Narcissistic Abuse in Toxic Relationships: Identify and Manage Dissociation

Narcissistic Abuse in Toxic Relationships: Identify and Manage Dissociation

One of the most commonly reported side-effects of being abused by a narcissist in a relationship of any kind is C-PTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and one of the most common ways this can manifest in the victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse and gaslighting manipulation is in the form of dissociation.

Dissociation on a metaphorical level looks a lot like being a passenger in a car rather than the driver. Like, you’re seeing all of the turns and the journey, but you’re just along for the ride. The ride is happening TO you rather than you choosing the route.

Why and How Dissociation Happens and What to Do About It

What is dissociation?

In the most basic sense, dissociation is a disconnection from your physical surroundings. It’s when you feel like you’re sort of watching the world from somewhere deep inside your head, or above it, or somehow disconnected from it. Like you’re “not really there” or like you’re watching life through a movie.

It feels like you’re “not really real” or like you’re watching your life through some kind of fog. Some people describe it as feeling sort of like a robot or having no emotions or connection whatsoever to the people around them.

What was once familiar now seems somehow unfamiliar, and this includes people, places, and things.

A Clinical Definition of Dissociation

A more clinical definition, according to the International Society of the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISST-D), says that dissociation is “the disconnection or lack of connection between things usually associated with each other,” and that in its most severe forms, those who suffer from it report that the “disconnection occurs in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception.”

So, for example, a person who suffers from dissociation may experience something that most people would be extremely upset and affected by, and they may have no feelings about it.

According to ISST-D, it’s clinically termed “emotional numbing,” and it’s one of the hallmarks of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), a common and unfortunate side-effect of experiencing narcissistic abuse in a relationship. It’s also a very common complaint seen in people who seek mental health treatment according to a 2002 study published by Maldonado et al).

How does dissociation as a result of gaslighting and mental abuse affect your life?

What symptoms are involved?

Though it may initially seem harmless, your ability to “tune out” the world, and though some people may almost find your “spaciness” rather adorable, the truth is that there are plenty of less than desirable consequences that come along with dissociation.

There are five pretty common symptoms of dissociation that can significantly affect your life, and there’s one that is less common but potentially more devastating in some ways.

  • Depersonalization: the sense of being outside of or disconnected from your body – feeling like you’re not in your body. You might even feel like you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror. You feel detached from yourself.
  • Derealization: when the world feels “fake” or contrived. People who are affected by derealization often describe this symptom as a “fog” or like they see the world from “far away” or through a veil. Some say it’s like watching a movie rather than actually participating in life.
  • Dissociative amnesia: a particular type of amnesia that is specific to people with dissociation that blocks out personal details, such as incidents of abuse and manipulation, blocks of time – from minutes to years – and more. Often, people say that they just forget what they’re talking about – but it’s not just your standard forgetfulness – it’s a significant issue that may even become embarrassing at times.
  • Identity confusion: a condition in which you experience seriously conflicted feelings within yourself; for example, you might find that you’re doing things that aren’t like you – such as driving recklessly or doing drugs; and while part of you find this behavior thrilling, the other part of you is disgusted by it.
  • Identity alteration: a shocking condition in which parts of you are very defined and separate from other parts – this is similar to a condition that used to be called multiple personality disorder. It’s far less common but does occasionally manifest in victims of narcissistic abuse.

What does dissociation have to do with being emotionally and mentally abused by a narcissist?

When it comes to dissociation due to narcissistic abuse in your relationship, it’s a whole other ball of wax. The thing is that learning to dissociate can be something that begins as a survival technique for someone who has experienced the soul-crushing emotional abuse of a narcissist.

The ability to “dissociate” can actually sort of save you – it’s really a coping mechanism.

What happens is that you begin to feel so overcome by fear, anger, or any other emotion that doesn’t make sense to you, and you probably find yourself doing things that you wouldn’t normally choose to do on your own.

For example, you may cut off your best friend, or you might stop calling your mother or Aunt Sally, even though you’ve talked to them both every day of your life up to now.

