Mod 3: Concepts for healing

If you want to heal from the problems we’re discussing in this mod, again one of the goals is to turn aside the voices in your head created by your abuse, and increase your awareness of and belief in actual reality. You have probably found that the people around you—as well as, to a certain extent, yourself—believe you should be able to “snap out it” in no time. These are people who have never experienced anything like the abuse and brainwashing techniques of narcissists.

Getting over Stockholm Syndrome

As you may have already surmised, the techniques we learned in Mod 2, using S.T.O.P., mindfulness, and meditation, will go a long way to alleviate the symptoms of trauma-bonding.

Stockholm Syndrome is a form of PTSD, which involves your adapting the belief in a false reality in order to survive emotionally. You have been convinced that siding with the narcissist is necessary to keep you safe from the threat you perceive always hanging over you. Learning to see reality for what it is and ignore the sinister narratives your emotions feed you will alleviate this. With time, you will more and more fully embrace the reality that the narc is no longer present in your life (at least not always, and hopefully not at all), and the threat is over.  Keep practicing the Mod 2 exercises to help speed up that process.

However, the other issues we’ve talked about have become so internalized and ingrained in you, that they are by now actually a part of your personal belief system. Some of these beliefs may have been ingrained in you since childhood, like my belief that love was only real if it was a dramatic and painful struggle.

Surprisingly, the key remedy to these delusions under which you suffer is not actually to fight against them directly.

Self-compassion is the answer

Let’s make a bit of a laundry list of the erroneous and harmful beliefs your narc may have convinced you to internalize:

  • You are not worthy of love
  • Your true and primary purpose is to do anything required to make them happy
  • You have no escape, or at least none worth paying the price
  • You are crazy, confused, lying to yourself, and shouldn’t trust your feelings or instincts
  • You can only love yourself if you prove you are lovable in the narcissist’s eyes

Each and every one of these ideas cannot persist in an environment where your primary focus is on loving and caring for yourself. And shortly, I will break it down for you step by step.

First, let’s address some resistance you—especially if you are an HSP—are probably experiencing right now.

But shouldn’t you always put others first?

Some of us are motivated by empathy, others by kindness, others by guilt, and most a mix of all three…but it is certainly the nature of normal, kind people to feel that putting themselves first is selfish and wrong. Blame the Judeo-Christian ethic or secular humanism or some other philosophy, but we pick this up as children. And it can become, to put it in Star Trek terminology, our “prime directive.”

It may interest you to know though, that many cultures, notable those of the East, actually take a different view. They teach that self-compassion is absolutely essential to living correctly, and also make a point of actually instructing people how to do it. Not so in the West! I bet not a single person reading this was taught by their parents how to comfort themselves when hurt or nurture themselves when suffering.

We even somewhat misinterpret the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Before you can know what to do for others, you have to actually respect your own desire to be “did unto” in a positive way. You can’t forget that second clause. It might be better if it were composed like this: “It’s good to want to be treated well, and good to treat others well also.”

Self-compassion versus self-esteem

Self-compassion is different from self-esteem. It’s a very important distinction to make, so let’s do it now.

Some synonyms in Webster’s Dictionary for self-esteem are ego, pridefulness, and self-regard. And who do we know who has those qualities in spades?


There has been a craze going on for some time now in the fields of child psychology and education. This philosophy holds that it’s crucial to foster self-esteem in young people. This is why you see parents bending over backwards not to criticize or upbraid or get in the way of their kids’ “unique forms of self-expression,” no matter how anti-social they may be. It’s also why many school systems have abandoned traditional grading, or at least the awarding of “F’s,” and replaced competition with rewarding all performance the same. Children are taught that they are fantastic as they are and no one should interfere with their behaving exactly like they feel like behaving.

Sadly, what some sociologists are now discovering is that this approach may actually be creating an epidemic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder never before seen in our society.

So, am I saying it’s wrong to teach kids they are wonderful and lovable? Not at all. Here’s the thing:

Self-compassion is the belief that I am wonderful and lovable, just like every other human born into this world.

Self-esteem is the belief that I am wonderful and lovable. Period.

That latter statement of course leaves open the real possibility of a second clause of belief:

Self-esteem is the belief that I am wonderful and lovable…and no one else but me matters one iota.

Self-esteem, aligned with certain other beliefs, can make you a happy and helpful member of society. But combine it with different beliefs, it can turn you into a complete monster. Self-esteem is not essentially morally good.

