We have come to the final entry of our four-part series. We turn to the healing journey as our trip investigating compassion, neuroscience, and narcissism ends. The tools and techniques listed below are approaches to help survivors of abuse or mistreatment experienced within a relationship with a partner demonstrating narcissistic personality disorder. We’ll discuss personal development techniques, emphasizing self-compassion’s empowering role and positive neuroplasticity’s transformative potential.
Often within a relationship with a person with narcissistic personality disorder, one will find themselves reacting, surviving (e.g., appeasement, fighting), or muting their authentic self. It is possible to lose touch with who you were before the relationship. Although neuroplasticity can lead to the experience of psychological symptoms, here is the good news – positive neuroplasticity can be the key to regaining self and post traumatic growth. The pain, distress, traumatic bond, dysregulation, and (some) unwanted changes created within the relationship can be either lessened or alleviated.
Here are a few areas to consider for those on this healing journey:
- Emotion Regulation: Engage in neuroplasticity exercises that can activate and encourage neural connections with regions of the brain associated with calming, attention, and mental flexibility. Selecting activities or exercises can be done independently. A neuropsychologist or psychologist can be a helpful resource.
- Education: Seek reliable educational resources to deepen your understanding of narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder markers and manifestations. My website, neuroinstincts, looks into narcissism and neuropsychology for survivors (for those seeking a starting point.)
- Self-Compassion:Shift focus away from self-criticism and see the self through kindness and understanding. It is unnecessary to be self-critical to facilitate change; this could hinder progress. Replace negative self-talk with gentle language. Consider self-compassion training if needed.
- Self-Awareness: Understand that your worth is not a reflection of how you were treated in the relationship. You always deserve compassion, kindness, attention, and safety from a partner.
- Self-Care: Find what fuels, excites, and nurtures you and engage in those activities regularly. This will need to be a priority, as it can help you reconnect with the authentic, genuine you. (For me, it was creating a website, -neuroinstincts.com, helping animals, learning about interior design, writing, deep dives into longevity/ health, exploring the beaches of Florida, and bird watching.)
- Clarity Regarding Responsibility: Harming, abusing, or distressing others is never acceptable. Although narcissistic personality disorder encompasses impairments in morals, self-awareness, and accountability, that does not justify damaging the well-being of another. No matter what, they are responsible for their actions and seeking treatment.
- Forgive yourself: Some individuals feel shame because they remained with someone who disrespected them or caused harm. It will be essential to forgive yourself if this is a part of your post-relationship experience. This is where self-compassion can be vital.
- Boundaries: Determine what your boundaries will be moving forward. Decide whom you will allow in your closest circle and create your approach for vetting individuals for safety. A psychologist or therapist could be helpful if you need assistance starting this process.
- Compassion: Consider how to incorporate compassion into your daily life. As we discussed earlier, compassion stimulates parts of the brain associated with emotion regulation, social bonds, and positive emotions. The byproduct of compassionate acts and self-compassion can be feelings of empowerment and courage. Here are two approaches that can assist in developing and practicing compassion: 1. Engage in compassion training. 2. Get involved in a (safe/non-triggering) cause you care about and aid those who lack the resources you have to alleviate their pain. Help children or animals who have been neglected or abused, feed people in need of food through a nonprofit, protect the environment, speak up for the rights of oppressed groups, or participate in political activities (examples). Only take on such tasks if you are at a point in your healing where you can observe the suffering of another without it affecting you negatively.
- Get Creative: Explore music, art, and creative activities like cooking, gardening, baking, and knitting. Organize your surroundings, deep clean, and set a vibe in your home of coziness and peace. All of these activities will stimulate many brain areas outside of the networks associated with threat, stress, and pain. Engaging in these tasks can lead to positive emotions, a sense of accomplishment, pleasure, improved cognition, and self-regulation.
- Therapy: If needed, see a psychologist or therapist. It will probably be most helpful to choose a provider with a background in this unique area of abuse. A provider with a solid knowledge base in narcissistic personality disorder would be beneficial, as pathological narcissism presents a host of social and moral limitations that are not present in a non-narcissistic partner.
- Move the body: Activities such as walking, dancing, cycling, and strength training can positively impact mood and thinking (e.g., executive functions, memory). According to research, movement can have an incredible impact on the body, including how the brain functions. Choose your favorite mode of exercise.
- Seek the help of a psychiatristif needed.
- Health Basics: Optimize sleep, diet, and exercise. Address habits that could harm the brain (e.g., smoking). Consult with appropriate healthcare professionals (e.g., an MD) if needed.
- Consider the assistance of professional services, if needed (e.g., attorney, law enforcement, child protective services, animal protection services, government assistance programs).
- Gather a support system of compassionate individuals.
In this series, we’ve examined the interplay of neuroscience and compassion for individuals with narcissistic personality disorder. We’ve touched on their behavior patterns and explored how limitations associated with morality and emotions can create distress within their relationships.
For those who plan to leave a partner with narcissistic personality disorder (or psychopathy), understand that leaving the relationship could potentially be a trigger for your partner. Deciding to move forward without them could activate their hypersensitive threat system, placing you at risk for stalking, physical harm, or smear campaigns. Safety planning should always be a priority. If you are a survivor, I hope the information shared in this series has brought you empowerment, strength, and clarity as you navigate toward a future of peace.
Dr Rhonda Freeman is a clinical neuropsychologist specialising in relationships.