Juliana Akin (00:00):
Could you provide five actionable strategies for overcoming anxiety that narcissistic abuse causes? And for each strategy, could you walk us through how to implement it it into our daily lives and explain the reason each strategy works?
Anna L Graham (00:14):
Yes. So anxiety with narcissistic abuse is not just anxiety. People talk about PTSD and complex PTSD and how one is the result of a single act and the other is the result of multiple acts over time and it makes it complex. The same thing happens to anxiety. So it requires a more complex treatment and approach by everyone involved. And I have an acronym how we love acronyms, and it is sit with body and mind. And the SIT stands for safety, intuition, trust. And those three things kind of operate together and really are happening at the same time. And then with body and mind, and I say body first because the body has been historically placed last in psychology work. So much attention is given to the mind and thought all of that.
And the body is so important and so integral in this and no less important than the mind. So I put body before mind in that acronym. So the first thing that a person has to do to start healing any anxiety that they’re experiencing is safety. They have to establish safety. And while, yeah, the number one, what everybody says, go no contact. Well, it’s not that simple, right? Sometimes you are living with your abuser, sometimes your boss is your abuser, sometimes your teacher is your abuser, your parent is your abuser. It isn’t always just that simple to go no contact, but that’s where it begins. And that’s physical and emotionally going no contact to create this safety because our anxiety is an alarm system that’s telling us that we’re unsafe and it is not incorrect.
And I think that’s some of the worst gaslighting that we experience is being taught that our alarm system is wrong, but it’s not wrong. It’s just being ignored. So it’s super loud and it goes off all the time. So what do we do? What do we do if we have to interact with this person, have to go to work with them, we have to co-parent with them. We have to run into them in different places. So what do we do? Well, number one, you pretend like they don’t exist. You pretend like they do not exist. It doesn’t matter if they’re standing one foot away from you, they do not exist. And you turn your back to them. You look past them, you excuse yourself, you do whatever you have to do because they just do not exist. Now, there may be times that you have to engage with this person for work reasons.
Again, like co-parenting or you a parent, you create accountability in every possible way. So if you’re communicating with someone in writing, then you have somebody else who’s included in that communication. You include someone else in a meeting, you try to talk to people together. These are ways to create accountability which can create safety when you can’t completely escape from someone. And the other is that you just do not engage. So if you have to engage, let’s say co-parenting, you have to discuss the children. So you have to engage in that you are all business, you are just about the facts and that’s it. So it’s just minimal and you just don’t take emotional bait. Now what happens when you’ve been the victim of narcissistic abuse forever, you are triggered all the time. You are activated all the time. And it is so difficult once you are activated to then continue interacting.
So what I say is that if you are activated, that means your number one priority is now self-care. Whatever conversation is happening, whatever interaction is happening, it can pause because now you have to go into self-care in order to keep yourself safe. Because when we get activated by this type of abuse and we’re trying to do interactions, our brains don’t function well. We will misread things that are right in front of us. You’ll read it, you’ll be reading it with an emotional scared activated mind and you’ll misread what’s in front of you. And so calming ourselves, getting ourselves back to a place of safety and then approaching things again, just lets us come at it from a more grounded place. So we have to create safety for ourselves. If we find ourselves triggered, then we activate self-care.
