“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
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But good news: there are lots of things you can do to give your memory a boost. Along with these exercises, certain lifestyle factors have shown to have a significant impact on how well our brains function. I’d like to take some time today to focus on just three things you may not realize contribute to your overall cognitive function. Read on to learn more about these three things that affect brain health.
What You Eat
It’s true. What you put into your body makes a difference when it comes to brain health. Just as eating a balanced diet is recommended for a healthy body, you should also strive to meet healthy dietary intake if you wish to maintain efficient brain functioning. Along with following general guidelines for a well-balanced diet, there are some specific foods that have been shown to boost memory and improve focus. Blueberries are one such food. They reduce inflammation and slow down the aging effects on the brain. Fatty fish contain the omega-3 fatty acids necessary to build brain cells, leading to an improvement in learning and memory. Dark chocolate is one you may be pleased to know contains a number of good-for-your-brain compounds, including caffeine and special antioxidants known as flavonoids. Caffeine increases alertness, sharpens concentration, and improves mood. Flavonoids boost your memory and hold back cognitive decline. Some other foods to add to your list of brain boosters include broccoli, pumpkin seeds, turmeric, coffee, oranges, nuts, and eggs.
Listen, it’s not like going through narcissistic abuse doesn’t mess with your head all on its own, and one of the complications you deal with in recovery might be a sort of “numbing out” and a retraction from your regular life for a while – especially very early in the narcissistic abuse recovery process. Some of us need to spend a lot of time alone and at times, that will involve a certain amount of “not” using our brains – as in, we may just need to zone out and let ourselves have permission to slow way down at the beginning of our healing journey.
The only problem with that is that the amount of activity to which you subject your mind can heavily influence your brain’s function. The approach is that of the “use it or lose it” philosophy. The more you engage in an activity that engages a particular type of cognitive function, the stronger that function will become. For example, when you exercise your working memory by manipulating information in your mind for a particular time period, you will tend to be able to do these types of activities with increased ease over time. There are a number of benefits to maintaining an active mind. As you engage regularly in activities such as reading, working with brainteasers, engaging in hobbies, and learning new skills, the sharper and more alert you will become, with better recall.
Cognitive decline is to be expected to some extent in everyone. But the extent of the decline can certainly be affected by narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships, as it can with any trauma. This has been the topic of many scientific studies in an attempt to determine ways we can delay the onset of conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Why is it that some people can remain sharp as a tack well into old age while others begin to suffer memory loss earlier? Researchers have shown that a person’s genes have a heavy influence on these outcomes. There are known genetic markers that are associated with cognitive functioning in aging. The existence and combination of these markers play a significant role in the manner in which an individual’s brain function is maintained with age.
The information I’ve just provided is a mere summary of all that’s known on these topics, but I wanted to share with you some of the key elements that contribute to your overall brain health. While some are out of your control, there are a number of preventative measures you can take to keep your mind sharp.