Updated: Nov 2
Being in a relationship with a narcissist is traumatic. Since they threaten your sense of safety by manipulation, emotional abuse and even physical abuse – naturally your body is going to respond in a way to warn you. While it is important to listen to your body and take care of yourself (get out) when receive this warning, sometimes dealing with a trauma response is extremely difficult and inconvenient.
For example: many times in sessions when I am helping a victim of narcissistic abuse who is now out of the relationship they tell me logically they know the narcissist can no longer harm them yet they go into full blown trauma response when they even get a text from their narcissistic ex. They ask me how can they get rid of this trauma response so a text from their narcissistic ex doesn’t ruin their entire day or even their entire week?
The answer to this question is probably not as straight forward as you would like. You will not be able to get rid of this trauma response overnight because your body is physically hard wired to warn you of danger. There are things you can do and practice to activate your parasympathetic nervous system to decrease the intensity of the trauma response, but it will still be there even years later (although the hope is as you working on your healing over time it will decrease).
Bottom Up Approach to decreasing the intensity of a trauma response
I tell my clients to start implementing a mindfulness and breath work practice. The more practice you have physically grounding yourself in the present moment, orienting yourself in the space you are physically present in, and taking deep breaths to turn off the sympathetic nervous system, the better you will be able to decrease the intensity and amount of time this trauma response lasts for. This what’s called a “bottom up technique” Physically calming your body down can then result in a calmer mind, and less anxiety overall.
Top Down Approach to decreasing the intensity of a trauma response
Using a top down approach is using your mind and thoughts to calm the rest of your body. I tell my clients to come up with a mantra such as “I am safe, I am safe” to repeat in their mind over and over again when trauma is triggered. Repeating this mantra in your mind can calm the rest of your body down.
Is a bottom up approach or top down approach more effective?
I would recommend that you try both approaches out to see which one works better for you. The bottom up approach works better for me personally, especially regulating my breath when my trauma is triggered. Your parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system scientifically cannot be activated at the same time. So if you can get your parasympathetic nervous system online, your body has to calm down. When my body is calm, my thoughts stop racing. I would encourage you to figure out what works best for you. Also you can try to implement both approaches to calm down. Use a bottom up approach, then start the mantra and see if that helps.
Another tip: sometimes it is impossible to get rid of all of the triggers that cause a trauma response. But if you can do yourself a favor and remove the triggers that you can, that will be helpful. For example: if you have physical objects in your home that remind you of the narcissist, get rid of them. If you have to communicate with the narcissist, put the notifications from them on silent and only check messages from them when you are in the right frame of mind. If you have to co parent with a narcissist – get an app to do so rather than having their name pop up on your phone every day. Turn off the notifications for the app and only check it once a day when you feel safe to do so.
If you need help processing the narcissistic abuse you have been through reach out today to schedule a consultation with me. I have helped many clients through this process and would love to help you too!