What do you think about pickleball?

21 Mar 2024

Do you play pickleball?

I don’t but my lovely client Sheila does.

Her pickleball experience gave me a real Aha moment that I wanted to share with you.

Sheila, not her real name, is someone who divorced her horrible husband and then had to rebuild her life, in middle age.

Pickleball struck her as an obvious choice for health, fitness and developing a new circle of friends.

All survivors of narcissistic abuse have a need to start over.

They are also left with shedloads of trauma from the relationship.

After living for as long as they have in a domestic war zone, they need to rehabilitate themselves.

That can prove difficult and slow – not least because it takes them a while to even begin to realize the full impact of the relationship trauma on their lives.

Sheila’s diagnosis

Sheila went through massive trauma in the course of her long marriage.

Her physician diagnosed her with Major Depressive Disorder. She displayed most, if not all, of these 8 symptoms:

  • continuous low mood or sadness.
  • feeling hopeless and helpless.
  • having low self-esteem.
  • feeling tearful.
  • feeling guilt-ridden.
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others.
  • having no motivation or interest in things.
  • finding it difficult to make decisions.

Still, that is hardly surprising given that she had a bullying, narcissistic husband and tough circumstances.

I displayed them all when I was with my horrible ex-husband. You likely did as well, when you were with your abuser.

Circumstances, circumstances, CIRCUMSTANCES

The wall-to-wall trauma and ill-treatment that you experience in a narcissistic relationship is enough to reduce anyone to Major Depressive Disorder – if that is how you choose to label the symptoms.

The depression of all victims of narcissistic abuse does not occur in a vacuum.  It occurs in the context of an impossible relationship.

For myself, I prefer the label of CPTSD which covers much of the same ground as MDD but includes avoidance of potential triggers and hypervigilance, among the other features that we survivors display.

I prefer CPTSD as a label for one simple reason: it relates cause and effect.

Survivors don’t feel as miserable as sin because they are temperamentally as miserable as sin. They feel as miserable as sin because they have lived in a situation that caused them to feel that way.

For the life of me, I cannot see how Sheila could not have been suffering with CPTSD.

After her divorce, her circumstances changed.

Sadly, her low mood did not spontaneously get up and leave.

Nor did her triggers suddenly disappear.

Why low mood and triggers don’t just disappear

The way that survivors feel about themselves – even years after their relationship end – is a consequence of their learned beliefs about who they are and how the world is.

They continue to judge themselves through the eyes of their narcissistic ex.

And they continue to experience major distress whenever they feel triggered.

Their “training”, by the Narcissist, has taught them that there are no mistakes or small crimes. Therefore they continue to feel disproportionate distress and anxiety when they encounter even an insignificant trigger.

That is why Sheila found herself getting profoundly triggered even during a friendly game of Pickleball.

Sheila was a veteran apologizer.

You have probably met plenty of people, like Sheila before. In fact, you might even be just like her in feeling a desperate need to apologize repeatedly for anything you get wrong.

Whenever Sheila missed a shot at Pickleball, she did an awful lot of apologising to the other players. They often told her to relax and enjoy the game. It wasn’t a big deal, they said. They weren’t playing competitively.

Why did it matter so much to Sheila?

Because missing a ball triggered her and sent her back into the old scenario of trying to stay safe in a war zone.

The difference between a domestic war zone and Pickleball

I asked Sheila how a Pickleball game resembled the war zone of her marriage.

Her reply, interestingly, was that “things come at you very fast.”

“But what dangers are you exposed to on the Pickleball court?” I asked.

Long pause for thought.

“You’re not”, she replied slowly. “If you miss a ball it’s not a big deal. You can still win the next point. In fact, you can still go on to win the game.”

What do survivors do even after the narcissistic abuse is over?

Mostly, they continue to live like they are still in the old war zone, where everything feels like a matter of life or death.

They remain hypervigilant and easily triggered.

Their mood tends to be low, as does their self-esteem.

Their hopelessness and helplessness leitmotif has a long half-life.

You can take the narcissistic abuse survivor out of the war zone.

But you also have to take the war zone out of the survivor.

That is what makes it so essential to do the deep healing work required to escape from the old war and trauma zone.

Life after narcissistic abuse

You have to internalise the new belief that your life after is more akin to a game of Pickleball. Things might or might not come at you fast.

But if you miss the odd ball, it’s not a big deal.

You can pick up the next point.

And you can still win the match.

Narcissistic abuse relegates you to a dark place. But you can heal.

Next steps

If you need more support with your self-worth, getting closure on a Narcissist and moving forward along your healing journey, here’s how I can help you:

  1. Feeling paralyzed by the past – book a one-off Breakthrough Session to get beyond what is blocking you.
  2. Want ongoing insights into narcissism, as well as tools and techniques for healing, and a supportive community around you – check out my Break Free Membership
  3. Need 1 on 1 support: email me at annie@anniekaszina.com.






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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