If you’ve ever been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, you might have found yourself avoiding social situations and feeling a lot of anxiety when you’re forced to go out into the world. And if you consider yourself an empath, this could be magnified by your ability to sort of “feel” everyone around you. I know that’s been the case for me in the past. Whether you could be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) or you just struggle with social situations, it could be a result of your toxic relationship.
Also called “social phobia,” social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that causes you to have an extreme, unrelenting fear of being watched and especially judged by people, including not only strangers but also people you know. This crippling fear can affect your ability to function in the world – whether at work, school, or any of your other daily activities. Many sufferers of SAD report that it is difficult for them to make and keep friends.
What does SAD have to do with narcissistic abuse recovery?
Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships can cause you to feel overwhelmed and isolated on their own, but they also cause what psychologists call a “toxic internal environment” that can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and a wide variety of other physical health problems. Social anxiety can be a side-effect of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) as well – and many survivors of narcissistic abuse suffer from C-PTSD.
Consider this: a 12.2-year study that launched in 1985 and followed more than 10,000 people found that people who reported being in unhealthy or negative relationships were far more likely to develop heart problems, including a fatal heart attack or cardiac event, than study participants who had healthier, less negative relationships.
And on a more practical level, since narcissists are so likely to isolate and control us in these relationships, we become hypervigilant of their moods and behaviors and this can leave us not only exhausted emotionally but also unwilling or unable to deal with other people during the relationship. This could be because we are too overwhelmed by the narcissist’s need for attention and supply or because we grow tired of trying to behave “correctly” in public (so that the narcissist doesn’t further abuse us when we get home). It could also be for a number of other reasons (or a combination of reasons).
What are the symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD)?
According to NIMH, the symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
Blush, sweat, tremble, feel a rapid heart rate, or feel their “mind going blank”
Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach
Show a rigid body posture, make little eye contact, or speak with an overly soft voice
Find it scary and difficult to be with other people, especially those they don’t already know, and have a hard time talking to them even though they wish they could
Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed and awkward
Be very afraid that other people will judge them
Stay away from places where there are other people
What does social anxiety disorder (SAD) feel like?
One of the worst aspects of suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder is the feeling that you are entirely isolated and alone in the world – even (and sometimes especially) if you’re in a room full of people. It can feel as if you are cut off from the world and your inner self. Worse, it feels like you have no control over the bad feelings and that you’re trapped forever in feeling anxious and alone.
It may be helpful to hear that even if you’re feeling alone, there are some symptoms that therapists have noted are the hallmarks of SAD and just about everyone suffers from them.
The feeling that no one understands you.
When you’re in the grip of social anxiety, it feels like you are cut off from everyone and that no one can understand what it feels like inside your head, not even your therapist or your best friend.
You’re trapped forever in anxiety
SAD transcends time and space. It feels as though you’re stuck in a cycle of perpetual anxiety, even though part of you knows that SAD doesn’t define you and that no matter how severe your current flare-up is, it will pass. Anxiety tells you that you are stuck and can’t move out of the trap you’re in, even if your rational mind understands it’s not like that.
You feel like a fish out of water.
Chronic anxiety feeds on negative messages that tell you over and over that you don’t belong, you don’t fit in, that there’s something wrong with you. The deeper you get into this negative mindset, the more isolated and alienated you feel, and you withdraw from friends and family. A vicious cycle sets in to keep you apart and deepen the feeling of alienation.
A negative mindset takes over
When you’re suffering from anxiety, you tend to look at the world through very gray-colored glasses. Your brain’s default setting becomes irrational and negative. You can misinterpret things people say or do, even kindly-meant advice from your therapist or counselor.
That can spill over into feeling like a failure. You can fall into a spiral of self-criticism and self-loathing, raking over perceived mistakes and failures from the past.
Social anxiety can make you feel as though you have a layer of psychological skin missing. You feel self-conscious like everyone is looking at you and judging you. You worry over every little detail of your behavior, your clothes, what you say and what you do.
The self-loathing and stress that comes with chronic social anxiety can make it virtually impossible to live in the moment and get on with enjoying life.
Note: Because this issue is so prevalent for narcissistic abuse survivors, I’m working on a new course on the subject over at Life Makeover Academy. I’m currently searching for people to beta-test the course. While it’s normally a $99 course, I’m offering it to people who are willing to beta-test it for half-price. If you are interested in testing the course and sharing your thoughts with me, you can click here to get lifetime access to the course (and all future updates/additional material) for just $49. Please note: the beta testing period will close at the end of July, when the course will be ready to roll out at full price, so get in there now if you are interested.
As a narcissistic abuse survivor, do you ever find yourself feeling like you’ve completely lost control? Do you worry about everything, even the things you can’t do anything to change or control?
If you’re anything like I used to be, you might even find yourself feeling sick with worry sometimes. It doesn’t mean you’re bad or wrong – it just means you’re normal and that you’re not alone. Many survivors of narcissistic abuse find themselves overcome with worries, thanks in part to the abuse they’ve suffered.
