Your Brain on Narcissistic Abuse: Cognitive Dissonance, Trauma Bonding & Healing in Recovery

Your Brain on Narcissistic Abuse: Cognitive Dissonance, Trauma Bonding & Healing in Recovery

As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, I know how hard it can be to believe you could have been abused by someone you thought loved you. It’s not just that they were charming, seductive, and desirable. It’s also that they seemed to care about you. You may have even felt loved – at least on some level. It’s hard to imagine that everything you thought was true about your relationship might have been a lie. This is one way you can deal with serious cognitive dissonance. And don’t worry – you’re not alone here. This happens to nearly every narcissistic abuse survivor somewhere along the way. You might also be living with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that significantly affects your everyday reality.

What is cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (disagreeing cognitions) we experience when we encounter information that contradicts our existing set of beliefs or knowledge. In other words, when we experience cognitive dissonance, we feel anxious because part of us wants to reject new information because it is threatening to our established beliefs – but another part of us knows that the new information may be true and is demanding that we accept it as such. This internal tension can cause stress and anxiety – especially if we are unaware of its source. 

Did you know that your brain betrays you in narcissistic relationships?

It’s true! The chemicals oxytocin, which encourages bonding, endogenous opioids – responsible for pleasure, pain, withdrawal, dependence; a corticotropin-releasing factor which involves withdrawal, and stress; and dopamine which is connected to the craving, seeking, wanting the narcissist back, even when they’ve caused you extreme emotional stress and pain. Toxic relationships and narcissistic abuse lead your neurochemistry to fall into dysregulated states, which makes it really hard to leave a narcissist and even harder to finally get over a toxic relationship. Take Dr. Daniel Amen’s free Brain Health Assessment to discover your Brain Type and your Brain Fit Score!

How can you re-wire your brain after narcissistic abuse?

Your brain is neuroplastic, meaning it can change and heal in some pretty amazing ways. When you’re dealing with the type of brain damage that is caused by narcissistic abuse, you can sort of re-wire your brain yourself. (Of course, you should always check with your medical professional to ensure there’s not some other underlying reason for brain fog or being forgetful.) Speaking of brain fog, let’s define it. 

What is brain fog? 

Brain Fog is the feeling of dissociation or disconnectedness often experienced during and after narcissistic abuse. It’s a very common symptom of narcissistic abuse-induced C-PTSD. Most survivors report feeling lost like they’re not really there, or like they’re sort of watching life happen through a screen or a bubble.

Self-Help Options for Healing Brain Fog After Narcissistic Abuse

Most memory training techniques involve exercises to improve linking objects to certain items or using numbering systems to stay on top of being forgetful. However, oftentimes the only thing that is needed to keep your mind on track is to get organized and to stay that way! Below are a few good tips that will help you:

Use a filing system effectively

Take the time to think through your filing system. Figure out what organization will work best for you – client files versus project files, color coding, and so on. Once you’ve worked out your system, make sure to use it. File all pertinent information in the appropriate file (not a desk pile). It’s also helpful to attach blank sheets of paper to the inside right back flap of file folders. Then, you can take notes on relevant conversations, memos, and meetings right where you need them. And make sure you put your files away in an organized fashion.

Use a task list for projects

Overwhelmed by a complex project? Think through the project concretely, step by step. Then, make a list of all these steps, or tasks, to help you get them done. Here’s another suggestion: Keep your task list stapled to the inside front cover of your project file. That way you can refer to the task list whenever you work on that project. Personally, I LOVE Bullet Journaling for this kind of stuff.

Avoid paper piles

Are you surrounded by a sea of papers at work? Is your dining-room table so covered with mail that you’re not even sure it’s still there? There are generally two things that happen to information buried in a paper pile – either it is forgotten or it can’t be found when you need it. Paper piles are like the plague – they should be avoided at all costs. When you get a piece of paper, you should do one of three things: file it, write the information down elsewhere (such as in your scheduler) and toss it, or simply toss it.

Un-sticky your life

Avoid constantly putting information on sticky notes and other small pieces of paper: If you need to write something down, put it on your Master Plan or on your to-do list. While it’s okay to use a reminder such as a sticky note every once in a while, using such notes all the time will make them less noticeable and—as a result—less useful.

Don’t overdo it

Organize your day according to your energy level: Most of us are at our best in the morning. Therefore, set aside time in the morning to work on projects that require your full focus and ability. Schedule less important meetings and other tasks for later in the day.

