Once you become aware of your emotional reactions to the sociopath through mindfulness [see previous article, Leaving the Sociopath: Gathering Strength and Losing Fear], it gives you more detachment from them. Instead of being immersed in a negative state (e.g. a state of panic created by your partner having a hostile behavior toward you, or perhaps your partner not coming home when they’re supposed to), you also become – in however slight a way — an observer of it. This will help you feel more of a sense of control over your emotion. Trying to get the sociopath to understand your hurt, loneliness, etc, or meet one of your needs, is an exercise in futility. Now that you have more awareness and detachment, rather than further engaging in a frustrating useless conflict with the sociopath, you can learn to make yourself feel better on your own.
That is where grounding comes in. Once you notice you’re in a bad emotional state, you can find a way to replace the bad state with a better one. This is done through the body, not the thought processes (rational thought shuts down in a triggered response), through grounding, releasing, calming exercises.
The point of these exercises in particular, even though many are similar to mindfulness/awareness exercises, is to consciously regulate/calm a negative emotional state. Once you become aware you are in a triggered emotional reaction, you mindfully with focused attention, use the following to regulate and calm the negative state.
Breathing/Centering — close your eyes and focus on your breath. Meditate/pray, use a guided meditation (free on YouTube); Awareness Wheel Exercise (as above)
Journaling — write out your thoughts and feelings. Just release anything that comes to you onto paper. You can always tear it up when you’re finished.
Creating — artwork, music, writing
Singing — releases energy and emotion, connects you to emotion, can be calming
Get Support — release your emotion by talking to someone, but the goal is to help calm yourself, not just obsess. If talking doesn’t decrease obsessing, it’s not helping.
Tapping — tap the parts of your body that are tense, or tap the nerve on the left side of your neck. Alternately, tap the palms of your hands
Drumming — use the palms of your hands to drum the edge of a surface
Massage or Body Work — therapeutic massage, reiki, energy work (by practitioners)
Routine Activity — something that takes steps you have to focus on, such as chores, organizing, planning
Screaming — releasing anxiety/fear tension or anger will ultimately calm you.
Exercise — walking, martial arts, yoga, stretching, dance. Again, some of this can be vigorous but the release will ultimately calm you.
Medication — can have a role in regulating depression and anxiety if they are interfering with functioning, sleep, or appetite, or if you feel suicidal. (Serotonin has been shown to aid in neuroplasticity, which can aid your ability to use therapeutic tools.)
All of the above will aid in the process of neuroplasticity, which is the way the brain creates new pathways. This focus on regulating our negative reactions increases neuroplasticity and actually “rewires” our brain to have different, more positive reactions over time. This aids in recovering the lost self and in healing. Every time you are aware of a triggered negative reaction and do one of the above activities to regulate, i.e. soothe/calm, the reaction, you are rewiring your brain! It builds connection, sense of self, strength, integration and healing.
You may notice in doing mindfulness exercises that the “Inner Child” is being triggered in an interaction with the sociopath. The more painful experiences of childhood will get triggered by the sociopath. To begin with, just notice if he or she “shows up” — in other words, you feel the child’s emotions in yourself presently. This is very good to notice, because the Child is showing up all the time in triggered reactions, and we are just not aware of it (with a sociopath it often takes form of a victim; notice what you do when you feel this way — withdraw, fight, feel hopeless, collapse into numbness). Coming to recognize the Inner Child showing up will give you great power in not only detaching from the reaction, but healing whatever leftover childhood wound you are reacting from. Next time I will go into exercises for soothing the Inner Child.