You do things like this, and potentially even more damaging things, because you are attempting to keep your narcissist happy and avoid an episode of narcissistic rage, gaslighting, or any number of other ways a narcissist likes to manipulate their victims.

When all of this becomes too much for your rational mind to handle and you’ve become isolated, or at least emotionally isolated in that you don’t talk to anyone about your problems, you have to figure out a way to deal.

And, a lot of times, you have to decide NOT to wish you were dead – and the only way to do THAT is to simply stop feeling the things that hurt you so deeply. You might begin by rationalizing it in your head (he doesn’t really mean it, or he will apologize later, so I can just get through this and help him with his anger or self-esteem or whatever is bothering him, according to your perception).

When that doesn’t work, you give up and you stop feeling anything at all. At first, this is a freeing feeling, but eventually, it sucks not only the pain from your life but also the joy – and that’s when you’ve dissociated. When you feel literally almost nothing.

Why should you get help with dissociation?

Doesn’t it just make life easier in some ways?

It might seem like that at first. Some people even say that the best way to avoid being hurt emotionally is to avoid feeling anything at all. But the problem is a little thing psychologists call “affect dysregulation,” which is defined as the inability to tolerate and manage intense emotional experiences.

Related: How to stop toxic thoughts

This happens because we lose the inability to soothe ourselves for whatever reason – or we were never given the opportunity to learn how.

This can cause us to have terrible mood swings, lack of emotion, and on some occasions, the sudden reliving of painful memories. It’s like when a veteran with PTSD has a war flashback, except it’s the reliving of tragic events we’ve personally experienced, such as the verbal and emotional abuse of a narcissist in a relationship.

You should get help because dissociation can absolutely ruin your life – it can cause you to become someone you’re truly not. And what you deserve is the ability to discover (or re-discover) who you truly are – not to be a basket-case shell of your true self.

Why do we dissociate when it’s so unhealthy for us?

As I said, dissociation is a direct result of the subconscious mind’s attempt to protect us from the intense and painful emotions we can’t handle. It’s our mind’s last-ditch attempt to preserve our sanity – and it initially happens when all of our other methods of protection are exhausted. We sort of “artificially” adapt our personalities to manage our fear, anger, and other intense emotions. In this way, we control them and temporarily save ourselves.

How do I start to heal from dissociation and feel things again?

If you’re self-treating, you’re going to have to work really hard. Most psychologists will tell you to get professional help. Though I am a certified life coach who has herself experienced and overcome narcissistic abuse, I am not a mental or physical health professional, so before you try anything I suggest, you need to consult with your healthcare professional.

The process of healing from dissociation begins first with understanding and awareness. Once you understand the problem and can identify it in yourself, you can begin to develop coping techniques and habits that can help you learn to live again, to take back your life.

The next thing you need to do is to start working on your own confidence in yourself and your ability to make this change. Then you can just focus on learning to become aware of and to tolerate and handle your feelings – which, of course, can lead to your growth as a person and learning so many new things.

Your turn: have you experienced dissociation as a result of being abused by a narcissist? Share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the comments section, and let’s discuss this.

Ready to start the healing? Here are some resources to get you started.

Books & eBooks on Narcissism and Relationships

Related articles

Magic Snacking: 12 Blissed-Out Ways to Eat More and Still Lose Weight

Magic Snacking: 12 Blissed-Out Ways to Eat More and Still Lose Weight

Who doesn’t love to snack? But if you’re not careful, doing so can cause big trouble for your diet. If you frequently eat between meals, those extra portions could have a big impact on your health – either positive or negative. They will definitely play an important role in helping you to manage your weight and take in all the nutrients your body needs.

So why do so many people find that when they snack throughout the day they’re actually heavier at the end of the week? Well, it’s quite simple, really – they’re eating more calories overall. Right?

Well…sorta. See, USDA studies show that many Americans who snack are taking in about one-third of our daily empty calories from those afternoon candy bars and late night refrigerator raids.

Do you know what that means?? 

