How to cope in these tough times

31 Mar 2020

How do you cope in these tough times? Right now, things aren’t easy for anyone.  However, if you are someone whose personal circumstances were already difficult, as a consequence of an abusive relationship, then losing what “normality and certainties” you thought you had, is even harder.  In this article, I want to share whatever I can offer to help.

But first, an apology. I have not been very present on my blog for the last little while. Despite all the work that I have done on my own healing over the years, when I reach a certain point of overwhelm, I shut down. Concerns over my lovely partner’s health have led to a few shut downs over recent months. Now, the two of us are already going into our third week of lockdown.

I could rehash the kind of information about coping that is probably already coming at you from all sides. However, that seems unnecessary. You surely already know that, in an ideal world, you would be perfectly organised and spend time,

  • exercising,
  • praying,
  • meditating,
  • doing something “improving”.
  • Learning a new skill,
  • reaching out to loved ones and
  • keeping your spirits up.

I know – and do -all of that stuff. Nevertheless, there are times when panic is just a heartbeat away. In fact, my partner is the proud possessor of sphygmomanometer, so I can say with certainty, that sometimes panic is just a 20 point faster heartbeat away.

Things that I have found helpful include,

1) Getting curious

These days, I am fascinated by my own response to situations.  There is always something to learn from that response. So, amongst all the other important things going on, I finally realised that a previously dear friend is actually a charismatic Narcissist and spectacularly uncaring. That both upset me deeply and my curiosity led to some useful insights – for instance, what is it about my past perceptions of myself as a very dreary little person that has always made me a sucker for charismatic people? (Answer, a limiting belief about who and what I could ever hope to be.)

The joy of curiosity is that it,

  1. a) takes you out of your habitual responses,
    b) could well teach you something new and useful information and
    c) shifts your position from victim to onlooker.

In tough times, it helps to feel you have some agency.  Curiosity may be the best thing you have to restore that feeling of having some agency.

2) Accepting what you cannot change as gracefully as you can.

I have spent too much of my life in overwhelm, staring dully at screens, books, and walls while past trauma and future fears play on a loop in my head. I’m guessing you have, too.  (Unless, you go into workaholism or some other kind of frantic activity.)

Annoying and demoralizing as it may be to spiral into overwhelm, there is no point in trying to fight it.  Your psyche is screaming at you that it has reached the upper limits of what it can handle. All the “shoulds” in the world aren’t going to change that.  What your psyche needs is acknowledgement.

There is a big difference between acknowledgement and rehashing your own victim story.  As I understand it – and I used to do a nice job of rehashing my own victim story – the victim story has various components.

  1. a) You keep telling yourself what you already know. You know what happened to you. Therefore you don’t have to keep reliving it.
  2. b) You ask yourself, in one form or another, “Why me?”
  3. c) You remind yourself how unfair this is – again you already know that.
  4. d) You compare your lot unfavourably with other people’s.
  5. e) You map out how awful the future will look based on your present despair.

All of this serves only to make you feel worse than you already did.

Acknowledgement, on the other hand, means listening respectfully to the feeling. It means literally saying to yourself, “I understand that this is too much for you to bear right now. What you are going through is awful. I hear you. It’s okay to feel what you are feeling. I get you.”

Is that a magic formula? Absolutely not. But it is staying real.  You need someone to really hear your pain.  Sooner or later, that person needs to be you.  My own preference is always for sooner rather than later.  The faster I can resolve the pain that I feel, the better, I reckon.

3) Kindness

You are entitled to as big a share of the world’s kindness as anyone else.  However, there are never any guarantees that you will get it when you need it. Nor are there too many guarantees that, if you do get it from outside yourself, it will hit the spot. For the kindness to land as fully as it should, you need to be able feel that kindness for yourself. So, one way or another, you are going to have to learn to be emotionally kind to yourself.  That means treating your own feelings with the kindness that you would show to others in your predicament.

If someone called you to say that they were totally panicked by the current situation, you would find some way of soothing them.  You just wouldn’t say, “Yeah, well, me, too.” You would find a way of empathising with them to make them feel less alone, at the very least.  You need to be able to do that for yourself. Consider it a vital life skill that you have to acquire.

4) Staying away from predicting a future.

I’m guessing that you didn’t predict that you would currently be living through a pandemic. I certainly didn’t.  There were many things that I have worried about over the past months but never a pandemic. Chances are, you will never get the future you worry about – but even if you do – that worrying does nothing useful.  Better to do a bit of planning about what you can do – now and after all of this is over – to bring about your preferred future vision and anything you might be able to do to advance it.

5) Be more Pollyanna

Our personal lockdown has not been problem-free. Initially our supply chain was very, very shaky. So much so, that we really were reduced to rustling up whatever ancient supplies we could find at the bottom of the freezer, just to get by. The plus side, is that we have become much more grateful for whatever we have.  That applies to food, sunshine, the kindness of people who have come forward, the blessing of the internet as a means of being in contact with dear ones and, of course, staying alive. Yes, the pandemic is tragic. But we can, more or less, entertain the parallel truths that this is a terrible time, and in our tiny little world, we have the blessings that we have. We have no certainties.  We can only make the most of right now, to the best of our ability.

I can only hope that you, your loved ones and we, too, stay healthy through this and the world changes for the better as a result of this.

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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.