So what exactly is self-compassion?

Self-compassion, on the other hand, doesn’t teach you that you are more important than anyone else, just that you deserve love, acceptance, support and understanding. Also built into the term is an element of simultaneous love and understanding toward others. The word “compassion” comes from the Latin meaning “co-suffering.” When you have compassion, you suffer with the person toward whom you have the emotion.

Self-compassion embraces the Buddhist principle that all people suffer, and all people want to avoid suffering. There is no line between your suffering and desire not to suffer and those of others. We are all in this together, as part of the human race.

Important sidebar: One of the main reasons that narcissists in effect drop out of the human race is that they decide the suffering of others is irrelevant and unimportant, and all that matters is their own avoidance of suffering. When you draw that line, it’s like burning your Human Race Membership Card.

Self-compassion acknowledges that our fate as a species is to have things cause us pain…and it’s our role to do all we can, for ourselves as we do for others, to relieve and minimize that pain.

A person with malignant high self-esteem, like a narcissist, will be anti-social in their efforts to minimize their suffering. They will ignore others’ needs, and manipulate them to get their own way. When they do feel pain, they lash out to punish whomever caused it, regardless of any innocence or justification on that person’s part. They bolster up their own egos at the expense of others and by declaring them inferior.

Self-compassion doesn’t do such things, as we will learn in the lessons on how to have it and put it into action.

The 5 Steps to Self-Compassion

1. Be aware of your own suffering.

As we’ve discussed, traumatized individuals like narc victims can disassociate from their own pain. Mindfulness and meditations like the body scan can help you become more self-aware. It’s important to pay attention to times when you feel bad, and figure out exactly what you’re feeling, and also why if you can. It can be easy to try to bandage over bad feelings by turning to distractions like alcohol, food, or stalking your ex on Facebook. But you need to really face those feelings to get them to heal long-term.

2. Recognize that suffering is an essential element of being human, and is okay.

Let’s say you’ve figured out that you feel hurt by your narcissist moving on so quickly, perhaps even already having a new love interest. Recognize that being hurt when jilted in that way is normal, and humans have been feeling that way in like circumstances forever, and there are plenty of people feeling just like that right now around the world, perhaps as near as next door to you. Embrace the fact that it’s commonplace to suffer, and you are anything but alone.

3. Let go of expecting perfection of yourself.

This is the time to remind yourself no one is perfect. Having faults and flaws is another thing that makes us essentially human. We are not robots, and we do not live in a perfect world that is never scary, harmful, or unsettling. You probably don’t expect perfection of others, so be fair and lower the bar for yourself as well.

4. Treat yourself with love and sympathy.

This is the step which our culture absolutely doesn’t equip us to do. You need to sort of split yourself into love-recipient and love-giver, sort of like you are your own best imaginary friend. Possibly you recall what that was like, when you were a little child and pretended to have a fantasy friend. That friend kept you company, and treated you with kindness, and wanted you to be happy and have fun. Be that friend to yourself now.

It may seem silly at first, but as the wisdom traditions know and teach, it’s helpful to speak kind words to yourself. Find whatever words of comfort and encouragement you would most wish someone to say to you, and say them to yourself. Express sympathy, as in “This is really hard—I’m sorry you’re going through something like this right now.” Provide understanding, as in “It’s so normal to feel this way at such a time—anyone would.” Be encouraging, as in “It’s okay, you’re going to be okay. Things will get better.”

Another helpful trick is to put your arms around yourself. It’s a fact that the sensation of being hugged or held causes the brain to release positive, happy chemicals. And your nervous system doesn’t discern between the feeling of your own arms and those of someone else.

5. Acknowledge and be grateful for your own friendship.

You might be saying to yourself, “Man…how pitiful to have to comfort yourself. That’s just sad.” But just because it’s you saying these words doesn’t make them less valid and true, does it? Just because you care enough to give yourself a hug, pour yourself your favorite tea or glass of wine, get yourself a blanket, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve these physical comforts nor that you won’t benefit from them.

Providing yourself with these kindnesses isn’t in any way pathetic or sad…in fact, it means you are stronger than those unable to do this. Because your own self-support is always at ready hand and need never fail you. Every person in the world, due to circumstances beyond their control, sometimes find themselves alone. That doesn’t mean they should have no source of support.

