Healing from a narcissistic relationship is a delicate process. The following is a practical guide on dealing with some of the most challenging effects of narcissistic abuse. From dissociation, to post-abuse depression, to the finer points on healing, this guide aims to provide you with clarity and direction on your journey toward narcissistic abuse recovery.
Dealing With Dissocation
Dissociation occurs because you cannot remain present with your current reality or your current emotions. We do it as children when being abused, which causes fear and shame to overwhelm our tiny bodies. The more abuse we suffer, the more dissociation becomes a habit, and the harder it is to be present in the moment. Narcissistic abuse only aggravates and further ingrains this habit, which makes us even more vulnerable to further abuse. It is a vicious cycle. Fear, shame, guilt, pain and anxiety floods our body, and our mind instantly activates our dissociative defence and we drift into our imagination to soothe ourselves. If we cannot be present, we cannot set boundaries and face the challenges around us. A dissociated person is sitting duck. Worst of all, it can be difficult to even be aware that we are dissociated. This is where meditation can help.
Trauma release, bodywork and therapy can all help us with healing from a narcissistic relationship. Yet one powerful exercise you can practice at home to gently restore your conscious focus back to the present moment is the following meditation:
- Find a quiet room where you will not be distracted.
- Choose a spot on the floor and sit cross-legged with your back and neck upright. There is no need for any fancy yoga pose. It helps to have a meditation pillow to sit on, since elevating your torso allows you to maintain good posture and makes the meditation less painful. If you don’t have a meditation pillow, you can also stack up some folded towels or clothes and even place a towel under your knees if the ground is hard. The important thing is to establish as much comfort as possible while maintaining a seated, upright position.
- Set a timer. The ideal period is 20 minutes. At first you may need to begin with a much shorter duration and work your way up.
- Rest your hands on each lap.
- Keep your eyes open throughout the sitting. Find a basic object to focus on, such as a cup without printing on it. This will be used as a point of reference throughout the meditation to allow you to gently focus without scattering. If you feel a need to close your eyes, do so, and open them again when you’re ready.
- Try to stay relaxed yet focused throughout.
During the meditation, you will hit some difficulties. Sitting perfectly still and silent is a mode the mind does not like very much, and it will rebel. You need to be ready for this. Exposing the mind, allowing it no distractions and giving it nowhere to go threatens its hold over you. Here is a list of the most common obstacles and how to deal with them:
- Incessant thoughts: As you sit, the mind will keep ticking away. This is perfectly fine. You may drift away into your mind and start thinking about the washing, or you could replay parts of the day like a movie, or you could even start analysing the object which you are focussing on. The key is to catch yourself and to gently bring your focus back into the present moment. A good way to ground yourself is to focus on your breath. Breathe 10 slow and deep breaths then go back to a rested, natural state with normal breathing. Another way to centre yourself is to focus in on your body. Focus on your chest area or on your body as a whole, and take notice of how you are feeling. If you catch onto a feeling, go deeper into it and explore it. Give it your attention. Then come back to a relaxed focus when you’re ready.
- Scattering: When a thought or a stimulation from the outside world causes a strong reaction from the true self, the pain can scare the ego into scattering. During the meditation, the more your true self comes to the surface, the more fear you might experience. As the fear increases, your focus may begin to scatter. The more the true self reveals itself, the stronger your focus must be. You might also dissociate during the meditation by zoning out or you might get caught up in a thought pattern. The idea is to gently bring your focus back, while being simultaneously aware of your body sensations. It’s a balancing act, where too much focus brings too much ego, which blocks the path for the true self. Too little focus causes you to become unconscious, which means the true self will over run you and you won’t be able to channel it.
- Pain and discomfort, including hot flushes: This will subside with more and more sittings. Over time, your body has stored up all of your buried emotions. When you do the sitting meditation, those emotions will rise to the surface and manifest as pain. You may especially experience it in your shoulders and back. Some gentle stretching after the sitting can help, but just know that in time it will reduce. You may of course stop the meditation if the discomfort becomes too much, but the more you can tolerate the more effective the sitting will be.
- Doubts and impatience: The mind will play its games. It will tell you that you’re being silly, and that you could better spend your time planning your next holiday. It will think of countless other things you could be doing. It will tell you there is no point to what you’re doing. Don’t listen to it. It is all a ruse. The mind hates feeling exposed without something to distract it. When these doubts arise (and they will), simply acknowledge them and keep going.
- Foggy vision: Meditation physically changes your brain chemistry. Foggy vision is a side effect of this, and will settle as you go deeper.
Practice the above meditation for 5–20 minutes each day, and you will gradually retrain your mind and your consciousness to stop dissociating and start awakening into the world, where you can grow more and more empowered each day. Healing from a narcissistic relationship demands that we gently bring our focus back to reality, so we can purge the resulting trauma and awaken to reality so we can finally direct its course.
