9 Reasons I'll Always Be Grateful That I Was In A Relationship With A Narcissist

Doctor of Clinical Psychology By Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach who received her clinical psychology doctorate from University College London. She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, Business Insider, and elsewhere.
9 Reasons I'll Always Be Grateful That I Was In A Relationship With A Narcissist

Photo by Michela Ravasio

I’m not going to pretend this journey has been one of rainbows and butterflies—it hasn't. I get it when all you feel is a cocktail of rage, disappointment, and loss. Instead, this is what I write because I’ve turned the page on that chapter, exorcising it from every heartbeat, neuron, and fiber of my being.

You see, a narcissist wants to be the only one gaining, at any expense. He even believes you’re nothing without him. But if you’ve taken the lessons and the pain, and used them as fuel to shine, here’s when you’re the true winner. And here’s why I smile when I think back to the times with my narcissistic ex-partner:

1. He helped me realize I was unbreakable.

It was New Year’s Day, and I locked myself sobbing in the bathroom, ready to end my own life. His paranoia was so frequent, I was confused, and he told me it was all my fault. I was isolated from the people I loved, and isolated from myself. But I had a moment of clarity, when I remembered how my late grandmother had resuscitated me when I was 10 days old—she brought me back from the dead.

That memory sustained me through months of escalated abuse, and eventually I told myself that having died once, he could kill me again but only I would decide that I wouldn’t die forever. And I clawed my way out of that pit. My totem isn’t just the cat with nine lives. It’s Hydra—you cut off one head, and three more grow.


2. Our relationship helped me close a family story.

We are attracted to narcissists because they are familiar, even if we aren’t consciously aware of how. For years, I battled an internal conflict about alienating myself from a relative after I discovered the inhuman things he’d done to people I love. But I felt bad about my decision because he never hurt me. Instead, he made my life fun.

It took a long time before I connected the dots and realized that my ex-partner had similarities to this relative, down to the curly locks, abnormally tall stature, cruel chain-smoking mouth, and Chinese zodiac. I forgave myself for being drawn in the first place; then it hit me how this relative was kind to me because I was his adoring source of narcissistic supply. That closed that chapter in my head, from which I could heal and go forward unencumbered.

3. My narcissist helped me tell the truth.

"P, I tell you everything about my relationships, and you tell me nothing. If you don’t start opening up, I’m not saying a word again." My best friend’s ultimatum was my wake-up call. I used to think that I had to be stronger and shouldn’t burden anyone with my woes.

His abuse forced me to open up. Even though I drip-fed my friends information—pre-warned by him to keep quiet lest he got "more paranoid"—I eventually started telling the truth.

I learned to speak about what held me back and that there was no shame in that. Essentially, I learned to walk my talk as a psychologist.


4. I stopped feeling bad for kicking people out of my life.

"People can change" was the cornerstone of my beliefs; it was what informed my work. And a part of me really wanted to believe that no one is incapable of changing. So I felt guilty and ashamed of myself for having previously kicked some people out of my life after they’d been extremely toxic. "Could I have been more understanding?" I often chided myself.

It took my ex-partner to wake me up to the fact that there are some people who cannot and will not change. And forgiving myself for letting go of toxic people allowed me to stop feeling bad for "abandoning" him, as he’d always accused me. It gave me the strength to walk away for good.

These days, I am ruthless about auditing the people in my life. As I tell my clients who suggest, "But maybe my partner isn’t a full-blown narcissist or psychopath," in the hope that an iota of decency means they should continue sacrificing their sanity, "It doesn’t matter if he’s full-blown or not. It exists on a spectrum. The question is, is he good for you and to you?”

5. I have stronger boundaries.

When we have poor boundaries, we meet people who will trample over them in different parts of our lives. I identified the times when others were disrespectful, and I’d simply explain it away for them. Today I no longer stomach people asking me, "But do you understand what this English word really means?" for starters. There are many ways in which subtle racism continues to pervade, and I no longer tolerate these.

Similarly, in my personal life, I have fortified and communicated my boundaries because I am not willing to stomach false harmony. This also means that I stand firm when others kick back—you have permission to have boundaries.


6. I upgraded my life.

My ex-partner was a financial burden. Sure, I had to spend on the logistics of moving, legal fees, and healing myself. But I realized I could now spend without anyone nagging me. And with a stable environment, I could also earn more. We often demean life’s little luxuries when we hemorrhage money on other mindless expenditures. I committed to spending mindfully, and that justified elevating my lifestyle. These included switching to quality DoTerra essential oils, drinking sparkling water, buying 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton linens, hanging fresh eucalyptus in the shower, and using four-ply toilet paper.

Small everyday details like these make a difference—my house is a shrine of beauty and love.

7. There were things I enjoyed about him.

"The problem is, it isn’t all bad," I confided to my best friend. That’s what keeps us hooked, especially when we expect ourselves to be grateful for the good times, or the times we are "safe" even if we are walking on eggshells.

A part of me, however, thought "Damn those good times!" Because if he were 100 percent bad, I could justify walking away. The truth is, I had fun with him. I loved him. And I learned a lot from him. I picked up skills as I watched him charm CEOs and talk shop—things a 20-something person wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I learned the fundamental basics of design, how to fry a mean steak, and to vacation without a plan. And I know I am truly over him because I can acknowledge how I grew as a person with him in ways beyond post-traumatic growth.


8. He sated my curiosity about the sordid side of life.

In the Genesis allegory of the Garden of Eden, Eve bit into the fruit of wisdom, and her view of life changed. Being existential and curious about the dark and twisted side of life, I often joke wryly that the apple bit me. Where children saw happily-ever-afters, I probed about death, broken relationships, and crime. At 18, when my classmates did data entry, I worked as a private investigator. Let’s just say that much as I believe good things happen, I also know that life can be ugly.

But I was still curious about the dingy, sordid side of life, which I experienced with him. There were the times he forbade me to leave his drug dealer’s house for days; I experienced another side of society that a sheltered Singaporean would never have. He brought me to dirty underground bars I hated, plying me with crap alcohol. Now my curiosity for that kind of thing has been sated. That is a world that I don’t have questions about anymore.

9. I learned how to really love myself.

I’ll be honest: I hate the word "self-compassion"; it sounds weak. So for a long time, I didn’t know how to walk my talk as a therapist, even if my clients started treating themselves kindly. From this experience, I learned that only I can save me from myself. And I discovered that past shames and pains unrelated to the abuse, which culminated in debilitating panic attacks and high-functioning anxiety, were crosses that I didn’t need to carry for the rest of my life. I lost the paralytic pain on my left shoulder and found that burning those metaphorical crosses helped me to fertilize the soil of who I am, fueling my growth.

In that, I learned to remember and integrate the different sides of me I’d previously kept hidden, sometimes even from myself. Today I can stand in front of the mirror, look myself in the eye, and tell myself that I love myself. Truly.

I write this from the other side—it’s been 21 months since I walked away. True liberation isn’t simply the day you pack your bags, or the day you stop responding altogether. It’s when your heart is free of the ghosts of your past. And I want you to know that this could be you, too, if you gave yourself a chance, even if you don't feel you deserve it.

Suspect you're in a relationship with a narcissist? Here's how to tell.

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