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Your Autonomic Nervous System and Healing from the Sociopath

By Laura Rubiales, ND, LAc

Do you feel like your body and mental/emotional state changed after an encounter or relationship with a sociopath?   Are you more frazzled, hypervigilant, with a potential sense of impending doom, increased anxiety and insomnia? Have you gained or lost weight? Are you having more digestive issues?

Many of these symptoms can be explained physiologically by changes in your autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system has two states between which it alternates, the sympathetic and parasympathetic.

The sympathetic state is your body’s fight or flight system which is meant to mobilize you away from danger. In the sympathetic state, your blood flow is shunted away from your digestive organs to your skeletal muscles so you can physically be able to run from a predatory animal and your breathing quickens to mobilize you. Your blood pressure rises, your heart beats faster and your pupils dilate. You may have palpitations.   For those you who were raised in toxic and dysfunctional households, the Adverse Childhood Experiences’ Study done by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control study says this toxic stress predisposes you to chronic illnesses.

In the parasympathetic state, which is the “rest and digest” state, your blood flow gets shunted to your digestive organs so you can process and transform your food into nutrients that nourish you. Your pupils constrict so you can read with a calm focus.   Your digestive muscles are more relaxed in the parasympathetic state and your gastric juices are increased. The heart and breathing slow.

When I worked with a therapist to help me get through a couple of traumas, one of the suggestions she repeatedly made to help aid in my healing was, “Whatever pulls you into the sympathetic has got to go.”   I had to re-evaluate many aspects of my life: how I spent my free time, friendships and work situations.

A sociopath or other high conflict personality disorder on the Cluster B spectrum is driven by the sympathetic nervous system. Many of these high conflict people are adrenaline junkies, driven by the power felt by creating havoc in other people’s lives.

Your deeper healing will be done by slowly remapping your nervous system into the parasympathetic. It takes daily and conscious effort, but it is achievable. For myself, frequent yoga, acupuncture, meditation, time in nature with my beloved golden retriever Luca, having a safe therapist and safe friends were part of the turning the nervous system back into the parasympathetic state. Having a journal where I wrote many unsent letters also helped me tremendously to clear the poison from my mind. Avoiding situations that stressed me into the sympathetic helped me to stay in a calmer state.

Based on the experience of my own healing and working with patients for a couple of decades, I created a 5-day retreat to ease and facilitate the process of getting into the parasympathetic here in Portland, Oregon. It includes a series of acupuncture treatments, therapy with a safe and empathetic counselor, Christa Alexander, who is a narcissistic abuse expert, calming massages and a medical workup.

Here’s more information about my retreats:

Urban Retreats for Renewal and Recovery After Narcissistic Abuse

If coming to Portland, Oregon for a personal retreat is not an option at this time, I highly suggest that you put together your own healing modalities and team of support that resonates with you to induce those calmer parasympathetic states. My sincere hope is that sooner rather than later, the parasympathetic calm will be the new normal in your autonomic nervous system.

 


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4 Comments on "Your Autonomic Nervous System and Healing from the Sociopath"

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Dr. Laura – thank you so much for developing a program that enables people who have been targeted by sociopaths recover their sense of calmness. I know that many people will benefit from what you are offering.

I love this biological explanation. Being a nurse I was greatly helped when I understood that the trap I was in was in part a natural response my body was having to trauma. This way I could soothe myself with the idea that if I persisted in behaviors and activities that were not triggering my sympathetic nervous system, that eventually I would find calm, peace, and a sense of security.

And it works. It takes time, but it works.

I grew up with a narcissist (actually there were several in my immediate and extended family). So, the amped up, anxious, depressed, and generally worried feelings I had were very long term. I had colitis from the age of around 12, that did not subside until I was well into my 40’s, and figured some of this out.

For me to heal myself it required a real change, and a total commitment to those changes. No more alcohol binges when it got really bad. I stopped with the serial relationships, just took a total break from seeking them. I stopped going ‘out’, limited my night life and being ‘stimulated’ by loud music and lots of people. I stayed NO contact with all people I identified as abusive, or even just bothersome.

Instead I spent more time alone. I read more. I gardened, walked, did yoga, wrote, and spent time with only the most trusted friends. I went to a therapist 1-2 times a week, for a few years. Eventually this all paid off and I began to have a genuine and stable peace. I didn’t jump at every noise. I slept well. I could eat and not feel pain.

And it is true that this long term stress can make you susceptible to serious disease. I have experienced it myself. It is unfortunate, since I didn’t ask for any of the abuse I suffered. But the consequence has been significant illness.

I finally understood what everyone here on Lovefraud was telling me: Love yourself, take care of yourself, treat yourself with kindness, and you can heal.

Most retreats, seminars and workshops are beyond my ability to pay for. I walk/work out alone, I often just porch sit with coffee and a good book in the mornings, or a newspaper. No booze (I gave that up years before anyway), NO gory/bloody movies, tv shows! NO loud music (unless I’m in my car). NO loud, noisy, in your face people either. I walk away from them, when possible. Take care of yourself, heal yourself and say NO to anything or any one you don’t want to deal with!

Thank you Donna and slimone for your comments. I appreciate your confidence in what I am offering Donna. Slimone, thank you for sharing your story of healing. I hope it encourages more people to focus on healing by making conscious daily choices to live in peace.

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