This is the time of year when, traditionally, there is significant social and media pressure to look back, look forward and make New Year’s Resolutions. But 2020 has been a year like no other. We have seen a major tear in the fabric of our reality. Our lives have been adversely affected by Covid 19. We have all experienced mental health challenges, to some degree. Many of us have lost loved ones to the pandemic.
In normal times, survivors of emotional and narcissistic abuse can find it painful to look back and worrying to look forward.
And yet, this year more than ever, we all need to find a way forward in our own bruised and battered live. We need, in other words, to find a way to live, as agreeably as possible, with the trauma that we have all sustained.
We need to keep ourselves afloat when circumstances do little to make that easy.
2019 was a differently traumatic year for me. While I was staggering under a heavy load of personal trauma, most of the rest of the world seemed to be doing okay. But the lessons of finding a way through trauma that I learned then still apply. So, here they are.
1. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be doing or how you should be feeling – especially when times are tough.
Frankly, you should already have done this ruthlessly, a while ago. But your blessing (and your curse) is that you are a very nice person. So, you don’t like to behave in a way that feels inconsistent with being nice.
You probably also had a narrative about your experiences or feelings being less important than other people’s. This year, we have all been closer than usual to a common experience. What that means, for me, is that even more than in the past, Other People have precisely no right to tell you what you should be doing or how you should be thinking.
Other People need to show respect for the way that you respond when faced with the level of difficulties that we have all faced this year. They are entitled to think what they please, but if they can’t be civil and respectful, you can’t have them around you.
2. Listen to yourself.
You may have been taught to disregard your own feelings but that doesn’t make it a good thing to do. Especially when it comes to trauma.
Major trauma has any number of unpleasant side-effects – including discovering that you have some very annoying ways of processing trauma. My own annoying ways of processing trauma, I’ve discovered, include,
- staring into space,
- scrolling through social media,
- fixating on online shopping portals and fantasising about how much better my life would be if I only bought the most absurd garments,
- binge watching tv series of variable quality,
- indulging in these and similar pointless activities, including the occasional video game for long stretches of time,
- Baking and consuming cake and sourdough bread*.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that, when a mind is traumatized, zoning out can be a necessary aspect of healing – even though it doesn’t always feel like that. Sometimes, when you have a lot to process, it can be hard to find the energy to do the things you need to do for more than about 5-10 minutes at a time.
Sometimes, you just have to do what soothes you.
*(Clearly, the sourdough thing is very 2020.)
3. Be kind to yourself when your functioning is below par.
Stress and trauma play havoc with the way that you function.
Over the weeks that my nightmare went on, I had plenty of opportunity to notice how it impaired my mental functioning. Some things I could do – even do well, some of the time. Others I could not. Often, I just didn’t have the mental wherewithal to join the dots enough to achieve any kind of joined up thinking. That happens. It is not something to be afraid of. But it is helpful to be aware of it.
Another aspect of the same problem was that my memory was shot to pieces. That reminded me of the dark days of my abusive marriage when I began to wonder if I had early onset Alzheimers. I didn’t, thankfully. What I did have was a lot of gaslighting and ongoing high stress.
Memory can come and go, depending on the level of overwhelm in your life.
If you realize that the stresses of 2020 have left your functioning below par, accept it self-compassionately. Your system is in overload. Simplify if and where you can. Accept when you cannot. Be kind to yourself anyway. Kindness is healing. Especially if you are not getting too much kindness from other people, you need to give yourself that balm for your wounded soul.
4. Focus on what matters to you.
This one takes a fair bit of doing. When times are tough, you normally put most of your focus on what you have cause to be anxious or alarmed about.
Unfortunately, when you spend more time worrying about what is tough and anxiety-provoking, that doesn’t help you to feel any better. Nor does it help to solve a problem – especially when, as in 2020, the problem is WAY out of your control.
Ideally, you want to turn your focus to the things that really matter to you where you can effect some kind of improvement in your life or the way that you feel.
The good news is that any improvement doesn’t have to be huge to lift your spirits.
Ditch the belief that only a miraculous improvement will make you feel better. It isn’t true and it isn’t helpful. One client of mine turned her entire life around thanks to a – comfortably – hot bath.
