Burning Your Bridges: Taking the Ability to Retreat out of Your Hands
“I can’t do it. I just can’t walk away.”
“I’m not strong enough. I’m so weak.”
“As soon as he contacts me I know I’ll cave.”
These are some pretty common statements I hear from people trying to wean themselves off of a Narcissist. I get it. Battling all these volatile emotions is really hard. Been there-done-that, got-a-blog-about-it.
The issue is that your life has become all about someone else and you’re so wrapped up in them that you’ve twisted yourself into knots. You don’t know what to do about anything. Your mind isn’t functioning properly. You’re in complete panic mode, the heartbreak is so bad it’s practically choking you and on top of that you’re beating yourself up, because you know you’re being treated like garbage and yet all you want is to have them back again.
Understand that this, while seeming anything but normal, – is normal – in this instance at least. You’re not weak and pathetic. What you are is someone who is very likely codependent, someone who puts the needs of others first, who doesn’t recognize their own worth, is used to being treated poorly, is caught up in a trauma bond, who mistakes intensity for intimacy, is addicted to the crashing and the soaring and has been manipulated by a seasoned predator.
What you’re doing and all these feelings you’re experiencing, is how someone in your circumstances, who has been exposed to the things that you have, has learned how to cope. You are doing the best, that someone with your current understanding, can do. The trick now, is to get yourself to a place where you learn healthier ways to cope and to start you thinking about you differently.
But before we can do that we’ve got to deal with this dilemma we’re right in the middle of. If you’re one of the unlucky ones, you’ve got yourself a boomerang Narcissist and he or she keeps bouncing in and out of your life. I say unlucky, because even though you’re dying for them to come back, when they do you get caught up in their perpetual toxic cycle over and over again. When they discard you and they don’t come back, it’s easier because you’ve got no choice, but to deal with it and their continued absence forces you to get over them.
So what do you do when they won’t go away? You’ve tried no contact, but they keep calling, keep texting, keep showing up at your house or your work. You know that eventually you’ll cave if they keep putting themselves in your field of vision, even though you know you need to be rid of them. So what are you to do?
Burn All Your Bridges
Books like Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill and everything by Anthony Robins, talk about how the way to success is through burning your bridges behind you and leaving yourself with only two options – succeed or perish.
In Stone and Hill’s book, they illustrated the story about how Vikings came to raid the Saxon kingdom, and once they had departed their ships, they burned them all, leaving themselves with no ability to retreat. The Vikings had two choices, they either had to defeat the Saxon’s or die. When you take away an individual’s safety net, or any other option, you create in them an intense desire to succeed. When you have only one option, life gets a whole lot simpler.
Los Angeles Kings coach Barry Melrose had asked renowned motivational speaker Anthony Robbins to motivate his hockey team. They were playing a deciding game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto back in1993. The winner would advance to the Stanley Cup finals against the Montreal Canadiens. The loser would go home empty handed. So just what did Robbins instruct the team to do? He told them to book a flight after the game to Montreal only. There was no back up flight back home to Los Angeles, no hotels booked in Toronto – so if they lost they’d be stranded. So what happened? LA moved on to the Stanley Cup finals of course.
It turns something that you have a mild hope for into something that you must do. Your focus is greater, your determination to succeed at all costs is greater – when your will is greater than your enemy’s – you will almost assuredly will be the one that comes out ahead. When you have no other option but to move forward, you’d be surprised by the amount of extra commitment and effort you will put into the success of your task.
So what do you do when you’re still on the fence, when your head is telling you to get the hell away from this toxic relationship and your heart is telling you nonsense like, they need you, you have to help them and it will get better, no one else will want you….? Quite simply – you stop thinking and you just act. There are little things you can do to help you psyche yourself up, some people suggest writing every horrible thing your narcissist has ever done onto a sticky note and post them all over the place to keep reminding yourself, but what I’m talking about are burning your bridges – creating no way back behaviors that will take the decision to flounder back and forth, out of your hands.
Do not initiate any contact what-so-ever. No, “Hey just wanted to see how you were doing,” texts. Nada-nothing-no way – no signals, no taking ads out on billboards – no carrier pigeons, no nothing. Not for any reason. Let your emotions waver all they want, but you control your behavior, don’t allow that little person in your head to talk you into anything. Nope. Just don’t do it.
