It’s Narcissist Friday!
As you walk the new path, you begin to feel free and strong. You start to think you can do this. The new life is filled with opportunities.
But, suddenly, your throat begins to tighten and your heart starts beating fast. You look around, but there isn’t any threat. You can’t see the dragon or any other danger, but you want to sit down. Your head is spinning. Your hands are trembling. Your stomach cramps. The fear is so strong that you think you are about to die.
When some people talk or teach on narcissism, they do so from a distance. They think of the narcissistic relationship as a mismatch, an unfortunate connection between a person who needs to use others and a person who needs to be used. They minimize the trauma victims suffer.
But many victims of narcissists know this overwhelming sense of weakness and oppression. Overwhelming fear for many. Overwhelming sadness for others. Overwhelming confusion for still others. And some have all of these and more.
Narcissists play mind games. They manipulate our emotions in order to control our actions. People who are constantly criticized easily begin to believe that they are inferior. People who are gaslighted (they are accused of being crazy when the abuser twists facts) cannot trust the world they see and feel. Narcissists use many techniques to attack emotional stability.
And some people find this instability coming back at almost random times on their new journey. In other words, even after the narcissist, the sense of being overwhelmed continues. It doesn’t matter that the world has changed. It doesn’t matter that you have moved out or found a new job or even new relationships. What matters is that the old sense of oppression is still around.
Panic attacks. That’s what we call these times, especially when they are debilitating. When you can’t go to work, can’t get out of bed, can’t form the next sentence – you might be experiencing a panic attack. When sudden terror threatens to crush you, it might be a panic attack.
Now, I want to be clear that I am not “that kind of doctor.” I have neither a medical nor a psychological degree. So, I will not try to make any kind of prescriptive statement except to say that there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Whenever you struggle against something, whether physical or emotional, and it causes you to become inactive or vulnerable, you should find help. Always be careful, but find good help.
Panic attacks may not be suffered by everyone coming out of a narcissistic relationship, but I think they should be considered normal. Narcissists are abusers who try to control others. They will use fear, loss, condemnation, and whatever else they find available to break through defenses and create weakness in their victims. They plan and work to get under your skin and in your mind. And many narcissists are very good at what they do.
There can be medical reasons for panic attacks, so please take them seriously. Abrupt changes in blood pressure, odd blood sugar events, heart arrhythmia, and other things can cause this sense of fear and insecurity that stops you from moving forward. Find a good medical doctor.
But there can also be emotional reasons for these attacks. Unrecognized triggers that seem to bring old anxieties back. For example, children who are constantly criticized and told they aren’t good enough may build into their own minds a self-condemnation that continues long after the parent or sibling accuser is gone. A time of feeling good about yourself may almost automatically be challenged by this learned self-condemnation. Find someone to talk with. Let them help you sort this out.
The Bible says that each heart knows its own pain (Prov 14:10). I take that to mean that trauma affects each of us differently. It also says, just a few verses later, that the heart can be sorrowful in the midst of laughter and, after a good time a bad time can come (vs 13). Those who have suffered narcissistic abuse understand this.
So, give yourself a break. No matter what others say, your feelings matter. If they are overwhelming, if they knock you down or out, find some help. If your feelings create something in you that others don’t understand or accept, just realize that they have not walked your path. And, again, don’t give up. There are people who can help.
You are greatly loved. When the world seems to be falling apart, seek the Lord who cares more than you know. Find your strength and acceptance in Him.