Supplements That May Help With Your Healing

Did you know that there are certain supplements designed to help with healing your brain? Did you also know they can be taken while your brain is still in recovery from trauma bonding in narcissistic abuse? Are you wondering what supplements actually do this and if the claims are true? I’ve compiled a list of supplements that have helped me and others I have coached in recovery. It is based on personal experience, what I have read, and what other people have told me. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but my aim is to help you find some useful information about healing your brain in recovery.

*Please note, I am not a medical professional and nothing on this site should be taken as medical advice. Do not take any supplements without first discussing with your doctor and getting their approval.

  • Calm My Brain: Quell your worried mind with this highly effective formula for the relief of anxiousness, featuring the ultimate calming mineral magnesium, the powerful stress-busting herb KSM-66® ashwagandha, and the fast-acting amino acid L-theanine.*
  • Attention Support: Trouble concentrating? Can’t sit still? Attention Support contains natural ingredients selected for their clinically proven benefits to help you relax, stay calm, and increase your attention span.
  • Betaine TMG: Provides the nutrient betaine (trimethylglycine, TMG), which enhances SAMe for healthy mood; provides crucial methyl for DNA, brain neurotransmitters, melatonin, and myelin production; and helps cells regulate their water content.
  • Brain & Body Power: The easiest way to get your daily mind and body essentials – parceled into convenient packets including a brain optimizing multi-vitamin-mineral, and pure omega-3 fish oil capsules.
  • Brain & Body Power Max: The most advanced memory-directed formula – perfectly portioned into convenient daily packets including a multi-vitamin-mineral, maximum memory-boosting nutrients, and omega-3 fish oil for complete daily nutrition.
  • Brain & Memory Power Boost: Our most advanced, best-selling memory formula with a lineup of powerful nutrients clinically proven to help protect circulation in your brain, boost mental connectivity, sharpness, and sustained focus.
  • Brain Boost On-The-Go: Fight brain fatigue and tackle your day with the zero-calorie, caffeine-free, and sugar-free, effervescent berry blend that’s perfect anytime, anywhere. Quick natural energy and hydration to help promote mental clarity. Simply add to water and enjoy.
  • Craving Control: Anyone who has ever tried to make better choices knows all too well how cravings can sabotage the best intentions. Craving Control contains all-natural ingredients that help to calm the craving centers in our brain, balance blood sugar and promotes a positive mood.
  • NeuroLink: Feeling irritable or sad for no reason? NeuroLink helps to balance our emotional ups and downs by delivering an exclusive blend of key nutrients to neurotransmitters in our brain helping us to feel tranquil and clear.
  • BrainMD’s GABA Calming Support: Calm your mind naturally with GABA Calming Support, an exclusive formula that contains clinically studied nutrients that help to calm your brain waves and help act as the biochemical “brakes” your brain needs to slow down your anxious or fretful thoughts.
  • Serotonin Mood Support: Does your mind race with negative thoughts? Try our customer favorite Serotonin Mood Support, which contains a patented form of saffron along with other key nutrients that help to promote calmness, positive mood, serotonin balance, and even healthy weight management.
  • SAMe Mood and Movement 400: SAMe Mood & Movement 400 provides SAMe (S-AdenosylMethionine), a nutrient with very high energy that helps power numerous enzymes important for the brain, joints, liver, muscles, and other organs. SAMe is fundamental to the body’s renewal, repair, and overall well-being.

Going Forward in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Being in a relationship with a narcissistic abuser causes survivors to experience a form of trauma and shock. For this reason, trauma therapy is helpful because it acknowledges that healing is a process and that there is more than one way to move forward.

Trauma therapy is often focused on the past but will also guide you toward future goals and dreams while teaching you how to deal with various triggers. Awareness of cognitive dissonance, trauma bonding & emotional flashbacks can be instrumental in understanding what your inner experience of the relationship was so you can work through it & begin letting go. Find a therapist here. 

You might also want to try narcissistic abuse recovery coaching, or if you’re looking for more of a small group setting with a lower price point, try our small group coaching plan – there are significant benefits to this and the price is significantly less than one-on-one coaching. 

Takeaway

You are not to blame for your traumatic relationship with a narcissist. By understanding what happened to you and having the right support on your healing journey, you can go on to live a happy and meaningful life. After overcoming narcissistic abuse, you may find yourself feeling like a whole new person. If you have found yourself in that stage, take comfort knowing you’re not alone. It is a journey that is as exhilarating as it is exhausting, but the end result is well worth all the effort.

You can recover. You just have to take your time, and you have to trust the process. Give yourself permission to rebuild your life from the ground up. It’s going to be a long and difficult road, but it will be worth it in the end.