Dealing With Depression After A Narcissistic Relationship
Depression is a healing tonic which restores the Self to a point of equilibrium. Remember that while in the narcissistic relationship you were identified with a grandiose construct, i.e. the false Self of the narcissist. Your old identity was demolished, and you were reprogrammed according to the narcissist’s tastes. This false identity is now crumbling, and your ego is undergoing a process of grief. That is what the depression is.
Your ego drew a sense of identity from the narcissist, and it wants that identity back. It does not care what kind of identity you have; only that you should have one. It does not realise that you can rebuild yourself in a more actualised, empowered way.
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Before you can start healing from a narcissistic relationship, however, you must grieve. Ideally you want to direct all of your awareness into the depression, to expand your consciousness and accept the depression in all of its intensity. However, that might be too overwhelming initially. Instead, take time each day to sit in an upright position and simply direct your consciousness toward the feeling of depression for as long as you can tolerate. Note its intensity. Where in the body does it manifest? In the chest? In your stomach? Let your face droop, let your body soften, let yourself be as sad and depressed as needed. Go with the flow. Do not think about it or analyse it, simply observe it and allow it to happen. This is how you allow the grieving process to complete itself. Just when you think it will never end, it will begin to transform.
But that could be days, weeks or months away. For now, simply take time out each day to do this practice. When you become overwhelmed, and surely you will at the beginning, change up and do something that brings you relaxation and joy. Take a bath, spend time with a good friend, watch your favourite TV show, go for a walk, do exercise. When you are sufficiently filled, go back into the dark and sit there i.e. be conscious with it. You can be sure that when the work is done, the sun will shine again, and the darkness will recede back into the depths of your being. Then the spiritual growth can begin, and you can begin the long and beautiful road toward healing from a narcissistic relationship.
Healing Emotional Flashbacks After A Narcissistic Relationship
Narcissistic abuse remains lodged in a person’s body and soul as trauma. At the time of the abuse the target of narcissism did not have the capacity to process it because their mental capacity and willpower were compromised.
The source of the abuse is now gone. This shame and fear based energy finally has a chance to bubble to the surface. It wants your higher self (your consciousness) to recognise it, to legitimise its right to exist, and finally, to provide it space where it can be expressed. This means being present with it, and allowing it to roam and play itself out in Your presence. ‘Your’ is in capital letters here because it represents not your mind or your ego, but the ‘You’ which lies beyond and above your mind.
To embrace your trauma is to exist in a state of spaciousness and intensity the likes of which you have never experienced before. During the flashback, look for the intensity and the sensations which accompany it in your body. Be alert, but relax your body. Become the intensity. Surrender to the horror of what you are experiencing in this moment. Look directly into this wave from the past. Go into it.Do this by directing all of your focus into it, gently brushing aside your thoughts and conflicting instincts. If you can take the leap of faith, your consciousness will grow, and your capacity to handle intensity will increase. This is how evolution works. Before you can simply ‘be present’, you need to be present with what is getting in the way of that. Evolution is a process where an organism’s state of being takes on a form that never existed before. You are capable of this, and you do it through faith, courage and conscious presence in the face of terror.
Like the stages of a video game, see your trauma from narcissistic abuse as a ‘level’ which you must work through. It’s frustrating, it’s uncomfortable, it’s downright agonising for a brief moment, but once you find your way through it using surrender and focus, you can rest in the joy of your spiritual growth and then prepare yourself for the next level. Narcissistic abuse can cripple you, or it can be the force which propels you toward your actualisation. It’s only a matter of perception and the willingness to undertake your own personal hero journey.
Preventing Further Narcissistic Abuse
Nobody consciously chooses to partake in narcissistic abuse. It slowly takes hold only if you are unaware of what is happening. Before the more overt abuse settles in, a shame imbalance is the main warning signal you will have to sense.
The overt signals are well documented, in the DSM-5 and in countless articles, so that is the place to begin to know what to look for. What’s often harder to pick up on, or rather, to sense, is the underlying dynamic that occurs when you start interacting with a narcissist. A snide remark, a back-handed compliment, a snicker, an ‘observation’ about you which causes you to question yourself and reassess your decision making. These are all tiny nudges to push you more and more into shame. This is how narcissistic abuse begins. Never admitting to faults, blaming scapegoats for what goes wrong, inflating themselves through story, this is how the narcissist creates an aura of ‘superiority’. Who are they superior to? Anyone who questions them.
