Have you ever made choices, then later reconsidered, asking: “What was I thinking?”  Of course, you have.  Each of us has experienced undesirable consequences due to soured relationships, personal imperfections, missed opportunities, or miscalculations.  We cannot escape the emotion of regret.  It comes with being human.  Your life is flawed, as is the life of the person next to you.  

There is an extra layer of regret, though, that emerges when your life has been negatively impacted by a narcissist.  More than mistake makers, narcissists are calculated as they set up the potential for eventual painful repercussions.  Part of the definition of narcissism is intentional exploitation.  They will present themselves as trustworthy only to reveal that it is just a ruse.  

Once a relationship with a narcissist draws to an end, it’s common to hear statements like:

  • I was played.
  • After that person decided I was no longer useful, I became expendable.
  • How could I have been so blind?
  • What was that all about?  I feel so foolish.
  • In retrospect, I was way too optimistic about what was going to happen.
  • I expected one thing, but got something entirely different.

In the aftermath of disappointment with narcissists, it’s inevitable for the duped person to regret their susceptibility to the narcissist’s exploitations.  Narcissists are notoriously devious, so don’t assume that their manipulations are a referendum on your character.  Yes, that was you on the receiving end of their chaotic behaviors, but you can determine to examine your regrets for the purpose of healing and adjusting.

With that in mind, let’s identify seven of the most common regrets you could have after the relationship with a narcissist has proven toxic:

  1. You didn’t heed early warning signs.  Looking back, you might have been too optimistic even as that optimism was not fully warranted.  For example, you may have been too willing to accept the narcissist’s explanations about previous problems with other people.  Or perhaps your relationship felt too good to be true.  Or maybe you were too gullible or eager to please.
  1. You lost who you wanted to be.  In retrospect, you might see patterns of suppressing your natural desires or preferences.  You may have been too willing to sacrifice your norms in service to the narcissist.   Perhaps the narcissist was insistent upon fitting you into a mold, and you’d capitulate.  You’d just go along to get along.
  1. You worked too hard to plead your case.  There may have been times when you’d protest in the hope of making the narcissists coordinate.  Naturally, that didn’t end well, but instead of setting strong boundaries, you’d just keep protesting…to the point of it becoming a weary game.
  1. You got sucked into cycles of ugly anger.  The narcissist craved control.  You resisted.  The narcissist continued to crave control.  Arguments ensued.  You participated.  Rarely was anything resolved.  And yet, it happened repeatedly.
  1. You lost friends and family along the way.  Over time, your relationship with the narcissist took its toll on your psychological well-being. 

People close to you noticed your dysregulation, but felt helpless to assist, so they withdrew. Some may have judged you unfairly, while others were perplexed about how to manage the drama.

  1. You stayed too long in the narcissist’s dysfunction.  Over time, you knew you needed relief, but you didn’t exactly know how to get to a better place.  Or perhaps you knew what to do, but didn’t want to face the accompanying pain.  
  1. You lost your credibility.  Narcissists are masters of demotivation, and you were a target for their invalidations.  You may have withdrawn.  Perhaps you’d try to appear optimistic, though you felt like you were wearing a mask.  Some former allies may have forgotten the many good qualities that were inside you.

So here you are, wondering how to move forward.  Let’s reiterate…no life will be regret free.  But as you face your regrets, you are at a major fork in the road.  You can allow your regrets to lead you into bitterness. (This is the path the narcissist takes). Or you can use your regrets as a springboard for growth.

If you choose the latter, there are a few thoughts that could guide you:

  • Look directly into your regret.  Don’t run from it.  What is it trying to tell you?  Are you listening?  Can you use your frustrations to motivate you into a better direction?
  • Don’t linger too long in your guilt.  At times, guilt is a necessary emotion in the sense that it prompts appropriate restitution or adjustment.  Once that has happened, be glad you have a conscience and a willingness to be honest.  Then continue moving forward.
  • Find balance between your emotions and your mind.  Some of your regrets were driven by emotions that ran away with you, implying a need for better logic.  Other regrets were driven by rationalizing what you wanted to believe, implying the need to listen to your emotions.  Both serve useful functions.  Keep up your efforts to heed them in tandem.
  • Remember, blame does not heal.  You will be tempted to blame the narcissist for being a poor model, and you will be tempted to blame yourself for unhelpful contributions to the relationship’s collapse.  At some point, it is necessary move forward, asking: “What’s next?”  

Your feelings of regret imply that you wanted something better and it also implies that you know you deserve better and can do better.  That makes sense.

So, what is your “better”?  Focus on being more intuitive, or perhaps listening more intently to your intuitions.  Give highest priority to integrity and character.  And above all, know that you are not alone.  No person alive can escape regrets (with the exception of those without a conscience).  When managed cleanly, your regrets become part of the maturation process.  And in the end, they open the door for Wisdom.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.