Worrying is a habit that many of us believe is helpful in some way, but the fact is that that worrying only has a negative effect – and that is especially true when we’re worried about things that we have no ability to affect.
Worry less and live more with these strategies:
1. Put your worries in perspective. I know how it feels to worry, believe me. And when you’re dealing with a toxic person, worries can overwhelm you really quickly. But try to shift your perspective a bit here – this is something you CAN control! You are in charge of how you see yourself and how you choose to perceive the situations in your life. For example, if you’re still in a relationship with a toxic narcissist, you may be worrying about how you’re going to get out. Instead of focusing on the worry, focus on empowering yourself with a plan to escape and on how you’re going to live your new, narcissist-free life! Or, if you’re worried about something like your weight, stop focusing on worrying about it and start doing something to change your situation right away – stand up right now and do 10 jumping jacks, or maybe get online and research more effective ways to eat healthier.
2. Expect good things to happen.Going through narcissistic abuse makes you pretty pessimistic if you think about it. After all, every day you spend with a narcissist feels like your own personal hell – right? But here’s the thing: now that you’re moving on (or preparing to), you need to stop expecting the worst and start expecting the BEST. Seriously. The fact is that you can’t worry if you expect a positive outcome. When you assume things will turn out poorly, they often do. If you need to, make sure you’re as prepared for the worst as you can be- but be optimistic. Your worry isn’t going to change anything.
3. Understand what is and isn’t under your control. We spend a lot of time worrying about things we can’t change. What’s the point? Do what you can to mitigate your risk and then see what happens. Let go of the things you can’t control. For me, learning this stuff was a HUGE factor in creating positive personal change in my own life. The moment I gave myself permission to stop worrying about things I couldn’t control, I instantly felt a sense of relief and my life seemed to be so much less painful. This intentional practice is SO powerful when you enact it! (If this sounds like something you’d like to try, be sure to scroll down to the bottom of this article and try the journaling exercise I wrote for you).
4. Stay grounded in the present moment. It’s all about being mindful. Mindfulness is another (free!) powerful tool that we can use as survivors of narcissistic abuse. For the duration of our toxic relationships, we spent so much time feeling helpless and out of control that many of us found ourselves sort of living in our own heads. But if you intentionally change that and bring yourself into the present moment, you’ll find that your worries can disappear. Do this by paying attention to what you’re doing right now. Avoid thinking about tomorrow if it stresses you out. Use pattern interrupts if you need to do that to stay focused. Make the best use of your time each moment and the future will take care of itself. This video offers ideas on how to use pattern interrupts to your advantage.
5. Practice gratitude. I know that it feels like we don’t have a lot to be grateful for sometimes – especially when we’re still dealing with a toxic person in our lives, but those are the times when it may be most important to practice gratitude. When you realize how much you do have to be grateful for, the future isn’t as scary somehow. Remind yourself of how good your life is already, even if you start with things like “I’m grateful I woke up today.” You’ll worry less.
Remember: Gratitude is a habit. Take a moment each day and mentally list the things that you’re grateful for. This can do more to enhance your perspective than you think. I like to use my own gratitude practice as part of my intentional vibration management. Try starting your own gratitude journal. Want more information? This video will explain more about that and offer you tips on how to manage your own vibrations intentionally.
7. Look at the facts first. Statistically speaking, we worry about way more than we need to – or at least, more than we should. The fact is that you’ve probably worried about a lot of things over the course of your life, right? How many of them actually came true? And how often did you worry about things that you had no ability to control or even affect? You’ll likely discover that most of your worry was inaccurate or unnecessary.
Most of the things we worry about never happen. And even if they do, it’s not nearly as awful as we anticipate. Conclusion: Any time spent worrying is wasted time. If there’s something you can do to resolve the situation, just fix it. Life is short and worrying detracts greatly from life. Work to minimize the amount of time you spend worrying each day. You’ll enjoy life more, you’ll be less stressed, and you’ll be one step closer to living your very best life!
Stop Worrying Journaling Exercise
Ready to take your narcissistic abuse recovery to the next level? Grab your journal and do the following exercise. If you prefer, you can just consider the questions and meditate on them instead.
Take a moment to think about how much time you spend worrying each day. Has any of that worrying ever accomplished anything positive in your life?
Think about the things you worry about. Make a list of your concerns.
Evaluate your worries. Go back to your list and decide which of your worries are under your own control – as in, are there things you can do to change the outcome of the situation you’re worried about? If the answer is yes, take a minute to write down the actions you can take to change or affect the situation. If the answer is no, cross the worry off your list.
Imagine what you could do with all of that time and energy. Imagine how much happier and comfortable you would be if you could minimize the amount of time you spend worrying each day. What would it mean for you? How would your life look if you didn’t have so many worries? Take a few minutes to write down your ideas.
Are you getting the silent treatment after an argument with someone in your life? Does someone use the silent treatment as a form of punishment for when they feel annoyed or wronged? Do you feel exhausted and confused because you aren’t even sure what you’ve done wrong?