Juliana Akin (06:07):
Okay? Yeah. And so this is the first strategy when we’re trying to overcome the anxiety that narcissistic abuse causes. And it was safety. And you said many things like you said that it starts with no contact if possible. Then you said, well, no contact is impossible always. So pretend they don’t exist. Well, we can’t always do that either. So then you went into don’t engage well, because we can’t always do that either. It was minimal engagement and only about facts. And then the last thing you said under the safety was that when you’re activated, remember that self-care because otherwise you are looking at situations and interactions and what other people are saying or how the situation looks like from a very distorted way of seeing things because you are activated. So safety, when we’re trying to overcome the anxiety, narcissistic abuse, why do you think this is such an important thing? Why did you include this here? When we are trying to overcome the anxiety,
Anna L Graham (07:12):
Because we’re dealing with our alarm system, we’re dealing with our brain having been trained into a place because our brains, they do what gets us to respond. And so they’ll shift and our brain will shift into different ways to try. It’s constantly firing at us that we’re unsafe when we are receiving this kind of abuse. And the only way to get that to quiet down so that we can see clearly and we can feel what it’s like to be safe. That’s the only way to get there, is to find space and to quiet the alarm system down. So now we can start to think
Juliana Akin (08:02):
Anna L Graham (08:02):
People start to heal so quickly when they create safety for themselves. When I see people move out of a home and now they are living on their own, it’s like they start healing rapidly. The body starts healing, things start changing for them. And then it’s finding safety in the mind and the thoughts that now are making you feel unsafe. So it’s different layers of safety that have to be created for yourself in order to get your nervous system to stand down.
Juliana Akin (08:38):
Anna L Graham (08:39):
Narcissistic abuse causes so much fear. It just is fear. People are afraid of what is going to happen.
Juliana Akin (08:49):
Yeah. Thank you. That makes a lot of sense. So the first strategy in overcoming the anxiety that narcissistic abuse causes, you just talked about in great detail about safety. So what is the next strategy?
Anna L Graham (09:03):
The next step in the sit triangle is intuition. Because through a lifetime or years and years of being gaslighted into ignoring our alarm system, being told that we’re too sensitive or that we’re too emotional or that it is our problem, our anxiety is our problem. There’s something wrong with our system. Well, there’s nothing wrong with our system, nothing at all. And there never ever was. But we are trained to believe that about ourselves, which means that we completely close the door to our inner knowing, to our intuition, and we don’t listen to it and we believe that we are wrong. And so starting to come to terms with the fact that we were never wrong, that our alarm system is not broken, it’s just no one is responding to the call. So just accepting that is a big step, right? Accepting that we are.
And so how do we do this? How do we find our intuition? Well, once we’ve created a little bit of safety for ourself, that allows us to find space for quiet and space to be more mindful in our daily lives. Paying attention. Paying attention in a moment just to the littlest things like you’re brushing your teeth. Well just brush your teeth. Just brush your teeth. That’s it. Don’t be doing other things. Eat your food and actually focus on eating your food. Put your phone down, turn off your computer for a second and look out the window and just be really with yourself so you can hear your inner voice. Because we all have it. It’s, it gets really quiet and kind of stops and goes away when we’ve stopped listening. And so it’s time to start intuitively making choices for ourselves again, not based on what someone else wants from us, not based on what society wants from us, what our abusive caregiver wanted from us, but really listening to ourself and making choices based on what we want. And it starts really small. It starts with what kind of music do I want to listen to when I get into my car or when I walk out of the house, what do I want to eat? What do I want to watch? There’s a real disconnection from the self.
Juliana Akin (11:56):
And do you think that disconnection from the self is one of the biggest causes of anxiety?
Anna L Graham (12:03):
I do think it’s a huge part of it because what is guiding us, there’s no trust. And that leads to the next part of the, there’s no trust. You cannot trust other people or the world if you cannot trust yourself. And that again points back to safety, because if we can’t trust ourselves to determine whether or not a person or a situation is safe, then we rely on, oh, can I trust this person? Can I trust this situation? And how do you know? And meanwhile, because when we talk to people who have suffered narcissistic abuse and we roll them back to the very beginning of these relationships, there are always red flags from the moment that people meet. It might be quick, it might show up and go away. It might be so easily explained away, but hindsight, looking back, people can see it. And that is ignoring our intuition. So when people are struggling and wanting to move forward with their lives, but they’re saying, how can I ever date again? How can I go forward in my life? I can’t keep myself safe. And it’s remembering back to those red flags and reminding them that they knew
That they knew that they were right and they were right from the very beginning. So by beginning to listen to these intuitive moments that speak to us and taking the chance on ourself that we’re right, taking the risk, okay, I’m going to make this an intuitive decision and I’m going to listen to what my system is telling me. You start to learn that you’re right. So listening to that intuition takes you into learning to trust yourself, which is the real key to then feeling safe in the world and being able to engage with others because that distrust keeps us walled off, keeps people from engaging from doing because they’re trying to feel safe.
