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:

  •     Slow
  •     Gentle
  •     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
  •  Yoga
  •  Stretching
  •  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.

Try this:
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.

Posted on February 7, 2015, in Narcissism. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I am 5 months out of a 8 year relationship/marriage to a narcissist. I thought the entire relationship (after the love bombing stopped~9 months in) that he was bi-polar because of the extreme mood swings. I am a fixer and a giver so I always said as long as I saw him trying and making an effort that I would deal with his moods and abuse and told myself he didn’t mean what he said when he was mad. (Because that’s what he told me). Our relationship was the best relationship I was ever in and the absolute worst relationship I was in depending on the day. We appeared to be so in love and had such good times people were jealous of what we had and I truly believed we were soulmate a and he loved me with his everything as I did and still do him. I recently stumbled on a article about narassistic abuse and read it. A light went off and as I was reading the article I felt like the author had been living in my house with Chris and myself. In the past few days since seeing this article I have began researching it and realized I was in a relationship with a narcissist and that I have been abused by him and that he is an abuser. I never really realized what he was doing to me was abuse, I knew he verbally abused me because of the numerous names I had been called and the regular cussings I endured. I began to realize I was abused when I went to my divorce hearing a week and a half ago in which he brought his girlfriend, the one he cheated on me to court with him. The same girlfriend that caught him with me 2 months after we split, who has filed harassment charges against me because I was trying to get him to file his part of the divorce and I admit I took on some of his narcissistic behaviors and was telling her everything about how bad he treated me and showed her proof of other women he was messing with and messaging after we split while love bombing her( I was unaware of this stage at the time). I was doing this to hurt him and I do truly feel a responsibility to warn her about him and more so now that I was realized what I am really dealing with and seeing that he has already began it with her. The day she caught he and I together they had fought he ignored her all day and called me to come over. She came by because he wouldn’t answer or respond to texts and saw my car in his driveway and of course I don’t need to tell you what was going on. My thoughts were he was my husband and turn about was fair play. However she took him back for the 4th time 5 months, two of those times because he cheated on her with me after our split. The affair being the final end to our marriage. I had become an alcoholic in the last 3 years after a breakup with him due to physical abuse and yes I was drawn back in and let him come home. I didn’t drink when I met him and now I am a recovering alcoholic and realizing I have been abused and have PTSD from loving a narcissist. But I digress, I came to the knowledge of being abused when after he stormed out of the conference room before we ever made it into court, got his mistress and left threatening me with getting a lawyer to get money from me for improvements he did on my house during our marriage that he did while I was supporting him and had paid $6600 to child support to keep him out of jail, a lady in the hall had witnessed his demeanor and heard the exchange and me taking his girlfriends picture (yes crazy I have became) to use when I appear in front of the magistrate to prove what I had told the police that I had been baited And taunted by my husband and his mistress. She knew my friend that had went with me and after we left she contacted my friend and said she worked for the Women’s resource center and that if what she saw was the norm then they could help me because of the abuse. My first response to me friend was I’m not abused he has never really completely hit me or beat on me( I guess pushing shoving and twisting my arm wasn’t bad enough, boy he did a number on me), could they really help me get legal aid and help me with just him yelling at me? The answer was yes, because I am an abused woman, a new concept and thought for me. My friends keep telling get over it, let it go, oh you want him, (which is not true!) but somehow no matter how much I want to let it go and get over it, I have not been able to, so I keep wondering what is my problem. These articles have helped me to see what my problem is and that my feelings and reactions have been normal for what I have been through. Unfortunately I am not farther along in my recovery because I numbed my pain with alcohol for the first 3 1/2 months and have really just began to truly deal with it for about a month and a half(since I became and stayed sober). My recent discovery and realization has empowered me and research is helping me to see and understand the extent to what I have been through and what it is going to take to find me again. I guess this crazy rant is part of my process and I have a long way to go because I always believed he did truly love me but had had such a bad childhood that he didn’t know how to love and accept love and I was trying to “teach” him or fix him. I now have to face the fact and deal with the grief of not only the lose in which I have been, the shock of the level of cruelty that he has exhibited because I really didn’t think it could get any worse than what he had already done, but now the realization that he never loved me and the lose of someone I just knew down deep that he could be, the one I tried so desperately to help, the one I fell in love with, the one who truly never exsisted. Prayers for everyone living in, with and recovering from this horrible abuse by someone who is so damaged they truly can’t help what they do, and I pity. The light at the end of the tunnel is I know I will recover, find myself, love others and be happy again, but I will always have a deep sorrow for him and his next targets knowing that he will never truly find happiness and that his targets will go through what I have.