That adds up to most of us are consuming two to four times the recommended limit in solid fats and added sugars. TWO to FOUR times!

It’s enough to turn your stomach (to flab!). So what are you gonna do about it?

The Mayo Clinic suggests keeping snacks below 100 calories. “Generous portions of fruits or vegetables can easily help fill you up while staying below that calorie count. All of the following servings have fewer than 100 calories:

  • Medium apple: 95 calories
  • Small banana: 90 calories
  • Two kiwis: 84 calories
  • 20 medium baby carrots: 70 calories
  • 20 grapes: 68 calories
  • Medium orange: 65 calories
  • 20 cherry tomatoes: 61 calories
  • Medium peach: 58 calories
  • Medium red pepper: 37 calories
  • 20 pea pods: 28 calories

For comparison, one reduced-fat cheese stick has about 60 calories to 100-calories, but it also has 4.5 grams of fat. While the protein and fat may help curb your appetite, a single cheese stick may not be as satisfying as, say, 20 baby carrots, which add up to nearly 10 times the weight of the cheese stick, and have 70 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.”

blissed out tip sheet 100 calorie snacks

Blissfully Healthy Ways to Eat More and Still Lose Weight:
The Magic of Snacking

I say we revolt! Let’s turn those numbers around! But how? Oh, don’t worry, as usual, I’ve got a plan for you. See, by learning how to choose smart snacks that are good for your health and well-being. Try these blissed-out tips to get started. 

Blissed Out Eating – How to Make Better Food Choices

  1. Focus on whole grains. Bake your own treats or look for packaged food that lists whole grains as the first ingredient. Whole wheat flour has more nutrients and fiber than white flour.
  1. Take the sweet and the salty down a notch. Reduce sugar and sodium. Many junk foods are loaded with sugar and sodium. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit instead.
  1. Balance it out. Plan a balanced menu. Think of your snacks as miniature meals that need to include all three food groups. Along with complex carbohydrates, add in lean proteins and healthy fats.
  1. Eat the WHOLE thing! Opt for whole foods. You may be tempted to simplify things by just grabbing an energy bar or buying cookies that are labeled low fat or low sugar. In fact, many convenience foods are less healthy than the label suggests. Buy natural foods like raw nuts and plain yogurt. (Then again, if it’s a matter of convenience, don’t beat yourself up if the energy bars work best for you. Do what you need to do, yo!)
  1. Drink up. If you’re pressed for time, you can snack on healthy beverages. Tea contains antioxidants and other beneficial ingredients. Water will keep you hydrated and feeling full. For heartier fare, whip up smoothies in minutes with vegetables, natural peanut butter, or other goodies.
  1. Eat more produce. On average, we’re eating 3 servings of fruits and vegetables compared to the recommendations for 7 to 13 servings. Snacks can help you fill in the gap.
  1. Find substitutions. You probably have certain snacks that you crave the most. If they’re high in sugar or saturated fat, consider how to adjust them. Oven-baked fries are much slimmer than the fast food version. A square of dark chocolate is lighter than a doughnut.

Related: The Food Tracking Game – How 6 Months of Tracking Led to a 100 Pound Weight Loss

Smart Tips for Blissed-Out Snack Habits 

  1. Keep an eye on your portion sizes. It’s easy to consume as many calories as a full meal if you’re scarfing down potato chips or cheesecake. Measure out a single serving instead of eating out of the container. And if you’re good at eyeballing, check yourself every now and then, especially if you see something crazy happening on weigh-in day. 
  1. Don’t eat mindlessly. Stay in control by giving your full attention to your food while you eat it. Enjoy the process of cracking nuts and eating them one by one instead of wolfing down a whole package while watching TV. Spoon out leftovers onto a plate and pull up a chair rather than eating with the refrigerator door open.
  1. Take it with ya. Pack a bag. Carry sensible treats around with you to avoid desperately searching for something wholesome in vending machines or gas stations. Pack a cooler with carrot sticks and yogurt drinks.
  1. Don’t get hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Manage stress and boredom. Distinguish between true hunger and appetite. Do you eat for entertainment or to comfort yourself when you feel blue? Pick up a hobby or invite a friend out for a walk instead.
  1. Keep a journal. If you need more help, a snacking journal can track how much you’re really eating. Spot the triggers that make you want to overindulge and develop strategies for dealing with them.

