
This manual will give you a different perspective!
Would you prefer to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.