Healing the emotional wounds caused by narcissistic relationships
Talk presented to the Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse support group in Bryanston, Johannesburg
How do we heal the emotional wounds created by living in the shadow of either emotionally deficient narcissistic parents, or narcissistic partners?
One needs to firstly realize and accept that one’s parent or partner is a narcissist. One needs to properly understand narcissism – one needs to know exactly what you were dealing with in your relationship . One needs to understand that the narcissist’s personality style centers around a need to inflate their sense of self, that they have no interest in the needs and feelings of others, that they have an inability to empathize, that they have no other- mindedness, that those around them are rarely allowed to have a feeling or opinion that differs from the narcissist without being emotionally punished, and that the narcissist is always free of fault or deficiency. Once one understands the dynamics underlying the narcissist’s behaviour, one can start to use it as a template for understanding the painful interactions that one has had with the narcissist. Making sense of one’s chaotic relationship is the 1st step towards healing.
I usually start with treating post-traumatic stress symptoms – it immediately makes a big difference to a person’s quality of life in the here and now. Whether caused by the narcissists’ random outbursts of rage, or complete emotional meltdowns when their needs aren’t being met, fact is that the child/partner of a narcissist will ultimately suffer from some level of post-traumatic stress disorder. The more abusive the narcissist, the more intense the post- traumatic stress, which means that the survivor is in a state of constant alertness, vigilantly ready for the next threatening situation or interaction. To the subconscious mind, emotional and physical threat is seen as similar. Therefore, both the emotional abuse and physical abuse cause symptoms of post- traumatic stress, which really means that a person is constantly in fight, flight or freeze mode , which are the person’s primitive survival responses.
Post-Traumatic Stress develops when a person experiences fear, coupled with the feeling of being trapped in a situation. High states of physiological arousal is created, there is danger, without the possibility of fight or flight. As a child, expressing one’s anger towards one’s narcissistic parent is an impossibility, and even more dangerous, and running away is also not possible. Our narcissistic parents and partners manipulate every situation, they are always blameless and we are wrong. There is no space for us to fully move through our physical and emotional reactions to hurtful experiences. Our survival responses of fight or flight will also just lead to more danger, and therefore we freeze, we become stuck in an emotional shutdown, not fully reengaging with life. We become hopelessly frozen by terror and helplessness.
Somatic Experiencing is a therapeutic technique that allows for the full, carefully graded expression of one’s instinctive survival responses which allows the traumatic state to loosen its hold over the sufferer. These disowned sensations of our primitive responses are allowed into consciousness, and as they are, we literally become unfrozen and can return to being fully alive.
I usually couple somatic experiencing with Eye Movement Integration (Danie Beaulieu) and Brain-spotting (David Grand). Both are neurobiological techniques that use the field of vision to access traumatic memories. It is hypothesised that certain points in the visual field correspond to certain parts of the brain. Eye Movement Integration is a brief therapeutic technique that uses eye movements to incorporate all the fragmentary recollections of the trauma into an integrated whole. Trauma comes to us through our senses, and scatters to different parts of our brain, which makes it difficult to integrate this experience. Eye Movement Integration does exactly this. It assists the brain to integrate the trauma into a new neural pathway, which then makes the trauma seem as an event that happened long ago, and not something that the person is continuously trapped in.
Brainspotting also helps to locate, focus, process and release experiences and symptoms which are typically out of reach of the conscious mind and its capacity for language and recognition .
These techniques are very effective, especially combined with Somatic Experiencing. Usually clients report a huge shift in post-traumatic symptoms after only one session.
The most powerful law in the universe is the Law of Attraction, which basically means that like attracts like. Therefore, what I believe, attracts more of that which I believe. This is the reason why so many people who end up in a relationship with a narcissistic partner, had at least one narcissistic parent. Our beliefs and our thoughts create our reality. When our thoughts and beliefs are in alignment with what we intend to create, for instance a loving relationship with our child, or a romantic relationship with a partner, that is exactly what happens. The opposite however , is also true. If I want a loving reciprocal romantic relationship, but I believe that I am unworthy of love, I will create a reality opposite of that which I really want. Getting our thoughts to be in alignment with what it is that we want to attract to us, is easier than changing our beliefs.
Mindfulness meditation is one way of managing our thoughts. We develop our internal observer, who is continuously observing our thoughts, telling us when our thoughts are deviating from what it is that we want to create. So, if I’m thinking: “It is impossible these days to meet decent men”, my observer will point it out to me, and very quickly I can bring my thoughts back in alignment by thinking “of course it is possible to meet decent men”.
Changing our underlying beliefs, however, is more difficult. In order to assist my clients in this regard, I use hypnosis to identify where this belief originates from – in other words identifying the seed/root of this belief (which usually occurs during the 1st 3 years 9 months of a child’s life). Considering our example of believing that “I am unloveable” – the root may lie as far back as the womb when your narcissistic mother, who may not have wanted to be pregnant, finds out that she is pregnant with you, or when you were left to cry in your cot without anybody pitching up to console and comfort you. Of course there would be many symptom intensifying events after that, but the root is the most important. Whilst in hypnosis, we change the perception/belief right there where it was formed in the first place.
Through hypnotherapy an emotional connection is established with the inner child, leading to an increased sense of self and self worth.
I highly recommend keeping a “positive aspects” journal which focusses on all areas in one’s life, for instance listing positive aspects about one self, about one’s work, about one’s relationships, home, achievements etc. The more one focusses on the positive aspects in one’s life, the more one becomes aware of the presence of these in oneself and in one’s life and the more of these one attracts and the better one feels about oneself.
Self-care is also very important, as it represents the opposite of emotional and physical neglect, and the opposite of “your needs are not important “ – aspects the survivors of narcissistic relationships are all too familiar with…. Really put in effort to find out what you LOVE, what it is that really blows your hair back, and make it a priority in your life. It will go a far way to developing your sense of self and your feeling of self-worth.
Meaning making is a very important part of the healing process. In all adversity, there are many gifts, for instance the gaining of wisdom and psychological mindedness, the development of one’s ability to handle really difficult people, the development of one’s skill to read and understand people, or showing one how to not be a parent.
This step entails letting go of the narcissist and completely liberating oneself. Often on an energetic level the narcissist hooks into one, causing one to constantly be thinking of them, or constantly being negatively emotionally influenced by them even though they may not be physically present. Through hypnotherapy I cut those energetic cords, and you are completely free to live your life.
Healing the wounds of narcissistic abuse is not simple, and will take a fair amount of courage, but it is definitely possible! I challenge you to make the decision to leave your hurtful past where it belongs, which is in the past, by embarking on a journey of healing! I’d like you to look forward to meeting your future healed and reinvented self!