The problem with traditional New Year’s Resolutions
New Year’s Resolutions are, traditionally, all about losing weight, becoming trimmer, looking better and becoming a higher achieving, higher status individual.
So that you can feel good about yourself.
Unfortunately, the chances of that working are no less wafer-slim than we are led to believe that we should be. Two reasons in particular make this kind of preoccupation toxic.
- Underlying these New, Improved You Resolutions is the belief that you have to be other than you are in order to be good enough for all the good things that you want to happen to you.
- Even if you do get to achieve the fantasy – which the vast majority don’t, anyway – what will it actually give you? If you lose weight, you will be thinner. If you become trimmer, there may be an ongoing health benefit – that, certainly, is not to be sniffed at. If you achieve more, you may well increase your status. However, the question remains, will these changes really make you happier by transforming your life?
Maybe I move in the wrong circles (certainly it has been ever-decreasing circles over the past nine months) but I have not met a single person who is trotting around the planet radiantly happy thanks to a New Year’s Resolution that they made one year.
Mostly, we use New Year’s Resolutions to ward off more bad things rather than to embrace good feelings.
So, how about in 2021, you focus on what really matters to you.
Invert the triangle
Focusing on what really matters to you likely means inverting the conventional triangle. Let me explain.
Whenever I listen to survivors of abuse, they list their priorities, mostly along these lines with 1) being the most important and 5) the least:
- Sort out my life. Sort out my children’s lives.
- Sort out my finances.
- Learn how to trust people again.
- Get over the relationship.
- Heal my own wounds so that I can feel good about myself.
For most people that feels like an almost superhuman struggle.
Because you actually need to start from the other end of the list by focusing on what makes you feel good about yourself.
Attempting to work through issue 1 through 5 is the conventional – misguided – pattern of starting from the outside in. It is the “I’ll Work Through All My Other Problems, Before I Feel Justified Focusing On Myself” approach that weakens motivation, increases overwhelm and tends to lead to exhaustion.
In short, it doesn’t work. It’s a bit like saying that you will only have a decent meal after you have sorted out everybody else and all the long-term issues you in your life. Starving people lack stamina and resilience. Plus, their decision-making becomes impaired.
You have to start from issue 5 and work upwards through the triangle by focusing on what makes you feel good about yourself. That is a far more effective way to maintain motivation.
5. Start a daily happiness practice
Yes, that really is a great thing to do when you are NOT feeling happy. In fact, that is actually, the BEST time to do it.
Happiness may not have not figured as much in your life as you would have liked – essentially because of the company you have kept.
Narcissists are not great believers in happiness. Rather, they use it – as they use everything else – as a stick to beat you with.
They do everything that they can to change your “default settings” to misery. Certainly, they are naturally miserable individuals. But misery is also a tool that works for them. It keeps you in their power.
A happiness practice is all about you doing what you can to restore your default settings to happiness. Over 2020, I have often noticed that my default settings slipping into depression. I have felt the old hopelessness – a throwback to my training in abuse.
Living around an abuser really does feel hopeless and pointless. A lot of the time, just thinking about how much more awful the pandemic would have been had I still been with “my” Mr Nasty was enough to raise my spirits considerably.
Still, in all the pandemic stress, I forgot about my happiness practice and noticed a significant drop in mood. Restarting that happiness practice has made a significant difference.
A happiness practice is composed of things that are easy to do on a regular basis that lift the spirits. My own include, walking, exercising, doing the facial exercise sequence that lifts my spirits, and counting blessings .
Everyone’s happiness practice may well be difference. The point is, you need to commit on various things that you can do – daily – that don’t require excessive time, effort or money but lift your spirits. That small investment will produce big benefits.
Mood change really is about creating the domino effect. A few relatively small things can produce a much bigger and better effect than reason suggests they should.
Wherever you are along your healing journey, it is always an advantage to understand how to survive and come through trauma. I hope that you will find something in this list that will make your life a little bit easier. And if you need help to beat your current mood-set, get in touch.
My very best wish for your peace of mind and happiness in 2021 and beyond.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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