Lately I’ve been thinking about grief; my own and that of my clients. So many of the people I treat are in deep grief after having suffered narcissistic abuse. They grieve for their loss of innocence, their disruption of trust, the loss of a love they thought they had. They grieve for having spent sometimes years in fear; fear of abandonment, fear of cruel repercussions. They grieve for the time spent feeling guilty, afraid that somehow this was all their fault. They grieve for not having felt good enough. All this is legitimate and necessary.
I too have suffered narcissistic abuse; by family members, by an ex-husband most notably. I certainly did my own grieving, though at the time of the abuse, I wasn’t fully aware of all that I was grieving about. I did not seek therapy myself until a long time after the events and only then because I had crippling anxiety. I hadn’t heard the word “narcissism”. It was my brilliant and empathic first therapist who drew the line between my symptoms and what had happened to me in my life. Now decades later, I no longer grieve for myself but I do grieve for the narcissists. Is this condescending, I ask myself? “Look at me, so well adjusted while you are still an ass.” Maybe a little, but more honestly, I think it’s just compassion. This compassion has been hard earned through years of therapy, spiritual practice, meditation, psychological education and introspection. But it’s authentic. I’ve come to understand how empty the narcissist is and how they try to fill themselves up by feeding on others. How they try to make themselves bigger by making others smaller. How terribly insecure and unhappy they are. I can honestly grieve for that.
The year 2020 with the Black Lives Matter movement and Covid 19, has taught me that I can grieve deeply for others. My personal suffering has been slight but I weep for the world, our country, the haters. I even grieve for Donald Trump. Is this compassion healing for me, for those I grieve for? Yes, to both.
How do we do our necessary grieving without being tossed around on an emotional sea?
Here are some tips for those of you who like tips, and I know you’re out there.
Gain emotional regulation through finding someone who can listen with compassion and empathy; a therapist, grief counselor, pastor, friend, priest.
Ground yourself with nature, exercise, pets, crafts, journaling, yoga, prayer, meditation.
Maintain regular sleep and meal times. Eat nourishing food and avoid alcohol.
Do not resist feelings. This will create more dysregulation.
Do not overindulge in feelings. This too will create dysregulation.
Teach yourself simple phrases and repeat when needed:
It’s OK that I’m feeling sad/angry/tired etc.
These feelings will pass and I can be OK with them for now.
I am the master of my own mind. I can choose to feel differently for a while to give myself a break from my grief.
Think of grief as a process of healing, but like all process, it eventually must move forward and reach resolution.