What do you do when you feel lost or down? I’ll tell you what my programmed, first reaction is: to wallow like a buffalo or hippopotamus.
It’s not a good look, for sure.
Plus, it doesn’t do too much for my mood or motivation. Whether that urge to wallow is temperament or training, I can’t be entirely sure.
Although I do know that my abusive father and husband were both accomplished wallowers. They both reacted very badly if anyone ever tried to tease them out of their wallowing hole.
This week, I want to tell you how a client of mine, let’s call him Rob, found an effective way to overcome the urge to wallow. It worked for him, it works for me and I believe it will work for you, too.
When Rob ended up at the wallowing-hole
Rob looked uncharacteristically mournful at the start of our session. After a few good days, his upbeat mood had evaporated.
Worse still, it had happened when he was in the great outdoors doing an activity that he loves.
Like most of us when we end up in that place of feeling emotionally down, he was thinking, despairingly, that all the fine work he has been doing on healing had been wasted.
Rob is one of my relatively rare male clients but the trigger that caused his mood swing – or as I prefer to put it “emotional wobble” – was in no way gender-specific.
For the record, as the erstwhile queen of triggers and mood swings, I have found that the term “emotional wobbles” helps me and my clients to keep a handle on a situation that suddenly seems to go into freefall. Unpleasant as these moments are, despite their capacity to turn into hours, days or even longer, they are just “wobbles” – times when something knocks us emotionally off kilter. For a while.
Rob’s wobble had happened quite unexpectedly. As he told it, one minute he was looking forward to a great day in the woods, the next he was overcome by a yearning for his abusive ex.
When old feelings sweep over you
When old feelings sweep over you – and sweep you away with them – that really undermines your confidence in your own ability to heal. It makes you feel defenseless against the pull of the Narcissist.
As Rob told it – as we all tell it – there he was, in nature and suddenly, inexplicably, the old feelings had swallowed him up.
I heard him out. As I listened, I had an inkling of where I should go with this.
I suggested to him, “It might be an idea to go back to the thoughts and feelings that you had before your mood-swing started to go downhill.”
He looked at me blankly. Did I really expect him to remember the random thoughts he had had in the wood several days earlier.
I found another way to express the same idea that really pleased me.
“Suppose you got lost in the wood and had no GPS,” I said. “Wouldn’t you try to go back to the last place that you recognised and then re-orient yourself from there?”
Rob looked at me, totally baffled,
“I don’t’ get lost in woodland” he said. “I can always orient myself perfectly well.”
My fault for making a gendered assumption based on my own inability to orient myself …. anywhere. I couldn’t even find my way out of my preferred exit of the local department store in the last town that I lived in. (Fortunately, I don’t have those problems in my current village home!)
I apologised for my assumptions while, Rob, being an empathetic, gracious guy who likes to make other people right rather than wrong, set about formulating the idea in a way that resonated more with him.
“If you dropped me in the centre of London without GPS, I could easily get lost” he said. “In that case I would try and get back to where I was before I got lost.”
Picking up on the clues
It’s all a question of starting somewhere specific and picking up on the clues.
Having agreed on the principle, Rob and I could now apply it to his specific circumstances.
He had been looking forward to his day in the woods. However, on arrival, he had been unpleasantly surprised by the number of other people who had had the same idea. Instead of being able to get away from people, he had found far more of them than he could have wished for.
How did that relate to suddenly yearning for his ex?
Actually, by about 3 steps – otherwise known as the Abusive Three Step. Here’s how it goes.
The Abusive Three Step
STEP 1 When you are with your abusive other, something does not go as well as it ideally would. Your abusive partner instantly paints this as not a minor mishap but a disaster.
STEP 2 Your abusive other lets you know that this disaster is a reflection of your habitual stupidity/inadequacy/failure/ or hopelessness.
STEP 3 They remind you
- How unworthy and unlovable you are,
- That nothing better than them will ever come your way and
- That you have totally messed up and should feel very, VERY bad about this.
Now, as I am sure you had already spotted, Rob’s abusive ex had not come on that trip. However, the little avatar that she had left inside his brain had come. That little avatar lurked in his brain’s dark corners, just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
Anyone who has ever been around an abuser ends up with a little, lurking avatar like that.
If you have been around several abusers you can end up with several avatars, one composite avatar, or just the most strident avatar lurking, ready to pounce.
So, what do you do about it?
Beware the avatar
First, you acknowledge that some nasty, little avatar has staged an ambush on your mood.
Then you go back through your own thought processes – usually you don’t have to go any further than three small steps – to identify where that avatar was lurking. Once you have located it, you tell it in no uncertain terms to go take a hike.
In Rob’s case, the avatar had registered Rob’s disappointment with there being too many people around and started its Abusive Three Step from there.
- First, it made the situation an illustration of Rob’s unworthiness.
- Then, it informed him gleefully that things were never going to get better for him. EVER.
- Finally, it told him that he had been a fool to throw away his only chance at happiness.
Once Rob was able to piece together what had really happened, the feeling of being powerless in the face of his despondency disappeared. He decided that if he could find a way through a wood without GPS – or a humble compass – he could certainly use the Abusive Three Step to find his way through his own feelings.
Actually, I am happy to report that you can apply the Abusive Three Step even if you have a dreadful sense of direction. If I can do it, anyone can.
The sooner you get wise to that nasty, little avatar raising its spiteful, little head, the better. The more chance it has to run and run, the harder it is to winkle it out.
What you have to do is be aware that these nasty little avatars will attack whenever they think they are in with a chance of bringing you down. So, you have to notice when you start to feel lost or down, retrace your thoughts and feelings to where it happened, and tell the avatar to get lost.
I’m not saying that you can always resolve your feelings that way. Sometimes, when they feel really heavy, you will struggle. But, even then, just getting a grip on what is really going on starts to give you some agency. And if you feel you need support in silencing that avatar so that you can stay in charge of your life without experiencing emotional wobbles and ambushes, then drop me an email.
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.
The 5 Simple Steps to Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
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