In the past few articles — and I hope this hasn’t been confusing — I have tried to describe how we can help heal the damage to our self-esteem and recover our lost selves, while we are still with the sociopath or after we’ve left the sociopath. The most important thing is mindfulness; the awareness of what’s going on in your body and mind in the presence of the sociopath.
We get triggered and react emotionally to their manipulation, blame, abuse and dismissive behavior. In fact our brains and nervous systems get what is called “hijacked” by the emotional reaction, and our rational thinking is not available to us. The reaction makes us believe what we feel — e.g. we are wrong, we are lacking, we are defective.
For example, Jill speaks to her partner Brian about the fact that he got home very late the night before and she couldn’t reach him. This worried her that something may have happened to him. Brian gets angry at Jill for not appreciating the fact that he has to work so hard and that she worries too much and always assumes the worst. Jill is internally taken aback, but admits she’s a worrier and that’s why it would be important for Brian to call her to let her know if he is delayed for any reason. This is a very reasonable request of course. Brian becomes more irate, saying she acts like she doesn’t trust him, and he can’t be bothered with her stupid worrying and her attacking him for just doing what he needs to do to provide for her and the children (effectively manipulating the focus off of him and onto Jill). Because of his anger, Jill might feel confused, questioning if she is too untrusting, bothersome, not treating him with respect. She might then feel guilty or ashamed of herself for being needy or unappreciative, since he is acting so extremely hurt and offended.
If Jill is mindful she might notice she felt like the little child who, by her parent’s angry reaction to her, made her believe she wrong or bad for needing something from her parents. A child will always believe that they are at fault, and that if they repress their need, and try harder, they may win their parent’s love. The alternative would be to understand that their parent is just not capable of giving them what they need to feel loved and safe which of course would be terrifying for a child. The parent’s rejection would cause the child to feel unworthy, abandoned, ashamed, inadequate and that her needs are not important. She represses herself a little, diminishes herself, and loses herself. Does this sound like a familiar pattern in your interactions with the sociopath?
If you pay attention to your Inner Child “showing up” (being triggered), you might notice that you react to the sociopath in the same way you reacted to your parent. Do you fight back to try to win the sociopath’s love? Do you withdraw and crawl into a ball? Do you, in a sense, numb your need for love and nurturing? Just like with an unavailable parent, none of these options work with a sociopath who is incapable of or unwilling to nurture you. The good news is that this can be an opportunity to heal those childhood wounds, and to stop being reactive to the sociopath’s victimization. You can learn to give your Inner Child the nurturing s/he never got. You, in a sense, can become the nurturing parent.
Parent yourself with exercises
Here are some exercises you can do to nurture your Inner Child, which will help you heal and build strength over time:
Heart Meditation: Close your eyes and focus on your breath. As you breathe become aware of the love in your heart. If this doesn’t come easy, think of someone who really loves you and fill your heart with it. Let your heart expand with this love. Then let it spread throughout your entire body. In your imagination hold your Inner Child in your arms close to your heart. Let the love radiating there go into the child and fill the child with love. Tell your child: “You are lovable, you are safe, you are beautiful, I can protect you.” (Add anything that feels right.)
Self-Soothing: This may sound strange to you, but when you feel the wounded child, after a victimizing interaction with a sociopath, it can be very soothing and affirming to curl up with a stuffed animal or a doll, or a real pet, or wrap yourself in a blanket like you did as a child. You acknowledge the childhood wounds and feelings (abandoned, isolated, lonely, ashamed, unworthy, etc.), painful as they are, that s/he just triggered, instead of joining the sociopath in repressing, dismissing or judging your feelings. As you connect to your experience as a child and let those feelings through, you connect to yourself. Then, you heal the wound a little and recover some of your lost self. You can soothe and validate your feelings, as a good parent would. [A great resource to help you do this is “Finding Your Inner Mate” hypnosis CD, which you can purchase at www.alchemyinstitute.com. There is also a good one call “Meeting Your Inner Child”.]
Let the Rage Out: Either shortly after experiencing the above painful emotions or later, you may feel rage. A child is ultimately powerless to get parents to love and nurture him or her, and that powerlessness causes, often unexpressed and repressed, rage in the child. You probably will at some point in interactions with the sociopath also feel rage at your powerlessness to get him or her to respond with caring. Since it’s useless to direct your anger at the sociopath — it never gets heard — find ways to let it out, like vigorous exercise, screaming and yelling somewhere private, hitting and/or kicking something neutral (try kickboxing!), journaling. Connecting to the rage of triggered by the sociopath, connects you to your Inner Child, and letting it out gets your “fight” up. This is good! You’ll need it to protect and take care of yourself going forward.