How Narcissistic Abuse Can Change You
How you change after recovering from narcissistic abuse, or really any type of abuse, for that matter, depends a lot on what you've learned from the situation. We often hear people saying things like "Well, now I just can't let anybody in" or "I have to become distrusting and suspicious! My whole personality has to change! I have to become cold and cruel to protect myself." You don't have to do that. If you address the problems and work through the hurt, you don't have to do that at all.
It can happen, though. A lot of times, people do become disconnected and detached in self defense, and that's sad, because that's not healing. It's hiding. Running away from things doesn't make them go away. This is how a lot of problems are created in the brain actually, because a trauma or problem that is being avoided or ignored is going to insist on coming out in some way, shape or form. Forcibly repressing, avoiding or denying things causes all kinds of other issues, like anxiety, phobias, depression and more. The mind wants to deal with these things most of the time because it knows that's the way to move on and heal. If it is not permitted to do so, there are going to be problems. Feel your feelings and acknowledge them. It may be painful but pain doesn't last if it's allowed to run it's course. Over time, it really will fade. And don't forget: it's OK not to be OK. Humans have feelings and sometimes things hurt. That's the way it is.
That being said, if something still hurts just as bad as it always has and it's been a significant amount of time, like a year or more, then you might want to talk to somebody about that. Maybe you could use a little help with working it out. There's no shame in that either, by the way. We're all here to help each other the best we can. Sometimes we are too close to a problem to be able to see it. You can't see the Washington Monument if you're standing an inch away from it. All you can see is a concrete wall.
Now sometimes, people don't detach. Sometimes, they hold on to their feelings and stay really, really angry. Anger is a necessary emotion, and it can be very helpful in certain situations. However, staying angry is not good for you. We all know people like that. They are just so bitter, so unhappy. Sometimes they are still angry about situations that happened decades ago, or at people they have not even seen for just as long - people who have no impact on their lives at all - except for the fact that they are living in the person's head rent-free. Underneath that anger is usually pain that has not been dealt with. Pain that has not been dealt with is pain that cannot go away. It's just sitting there, festering.
Sometimes people prefer to feel angry instead of hurt. Anger is easier. In order to resolve the anger, the pain has to be processed and some people just don't want to face it. Chronic and unresolved anger is a thief, though. It will steal your happiness and enjoyment of life. Of course, no one can tell anybody how they should feel, but if you are still actively angry about things that have happened years or even decades ago, it might be time to ask yourself if that kind of mindset is really helping you. Anger is great when we need it, but it can be seriously harmful when we don't. Look at narcissists and how much unresolved anger they have.
Unresolved anger makes people bitter, unpleasant and unapproachable. It masks feelings that people need to deal with. And maybe some people feel safer that way. Some people are afraid to let their anger go, and they don't want to change. They feel vulnerable without it, they are afraid of the pain that is behind it or they may feel that letting their anger go is letting their abuser off easy. Anger actually makes you more vulnerable, not less, because you are in an emotional state, and it doesn't mean anything about your abuser. It's not letting them off the hook. They're still guilty and they always will be. What's done is done. Letting go of anger when it's no longer useful is more about letting yourself off the hook, so that you don't have to keep being controlled by something that happened to you. It doesn't have to define you if you don't let it.
As far as becoming cold and cruel... The thing is not usually that people need to become cold and cruel to protect themselves. It's that they didn't have reasonable boundaries or expectations in the first place. It isn't cold or cruel to protect yourself from abuse. It isn't distrustful to decide if someone is worth it before you give with your entire being. It isn't cold or cruel to say, "I will not set myself on fire to keep you warm."
The truth is that some people are not worth it. Some people do not respect or appreciate the time, effort and love that you give them and they never will, no matter how hard you try or how badly you wish they would. It isn't cold or cruel to refuse to keep jumping over hurdles to prove yourself to these people when they don't even want to believe, or to continue to give your all in a situation where you are not even getting respect in return, let alone love or consideration. The only reason a person will feel it's wrong not to accept abuse is because they have been conditioned to believe that. That's old programming. It's outdated and not necessary anymore. So don't worry about becoming cold and cruel. As long as you don't let your pain become chronic anger which then turns to bitterness and ruins things, you won't. You'll still be just as you always were, only wiser and less willing to let people take advantage of you. And that's not a bad thing.
This is how narcissistic abuse can change you. The truth is that we can learn something from every bad experience we have, and use that to grow. It's easy to fall into the trap of simply hating people who have harmed us and letting that become our new reality, but it doesn't have to be like that. If we use the knowledge we have gained from this situation to address our own issues - and everybody has at least a few - we can emerge from the situation stronger, wiser and more aware of ourselves. It's all about how you want to see it, and how you want to let it affect you. You can look at it as a tragedy and let it color everything about you until it defines you, or you can look at it as a learning experience and get what you can out of it, then move on. If you choose the latter, the odds are high that you will learn how to make sure this type of situation never happens again.
People always ask how to recognize a narcissist. They always want checklists and tests and sure-fire ways to know. Unfortunately, there really is no sure fire way to catch them all; some are really, really good at hiding who they are for a while. The good news is, if you do the work on yourself that you need to and learn to really practice good self-care, you won't have to worry about that anymore because it won't matter. Anyone who disrespects or abuses you will be shown the door, whether they are a narcissist or not.