On the contrary, psychological studies show that people who are able to exhibit and experience self-compassion are consistently better able to function successfully in life. It’s ironic that such an essential, helpful skill is so neglected in our culture.

Without versus with self-compassion

A frequent mistake committed by narc victims who are trying to go no contact with their narcs is the act of backsliding. In a moment of weakness, the victim calls, visits, or texts their narc, only to have the act completely backfire. Let’s take this sort of situation and compare what happens when it’s treated without or with self-compassion.

In spite of his cruelties, Stacie missed her ex-boyfriend Jason. She couldn’t stop thinking about him. Finally she could take it no longer and drove over to his house to try to talk to him. As she was pulling up to his driveway, she saw another car was parked there. She pulled over and watched, only to see a woman Jason had always said he would rather date than her get out of the car. This woman strode up to the front door, gave it a cursory knock, and let herself in like she owned the place. In tears, Stacie drove home.

Without self-compassion: Stacie ran to her room, threw herself on the bed, and burst into tears. “You’re so STUPID!!” she told herself, pounding on the pillow. “You’re just as big a fool as Jason always said you were. Of course he’s with her—what did you expect? She’s pretty, and you’re fat and dumpy. Now he’s happy…just proves what a nothing you are, Stacie!” And she wept and raged until she became exhausted and finally fell asleep.

With self-compassion: Stacie ran to her room, threw herself on the bed, and burst into tears. “It’s okay to cry,” she told herself. “This is just about the most heart-breaking thing you could have seen!” She hugged the pillow and wept into it. “Any woman would cry finding out she’s been replaced. Maybe he was a monster, but you loved him, and this is hard. You made a mistake going over there, that’s true…but it was really tough staying away. Sometimes we learn the hard way, Stacie, but you’re learning. It’s going to take awhile, but you’ll be all right, sweetie. We’ll get through this.” And then she got up, put on a CD that always made her happy, and took a warm bath.

If you were able to picture yourself in these two alternate scenarios, I’m hoping now you can see how much different your experience of recovery can be when you employ self-compassion.

Back to that laundry list

 You recall that list of the harmful beliefs your narcissist convinced you to internalize. Now let’s look at what happens to those ideas when you expose them to self-compassion:

You are not worthy of love.

You know this can’t possibly be true, because you embrace the belief that all people, simply by virtue of being born human beings, are worthy of love. Nothing you do takes away that right. As the Buddha said,

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Your true and primary purpose is to do anything required to make them happy.

Embracing self-compassion means you hold to the fact that you have a right and a duty to pursue your own happiness, and no one else can revoke that responsibility. The authors of the U.S. Declaration of Independence were not wrong when they wrote,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The rights to be alive and free didn’t fully cover it: we all also have the right to pursue happiness. Every human does, and if we don’t each embrace that right, society falls apart.

You have no escape, or at least none worth paying the price.

If you have self-compassion, you will find that suddenly your happiness has a lot more value to you. With a heart unclouded by feelings of inferiority, shame, and self-loathing, your vision clears. You recognize that there are few things not worth sacrificing in order to ensure your own happiness and freedom from abuse.

You are crazy, confused, lying to yourself, and shouldn’t trust your feelings or instincts.

When you deal with your issues in a self-compassionate way, you can’t help but respect your own feelings and beliefs. When you have found the drive to comfort and assist yourself, new strength and self-confidence rise in you. You no longer let an outside force dictate to you, unhindered, what you should think and feel.

You can only love yourself if you prove you are lovable in the narcissist’s eyes.

Well, this little idea is undone instantly when you decide self-compassion is the way. Obviously you know that your lovability has nothing to do with anyone’s opinion, least of all the narc’s. It can be hard to let go of the ego-thrilling idea that love has to be earned by merit and work, but as you practice self-compassion and reap its benefits, you discover this approach to living has it all over your old bashing-head-against-wall, ego-driven outlook. At first it seems destructive to take away that test-passing thing…again, like quitting and therefore losing. But believe me, there’s nothing so liberating as saying, “Yes, okay, I’m no better than anyone else, but that’s good since we are all worthy of love and happiness.”

There, all debunked!

I also want to direct you to learn more about self-compassion by looking up the wonderful expert on this topic, Kristen Neff. Check out her website at This site is an absolute treasure trove of resources, everything from lessons to guided meditations. Not to be missed!

Now, on to the Exercises….

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