Juliana Akin (14:28):
Yeah. Do you think that this feeling of trust, because you said that you really cannot trust other people and the world if you don’t trust yourself, and then you gave the example that if you look back, every people have seen the red flags, but just for some reason they have been so easily explained away and stuff like that, but they always wear there. I was thinking, can you talk about this also from the point of view of those who have lived in a toxic or narcissistic environment? It’s like they’re you born in zoo, an environment where they’re all the time red flags, but because that’s all you know, don’t really see them. So,
Anna L Graham (15:15):
And that’s where that is the learning. That is the hard learning that comes when you are out of it. Because the only way you can start to recognize that there was anything wrong with it is by getting away from it. And first we do the work of being away from it and being alone. And then we do the work of trying to be in relationship with others because that brings up all kinds of new work. So once a person is out of the space and their system starts to calm down, it is possible for them to start seeing what was wrong with what they were experiencing. So it’s learning now that what you were taught wasn’t correct. And that’s what really kicks us when we go forward into our lives and start being in relationship with other people because we don’t even understand that we’ve been conditioned to believe how love feels. Love feels anxiety-provoking. Somebody loves you and they’re super controlling of your life. That means they love you. All of these things that have become to define love, you have to recognize that no, that is not how it is supposed to feel. And so that is work that is done once you’re able to create some space. And if you’re not even able to create some space and you’re in there and you’re able to hear conversations about what is love, what is abuse, a lot of times that’s where the conversation begins, is a person doesn’t understand that they’ve been experiencing abuse.
Juliana Akin (17:12):
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So it sounds like in order to overcome the anxiety that nurses abuse causes, you first mentioned the safety, then you mentioned the intuition. And under that intuition you talked about, well, that the very first step, which is a big one, accepting that you are actually right, your intuition is right, and it is there. And then you cave tips. You can start small being just very mindful when you brush your teeth, brush your teeth. And then it also starts with those simple choices like making choices based on what you want and starting small like that. And all this also leads to trust because once you start to make those choices based on what you want, and when you become mindful, you become more in touch with your inner dialogue and with yourself, that builds trust within yourself. And when you have trust within yourself, you can have trust on your judgment about situations, about people, about relationships. And in that way, you are not anymore feeling so afraid in the world and with other people and other relationships. So I don’t know, is there something else? Because right now I have counted like, okay, we have gone through three strategies to overcome the anxiety, safety, intuition, and trust. But is there something, do you want to add anything to any of these three things or do you want to move on to the fourth one?
Anna L Graham (18:51):
So then the next is the body. The body keeps the score. It is been around forever and historically the body has been ignored. It’s all about the brain and the body is storing so much from all of these experiences, and it has to be addressed in order to get past the anxiety. Because anxiety is not just a thought process that happens in our minds. It is a physical feeling. Anxiety can make you feel like you’re going to die. And so our body is very much a part of helping us relieve anxiety. We can speak to people who can talk about their trauma all day long. They can talk about it. They don’t appear activated by it. They seem completely fine, and they are totally cut off from any emotional feeling and feelings in the body associated with that.
So it’s stored in them. It’s just being held in their bodies. So how do we get people in touch with their bodies? How do we get people to feel again? Because a lot of times there’s a very high pain tolerance that can go along with being subjected to narcissistic abuse, and that’s because of being in pain for a lot. You have a high tolerance for nonsense when you’ve experienced, when you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse. So Peter Levine has a book Waking the Tiger that I love. It’s not one of the books that he ever talks about. So I think it’s funny that it’s my favorite one, but he talks about our felt sense in this book. And the felt sense is everything that all of our senses in our body is picking up and taking in that we don’t even register. We are taking in information and data that’s going on around us nonstop all the time with all of our senses.