Get Help With Your Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Cognitive Dissonance, Trauma Bonding & Healing in Recovery – Here’s the link for your free tools.

Polyvagal Theory in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Polyvagal Theory in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

“We all come from dysfunctional families. The issue is not whether our family was dysfunctional but whether we can put meaning to the experience of our lives.” ~ Stephen Porges, author of the Polyvagal Theory

I had a narcissistic abuse recovery counseling client who was really struggling with deep childhood trauma combined with a psychopathic ex who had horribly abused her since she was a teen. Now that she was free, she was feeling anything BUT. In fact, she felt frozen in fear, nearly all the time.

Are you living in a constant state of fear? 

Can you relate to living in a constant state of fight or flight, or worse, freeze? That was this woman’s reality. She had tried traditional therapy and spent thousands of dollars on various doctors, practitioners, and even alternative medicine. Yet, she was still at a complete standstill in her recovery and she still felt fearful and miserable every day. I deeply felt for her, and I really wanted to help. So, I started digging to help her find a solution to overcome her C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms so she could heal.

That is what led me to Dr. Stephen Porges and his Polyvagal Theory. My client found significant relief, and I learned new ways to help people in narcissistic abuse recovery.

What is Polyvagal Theory?

According to Porges, “The polyvagal theory describes an autonomic nervous system that is influenced by the central nervous system, sensitive to afferent influences, characterized by an adaptive reactivity dependent on the phylogeny of the neural circuits, and interactive with source nuclei in the brainstem regulating the striated muscles of the face and head.” Read more about Polyvagal Theory in Porges’ 2009 paper, here. 

In this brief video, Dr. Stephen Porges explains offers an explanation of his Polyvagal Theory and how it works.

How can we use Polyvagal Theory and vagus nerve stimulation to help us heal from narcissistic abuse and trauma? 

Going through a toxic relationship often leaves victims feeling fearful to a debilitating level. For most of us, it affects our nervous system in profound ways. In some cases, survivors find themselves living in a constant state of anxiety based on the feeling that they need to be constantly on guard – hypervigilance. This makes it almost impossible for them to relax or even to feel “normal.” They feel FROZEN or STUCK.

Through the use of vagus nerve stimulation as described by Dr. Porges in Polyvagal Theory, many survivors find relief of their C-PTSD symptoms. Even better, these exercises can be done by almost anyone from the comfort of their own home – or anywhere they happen to be.

Self-Help Exercises for CPTSD Symptoms Based on Polyvagal Theory

In THIS VIDEO, I talk about a theory developed by Dr. Stephen Porges that could change the way we heal trauma, and once I’ve given you a brief overview of the theory, I’m going to share some self-help exercises that you can do at home to help you get through the hard times.

As I mentioned, one of my clients found herself stuck, afraid and feeling frozen, and she had tried everything but struggled to find relief. After discovering what I’m going to show you today, she began to find some relief. As I learned more about the theory, I shared some of its ideas with other clients in similar situations.

In the majority of these cases, they were able to find some relief all on their own by doing surprisingly simple at-home exercises. Several reported that they felt these simple exercises made a significant difference in their ability to feel safe enough to recover.

The Role of the Vagus Nerve in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Porges proposes in his polyvagal theory that the vagus nerve has more function than previously thought and that the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems are only part of the equation in how people react to the environment and trauma. Because the theory is very complicated, I’m only providing a very high-level overview and focus on the parts that will specifically help us as survivors. The Polyvagal Theory says that the parasympathetic nervous system is not only associated with relaxation but also symptoms of PTSD.

Porges developed the theory to help us understand this dual function of the parasympathetic nervous system. It points to a human survival mechanism in which the parasympathetic nervous system leads us to FREEZE or “faint” in the face of a life-threatening event. Most importantly, the polyvagal theory teaches you to engage your social nervous system to consciously slow down your defensive system.

This allows you to finally find freedom from CPTSD symptoms and to feel safe. In other words, Porges’s theory makes us look beyond the effects of fight or flight and put social relationships in the forefront so we can understand our symptoms better.

Additional Resources for Learning About Polyvagal Theory

Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support

Related Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

The Mental Benefits of Meditating Regularly

The Mental Benefits of Meditating Regularly

Memory and focus tend to wane as we get older. That’s a known fact. But what a lot of people don’t know is that the same is true when we have suffered from trauma during and after narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.

We’ve discussed a number of ways to strengthen your brain health and to try to ward off cognitive decline. Today, I’d like to address one more, and that’s meditation. There are a host of great things you can obtain through this practice. Enhanced brain function is just one of them. Join me as we take a look at the mental benefits of meditating regularly.

