Last week I discussed the dynamics and conditioned responses of the nervous system that underpin pathological narcissism and create the dynamic between abuser and the abused.
Of course, there are many other factors aside from just the conditioned fight reflex that are embedded within the structure of narcissism, such as disturbances in the development of self representations and fractured psychic structures due to arrests in childhood individuation. Nonetheless, for reasons of understanding the dynamics the fundamentals are more important than the details in this case and it is not necessary to fully understand the finer details in order to heal or gain deeper insight.
This week I am going to discuss healing from narcissism and from narcissistic abuse.
My intention is not to offer a precise guide on how to help someone heal but just to offer insights into the core structures that need to be worked with to assist people in seeing the underlying dynamics that create the situation and also the fundamentals of what needs to happen in order to heal.
So often the emphasis is on healing from the standpoint of having been abused, which is of course extremely important and deserves the attention it is getting, but not at the expense and condemnation of its opposite. Both sides need to be understood.
As I stated last week as practitioners it is important to come from a place of understanding what is beneath the presenting behaviors, to expose and work with the underlying structures that create these kinds of dynamics within the body, nervous system and psyche in a holistic way.
Last week we spoke of rage and helplessness, these are the two main states that the abuser and abused find themselves in. The exertion of control and need to dominate whilst avoiding feelings of vulnerability in the perpetrator, which elicits feelings of having no control and feeling helpless in the victim, whilst avoiding rage and control.
For the abuser, it is essential for them to integrate rage.
Many therapies focus on the management of behaviors, and the avoidance and suppression of rage rather than the integration of it, when rage is embodied and experienced consciously with a sense of sufficient resourcing and containment it is experienced as power, certainty, autonomy and will. It is experienced as a life force, and gives us a sense of individuation and wholeness.
As we discussed last week at some stage the perpetrator was forced to disconnect from their power and thrown into a state of helplessness, this was likely a repeated experience in their childhood. Due to this disconnection, and the deep seeded feelings of helplessness, despair and insignificance their survival strategy has been to overcompensate and move toward outward expressions of rage, controlling others in order to feel safe and in turn making the victim feel helpless.
This is a protective strategy designed to feel “in control” within a relationship. When we feel “in control” we feel safe.
This is why behavioral or suppression strategies do not work, or may appear to work for short periods of time but overall lack any real transformative quality, the person gets stuck in a cycle of attempting to maintain control over a fragmented and largely unconscious energy, which takes a tremendous amount of effort, eventually exhausts the nervous system and can cause the person to fall into states of inner struggle, resulting in a shutdown, despair and more self loathing from the inability to do this successfully.
When we assist someone to integrate the rage we are essentially assisting them to reconnect to their power. When they reconnect to their power they feel in control of themselves, and they lose the need to exert power and control over others.
Another step in this journey is assisting them to get in touch with the sense of helplessness which often exists as the primary emotion underneath the rage. This helplessness can feel extremely vulnerable and have layers of defensive structures layered over the top of it to keep it at bay.
Often a person won't be able to touch on the helplessness until they have sufficiently worked with rage, until they feel in control, stable and resourced they are likely to react to the out of control, vulnerable and unstable feelings of helplessness in a way that bounces them straight out into a more surface and secondary emotion.
When they can learn to move toward the felt sense of the helplessness, stay with it and meet the needs of that wounded child within, they can begin the process of repatterning their childhood. This can be a long process and can require a great amount of willingness to change and transform from the person, and they will be required to meet parts of themselves that can be quite confronting and painful.
Essentially this is a journey into the core structures that kept them safe as they developed, and the pain that underpins these structures can very gently and slowly be metabolized.
It is a similar process for the victim, when we are in an abusive relationship we are forced to disconnect from our strength and power. As we discussed last week the pattern is to move into a fawn/freeze or collapse state, we become the victim/perpetrator.
In this state we may be immobilized and unable to leave the relationship, we may attempt to help the abuser and only see the good in them whilst at the same time allowing them to continuously breach our boundaries.
When this happens we disconnect from the strength within our sympathetic nervous system and shut down feelings of anger and rage, we can get stuck in a looping dorsal vagal shutdown.
See part 4.
Peace & Blessing,
Matt Nettleton (Co-Creator of Embodied Processing)