But because the mind is so important, we ignore that. We haven’t learned to tune into our bodies and the things that we feel in moments. If anything, we’re taught to ignore it. We’re taught to hide our emotions. We’re taught to hide our fear. Don’t shake, don’t show anybody that you’re afraid. Hold it all, hold it all in. Well, we literally do and we don’t release it and we don’t feel it. So exercises like if someone is in the shower and standing and the water is hitting you and standing there and feeling it, what does it feel like for that water to hit you on the head to land on your back? Let the water touch all different areas of your body and pay attention to how that feels, how you feel once the water stops hitting your body, just to get yourself in touch with what your body is feeling.
Because a lot of times you can ask a person, okay, you’re feeling sad. Tell me what sadness feels like. And they cannot tell you what sadness physically feels like in their body. They cannot tell you what anxiety physically feels like in their body. They can describe thought processes, all kinds of things, but what do you mean? And so making that connection with the body is so important. Tip, tip is ADBT skill that I think is invaluable because the body really comes into play when we get flooded. And when I was talking about safety in the beginning and that when we’re activated, we need to go into self-care mode. Tip is something you can do for yourself in those moments. So tip is temperature is the tea, which means you splash cold water on your face, you put your hands in cold water, you hold ice cubes.
Maybe something warm is comforting to you, but you do something to shift. Just a temperature shift can help you regulate a little bit. The eye is for intense exercise. That does not mean go run a marathon. It means that maybe you run in place, maybe you dance aggressively, maybe jump up and down. But just anything like that, that can be a little bit of an energy release. Paced breathing, I have to say that is the number one thing for me personally that I go to when my body reacts is breathing, is because anxiety and deep breathing are counter-indicated in the body. They don’t exist together. When we are anxious, our breathing is shallow. It is up in our chest. When we deepen our breath, we are signaling to the body that we are okay.
And it may take 10 minutes, 15 minutes, you may need to breathe, but 15 minutes sure is a lot better than four hours or three weeks of being in that place of activation. And then the second P is progressive muscle relaxation, which is just the imagery of inhaling and exhaling while tensing parts of the body. And releasing that on an exhale tip is an excellent skill to go to on your own. And walking, walking is such a healing exercise. So I practice EMDR as well. Eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing, and that uses bilateral stimulation. Well, walking is bilateral stimulation and it is something that we can all do. It is something that we can do on our own, and it puts us into a state of processing. And so as we’re walking, we can be reminding ourself that we’re okay, smelling the air, looking at what is around us while we’re walking. It helps us create a sense of safety. It helps the body calm down, release it lets the brain kind of work through some things, allows us to do some reality testing. So tip and walking our just really wonderful ways to help the body when activated. And then doing the exercises of being in the shower. Paying attention comes into this too. Just paying attention to how things feel
Allows us to start listening to the messages and the body will start sending the messages get clearer because now we’re listening.
Juliana Akin (26:23):
Yeah. Yeah. Great. Thank you. That makes a lot of sense. So when we’re trying to work on the anxiety, the narciss abuse courses, first we went through the acronym. The whole thing was sit with body and mind. So the sit was like safety, intuition, trust. And now we just went through. So safety was the strategy number one, intuition number was strategy number two, trust was strategy number three, and the fourth one was now the body. So I’m assuming that the number five is mind.
Anna L Graham (26:59):
Yes, yes. It’s last. The mind is last for once. So the mind is incredible. It is une, emotionally efficient, unemotional efficient. Our brains are, our brain is trying to make everything happen in the most effective, efficient way possible, and it will do whatever it has to in order for that to happen. So when as children, we are trained to be a certain way because of where we grow up and we don’t have any control over that, our brain figures out how to survive that situation. And going forward, our brain continues to do things that way unless we look at it and change that pattern. Well, changing that pattern is difficult because that is the most efficient way the brain has found to get things done. And it’s worked great so far. Look, we’re still alive. Things are kind of a mess, and we’re having difficulties in relationships and what, but we’re waking up every day and that’s good enough.
