One of the most common questions victims of narcissistic abuse ask me is “how do I stop thinking about it?” There are a lot of reasons we get stuck in ruminating about the narcissist and what he or she has done. Often the behavior you have witnessed is atrocious, even unforgivable, as you might see it. So we are not talking about the behavior here. We are talking about YOU. What can you do to stop this ruminating cycle of obsession and hyper-focus on the abuser and the abuse?
We don’t often think about how our stories keep us stuck, but this is exactly what happens. Everybody has a story. The story might go like this. “He was having an affair with another woman for the past three years we were together and every time I felt suspicious and ask him questions he told me I was crazy and got really upset with me. I ended up feeling I was the problem and believed I was just needy and insecure.”
Okay, so this story is a painful one, no doubt. You are likely feeling betrayed, used, deeply hurt and conned. Your feelings are real. I acknowledge them and you need to give yourself permission to feel the pain of this deep betrayal. Feeling the feelings is an important part of your recovery. But there is more.
When we experience a traumatic event, our tendency is to tell people about it. “This happened to me.” It is both a way to process the trauma and get other’s opinions on how they see the event. This is what we call validation. You might tell yourself, “If you also believe that what he did to me was absolutely horrible, then it proves I’m not really going crazy.”
Often when with narcissists, they pull the “crazy” card, as a way of denying responsibility and controlling your reactions to their behavior. It is also their way of controlling how other people see their behavior. If a narcissist can get others to believe “you are crazy,” then they don’t look so bad.
The tendency is to want to defend yourself to all those “others” who have heard the “you are crazy” story. But this doesn’t help. People will always believe exactly what they want to. People will believe what serves them the most.
What is important is not what others believe, but what YOU believe. A minister once told me “It is done unto you as you believe, so don’t you believe it.” We actually can choose what we believe.
Are you going to believe your “victim” story to the point where it continues to drive the dagger deeper into your heart every time you tell it to yourself or others?
The best way to shift the story is to learn to catch yourself while you are telling it, and also look for the lesson. We can learn something very valuable from every life experience; even the most traumatic and painful. So what did you learn from the experience?
The story I told earlier about the woman whose significant other had been cheating on her for the past three years and made her feel like she was crazy when she communicated her concerns with him, has an excellent lesson. The woman did not trust herself. She allowed the man she was with to make her feel she was crazy rather than align with her own intuitive knowing. She felt in her heart that something wasn’t right. She was suspicious of him and her suspicions proved to be true. What she can learn is to trust her intuition. She can learn that the part of her that knows something is not right is trying to communicate with her and she needs to listen and follow through, rather than go deeper into denial.
This woman’s responsibility in this situation is her own lack of trust in herself. Her trust in herself was trumped by her significant other’s accusations of her. Of course, once she found out the truth, she realized her partner had been lying to her and manipulating her and she feels very angry about this. But at some point, she has to take responsibility for her part by acknowledging that she knew the truth but was unwilling to own it. It was easier for her to stay in denial.
Her story can now change from “my partner was cheating on me for three years and everytime I said something to him about my suspicions, he made me feel like I was going crazy,” to “I knew something was going on but refused to trust myself.” The first story makes her feel like a victim, but the second story gives her power. Why? Because she can do something about it. She can’t do anything about who her partner turned out to be. She is powerless to change him and his behavior. But she does have power to change herself, to begin to build trust in herself and listen to her intuition.
Changing the story to one that empowers you, takes the “emotional charge” off the situation. It can be difficult to admit the deeper truth to yourself, but the truth is what sets you free. This is not about blaming yourself in any way. There is a huge difference between self-blame and self -responsibility. With self-blame you are saying “it is my fault he had the affair because I wasn’t enough.” Or you might say “it is my fault because I didn’t trust myself.” When you are self-responsible, you are saying “what he did was terrible and I can’t change who he is, but I do have the power to change me, to listen to my “inner voice” and trust myself.” We can’t go back and change the past, but we can surely change how we do things in the future.
One thing that needs to be understood is that each time we reinforce the version of the story that leaves us feeling powerless, we are ripping the scab off the wound and experiencing the pain over and over again. There is a difference between fully experiencing one’s pain and releasing it and continuing to activate the pain body over and over again with the stories we tell ourselves. When we do this, we are re-living the painful event over and over and re-traumatizing ourselves as a result.
Our stories are powerful! So we need to be very selective about the stories we are telling ourselves. Are they victim stories, or empowerment stories? Choosing to upgrade your stories from victim to empowerment will make the difference between staying stuck in your pain and moving out of pain.