If you’re struggling to heal from and move on after narcissistic abuse, you’re probably frustrated that it’s taking so long. Healing from narcissistic abuse is so much more complicated than healing from a regular break up. This is why the typical breakup advice and tips not only don’t work, but often times leave you feeling even worse off, and wondering if something is wrong with you. The popular breakup wisdom that advises you, that you will feel better if you find a new hobby, and change up your hairstyle, doesn’t help you to get over it any faster. The common remedies for a broken heart fall short because they don’t address the broken spirit, mind-bending confusion, cognitive dissonance, unanswered questions, lack of closure, and the callous, post-discard behavior characteristic of break ups with narcissists.
What if I told you it’s okay not to be okay?
You might agree with that statement in theory, but when it comes to the pain of heartbreak no one wants to be okay with not being okay. We want to fast forward to feeling good again, and the sooner, the better! There is a famous idiom that says: “The only way out, is through,” but when our hearts are broken, and we’re feeling the gut-wrenching pain of despair, going through it is the last thing we want to do. We don’t want to wait that long. We would rather go around it. Over it. Under it. We would rather just avoid it all together. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be prescribed an amnesia pill that could wipe away the memories, erase the pain, and get rid of the obsessive thoughts, so we could just get on with the rest of our lives? So often in our desperate attempts to side skirt the inevitable pain of the loss of a relationship, we unintentionally end up prolonging it.
Our natural instincts to avoid pain are then reinforced by the unspoken cultural pressure, of the dogma of perpetual positivity, that shames us for any hiatuses in optimism.
If you take a quick scroll down your social media news feed, you will recall the super rosy, uber positive, feel good memes and messages I’m talking about.
I am in charge of how I feel today, and today I am choosing happiness.
Put your positive pants on.
Think like a proton and stay positive.
Positive minds live positive lives.
I’m not knocking these messages. They are empowering, and the practice of identifying, and erasing our limiting beliefs, and substituting them for positive ones, is essential to our emotional well-being, but not at the expense of denying our true feelings. We need not rush to the positivity finish line because we are experiencing the discomfort of negative emotions.
We are not weak, or wrong for having painful, and tough feelings. They are as natural to the human experience, as having happy, and joyful feelings.
Facing our pain and accepting it, and being in the present moment, is a much healthier alternative, than trying to ignore and dodge our pain, with chants of positivity. When we learn to be present with our feelings, we become better equipped at managing them. When we suppress our pain, get frustrated by its presence, and don’t process our hurt, then it unconsciously rears its ugly head in our lives in a variety of horribly destructive ways.
Many people mask their pain in drugs and alcohol, work, exercise, sex, and so on as a method to avoid their pain. Some people suppress their emotions through comfort foods, and overeating and some people displace their pain and take it out on others. And guess what? All that emotional numbing only stalls our healing, and worse, it stirs up a whole slew of new problems we have to confront.
There’s another famous idiom that cautions us about unresolved pain: “Hurt people hurt people.” If we don’t practice being compassionate with ourselves, then we definitely can’t be compassionate with others.
There is nothing dangerous, or weak about being okay with having negative emotions. Although, I know it may seem like sitting with our feelings is similar to, and can be potentially as destructive, or useless as dwelling on them, and may even make them last longer, and weigh heavier. But actually, the opposite is true. The danger lies when we sit with our feelings and allow the way we feel about something to morph into beliefs.
For example, There’s a monumental difference between feeling sad and broken and believing you’re broken, and it will last forever. There’s a huge difference between feeling devastated, and believing your life is over. And there’s a big difference in feeling rejected, and believing you’re unworthy, or something is wrong with you. This is where, if we’re not careful, we can start down a very slippery slope. When we can identify how we’re feeling, and then add the words, “and it’s okay” afterward, we immediately neutralize the feeling from snowballing from a feeling to a belief.
Every time we’re able to contain our feelings, and not let the cognitive process of emotional reasoning (a process by which a person concludes that his/her emotional reaction proves something is true regardless of observed evidence) get the best of us, we gain mastery over our emotions, and we begin to heal.
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.
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