Becoming Your Own Person After Narcissistic Abuse
There is an important process in human development called individuation. Individuation is about becoming your own person, separate from your parents. Individuation is not about rugged individualism or being fiercely independent. Rather, individuation is about being able to toggle back and forth between honoring your own needs and making compromises for the sake of the important relationships in your life.
Ideally, we want to do this toggling back and forth with a sense of ease and grace, clarity, and alignment. In other words, we can sometimes put a relationship at risk by saying no, or by setting a clear boundary, and not feel that the world will come crashing down if the other person gets upset or the relationship ends. Similarly, we can sometimes put our self at risk by saying yes to something supportive of maintaining a relationship even if we are not totally on board, and not feel that we have abandoned our wants and needs.
This tension between being alone and being together is an essential part of the human experience. It is a never-ending dance. Each of us wants both the freedom of being alone and the transcendence of merging with another through relationship. I think that acknowledging this tension and learning to work with it is an important step towards greater fulfillment in adulthood, both in terms of greater self-acceptance and developing more nurturing relationships.
If you grew up with narcissistic abuse, you did not get the opportunity to experience individuation naturally, as a part of growing up. Your parents either left you alone to fend for yourself, smothered you with too much attention, or a combination of these two extremes. Those that were left alone tend to feel that relationships quickly become overwhelming. Those who were smothered tend to feel that relationships are never enough. Those who experienced both can develop more serious complications around personality and identity.
Part of recovery from narcissistic abuse is to experience the process of individuation as an adult. This is more complicated in adulthood because it involves unlearning and undoing what your parents taught you in childhood. What you learned from your parents about relationships, including what is possible in relationship, and how you experience your self in relationship, was imprinted on your brain by the age of two.
For the adult children of narcissistic parents, the individuation process is painful because it requires an acknowledgement of parents’ bad behavior, the impact of this behavior, and the cost to the child’s development. In my work with clients there are a lot of complicated feelings involved in the recovery process. There is almost always grief, and anger. There is also a difficult process of letting go of who you think you are in order to let something new emerge. That new thing is a different way of experiencing life with less emotional pain, more inner peace, a more stable sense of self, and more fulfilling relationships.
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About the Author
Diana Calvo is a coach who helps people get unstuck and transform their day-to-day experience of work and life. After 20 years successfully climbing the corporate ladder, Diana experienced her own journey of healing and awakening. She discovered her true calling to guide others on their journey out of suffering and into a life of purpose and joy. Diana left the corporate world to start her own coaching business. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her dog Joey and a beautiful view of the mountains. She works with clients across the globe.