The one thing that continues to make life unbearable after you’ve escaped the nightmare of a NPD or BPD relationship is the tricks your own mind plays. We become conditioned by our environment to react in certain ways, and in an abusive relationship our mind is in siege mode. This is what your abuser intended, it makes you easier to control.
You find yourself doubting your own thoughts, double thinking your gut feelings and being so confused your can’t make decisions, you feel sick to the stomach when you know you have to interact with your abuser.
And thanks to Shared Parenting laws, many of us do. It’s taken me three years to become myself again, and the struggle continues. This is how I do it.
NLP: Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Guided meditation and relaxation music. Great for taking you out of yourself and forcing you to stop doing things for others for half an hour. For a while I couldn’t sleep without it. Works on a subconscious level so even if you find it silly and feel cynical about the process as I did, the affirmations still implant positive thoughts about yourself into your subconsconscious, helping stop ‘automatic thoughts’. My fave is Bob Griswold of Effective Learning Systems “Conquering Fears and Anxiety”.
Automatic thoughts: what you get when you see an email in your inbox from your ex, or when you know you’ve got to see them soon. Mine go something like: “Oh no, what does he say I’ve done wrong now? Maybe I did do something wrong, what was it? Maybe I didn’t _____(insert parenting or personal fear here)”, physiological response follows (increased heart rate, sweating, nausea).
Stopping automatic thoughts is key to reducing your anxiety. You can distract yourself until the cows come home, but examining automatic thoughts and combating them with logic and humour work best for me: “What do I care what he says about me? I know he lies to get what he wants and he’s no prize pig in the parenting department. Hell, I’ve been assessed by Child Protection as a good parent, thanks to his meddling. Yeah, I rock. I totally rock! He’s just trying to manipulate me.”
More often than not, once you reread what was said, or calm yourself before you do, you will find that it’s a lot easier to ignore any insults he might say or imply. You might also find that you are projecting your own fears about yourself onto his words.
Projection: Part of the reason we can’t get on with our exes is projection on both sides! Yes, me too! We all tend to judge others by our own experiences. How we would think helps us predict what they might be thinking.
Throw this idea out now! Projecting our fears or problems we have onto others lead us to believe: 1. that others are as capable of good/reasonableness as we are, 2. that others are as capable of evil as we are.
Ugh. Best bet is you can’t read another’s mind, especially a BD person or a ND person, so don’t try. It is a source of automatic thoughts.
Debriefing: Find a person to talk to after a traumatic emotional event. I have one close friend and a counselor for back up. A journal is also a good place for your more crazy thoughts. I wrote one for six months after we broke up and reading it years later, boy was I crazy-town! So angry and confused, still thinking that the relationship could be saved and that I had done something wrong. I destroyed it after one last read. It shows how much progress in coping with him that I have made.
Reading: I am a big fan of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and especially Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Both you can try without needing a counselor. REBT’s icon is Albert Ellis. I recommend reading “A Guide to Rational Living”. Timeless advice to help you examine your irrational thoughts that trigger anxiety. Another great read is Martin Seligman’s ongoing experiment in happiness “Authentic Happiness” http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx
If you are of a more spiritual or philosophical bent, try Thich Nhat Hahn’s writing’s on anger: “Anger: Wisdom for cooling the flames” http://www.amazon.com/Anger-Cooling-Thich-Nhat-Hanh/dp/1573229377 He also writes about happiness from a Buddhist perspective, but more practical and worldly than most Buddhists.
Remember that, no matter what he says or does to try to control you or destroy you, you are the one with integrity. In the end, you have to expect nothing but the worst from them. The anxiety comes from expecting them to be reasonable, fair and genuinely child focused (compared to twisting the concept to get what they want by making you feel guilty). That’s not gonna happen. It’s hard to accept, but it’s the bottom line for me. Take all threats and promises with several grains of salt!
You’ll survive, you’ve got integrity and honesty, something he’ll never understand or have. You can grow as a person by surviving adversity. He’ll keep repeating the same pattern of relationship disaster and abuse, but we have a chance to recognize and move beyond our problems.