This apparent ‘superiority’ is merely shamelessness. It creates the illusion that the narcissist is a higher being. So by being consistently shameless while shaming you in the process, all without your awareness, they gradually grind you down and make you psychologically malleable enough to control and manipulate. You will know that you are feeling shame when you start to feel heavy in the mind, when your posture collapses, when you begin questioning yourself, when you are on the back-foot all the time and needing to ‘redeem’ yourself, and when your mind goes blank.
Whie healing from a narcissistic relationship, observe this pattern and practice sensing it when it begins. It can come from anywhere, a mutual friend at a party, a colleague or boss at work, a potential romantic partner. If this pattern takes hold without your awareness, narcissistic abuse will occur. Only by picking up on it and disengaging can you protect yourself.
Ten Further Tips On Healing From A Narcissistic Relationship
Healing from a narcissistic relationship can leave you drowning in emotional vertigo as your trauma bubbles up to the surface and drags you away from your centre. Some further actionable tips to anchor you are:
- Find your centre: The essence of spirituality is to be grounded in something deeper than your mind. This begins with being mindful in general, and really begins when you allow space for your centre to emerge. If you can successfully ground yourself and establish consciousness of your centre, you will gain a point of reference when narcissists try to manipulate you. When a narcissist ridicules you, shames you or tries to manipulate and control you with their words and behaviour, you will feel a subtle nudge away from this centre. This uncomfortable tugging feeling is your compass and greatest ally.
- Spend time alone: Each day you should allocate some time to being alone. A narcissist will do everything in their power to consume your reality and throw you off centre by muddling up your thoughts and emotions. Time alone, in total mindfulness, will clearly reveal your inner state to you so you can understand it while giving it air to breathe. When you emerge from solitude in a re-centred state, you can use this clean slate to better spot manipulation.
- Practice disengagement: When a narcissist is steering the conversation into uncomfortable territory which either makes you feel bad about yourself or entraps you, learn to abruptly steer the conversation back to the mundane. Share a random fact about the world. Ask what a mutual friend has been upto. Mention that you like their shirt or dress. Narcissistic manipulation carries a certain momentum, and having a contemptuous attitude toward it is a powerful way to short-circuit the effects.
- Get angry: Repressed rage is like undiscovered oil. It lies beneath the surface, it’s black, and it burns easily. Rage is also the fuel for boundary setting. You only need a little bit of it for the narcissist to sense that you mean business. On the outside, it will seem like you’re just being firm, but they will sense the tiny hint of rage behind your boundary. So get curious about anger. Be conscious of it in your body, and let yourself feel it. Explore it, and give it space to roam in a context which you can manage i.e. in solitude, in therapy, etc..
- Meditate on shame: Shame is the narcissist’s ultimate weapon. If they can make you feel enough of it, they can trap you in a psychological cage of inferiority and sluggishness. Be mindful of it, explore it and own it. Toxic shame and shame attacks are horrible experiences, and you might need the help of a therapist when facing them. However, if you can learn to be with your shame, you can release it from your psyche and restore self-esteem. Once you have made enough progress, the narcissist’s ridicule and verbal attacks will lose much of their punch.
- Tackle C-PTSD: Complex Post Traumatic Stress comes as a result of constant abuse for long periods of time. This leaves you in a hypervigilant state which weakens your resolve and keeps you trapped in a psychological cage. By facing and releasing your trauma, your body will begin to allow healthy fear to circulate, and you will be able to tackle the unknown with unimaginable bursts of energy. Stretching, breath work, yoga, dance, somatic experiencing, and so on are all excellent therapies for healing C-PTSD.
- Reclaim your pride: Learn new skills, step outside your usual boundaries, embrace leadership and most importantly, learn to see failure as a stepping stone to growth.
- Keep this mantra with you: Narcissism is a lie. It is a psychological game which convinces targets to believe that they are inferior and worthless by using their shame against them when they too vulnerable to resist. It canbe unlearnt and healed, and you can break the cycle.
- Die before you die: When you wake up each morning, meditate for 10–20 minutes and bring your focus into the darkest, most unsettling parts of yourself. You may or you may not brush against your centre, but your ego will be affected by the experience. This practice will give you increasing ownership over your insecurities and fears and will make it harder for narcissists to exploit them.
- Be kind to yourself: Years of abuse remain in our mind, body and spirit for a lifetime. Patterns play out which are beyond our control, and wrestling back control of our true self is hard work. You will slip up, and often. Forgive yourself, take a step back, and try again. If you’re not your own friend, then who will be?
To go deeper on your journey toward healing from a narcissistic relationship, check out my book, How To Kill A Narcissist. In the follow-up, How To Bury A Narcissist, I delve deeper into the narcissistic family and Self-actualising after narcissistic abuse. If you need support in cultivating healthy, empowered relationships, then Transformational Life Coaching might also be helpful.