Mod 2: Concepts for healing


When it comes to reducing freakouts of all types, there is a basic principle upon which to build your healing plan, and this is it:

 YOU CREATE YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE 

I’m not speaking here of the false-reality-building in which narcissists specialize. I’m talking about a true experience of real life, not a fake one. I am not endorsing denial, self-deception, or any behavior that flies in the face of truth.

What I do mean is that life is what you experience, and you have a lot more control over your experience than you realize.

So, how exactly does the experience of life happen? You may answer, “Well, through the senses, what you feel and hear, etc.” True, but that’s only one small element of the process. A color-blind person’s experience of red is different from that of a person with normal vision. And someone who was badly burned in a fire as a child will have a different experience of the sight, warmth, and smell of a campfire than one who has pleasant memories of camping.

So, the mind plays a key part in how we interpret the sensory input we experience…and not only in terms of what the input means, but also whether the input gets through at all. We spoke earlier of how it’s possible to miss the sights around you because you are lost in thought.

Where we place our attention, and the quality of that attention, are largely what affects what we perceive, regardless of sensory stimuli. And you know what? You have control over your attention, and over the quality of your attention. Just how much control varies, but you have control over that too.

Focus: Wherever you put your attention grows

No one gets past the age of ten without learning about “positive thinking” and “looking on the bright side.” It’s a simple principle of life that optimists are happier than pessimists. Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty changes your perceptive from negative to positive without the level in the glass altering at all.

Just so, if you pay more attention to what’s right with you than wrong with you, what’s good in your life rather than what’s bad, you will feel better. Sounds easy, right? Then why does it seem to be so hard for humans to do that?

One likely theory is that up until very recently in human history, people were continually in some level of peril. The rise of civilized law and relative material prosperity today means levels of safety not enjoyed by our species until a couple of centuries ago. Our tendency to be on the lookout for danger and other bad things was necessary for survival.

So now we’re saddled with brains geared towards negativity. For this reason we have to put forth an effort to be positive, to pay attention to what’s working and ignore what’s not if there’s nothing we can do about it.  See also “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This applies very powerfully to the problems of a narc victim. We are so accustomed to being in peril, our radar is always looking for bad stuff. So in recovery, we tend to focus on re-examining past disasters, scanning ourselves for flaws and errors, lamenting our abuse, and fearing we’ll never be happy. We troll Facebook for news about our ex, even though we know it will hurt to see it. We focus on our fears and feel they will never go away. We beat ourselves up and replay our narc’s criticisms to ourselves.

Do we think about the fact that the actual abuse is behind us or will be soon? How we are safe now, and can be ourselves again? Do we think about our good qualities? Rekindle lost friendships and hobbies? Enjoy not watching our money be drained away by the narc? Ponder a future with real love? Sometimes, but not nearly enough.

So we really tend to make the negative larger and the positive smaller. What to do about it? The key is making a conscious effort. I’m sure you’re pretty willing and eager to put in an effort, but it would really help if that effort were conscious. I’ll explain what I mean.

Mindfulness: Shutting down the false storylines

You can’t shift the direction of your attention if you don’t even notice you’re putting it somewhere. And that’s where the mindfulness we started learning about in Mod 1 comes into play.

Mindfulness applies to being truly aware of where you are, what you’re feeling physically, and what is happening at the moment around you. But it also applies to being mindful of what is going on in your own head.

We are thinking all the time, because thinking is what brains do. But very rarely does the average person think about thinking. In other words, most people don’t take note of their thoughts, they just experience them and act upon them automatically. When you apply mindfulness, you pay more attention to your thoughts, to the fact that you’re having them, what they are, and what is causing them.

Let’s compare two scenarios, with and without mindfulness in play:

You meet a friend for dinner. She is dressed up, and her outfit looks great on her slim figure. You came in jeans and a tee shirt. Your friend is a little stressed out, having just come from work. You greet her with a “You look great!” She responds with a strange look and a pause and then says, “Sorry I’m late, work was nuts.”

Without mindfulness: You think your own outfit is dumpy-looking, especially since you need to lose a few pounds. You feel envious of your friend and her clothes, and uncomfortable and critical about yourself. When you compliment her and she seems to barely notice, much less say something nice in return, you are put off. The dinner does not go so well.

With mindfulness: You have the thought that you don’t look nearly as good as your friend, and notice you are putting yourself down. You tell yourself, “Hey, I’m working on liking my appearance as it is, and how was I to guess to dress up? No fault there.” You realize how crazy it would be to resent your friend, who just wore her work outfit and isn’t to be faulted for having a trim figure. You remind yourself for a moment about how your friendship goes way back, and feel affection for her. Your compliment is genuinely meant to cheer her, and when it doesn’t, you notice you feel a little rejected and disappointed. But you ask yourself, “Is that fair? To take it personally?” So you set aside your insecurity and then notice how she seems frazzled. You express your support then, and she cheers up.

In the first scenario, you failed to be aware of your own thoughts and the fact that they were dictating a reality to you that wasn’t there. Your thoughts were telling a story, interpreting the meaning of the input, based not nearly so much on reality (i.e., you’re friend’s hassled look) as on your beliefs about yourself (i.e., her being more attractive than you). Without awareness of this, you come away with a completely false view of reality, one that could snowball into something destructive.

In the second scenario, being mindful prevented you from blindly reacting to your thoughts. You saw they were telling you a story and then you used reason to non-judgmentally discern if that story was true. This prevented your own mind from deceiving you about reality.

This approach is actually superior to the “let’s just be positive” technique. That’s because sometimes being positive isn’t actually going to help. Holding your fingers in your ears and going “la-la-la” doesn’t stop a narcissist from abusing you…getting away from him does. If the “la-la-la”-ing just keeps you numb enough to stay with the narc, it’s actually hurting you.

But you can’t go far wrong when you are mindful. Combining mindfulness with efforts to focus your attention on the positive things as much as possible works really well. Mindfulness will tell you if you’re honestly threatened in a situation, or if you need right now to have a good cry. It will help you see when the reason you’re feeling guilty is actually a good reason and you need to apologize to someone. It will also tell you when your thoughts are lying to you about something being your fault, if you can truly get out from under all the false reality taught you by your narcissist.

Now we know the task at hand, and it’s challenging, no one can deny. Still, with practice you will get better and better at controlling your experience of your life, making it less fearful and more positive. For help with that practice, read on to the Exercises….

Copyright © Lucy Rising