Mental health, Narcissism, Relationships

Recovery from abuse, part 1: learn to love only those who love you

recovery from abuse: how to have healthy relationships with people. Photo of Tony Soprano from 'The Sopranos' TV show.

After a long, arduous relationship with a toxic person, all you want is to start the recovery process as soon as possible.

You’ll also feel like all hope is lost and if you meet another narcissist again, you’re gonna isolate yourself from humanity because you’ve had it.

Many adult children of narcissists have their first toxic relationship in their childhood. These innocent children don’t know that they grow up with a mother who doesn’t truly love them.

They believe their mom loves them because they heard that all mothers must love their children. They all have that maternal instinct that lights up whenever the child is around.

Maybe this belief will be kept alive all their lives. Or maybe, with the help of therapy, they learn to let go and understand that a narcissistic parent can’t and won’t love them.

In The Sopranos, the TV show that accurately portrays a narcissistic mother and her co-dependent children, we are shown different types of relationships. And they’re all toxic. Mother-son, husband-wife, father-children, brother-sister, grandmother-children and so on.

One of the most shocking relationships that the main character, Tony, had was the one with independent but fragile Gloria Trillo.

I revisited the episodes of their torrid affair and felt a deep sense of sadness for both of them. In these episodes, Gloria embodied an adult child of a toxic parent who is always hungry for love, who craves attention, respect and recognition. She was a child in an adult body trying to prove herself to everyone, bending over backwards for them so they won’t abandon her and break her heart.

This Gloria character falls desperately in love with a…narcissist. Tony is known to have narcissistic tendencies and anti-social personality disorder which makes him a magnet to co-dependents like Gloria.

Why do co-dependents love abusive people?

That’s because they are stuck in the feelings they got as children when they were ignored, punished or mistreated by their parents. Those feelings, no matter how painful ARE LOVE.

And they are VERY important to them because they signify safety, familiarity, comfort and warmth. In psychological terms, these feelings are part of the Stockholm Syndrome. Shortly, the syndrome refers to feeling a sense of closure for people who abused you for an extended period of time. (The longer the abuse the stronger the feelings)

The syndrome is well-known by police officials and it is often used in capturing criminals. Usually, the prisoners are not in a position to cooperate with the police, thus, the police makes use of the ‘feelings’ they have for their abusers to catch the offenders before they commit crimes.

You can read more about this subject in Dr. Joseph M Carver’s article ‘Love and Stockholm Syndrome: the mystery of loving an abuser’.

What’s real, healthy love anyway?

Good question! I always asked myself this, every since I first started reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Shakespeare.

See, healthy love is not portrayed on TV because it is not as exciting as passionate, painful love. In ‘The Sopranos’, Tony fell in love with the exuberant Gloria and thought it was true love. Gloria felt the same.

However, she also felt disrespected, put down, ignored and thrown at the bottom of Tony’s priority list. He was married with children and was the boss of a big mob group in New Jersey.

But the problem wasn’t how busy Tony was or how little time he had for her. The issue was why was Gloria in a relationship with a married man in the first place?

When you move further in your recovery, you’ll realize that healthy love is much less complicated than you thought.

One attribute of real love is reciprocity. Both parts are willing to give and take from each other, without feeling like someone didn’t contribute at all.

Gloria agreed to fall in love and have an affair with Tony knowing that he will never give her what she needs. She gave herself entirely to him, however, he was unable to do that in return because he was in a relationship with his wife. The affair was doomed from the beginning.

Another trait of a healthy relationship is respect. You apologize when you did something wrong and the other will do the same. This requires you to have a sense of awareness and to be willing to admit you’re wrong. There’s nothing bad about failing or screwing up in relationships. That’s how we learn to grow.

As a narcissist, Tony projected an image of perfection and power. He indeed had a lot of power over people but that doesn’t mean he was truly powerful. It was just the image he built for himself in order to control people and make them obey him (through fear).

He never admitted he was wrong with Gloria and, when he was criticized by her, he lashed out and hit her. No wonder Gloria became a basket case at the end of their affair. (you gotta watch The Sopranos to find out what happened to her).

The third trait of a healthy relationship is that is predictable. You can predict your partner’s behavior and that this behavior will mostly be positive and supportive of you. You won’t walk on eggshells around your man/woman worrying that they will lash out if you bring up ‘that problem’ or ask for a need to be met.

A fourth trait of a healthy love is independence. Being independent from your partner and doing the things you love should be something that is encouraged and not forbidden. You need to have a separate identity from your significant other, knowing that, if you’re to break up, you’ll land on your feet and not kill yourself because you lost your life’s meaning.

Making the other person the center of your world, the reason you breathe the air is toxic and doesn’t lead to healthy behaviors in the long run.

A fifth trait is acceptance.

I could write a whole blog post about how co-dependents have to change, fix themselves or shift so they can fit their parents’ idea of them. Co-dependents were abused in their childhood.

They had to care for their parents and cater to their every need. They were their parents’ parents and that was not fair for them, was it? They were robbed of a happy and worry-free childhood because, if they didn’t nurse their narcissistic parents’ invisible wounds, they would be hit, mocked, criticized or neglected.

In a healthy relationship, co-dependents need to accept themselves as they are and let the other person take care of them once in a while. They also need to accept others for who they are and stop searching for someone to fix or heal.

Accepting your partner with their good parts but also with the dark and creepy interiors is a beautiful thing to do.

According to Psychology Today’s columnist, Suzanne Degges-White, another trait of true, meaningful love is when both partners show their true selves to each other and engage deeply with the wold around them.

She believes that it’s important to nurture relationships and create new experiences in the relationship so bother partners can grow.

Read more about this in ‘6 Essential Traits of Healthy Intimate Relationships’.


Recovery from abuse takes many years and, during this time we will go back and forth with wanting to love those who can’t love us and cutting ties with them.

But that’s OK because, learning to be in a healthy relationship is a skill. And all skills need to be practiced.

Accepting someone in your life who is healthy and wants to see you happy will make you anxious or paranoid. You won’t truly believe that someone wants the best for you so you’ll sabotage those relationships.

But if you do your recovery work in therapy you can learn to open yourself up to others. You can learn to accept help from others, to let others take care of you once in a while, without running for the hills or hide in your shell out of fear.

Do you have a story on how you found healthy love after narcissistic abuse? Please leave a comment because it will help so many of us here. Also, do share or like this post.

Thank you! 🙂


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