Slowed Aging Process
Meditation has been shown to actually alter the connectivity pathways in your brain. The result is the actual slowing of cognitive decline that comes with age. Studies of meditation have resulted in demonstrating that memory loss can be reduced and attention increased in participants who take part in a meditation or mindfulness program.

Stronger Mind
Meditation causes you to focus your attention in specific ways and to block out distractions from the outside world. Doing so is one way to increase the levels of neurotransmitters and connections in your brain. Ultimately, your mind will be stronger, more alert and better-performing due to this regular practice.

Memory Retrieval
The process of meditating offers you many benefits. One of these is the ability to access long-forgotten memories. The mindfulness and focus attained during meditation give your brain the ability to ignore the outside distractions we’re bombarded with every day. Your mind is then free to go deep into the seldom-used recesses in order to call up memories you may have essentially locked away.

Better Focus and Concentration
Meditation encourages mindfulness, the process of being in the moment. Every day we’re faced with tons of outside stimuli. It can be incredibly difficult to gather our thoughts and to pay attention to any one thing, even if that thing is an important one. Through meditating, the neural pathways are strengthened ways that allow for increased focus. In fact, a concept known as neuroplasticity says that these neural connections are actually physically altered within the brain structure, leading to concrete changes.

Increased Memory Storage
The areas in which memory is stored are the frontal brain lobe and the Hippocampus. Both of these regions light up on scans when measuring brain activity during meditation. This is evidence that the neural pathways are being stimulated. Your capacity for storing additional memories grows as you practice meditation and stimulate these areas of the brain on a regular basis.

There you have it. Meditation is great for your brain. Give it a try and see if you start to notice a difference in your ability to remember and in your focus.

Brain Food to Stay Sharp: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Brain Food to Stay Sharp: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Part of taking care of yourself during and after narcissistic abuse is taking care of your head – more specifically, your brain. We’ve touched upon the types of food that can enhance brain health, but now I want to get into the nitty-gritty of what the brain-boosting foods you eat should contain. You should strive to consume a mix of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients for your brain in order to keep it functioning at its best levels. Read on to learn more about these components, what they do and how you can get more of them.

Proteins
Neurotransmitters are the chemicals in the brain that allow communication between cells. They are made up of a number of components including amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Eating foods high in protein help you to maintain a healthy balance of neurotransmitters. When neurotransmitter levels are low, you could experience a number of difficulties. These include poor concentration, low mood, inability to concentrate and difficulty sleeping. Poultry, meat, fish, dairy and eggs are all good sources of protein.

Antioxidants
With age, the nerve cells in your brain become susceptible to damage by destructive compounds known as free radicals. Not only do these unstable molecules of oxygen exist freely throughout your body, but they’re also found in the environment in the forms of pollution, smoke and ultraviolet radiation. Antioxidants are found in nutrients like selenium, beta-carotene and Vitamin C, and can protect your body from the damage done by free radicals. Eat foods like blueberries, dark chocolate, coffee, pecans, artichoke, cranberries and kidney beans to be sure you get sufficient antioxidants in your diet.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
As we age, our brains encounter additional inflammation, the nerve cells decrease and blood supply begins to decline. All of these issues, combined with fewer neurotransmitters, reduce the efficiency of cell communication. Omega-3 fatty acids help to improve brain cell communication by restoring the efficiency of electrical signal release among them. They also work to reduce inflammation and have been shown to keep memory loss at bay. Oily fish like salmon and trout are full of these fatty acids, but there are lots of other foods containing them, as well. Eggs, walnuts and leafy greens are good sources. As are oils like krill, flaxseed, chia and cod liver.

Complex Carbohydrates
Energy can’t be stored in your brain cells. Therefore, they must receive a constant supply of glucose in order to maintain a healthy, working supply. These types of carbs keep blood sugar levels stable and provide the fuel needed to move nutrient-rich blood to the brain. This energy is delivered efficiently through complex carbohydrates in vegetables and fruits. Whole wheat can be problematic for brain health, though, as it causes blood glucose levels to rise too quickly. Blood sugar spikes are believed to contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Now that you know some of the best nutrients for your brain, you can make wise choices regarding your food intake. Try adding some of your favorites from these categories as you work to improve your overall brain health.

Brain Teasers & Games Can Help You Stay Sharp: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Brain Teasers & Games Can Help You Stay Sharp: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

You know how important it is to take care of your brain during your narcissistic abuse recovery. Over the past days, I’ve shared with you the importance of keeping your brain in shape by learning new things, varying your routine and staying active. Today, let’s focus on playing games to maintain your mental fitness.

