9. Your oldest traumas and vulnerabilities matter."I don't care or want to talk about my childhood. It doesn't matter," some of my clients tell me. The truth is, it does. Often, we get attracted to narcissists because of something that happened at an earlier time in our lives—perhaps, our childhood—or somewhere along the family tree. In psychology, repetition compulsion is where we keep repeating the same dynamics with different people to resolve a trauma. This is done unconsciously and therefore with the wrong kind of people who are bad for us, and as such relationships play on a loop over and over like a bad magic spell, we learn to feel more helpless and hopeless.
Without obsessing for years (or months) over our childhoods, I advocate my clients explore and close chapters in their past that have scarred them, even if they feel it's a little too pompous because "No one died" or "It's not that bad." The truth is, it matters to you and for you. And when you do this, you view your past in a different light—instead of blaming yourself, you are filled with empathy for your younger self. With a coherent story of your past, you start to heal. And then you can live your life guided by this question, "How can I be the champion my younger self never had?"
10. There's never a right time to leave."Many clients often say, 'I can't do it now,'" Marshall tells me. They give reasons like the narcissist's work is too intense, or they're going through some tough family drama. "You need to be very wise and savvy when you hear your own voice saying 'not now.' There will always be another crisis next time. You are set up against an army—his manipulations, your caregiving, feeling isolation—trying to delude you of that clarity. Sometimes there is no good time; you just have to leave."
So if you feel you left at the wrong time and want to give them another chance, know there's no time when the stars will be aligned and the ducks are in a row.
11. It takes a village.What if you have to maintain communication because of joint assets or children, or you're busy fighting legal battles? In this case, the narcissist will use your history and your trauma against you, pushing your buttons so you are blindsided and look unstable. Here's where you engage people—professionals and loved ones—to have your back, work together, and call you out whenever you self-sabotage. It takes a village, and having that village doesn't make you weak.
12. You need to be good to yourself.Self-compassion can feel like a fluffy term, but the truth is, it can actually up your well-being and even your work performance. My Olympian friend Peter Shmock simply calls it "being good to yourself." The parts of you that are frightened, angry, traumatized, and confused do not need any more bullying. Just as you'd hug a frightened child or a sick puppy, kindness is exactly what you need right now. And the only stentorian discipline you need is in your devotion to your healing—practicing grounding exercises to help retrain your brain in acknowledging your feelings rather than scolding yourself and stuffing them down.
Many of my clients are extremely bright and accomplished, but they have spent their whole lives being unkind to themselves. I often remind them that learning to be kind feels harder than their surgical residency or seven-figure business deal. They laugh because it's true. Consider it a form of training in your mental gym. The first time you train any muscle, it's going to feel impossible, until one day it eventually stops feeling that way.
Healing starts with you rooting for yourself, just as I'm rooting for you.