The silent treatment is a form of avoidance that, in theory, accomplishes nothing other than escalating the situation. Logically, the victim becomes resentful and less interested in resolving the issue. But when you’re dealing with a toxic relationship that might involve a narcissist, the silent treatment is much more than it seems.
Silent Treatment by Narcissist
When a narcissist enacts the silent treatment on you, the purpose is emotional manipulation, psychological control and ultimately, to get what he or she wants. Today, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know about the silent treatment. What is is, why it’s used, how it’s done, who uses this tactic and where you can use it to your advantage.
What is the Silent Treatment?
The silent treatment is what we call it when someone stops speaking to you and/or recognizing your presence. They refuse to engage in communication with you in response to some conflict or problem in the relationship. It’s also called “stonewalling” or “the cold shoulder.”
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“Take the power to control your own life. Take the power to make your life happy.” ~Susan Polis Schutz
The end of a toxic relationship can feel like the end of the world. While we all understand logically that maybe it’s for the best, the pain and fear that come with this kind of change can feel unbearable – our emotional side takes a while to catch up, to say the very least.
So, you have a couple of choices here. Once you have taken the time to recognize and release your emotions (which you’ll need to do if you’re going to heal, especially since most toxic partners cause us to keep our emotions buried during the relationship due to ridicule, invalidation and intolerance), what’s next? How do you get a fresh start and truly begin to create the life you want?
The trick is to take the lessons you can, and to leave the rest behind – and then springboard into a new life.
You can reinvent yourself. Now that you’re free, you have the opportunity to write a new chapter in your life. To become whomever and whatever you want. To design your life with full intention. Imagine the possibilities!
What will you decide to do with this opportunity?
Take your life to a new level after the end of your toxic relationship with these tips.
Clean house. Take all of those photographs, love letters, mementos, gifts, and so on and pitch them in the trash. If you’re tempted to keep them for sentimental reasons, consider your ex-partner from three relationships ago. Do you still have anything remaining from that relationship? If you just can’t let go of those items yet, put them all in a box and put the box in the basement or garage. You can throw them away another day. Someday, you’ll be surprised that you ever wanted to keep any of it.
Check your health. Now is a good time to start that workout program you have been considering to make some positive changes to your body. Exercise will uplift your mood too. Lift weights, go running, join a yoga studio, or play tennis. The activity doesn’t matter as long as you get some exercise and move onward and upward. Personally, I’m all about just walking with my music in my ears or dancing around the house like no one is watching (usually when no one IS actually watching, if I’m being honest – I’m a terrible dancer!)
Start at least one new activity. There are plenty of things you’d like to do but haven’t yet. It’s time to start doing one of them. Join a softball team or a dance studio. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, as long as you like it. Hopefully, it will be an activity that includes other people.
Evaluate yourself and your toxic relationship. Take a short period of time and examine your toxic relationship. There’s no point in repeating mistakes in the future. Figure out what went wrong and how you can avoid a similar fate. Understand how you can overcome this in the future and work on your self-confidence so you can set better boundaries. Give yourself permission to unconditionally accept yourself and to set boundaries that feel right to you – not boundaries that someone else sets for you.
Give yourself a total makeover! A lot of toxic partners control our behavior and our appearance – we aren’t allowed to wear makeup or cut our hair, or maybe we’re made to wear a certain type of style. Either way, freshening up your look can help! Change things up a little bit. Get a fresh start by updating your wardrobe, coloring your hair or even getting a fresh new cut. You’ll feel better. It’s like a new beginning that all the world can see.
Reconnect with old friends. When you’re in any romantic relationship, other relationships can suffer. And narcissists tend to isolate us from the people we’re close to anyway – it allows them to control us better. Now that you’re free, it’s time to reconnect with old friends and create some new memories. Make it a point to contact everyone you’ve lost touch with. Maybe a group dinner is in order.
Learn something new. It’s fulfilling to grow in a meaningful way. You’ve been living for someone else for too long – and chances are that the narcissist controlled both your time and your choices. You may have even been ridiculed for the interests and hobbies you wanted to indulge in. So now that no one is judging and controlling you, why not pick something that interests you and develop yourself? You might want to learn how to play the piano, paint, or skydive. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to dance. Make it happen.
Take a trip. Get away by yourself or with a friend and explore someplace new. It can be a great start to a new life, and it can be very freeing for someone who has been living under pressure with a narcissist for so long. Where would you like to go? Think outside the box and be daring. Go get your passport if you don’t already have one. The world is your oyster.
Spend casual time with a variety of people, instead of focusing all of your energy on one person. Try dating people you normally wouldn’t. Maybe you’ve just been dating the wrong people in the past. Keep it fun and simple. Tip: Wait until you’re feeling strong and healed before jumping into a new relationship. Personally, I chose to wait a year after my divorce to ensure that I was really healed and ready to open my heart to someone new. You can wait longer or for less time, but it helps to sort of give yourself a pre-determined time-limit so you can avoid jumping into something you’re not ready for without thinking.
Make the most of your newfound freedom and take some time to make a few modifications to yourself and your life. Try some new activities and reach out to your old friends.
Your life might just become the best it’s ever been.