  2. Judith J Bentley

    Good articles on recovery from narcissistic abuse. It is a sad and tragic commentary on our human evolution that there are so many human beings without souls, whose inner lives are like black holes. Since this NPD personality has existed for thousands of years, how far have we really progressed? These NPD types are like aliens deaf to the wisdom of the great saints and sages. I wonder if technological advances in the future will be able to prevent such people from inhabiting the Earth. Imagine a world without narcissists. What would that world be like?


  3. Despite feeling shame, panic, anxiety and hoplessness for such a long time and in the process lost yourself, it is possible to find yourself and your way back to life again. Despite all the storms there was still, deep done somewhere, a spark that never left you. The thought of that and everything beutiful life had to offer gave me the strength to fight back to life again.

    Stay Strong for YOU, You are worth it ❤


  4. My narcissist died. I spent 31 years with him. Yes I am damaged, but I have peace for the first time in a long time. That alone is a wonderful thing. What I noticed first after he was gone, were memories of good things from my past, before I even knew him, that came bubbling out of my subconscious. I had forgotten all about them. It was like night and day. One day I was dead to everything and the next I felt myself coming back to life. I have a lot to resolve, but I am on my way. I can be quiet now for as long as I want. I don’t have to worry about the next catastrophe while still trying to recover from the last one. I don’t have to think about the other shoe dropping. I no longer have to exhaust myself with considering my options in order to protect myself. He can no longer foist another misery upon me. I am a survivor.


  5. I like the specificity of this post. Well done.


  6. SPOT ON!!!


  7. I am proud to say my narcissist has left and not returned! Im am happy now. I moved out on my own and Im taking care of Kia. Now I will say sometimes when I mess up my anxiety goes into overdrive and I start to think that maybe he was right. But No! I have become so powerful. He has new supply now…i.was sad at first but now I pity him. He never deserved me anyway. To all of you just getting away. Its been 7 months for me and I am just Now starting to think this way. But take your time and find you. I know ill never return to him.


    • I am at 4 month now and I have just found out that my narcissist has found a new girl to love bomb. I’m hurt by it, obviously, but I’m slowly starting to pity him as well. It is so frustrating to me that he gets a “high” and an ego boost from seeing me upset (we work in the same hospital-so I occasionally run in to him). It angers me that he knows how much he has hurt me and belittled my qualities and self-esteem… and that he finds strength/happiness from seeing me upset. He wants me to obsess over him. He wants me to want him because in his mind that makes him feel like he has “power” over me. What a sad person. What a sad life. I’m still processing all this bullshit, but I hope to be where you’re at soon! I’m already better at 4 months, but I still have a ways to go…I got this though!


      • Marissa Buonocchi

        I just want to express my gratitude for this article. Great advice! Our situation is different: my husband & I are dealing with a neighbor (younger couple) who are narcissistic (malignant, IMO). We are hoping to sell & get the heck out of dodge. I want to say that the advice in this article benefits us now while we are still battling these scumbags. We have learned NO CONTACT. as in full stop calling law enforcement, the landlord, CPS….none of these people helped us. Other neighbors were oblivious or they purposely looked the other way. We are alone fighting this overwhelming problem. To protect ourselves we had to install video surveillance cameras around our house. We have been followed while out & about running errands, out walking, etc. They dog us, try & bait us, harass us almost daily. We try & focus on our health & trying to mentally keep positive. “Self-soothing” was alien to us, so we practice this a lot! Thank you for an article that is so critical in coping/enduring this horrible situation. We know we will soon be able to get away from this situation, away from danger. I am just not sure what normal will feel like…


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