Choose healthy but yummy snacks that stabilize your blood sugar and give you the energy you need to cruise right on through your busy day. Good-for-you, whole foods and advance planning will help you to stay fit and healthy while you graze between meals. 

project blissful book coverWant more weight loss tips? Read the story of how I lost more than 100 pounds and kept it off!

Project Blissful is a whole-life makeover that helps you become the best possible version of yourself. Author and certified life coach Angela Atkinson has herself lost more than 100 pounds without surgery or hard-core weight loss drugs. In this book, she shares all of the intimate details on how she lost the weight and what she does to keep it off.  

Plus, you’ll learn: 

How to start losing weight today (and without feeling miserable in the process)

  • How to love yourself healthy and thin 
  • How to find your ideal weight and reach it without pain 
  • How to lose weight without traditional exercise 
  • How to baby-step your way through small habits that add up to big results 

And much more! Here’s the ebook version and here’s where you can pick up the paperback!

 

Win at Weight Loss: 7 Self-Control Secrets (With Slideshow)

Win at Weight Loss: 7 Self-Control Secrets (With Slideshow)

Wanna win at weight loss? Here: 7 Tips to Increase Self-Control

Losing excess weight and keeping it off is a difficult, but necessary, task. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 69% of American adults are overweight. Being overweight can lead to many dangerous health conditions, such as high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and heart disease.

Despite the risks, most of us have a hard time resisting the temptation of high calorie foods and other unhealthy lifestyle choices. The good news is that there are several ways to boost your willpower so that you can successfully lose those unwanted pounds!

Try these strategies to increase your self-control and successfully lose weight:

1. Get plenty of rest. Resisting the urge to cheat on your diet takes energy. You’re more likely to give in to temptation when you’re tired. Make preparations to get a restful night’s sleep and take frequent breaks during the day to boost your willpower.

2. Identify cravings and make healthy substitutions. Cravings can be irresistible and derail the most determined dieters. The next time you crave a specific food, satisfy the craving with a healthy substitute.

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables are great alternatives when you’re craving calorie-heavy, crunchy chips.
  • Try adding cinnamon to make foods taste sweeter without adding excess sugar.
  • Other spices such as garlic, oregano, and basil can add flavor to foods without adding salt.
  • Try broiling or pan searing some of your foods in place of frying them. You’ll still get a crunchy outer layer without the use of oil.

3. Focus on one area of improvement at a time. Our ability to exercise control is like a muscle. It can be built up, as well as exhausted.

  • If you want to lose weight and quit smoking, you might deplete your reserve of will power if you try to make both of these major changes at the same time.

4. Practice moderation. You can more easily strengthen your self-control if you take a moderate approach to dieting and exercise. Achieve success at weight loss by allowing yourself little indulgences from time to time.

5. Celebrate your success. We have more willpower when we have a clear goal that we’re working towards and feel as though our effort will be recognized or rewarded.

  • Divide your overall weight loss goal into several smaller chunks and celebrate as you reach each level.

projectblissfulwitharrows

  • Choose a reward that isn’t tied to eating, such as buying a new outfit or going to see a new movie with a loved one.

6. Share your battle with a friend that will keep you on track. It’s easier to maintain your self-control and stay focused on achieving your weight loss goal when you have a friend to cheer you on and help you stay motivated.

7. Use affirmations and positive visualization. Regularly visualize yourself at the size you wish to be. Use self-talk and verbal statements that affirm your ability to control yourself.

Having the discipline to lose weight and keep it off can be very difficult. This is especially true since high calorie foods and other temptations are so readily available. Practicing these strategies can help you to increase your willpower and self-control so you can strengthen your health and win the battle for your waistline!

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