That’s good enough for the mind because when it comes down to it, it’s trying to keep us alive. It really is something that is life or death in our minds. And because as small children, our motivation is to stay alive. That’s what we’re doing. How do I not die? And so the brain stays in that place. So it is survival and the brain will clinging to these patterns because it is survival. And that is where I very much believe narcissistic abuse starts to look like addiction, especially in romantic relationships, but also in caregiver situations because the brain thinks that it needs that connection to live, to survive. You’re going to die without this person, without this parent, you can’t survive without them, right? Because that’s the brain from our youth. So that is very difficult to overcome. And the addicted brain wants to go back to the thing that is harming you, that is killing you, but wants to go back to it because it believes that it needs that to be alive.
So when we sit with people who are saying, why can’t I stop thinking about my ex-partner? Why do I want to reach out to them? Why do I want to be with them? They were horrible to me. I don’t understand. And it’s that addiction. It’s that mind’s belief that you need this person. And so overcoming that is work that requires the other work of intuition, of being able to recognize your inner selves, recognizing yourself that is the abused self that is operating from that position, recognizing the intuitive, more mature self that knows what’s real, that knows what’s true. And so you find these voices, these parts of yourself, so you can start working with them. So when the abused self is operating, the more mature intuitive self is there as well. Talking to that part of yourself saying, no, this is the reality. This is what is real. You are afraid. It is understandable. You comfort the self. So that anxious self that is coming into the room and creating all of these body feelings and all of these things that are happening, you step away, you turn to that part of you and you comfort yourself controlling the narrative. So it goes into controlling the narrative of your life. So you’re being given a narrative and you are going to change it.
Juliana Akin (31:43):
Okay, so it sounds like, yeah, it in practice to do this is just to recognize, okay, I might have two parts in me, the one that’s the abused part, the one who is very anxious. And then the other part, which is the more mature and the more intuitive one, then when you are in stressful situations, and in our topic today was anxiety. So let’s say you are very anxious at the moment. It means that you tune into your inner dialogue and know it is like, okay, the anxious part of me is thinking this is fearing, this is doing all these things. And then you have to ask yourself, what would my more mature, intuitive part say to this anxious abuse part of myself? So it sounds like a lot of very self-compassion basically, and being there for yourself. And in some cases it could be also re-parenting yourself in, if I’m thinking unhealthy childhood experiences, that’s basically how to do it in practice, just to engage in stuff like that.
Anna L Graham (33:11):
Typically a person has something on loop in their head. It’s usually a common theme to what is we say to ourselves, and we’re super hard on ourselves, super mean and hard and judgment, and there’s a lot of shame that’s in there. And there’s just no space for that in healing from narcissistic abuse, none. It serves no purpose in our healing, to not have compassion for ourselves. And so it’s teaching that voice a better way to do it, because strangely, that critical voice actually believes that it’s keeping you safe. That voice thinks it’s helping by doing that. And a lot of times it does it by imitating the abuser, because if you do what the abuser wants, you’re not going to get hurt.
So it’s teaching that voice that there’s a better way, that there’s something that can be said that helps and it takes time. I look at all of these things as things that happen in the short term and things that take time, establishing safety, getting in touch with your intuition, building that trust. The safety happens quickly, that’s immediate has to happen right away. Things like changing this dialogue in your mind, it takes work and consistency on the individual’s part to make that happen because you’re trying to change that brain pattern, and the brain really likes how it’s doing it. But as you keep going back and forth, eventually the intuitive self will take over and the more critical voice will get smaller. I won’t say that it necessarily goes away, but it becomes so small that it looks like a child coming up to you that’s freaking out. So it doesn’t affect you in the same way because you look at it as like, oh no, it’s okay, because the other voice just becomes more prominent. Sometimes the other voice doesn’t show up. And you’re very compassionate to yourself when things happen or go wrong, that takes time and it happens.
