How to Love Survivors of Childhood Narcissistic Abuse

Lesbian couple spending time together in their kitchen
Lesbian couple spending time together in their kitchen

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As my partner stood talking at the doorway of the bedroom, all I could do is shut down and disappear into the world of my childhood. Her voice represented the yelling of my narcissistic mother screaming at me. Tears trickled down my face as I travelled back in time to the sounds of my painful childhood.

"Retreat!" constantly flashed in my mind whenever I heard my partner raise her voice. The louder her voice got, the more I withdrew into the past with my abusive mother. For more than 25 years, my mother filled my childhood and adulthood with criticisms and mockery. I never seemed to be "good enough" for her. Resigned to this notion, I broke free of her control in my 30's and have been on the road to recovery ever since.

The healing process varies in structure and length for everyone. Encouraged by my partner, I allowed myself to express the hateful and sad feelings I had suppressed for all those years. As I hesitantly communicated my thoughts and feelings, the words came out jumbled and confusing, but I persevered. Patient with my efforts, my partner helped me bring my authentic voice to life and start the healing process.

Although improved, our relationship remained rocky because I kept my partner at arms length during our entire relationship. Her abrupt reactions to certain situations randomly triggered childhood memories of past abuse. This made it difficult to build trust between us.

After we broke up, we learned to openly and honestly talk about things that bothered us. The distance between us helped me ease into trusting her. The space allowed me to heal at my own pace.

Truly loving someone means holding on when you can but letting go when you must. Unknowingly loving a survivor of narcissistic abuse carries with it untold disappointments and resentments that may require professional assistance. I highly encourage everyone to talk openly about their past with anyone they plan to develop a long-term relationship. The decision to stay together should be made through a loving and compassionate conversation.

If you know your partner has had a difficult childhood, read the following ways you can help them learn to trust and love again. Remember, the healing process can take a lifetime. Your intimate walk on this journey together can lead you both to a healthy, caring and loving relationship.

How to gently love your partner:

  1. Accept your partner for who she is. The good, bad and ugly. Love her for who she is and not who you want her to be.
  2. Don't try to change her or fix her. This is her personal journey, and she needs your support not your toolkit. She's got enough pressure inside her own mind and won't be able to handle anymore stress.
  3. Understand your partner's triggers. If you or she are unsure of the triggers, pay close attention to when she shuts down or becomes quickly agitated.
  4. Don't raise your voice especially when you are having disagreements. Getting angry and yelling will only have negative effects on the conversation and relationship. Keep your voice calm and level.
  5. Be loving and generous with your touch and words. She didn't get much, if any, of this growing up. She will appreciate it, but don't be overwhelming.
  6. Allow her to build trust over time. Give her all the time she needs. Trust is ONE of the biggest issues a victim of abuse will have in her life. Be patient and honest.
  7. Take time to heal and work through your own issues. Projecting your own insecurities or jealousies onto your sensitive partner may hinder her well-being. Take time to give yourself some self-care as well.
  8. Never blame, shame or guilt her in any situation whether it was her fault or not. She needs compassion and understanding right now. Have a cooling off period after a heated incident, then have an adult conversation. This means listening when she is talking, and talking when she is listening.
  9. Don't take her distant personality to heart. Pushing you away consciously and/or unconsciously is part of her current programming. Until it changes, this is a defense mechanism. She has been trained to do this from a very young age. Help her feel safe so she will talk to you about issues that matter.
  10. Find out how she would like to be loved. Talk it through or use The 5 Love Languages by Gary D. Chapman to help guide you. It helped me tremendously. I wish I had it during my last relationship. My partner kept giving me gifts and cards (Her Love Language: Receiving Gifts), and they did nothing for me. I wanted her to do things around the house with me (My Love Language: Acts of Service). Had we known this, we may have been able to break through our walls a little sooner.

My list above represents many of the skills and tips I learned during my last relationship. I hope it helps you bridge the communication gaps with your partner.

Remember, always be kind and loving to each other. That's what really matters.