9 Steps Toward Self Compassion After an Abusive Relationship
Updated 2020 | © 2015 Rhonda Freeman, PhD
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Relationships with people within the *Cluster B Personality Disorder category can tear into the self-esteem and self- worth of the people who love them. Why? Because their disorders demand the focus be on their needs and moods. The basic human needs (and often rights) of their partners, children, acquaintances, or friends are completely forgotten, trampled, or ignored.
If you’re a person with an abundance of empathy and had a partner with a Cluster B disorder you probably found that your attention shifted entirely to the other person. You might have lost yourself within the relationship. Add to that the violating behaviors that are actually a component of the diagnostic criteria of pathological narcissists, and it’s easy to see why most people find their feelings of self-worth have withered away.
With time you can regain feelings of self-worth and self-esteem if you put in some work. A major factor to help facilitate feeling better about yourself begins with self-compassion.
After a relationship with an abuser, it’s important to be in your own corner. The narcissist did not have a realistic or accurate view of who you are or were. They can’t. And that is because they have no capacity to genuinely appreciate the deep value of another person. They cannot really see you.
The emotional process of ‘appreciation’ requires many different brain regions to be functioning normally. The disorders along the pathological narcissism spectrum lack this complex intertwining of emotions and cognition (i.e., appreciation) as an ability.
Let’s talk about some ways you can move toward self-compassion
It will be worth it to gain a realistic appreciation of who you are – free from criticism. Self-criticism is the ‘Kryptonite‘ of self-compassion.
Implementing self compassion is one way you can take care of yourself while healing. It is a self-care requirement. It helps to lessen the burden of any unnecessary pressure you might still carry as you navigate through the recovery process.
Here are my tips to help you on your healing journey…
1) 3rd Person Self-Talk (Self-Distancing): This is one of my favorite ‘brain hacks‘ and one I use almost daily. a. It can help to engage the regulation portion of the brain; b. calm down some of the emotionality that could be causing you to feel worse rather than better. Here it is: When you are contemplating what you are going through (or thinking back on the relationship) or trying to resolve a very emotionally charged situation within your mind, use 3rd person language. Rather than say “I” use your name. Change up your pronouns and use 3rd person pronouns in those moments of self-talk. Avoid thinking, “me,” “my,” or “I” in those moments (Kross et. al, 2014). For example, when I am in a tough spot, feeling very stressed, and having trouble getting myself to problem solve, I help my brain engage my prefrontal cortex to help calm me down so that I can think a little clearer (and not feel in as much pain). I swap out 1st person pronouns for 3rd person pronouns. In my self-talk I say, “Her” “She” “Rhonda.” I instantly begin to ‘think’ in more gentler manner.
Using this form of self-talk increases feelings of kindness/ empathy for self, up-regulates portions of the brain that promotes emotional control, gives me easier access to my logic/reasoning, and will increase the likelihood that self-compassion will feel more natural and automatic (at some point) for you. Like anything … it takes practice. The brain will benefit from building and using those compassionate neuropathways. The more positivity happening in the brain the better.
2) Education – Learn the basics of Cluster B Personality Disorders. There are some personality styles that are prone to abuse others. Their peace, comfort and financial advancement in life is usually at the expense of others. They are natural exploiters, manipulators, violators, and often lacking in basic morality. Often regions and pathways of the brain associated with accurate self perception, morals, reward pursuit, empathy, attention, bonding, (and more) are faulty.
3) Tap into your desire for Self Preservation and Safety – We all have a need to feel safe and thrive. This can become shaken within a relationship with an abusive partner. Abusers require their mate sacrifice themselves and allow them all the privileges and benefits that come from an intimate relationship. This control gives them comfort and pleasure. However, this one sided / exploitive interaction can often lead to the abused partner abandoning her own safety and self preservation merely to keep peace and/or please the disordered partner. You can reignite your desire for safety – it is already programmed within us as human beings.
4) Strive to shift direction. For many, making a shift in ‘how’ they see their abusive partner takes time. It can be difficult to think that the person who shared the most intimate moments with you could actually be an “abuser”. Or even worse, for some it is even more difficult to process that the person might actually have a disorder that is extremely difficult to treat – such as narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathy. If your partner is an abusive individual, you owe it to yourself to have a willingness to shift direction and think of him/her as they truly are.
5) Avoid toxic people and situations.
6) Avoid behaviors that can increase the bond to the abuser. Try to avoid unnecessary contact. Even contact that involves the abuser lacking awareness of your presence (i.e., viewing their social media).
7) Actively work to banish negative self talk. When you catch yourself in a self-critical mode (e.g., Why did I do X; Or How could have done Y), try to shift at that moment into a compassionate state. Imagine if you heard your very dear friend or child saying that. Would you jump in and agree with her/him that they shouldn’t have been so stupid? Most likely not. You would give them comfort and tell them that no one is perfect and they will move forward empowered with knowledge from this experience. Criticism doesn’t lead to healing… however, compassion and learning does.
8) Mindfulness: Be more mindful and present. Take care not to heighten the emotional climate of your environment and interactions.
9) Remember, throughout this healing process, try to maintain patience with yourself. It will take some time to get through this unique kind of pain. Often the damage caused within an abusive relationship is traumatic. A few months is rarely enough time to get through the emotional upheaval of trauma. Be patient and have self compassion.
Rhonda Freeman, PhD
© 2015 Neuroinstincts | All Rights Reserved
Kross, Ethan; Bruehlman-Senecal, Emma; Park, Jiyoung; Burson, Aleah; Dougherty, Adrienne; Shablack, Holly; Bremner, Ryan; Moser, Jason; Ayduk, Ozlem. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 106(2), Feb., 304-324.
Image: © Archv & © Can Stock Photo Inc. / AlexMax
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- Cluster B Personality Disorders include: Histronic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, & Antisocial Personality Disorder