Juliana Akin (35:45):
Okay, you said that it takes work. So time and work and consistency. When you say it takes work, are we talking about daily, every day, something? Yeah, daily.
Anna L Graham (35:59):
Juliana Akin (36:00):
Constant. So if it’s because
Anna L Graham (36:02):
That voice can be so present, it can be there all the time.
Juliana Akin (36:07):
Yeah. So in that case, if it’s there all the time, and we recognize, okay, now I understand this requires constant work. What is something that someone can do daily? So nothing too huge, because we don’t want to try to commit to something that’s impossible to keep up with every day or consistently and daily. So what is something that could be easily incorporated daily?
Anna L Graham (36:41):
So we usually have something that is the thing that we hear the most, and a lot of times it’s laziness. A lot of times you’re l or that you’re bad or that you’re whatever it is usually kind of the same one. So we identify what the message is that we are getting most of the time, and then we counter it with what the intuitive, more mature mind would say. And this is something that can be written down. So you write down what the things are, you’re lazy, let’s just say. And the intuitive mature mind says, you are not lazy. You’re working very hard and you did a lot today, or you had a hard time sleeping last night. That doesn’t make you lazy. You don’t allow for, you’re lazy. So every time that comes into your mind, you counter it with the reality, a comment of compassion, and that’s what you do. So you can start with just one of the messages that needs to be adjusted.
Juliana Akin (38:04):
Yeah, yeah. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense.
Anna L Graham (38:08):
And it’s kind of a domino effect. It generalizes because even though you’re just going after this one message that’s coming at you, you’re doing the work of being kind to yourself. So even though it’s this same thing, that act of consciously being kind to yourself throughout every day, it makes a huge difference. And it starts working in just all aspects of your life.
Juliana Akin (38:43):
Yeah. Yeah. I can imagine if the first message you notice within yourself and in your dialogue, in your dialogue is like you are lazy, you can’t get anything done ever. And then let’s say the other thought becomes then about you are a failure or something, you have already established the habit of countering the negative thought with more accurate version of what is actually happening. You just said that. Well, yeah. I slept very, very poorly last night. I haven’t been able to done all the stuff that I’m usually able to do when I’m having a good night’s sleep, but based on the circumstances I did very well. So that’s more accurate version. So once you have done that, and with that thought, I can imagine it becomes easier with the other thoughts. Yeah, it’s basically the same thing that you are engaging in the same activity. It’s just a different thought. Yeah,
Anna L Graham (39:45):
Right. You’re kind of coming in the back door a little bit because a lot of people start with affirmative thinking and it feels so ridiculous to them to look in the mirror and say, I love you. You know what I mean? You tell me how to do that. And they’re like, that’s ridiculous. So this is you’re backdooring your way in to tricking yourself into being kind to yourself with this super logical exercise because you have the response. It’s precooked ready to go.
Juliana Akin (40:25):
Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Makes sense. So when we are trying to overcome the anxiety, the narcissist abuse causes, you started this whole conversation that I have a great acronym for us, and it was sit with body and mind, and then you structured the whole conversation around this. So when we’re trying to overcome the anxiety, the narcissist abuse causes, the first one was safety, and then the second one was intuition, third one was trust. Fourth one was body, and fifth one was mind. So sit with body and mind. So yeah, thank you so much. I think all these are very helpful, and like you said, they are very intertwined. So I want to thank everyone for listening. But before I end this and let you go, do you have any final thoughts about any of these strategies or just about the topic of overcoming anxiety, that narcissistic abuse causes in general? I
Anna L Graham (41:23):
Think that, I just want to reiterate that you aren’t broken. Your alarm isn’t broken. You were never wrong. So in all these relationships where people find themselves talking themselves into poor treatment and whatever, they have all these reasons that they, and they’re telling themselves like, oh, I’m just anxious. I feel anxious, but that’s just me. That’s my problem. You are right. You feel anxious for a reason. And I think that’s the biggest thing for people to learn is that you’re right, you’re not wrong. And it’s that gaslighting that comes with the narcissistic abuse that makes it so bad.