“How do I stop myself from feeling bad?” my client asked. When we started working together, a few weeks earlier, she had been thinking non-stop about her ex. Was he really a Narcissist, or was she the Narcissist? Was everything her fault for not trying harder? Was she making a big mistake?
In fact, she was going round in the ever decreasing circles that become the pattern of anyone who has ever been in a toxic relationship.
Her ex had done such a great job of gaslighting her that she was blaming herself for everything that he had projected onto her.
How do you protect yourself from revisiting negative feelings?
A few weeks on, she confronted another problem that all survivors encounter at some point on their healing journey. Overall, my client felt much, much better. However, the fear remained about flipping back into the old, conditioned feelings.
Survivors of the trauma of narcissistic abuse focus more on their fear of backsliding into familiar negative feelings because the thought that they can protect themselves effectively from those feelings simply is not there for them.
Learning not only that you can but how you can is key.
So, let’s look here at some of the tools that you can use to manage those old, destabilizing thoughts. The first step to protecting yourself from negative feelings
The very first tool that you need to enlist is your mind.
Like an awful lot of other people, I suspect, I grew up believing that my thoughts and feelings either simply happened to me, out of a clear blue sky, or else sprang spontaneously from some deep place inside me. Either way, I was powerless to do anything about them.
That is an incredibly disempowering and false belief.
Most of the bad thoughts and feelings that we have are actually rumination. We ruminate endlessly over the emotional disasters that have already happened in our lives.
Can we do anything to change those past disasters?
Short of finding a time machine, we cannot.
We cannot go back in time to rewrite the past to our satisfaction. That is not an option that is available to us.
What we can do instead – and this is incredibly powerful – is change, in the present, the way that we feel about that past.
In fact, you can get started right away by starting to look through the past with different eyes.
What to do when faced with a hornets’ nest
One time, my narcissistic husband, my daughter and I ended up on a particularly unfortunate summer holiday in Tuscany. We were staying in upmarket farmhouse accommodation. We staggered into our accommodation late one night and collapsed into the nearest bedrooms.
The next morning, we reconnoitred our new quarters and discovered that one bedroom had a live hornet’s nest in it – that is a nest of genuine winged hornets, in addition to the metaphorical hornet’s nest that the wasband always brought with him on holiday.
To add insult to injury, my daughter promptly developed a bad case of chicken-pox.
We swiftly decided that the best thing to do was to steer clear of that bedroom. Provided we didn’t disturb the resident hornets, they did not disturb us. (Hornets, unlike Narcissists, are reactively – as opposed to proactively – nasty.)
The difference between denial and working with a challenging reality
That hornets’ nest taught me everything I ever needed to know about the difference between:
- a) DENIAL: “I refuse to see the problem therefore there is no problem and everything is right in every area of my perfect world.” and
- b) WORKING EFFECTIVELY WITH THE REALITY: “I acknowledge the existence of this zone that is harmful to me and therefore steer clear of it – all the more so since I don’t need to go there to get to my destination.”
Suppose you started to think about those bad feelings that linger from a past, toxic relationship as a hornet’s nest. What do you get by opening the door to that room ( or if you prefer estate) in your mind?
Mind the door
When you open that door and step into that room, what inevitably happens is that you get stung, over and over again, by the hornets’ nest of worthlessness, despair, hopelessness, anxiety and more.
Sure, you might as well acknowledge that those feelings are still buzzing around in one part of your brain – until such time as you get some sort of professional pest control to deal with them – but you can close the door on them.
It’s not as if they are
- a) telling you anything that you didn’t know already,
- b) helping you in any way.
All they are doing is attacking and wounding you all over again.
But how do you stop them, you might well ask?
You stop these feelings by taking control of your thinking, instead of allowing your rumination to control you.
The thinking redirect
We women are fabulous multi-taskers, it is true, but even the best of us can only think one though at one time.
That’s why when we get into a spiral of bad feelings, it can be so long-lasting. The wretched things proliferate like… well, rabbits.
However, since we do only think one thought at a time, we can butt into what is going on in our heads and effect a redirect.
Ways to redirect your thinking include:
- Getting out into nature
- Listening, and ideally dancing, to upbeat music – the louder the better.
- Watching or listening to something that inspires and or uplifts you – no rom-coms or chick-lit, please.
- Talking to a friend who will uplift you. (Beware of anyone who has a habit of bringing you down.)
- Meditating, praying or doing any other kind of spiritual activity that works for you – do this only if you already know that this kind of activity works for you.
In short, anything that takes you away from your own personal hornets’ nest is a positive thing to do.
The win-win outcome
The hornets’ nest in Tuscany survived our visit and we survived it, unscathed – because of our deliberate decision not to go there. It took me a lot longer to realise that there was a BIG difference between focusing on my wounds and finding a way to move beyond those wounds and heal.
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
Over the next 5 days, I'll send you some lessons and tips that I've found have really helped women to heal from narcissistic abuse. Starting with the basics.