‘No Contact,’ Detachment, & Support
(Updated 2020) © 2017 Rhonda Freeman, PhD
The combination of (non-professional) approaches I have found to be most helpful for survivors to implement in the aftermath of narcissistic and psychopathic abuse are
- No Contact
Let’s look at why.
Feeling deeply attached to a partner that has turned on you is one of the worst relationship spots to find yourself. Because to be in that position, can make it extremely difficult to arrive at decisions that will be in your best interest. The brain will be more apt to make rationalizations when we are deeply connected to someone.
Through the process of love, our brain will have many chemical reactions, which take place automatically. Therefore, when we are trying to move past this type of painful relationship, we can reduce the chances of the brain having those reactions (of bonding) by limiting the time around the person with pathological narcissism or psychopathy.
Their presence can intensely activate the emotional system of the brain, and sometimes, it can activate the regions that reduce our pain. This would be a problem because reducing pain could increase the bond with the abuser, making healing more difficult. It puts the survivor back at stage one.
Given the nature of people with these disorders – they cannot help but expose their ex-mate to mixtures of gaslighting, kindness, betrayal, manipulation, aggression, etc. As human beings, we are going to have chemical responses to the people in our lives. Deciding to go ‘no contact‘ becomes an obstacle to that exposure. It gives the brain chemistry a chance to settle down. Once it is settled, it will be easier to have exposure to them (if necessary) without feeling intense neurochemical, bonding related, reactions.
Now, of course full ‘no contact’ is not possible for everyone. There are often co-parenting responsibilities; business involvement and so on. However, you can engage in detachment, even if ‘no contact’ is not an option for you.
Detachment involves a conscious decision and full belief that you will not be a part of this relationship anymore. People who engage in detachment tell themselves that they will not be pulled into, fall for, or accept any of the nonsense (manipulation) that their partner knew worked on them in the past.
Detachment is using your cognitive (thinking) abilities as protection of your emotional system. Because, emotionally, a survivor recently out of an abusive relationships might feel addicted to their ex, distressed, in emotional pain, and confused by their partner’s behavior.
Practicing detachment is not easy in the early stages of ending an abusive relationship because it will require ignoring the emotional messages the brain is likely sending. For example, you may get an overwhelming feeling to ‘check his social media; find out more about the new guy she is dating; text her; call him because you need closure; talk about him in forums. Those messages from the brain will be strong because they are coming from the deepest part of our being – and pathological narcissists/ psychopaths usually hurt others in egregious ways.
For detachment to work, two things are needed –
1) the willingness to tell yourself ‘no’ when the desire to engage in certain behaviors (like those listed above) are strong and
2) Narcissism spectrum education.
Survivors will need to have an understanding of the pathological traits of their ex-partner. If you have the assumption that this guy/woman is like all other guys/women, then the tendency to believe all the horrible things they said about you is high (You’re too sensitive.” | “You pushed me away” | “You were too controlling.” | “You’re crazy!”) These are very common statements from people who are incapable of accepting responsibility, mixed in with intentional manipulation to make someone else the bad guy.
This is why education regarding people who are on the narcissism spectrum becomes extremely valuable. Through education, even if your heart is still hurting, you can understand that the behaviors of someone with pathological narcissism and psychopathy are resistant to change. Intentional detachment involves using your education/ information to make a pivot in thinking. It is no longer ‘us’ … it is ‘you‘ and your sanity, safety and future that must become most important.
Detachment from the person with a violating, abusive personality can happen even when you are in pain and required to have sporadic contact with the abuser. You can think of it as an internal ‘no contact.’ You are protecting your emotions with a thought barrier. “I know exactly the kind of guy you are … you are not getting access to my precious emotions anymore!” (said internally of course)
We all probably know that we need support in times of crisis and pain. But let me tell you what the brain does with support. It responds to love, compassion, and presence of kind people with the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin helps to ease anxiety and has a calming impact on the nervous system. It causes us to feel connected. Through connection, we feel stronger. Support is essential to have as a part of your healing – it helps to break the trauma bond.
Not all support is equal. The harsh, ‘tough love’ type where you feel you have to defend why you are feeling sad and fragile will cause the brain to have a stress reaction, rather than a calming response. So please be mindful of the type of people you allow around you during this period. It would be synonymous to getting an exfoliating treatment on your face that was recently burned in a fire. The skin is far too fragile and will be damaged by the harshness. The timing would be all wrong.
I wish you all the best.
Rhonda Freeman, PhD | Clinical Neuropsychologist
© 2017 NeuroInstincts | All Rights Reserved (Updated 2020)
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[Photo Credit: © Kasia Ferguson | CC]