Modulating Our Emotions – Coping Skills After Narcissistic Abuse
A central feature of PTSD is the struggle we have to regulate our “affect” or regulate & modulate our emotions when encountering a stimulus or “trigger”.
When triggered, we find it difficult to regulate the intensity of our feelings and connect with the problem solving area of our brains. This results in the feelings of anxiety or arousal intensifying over time rather than diminishing and resolving themselves. Additionally, if we choose negative coping techniques such as over spending, over eating or withdrawing socially, among other things, we develop new maladaptive, trauma seeking behaviors that compile themselves on the original trauma: the narcissistic abuse.
The inability to stabilize our emotions and decrease our arousal in times of triggered anxiety is metaphorically comparable to having poor shock absorbers on our car. When we hit a bump in the road, we bounce all over the place. Likewise, when a survivor of narcissistic abuse encounters a similar event or person that triggers traumatic memories of the abuse, our nervous system remains more highly aroused and our emotions can be all over the place. Moreso, than by those who haven’t experienced this abuse.
To compound issues, most of us who suffer from PTSD tend to get upset and angry with ourselves for being symptomatic at all. If it were someone else who was hurting and struggling we’d show much more compassion and empathy, yet we think that we should be stronger, handle things better, not ask for help or not be affected by the trauma at all. This thinking or lack of compassion for ourselves tends to intensify the symptoms and make the recovery period more lengthy.
One of the most important ego-strengthening tools in recovery from the trauma of narcissistic abuse is to help targets increase our ability to modulate our affect. We need to develop coping skills that allow us to regulate the intensity of our emotions. We need to increase our resources, impact our state of consciousness and contain the negative affect, sensation and imagery and stay connected to our resourceful state of mind while under the duress of triggers.
One way to modulate our affect is through Self-Soothing and Self-Care. Many targets of narcissists were never properly taught how to reduce negative affect without resorting to some other problematic behavior, such as numbing, avoiding, using drugs, alcohol, over eating, over spending, etc. It’s not that we’re masochistic, we just picked up negative coping skills and didn’t ever have any formal instruction on how to self sooth, how to put words into feelings, how to be comforted sufficiently, or how to be protected; so we are always in a state of constant arousal and vigilance.
Healthy self soothing activities are a source of decreased arousal, pleasant sensations and a calming affect. Self soothing activities should have all of the following characteristics:
- Rhythmical in speed or movement
- Soft in texture, tone or hue
- Quiet in volume
- Image driven meditative practice
- Having a safe place
- Using breathing to calm down
- Calming self talk
- Calming, positive sensations
Examples of types of activities include:
- Warm baths and showers
- Appropriate use of food such as a warm cup of tea
- Listening to gentle, calming sounds or music
- Holding gently or touching oneself (stroking, hugging, arm rubbing)
- Gentle rocking
- Taking a walk
- Attending a class or religious service
- Exercise or sports
- Dancing, gardening, painting, playing music
- Spending time getting massage or going to a spa
The more traumatized the target, the less likely we’ll feel resourceful and capable of responding in self soothing ways.
Many times when we’re agitated or having flashbacks our breathing becomes short, shallow and even at times, we hold our breath. None of these patterns of breathing leads to decreased arousal.
It’s important that we start the process of self care let’s get ourselves in a good breathing state. Let’s take slow, methodic, deep, easy breaths to break the pattern of arousal.
Right now, exhale so deeply that you feel all of the air being blown out of your lungs. Imagine the negative feelings or images of the triggering event being blown out from inside you. Blow slowly until you feel your lungs empty entirely; almost to the point of discomfort. Exhale all the tension, stress and upset; the drama, the negativity and the traumatic memories.
Next, take a very deep inhale (which will come almost naturally in reaction to having all the air blown out of your lungs). Inhale peacefulness, relaxation, unconditional love, acceptance and centeredness.
It should take you approximately 10 seconds to exhale and 5 seconds to inhale.
Come up with a list of self-soothing techniques that you can use the next time you experience triggers, flashbacks or encounters with narcissistic people that will help you lessen the intensity of your emotions and transform your feelings of arousal into a state of calm. Remember to consider all the characteristics the technique should possess in order to qualify as “calming”.
The trauma of this abuse by a narcissist doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. We just lost the connection with ourselves and our resources along the way.