Welcome to my narcissism advice column in which readers ask me questions and I do my best to answer them. Note that although I know a lot about narcissism personally and professionally, I am not a trained therapist.

Question

Dear Julia:

I am a survivor of two narcissists who were in my life pretty much at the same time: a narcissistic ex-fiancee who devalued and discarded me four months before our wedding and a narcissistic former boss who nearly put me into an early grave. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on therapy, read countless books and blogs, and recounted everything over and over in my mind. However, I still feel broken. I have a lot of anger inside of me that comes out at bad times (it has derailed my career along with health problems stemming from both of the aforementioned narcissists). I don’t trust others or myself and isolate myself because I’m afraid of the world. What, if anything, can I do to heal? Or am I a lost cause?

—Jonathan

Answer

Hi Jonathan:

Dealing with devaluation and discard from someone you planned to devote your life to is nothing short of devastating. You loved this person and had no reason to doubt them, and they violated your trust in the worst way, not only rejecting you but putting you through what was probably an excruciatingly disorienting period of mounting criticism and possibly outright abuse before the final discard.

The narcissist’s devaluation and discard process is sadistic, but it is not about you. The fact is the narcissist didn’t ever really “see” you, Jonathan, at all. Narcissists have a personality disorder that makes them incapable of truly caring about anyone or anything other than constantly attempting to bolster their own fragile false self. Whatever pain this person caused you does not compare to what they fight against inside every day, even if it appears otherwise. Yes, how you were treated was awful, but you are lucky that you did not marry this person and go on to have children together, a common nightmare for many people in relationships with narcissists. Having kids together makes things exponentially more complicated and painful, anchoring you to the person for life. You dodged a bullet.

Having a narcissist boss, too, can be profoundly demoralizing. They manipulate, use, and abuse every day, and they create a work atmosphere that puts employees on continual hyperalert: hence, your health problems. We don’t need a boss to love us, but a boss has control over our livelihood and to varying degrees has power over our self-esteem and future career.

The fact that you were drawn into two primary relationships with narcissists, also at the same time, makes me question your family history. Often people who become involved in such relationships are adult children of narcissists. I would hope that your therapy explored this issue, but most therapists do not in fact understand narcissism at all. Perhaps your therapist(s) made things worse by unwittingly invalidating your feelings and experiences with narcissists? If so, you need to find a therapist who does understand and can help you dig out of the pit you’re in.

I don’t know how long it has been since these toxic relationships ended, but feeling broken, angry, and depressed are common, normal responses to being abused by narcissists. Self-isolating is understandable too, because most people can’t understand what you have been through.

No one is a lost cause, and healing is a powerful part of the human will. Your spirit, mind, and body want to heal and move away from this to better things. I’m going to repeat that because it is a deeply important truth: Your spirit, mind, and body want to heal. It sounds like your fear of being hurt again and perhaps your shame at having been hurt and betrayed (expressed as anger) are keeping you from moving on. It sounds like you haven’t forgiven yourself. Why not?

Based on all of your reading and the experiences you’ve had, you know how to identify a narcissist. What are you afraid of now? It’s your life, and it’s your job to let go of the pain and move on. You obviously feel alone, but you are not. My little blog here alone gets a heck of a lot of readers just like you—people who have been through it, people who are struggling, and people who are healing.

Best wishes,

—Julia

NOTE: My advice is just that—advice—and it should not take the place of professional help—legal, therapeutic, or otherwise.

Need to talk? I offer coaching services for people struggling with narcissism-related problems.

Have a question for me? Email me at contact@julialhall.com.

Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post and PsychCentral. She is the author of a forthcoming memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts). 

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Image courtesy of PROJD Hancock, Creative Commons.