Get a new phone number. They can’t call or text anymore if they don’t have your number. You would be surprised by how much this frees up your mind. You’re no longer sitting there pining, waiting for any sign of contact. After my boomerang would disappear I’d be ok for about a week, but after than I’d get antsy and I’d be checking my phone every two minutes – when you change your number you take control and rid yourself of all that anxiety and when your narcissist does come a-calling, they will get a very clear message that you are serious and you have moved on.
Move. If they don’t know where you live then they can’t keep showing up. This may not be possible for some, but if you’re a renter and this is a big problem, this may be the way to go. If it’s not possible and they keep showing up, don’t answer your door, even if they keep pounding. Your continued silence will speak volumes – if they don’t get the hint and this becomes a problem give them one warning, with the message that if they come back one more time, you will call the police and charge them with stalking, or harassment and if it happens a second time, slap them with a restraining order.
Get a new email account and cancel the old one. Why not just block them you might ask? – Because it still gives you the option to unblock them. What you’re striving for here, is to take the decision out of your hands and besides If their email keeps coming back to them as undeliverable, they’ll stop sending them. If you only block them the emails will go to your junk file and you will still have access to it.
Cut ties with their family and friends and don’t give them your new contact information, even if you like them. This is hard especially if you’ve developed close ties with people he’s close to, but those ties keep you invested and leave you with some form of contact. This was a hard one for me, because I was involved in my long-term Narcissist’s family. I really liked some of his friends, but their presence in my life was a constant reminder and attachment to him and I needed to wean myself off of him and heal. In time, I picked a girlfriend or two of some of his friends and continued a relationship with them, but not right away. Funny thing is, the girlfriends I’d gained have since broken up with their men, so we always joke that we met because of our boyfriends and now the men are gone, but the sisterhood remains.
Stop going where you used to hang out together. This should be a no brainer, but when we’re feeling vulnerable and we want him to see us looking fabulous, you just might start hanging at your local haunts hoping for a not so accidental encounter. Give your friends a warning that you are trying to stay away from those places and if you suggest going there, they are to remind you of your goal and to advise you that you’re not to go there. It helps to have someone keep us on track and accountable.
Blow up the relationship. By this I don’t mean blow up anything with explosives devices, what I mean is, make it so unpleasant to have any contact with you that you actually change their desire to get you back into a desire to have nothing to do with you. After making every effort to be rid of her Narcissist, my friend Angela had an instant reply to everything her Narcissist said. He got ahold of her and kept calling her. Her only response was, “You’re a piece of sh*t.” Over and over again – to anything he would say, any plea, any attempt to engage her romantically was met with – “You’re a piece of sh*t.” That was it, those were the only words she spoke to him. Blowing it up is about being unpleasant.
When a Narcissist does initiate contact again, they are a little nervous, they know they’ve acted like a##holes and they’ll test the waters to see how easy it’s going to be to slide back into your life. What they really want to hear is how much you’ve missed them and how awful your life was without them. Do not under any circumstances give them that, even if it’s true. When you put up resistance, like my friend did, they know it won’t be easy and they’ll go away. They may try again after some more time has passed, hoping you’ll miss them this time, but if they keep getting the same message they will stop trying. This is just one example, but the term blowing it up means creating conditions so egregious, that it robs the Narcissist of any supply, so that they will be forced to leave you alone and look elsewhere.
When you know your relationship is over you don’t want to be spending every second wondering, ‘is he going to call me,’ or wondering ‘what she’s up to?’ Burning your bridges is all about finality. And finality is a place that exists only in your mind. It isn’t about closure. You don’t need to wrap up a relationship nicely in a bow, where everyone has become best friends. Your relationship is over for you, when you decide when it’s over. Burning our bridges behind us is how we get to that place when our will falters.
It’s the lack of finality that keeps us stuck. When you’re at a place of weakness, do everything you can to take the decision out of your hands, so that you aren’t tempted to respond. It doesn’t mean you won’t have your moments, but when you give yourself no way back – you have no choice, but to move forward.
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