It takes a long time to heal after you’ve been involved in a narcissistic relationship – don’t let anyone try to tell you anything else. Some of it depends on how long you were involved with your narcissistic ex, some of it depends on the type and intensity of the narcissistic abuse, and some of it depends on the way your mind and body process the whole experience. It rarely takes months – plan on slowly healing over a period of years.
And that’s OK.
If you are in a co-parenting relationship, however, you don’t have time to get healed before you have to deal with the ex. You may have court, exchanging children for visitation, discussions about medical issues, or whatever and each time you have to deal with him you can feel all of your progress rushing away. You wouldn’t be the only one that this happened to, and you may have C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Symptoms of Complex-PTSD
Complex PTSD (CPTSD) is common among people who have lived in high-stress circumstances like narcissistic and other abusive relationships. Some of the symptoms are:
- Difficulty in managing emotions – experiencing depression, difficulty controlling anger, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, anxiety
- Feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, feeling detached from other humans, and/or feeling like everything is your fault.
- Feeling like you have no control over your life, the abuser has complete power over you, the abuser always “wins”, nothing will ever change
- Hopelessness about the future, feeling like people will never change, feeling like circumstances will never change.
- Repression of memories, flashbacks, or feeling dissociated from the experiences.
- Isolating yourself, not trusting other people
Hello Anxiety, My Old Friend
A while ago I was sitting in the waiting room of the VA hospital lab waiting for them to do some blood work. In 2009 I had to have my thyroid removed and that means I have to take medication and make sure the levels stay where they’re supposed to be. It also contributes to weird emotional ups and downs – yay. Anyway, I was sitting there when a man about the height, build, and similar facial features as my ex walked into the room.
Even though I knew in my rational mind that it wasn’t him my body dumped an ocean of adrenalin into my system. My heart was beating out of my chest, I was dizzy, nauseated, trembling, and my heart was racing. I felt like I was in danger and I needed out of there fast.
Even the idea of having to see him in court or talk to him on the phone or through email gives me that panicky feeling. Not many people understand it – after all it isn’t like he beat me or anything. I don’t totally understand it myself. I only know that it happens and I don’t like it at all.
It looks like I will have to interact with him at least a couple of times this summer and the idea is giving me nightmares even though everyone tells me it’s all going to be fine.
So How Do I Control It?
Obviously in many circumstances I don’t control it. Xanax can help when things are especially out of control but normally I can sip a glass of wine and get things in perspective.
Every single day I remind myself that I don’t live in that anymore. My life is much different now, much freer, and much more stable. I don’t have to worry that I am about to have my house foreclosed on, my electricity turned off, or an empty refrigerator. I don’t have to worry about how to juggle things, fix relationships, or make life comfortable on top of the egg shells we are walking on.
Learn to Identify Your Triggers
A little while ago my husband was downstairs in the kitchen. I could hear him going through the cupboards looking for something. I began to become anxious; feeling like I had to go down there are find whatever it was to keep things peaceful and stave off an atomic anger bomb that could rock the immediate area. I had to remind myself that this was a different man, a different circumstance, a different time.
Because I know that slamming cupboards and drawers opening and closing is a trigger for me I was able to understand how I felt, why I felt that way, and reassure myself that it was easy to ignore.
Over the years I have identified other triggers:
- I am prone to anxiety attacks when I am coming home from someplace. Usually when I am about a mile away from the house I get a foreboding inside of me. I know what started it, I know why it happens, and I can usually talk myself down off the edge because I am expecting that it could happen.
- Someone leaving abruptly. I am not sure why this is a trigger for me but it is. I feel rejected and abandoned even if they are going into the next room. There is an unreasonable fear that they might not come back.
- Paying for groceries or spending money in general. There were way too many years of my life when the check bounced or the card was declined unexpectedly because the ex had decided to buy himself something.
If you can learn to identify those triggers you’ll have a better chance at disabling them so they don’t affect you anymore.
An Exercise to Help You Regain Perspective During a Triggering Episode
When you can identify your triggers you can control them a little better. You can either stay away from the circumstances or you can let your rational mind to take over and settle your anxiety-ridden mind down. Prayer, meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can help you learn to reassure your body that you are safe and secure. Over time those triggers lose power until they don’t affect you at all.
One set of exercises that you can do when you feel that your emotions are spiraling out of control is the following:
- Consciously relax your shoulders to release tension and then relax the rest of your body.
- Breathe rhythmically and deeply – take deep breaths and release them slowly.
- Clear your mind. Focus on a beach scene, a lovely garden, or some other favorite spot. It sounds silly but do it anyway.
- Focus on your breathing.
- Have a quote or meditation or scripture verse memorized that applies to this trigger. Repeat it to yourself aloud if you can do that without looking crazy, otherwise repeat it silently.
- Imagine a positive outcome to this situation, visualize yourself calmly handling it with a result that benefits you.
It’s best to practice ahead of time so when you do get triggered emotionally you aren’t trying to remember how to handle it or which quote you were using. As you get better at it you’ll be able to catch yourself quickly and get that emotional maelstrom headed off. It takes time but you can do it. Join First Wives World today to talk to others who’ve been right where you are now and can help you find your place of peace.
Lead Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons, User: AlicePopkorn