Brain teasers, games and puzzles can do wonders for maintaining and growing the neural connections in your brain. Traditional games like chess, activities such as jigsaw puzzles and newly popular online brain training programs are all examples of ways you have fun while stretching your mind muscles. Brain teasers and games can help you stay sharp and prevent cognitive decline as you age.

Flexibility
No matter what type of brain-challenging game you play, chances are you will have to be flexible in order to perform well. When you can’t solve the crossword puzzle, you look to outside sources for help. If you get stuck on a move in a particularly challenging chess match, you’ll find yourself playing out various scenarios in your head until you decide which one is the best option. Brain teasers can be frustrating, but you persist and roll with the punches in most cases until you’re able to overcome the challenge presented to you.

Memory
Of course, your memory is challenged when engaging in mentally stimulating games. In games against others, you must remember their last move in order to figure out your best strategy. Solo games often present the challenge of either thinking back on previous actions or of holding onto a particular game plan until its use becomes necessary later in the game. Keeping all the information straight is usually the main purpose of such activities.

Creativity
Brain teasers, games and puzzles give you plenty of opportunities to flex your creativity. Having to quickly come up with solutions to given challenges, to recall past information and to make connections between components forces you to come up with different ideas and to test them out. Your innovation and ingenuity come into play when engaging in these types of activities. Your problem-solving skills are bound to become stronger.

Resiliency
When you practice challenging mind games regularly, you may notice that things start to come easier to you both in these specific games and while completing tasks requiring similar skills. You’re effectively training your mind, and it will become more resilient, able to go with the flow or roll with the punches. Your reaction times and word recall may also improve. Plus, your attention span may grow as you gain experience taking in multiple types of information, while simultaneously figuring out solutions.

As you can see, there are lots of benefits to brain teasers and other such activities. These are merely some of the most common. Grab a friend to play a board game or sit down to a brain training exercise. You’ll soon notice that the rewards are great.

Rosemary Can Help Improve Memory: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Rosemary Can Help Improve Memory: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia is quoted as saying, “There’s rosemary that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember.”

Even in the famous playwright’s day, it was believed that the herb, rosemary, had properties to enhance one’s ability to remember. This is something you may not have heard before or may have simply set aside as an old wives’ tale; however, scientific researchers have shown that this herb contains a number of brain-boosting properties. Keep reading to learn more about rosemary’s ability to improve memory and how you can harness its powers in your everyday life.

Facts About Rosemary
Rosemary has a long history of homeopathic uses. As noted from the above Shakespeare reference, the belief that it is associated with the ability to remember has been around for centuries. Even the ancient Greeks have thought this to be the case. It’s also been seen by some cultures to symbolize love and loyalty. Others have used rosemary as a means to ward off even spirits. Additional uses include improving hair growth, controlling dandruff, relieving pain and healing coughs. The herb has digestive benefits, as well. It’s known to relieve cramping and bloating, along with constipation. In addition, rosemary oil has been shown to lessen respiratory problems such as sore throats, colds and allergies.

Types of Memory
I’d like to take a moment to look at the different types of memory. You use your mind in countless complex ways, and your memory serves various purposes. Past memory is made up of those things you’ve already done or learned. This is the information we hold and maintain for various lengths of time. Present memory is our working memory and involves the knowledge we use in order to complete a task. Future memory is often thought of as, “remembering to remember.” Future memory can prove to be tricky. It has to do with all those things we must remember on our to-do list, the stuff we notoriously forget unless we write it down.

Rosemary and Memory
It’s this future memory that seems to be most affected by rosemary. Researchers have discovered that smelling essential oil from this plant can help to improve people’s ability to remember to complete future tasks. In 2013, scientists from Northumbria University presented their findings regarding rosemary and prospective, or future, memory at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society.

In their study, participants were placed in a room containing the scent of rosemary or lavender oil or in a control room with no scent. They were then given complex memory tests. It was found that the rosemary group of participants scored significantly better than either of the other groups. A more recent test, in 2017, of school children yielded similar findings. The reasoning behind these results are thought to be due to chemical compounds from rosemary being absorbed into the bloodstream and sent to the brain when inhaled.

Sniffing some rosemary oil when you wish to improve your ability to remember to tackle certain tasks could be helpful, according to research and wives’ tales. I’d say it’s worth trying!*

*Your health comes first! Always check with your medical professional before trying any of the advice on this site. We are not medical professionals and this is only advice based on our own experiences and research.

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