9 Ways To Recover From the Acute Phase of a Breakup
Even if you were “addicted” to a narcissist!
The acute phase is just what it sounds like…the hours, days, weeks, maybe even months, after severing a relationship with a narcissist. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Who couldn’t use a “survival kit”?
Because right now everything is painful, a life almost defined by pain.
I’m no stranger; without pain I might not be sure I’m sucking air.
It’s not that the relationship was necessarily less painful than the breakup. In fact, staying in the relationship could be (and usually is) more painful.
Please, please remember this. Let it echo and reverberate in your head every time you think of going back to him (or her).
The truth is, we’re addicted, literally addicted. Brain chemicals oxytocin (bonding) and dopamine (pleasure/reward) have tag-teamed us, bathing our brains in vats of feels-so-good. And the brain has responded in kind, its cells popping out more and more receptors to catch these chemicals, because it wants More! More! MORE!
For some, the abuse itself that almost always occurs in these types of relationships actually starts to work the same way as the early-days pleasure had. This is how some get locked into the cycle of being abused.
Subject to psychological abuse, I searched and searched for solutions and strategies, convinced that I could wave a magic wand and a light-bulb moment would appear. Miracles do happen, after all. Not necessarily in narcissism, of course.
The relationship itself is painful as hell, but we’re hooked, in much the same way as any other addictive substance. Two things could happen:
- Our brains start getting off on the pain (even if we don’t feel that way), and/or
- We encounter just enough good times to suffice. Either way, we’re hooked. It’s truly an addiction. Much like any synthetic/illicit drug out there.
…Which is why we feel these insane, intense, insatiable withdrawals when we sever contact (or even go low-contact) with a narcissist.
Your ex is probably still the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning. You may find yourself distracted all throughout the day by thoughts of him or her, wondering what they’re doing, who they’re texting with, how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, how much they’re suffering, what their true motives are, what they meant when they said This or That, how much they’re grieving or missing you, how much they understand and regret what they did to you, what they’re wearing, what they did that day, what they plan to do today or this week, and so on. And they may be the last thing you think about when you go to sleep at night.
When my ex and I were together, everything I did was to prepare for his arrival (when he visited) or to busy myself until we could meet up after work (once he had moved here). I couldn’t get enough of checking up on his social media pages, combing through his Liked Pages on Facebook or trying to see when he was last active on Messenger or Hangouts, or combing through his blog and devouring every word like I had a schoolgirl crush. I’d walk by his apartment while outside walking around on a phone call to my sister or a friend, I’d check for his car when I drove by (he lives in our same apartment complex).
That’s pure addiction, in the truest sense of the word. That’s what it looks like.
Now that you’ve separated, it’s important that everything you do is geared toward taking your life back, re-establishing a routine of your own, reclaiming your head, heart, and space.
Try to make it a point to engage in a combination of activities that are yours alone and those you shared together. The early stages of a relationship’s demise are for focusing on yourself.
You may have to get stubborn about it — the stubborn self-focus is mainly geared toward separating from your ex and asserting your own individuality. The earliest days may simply be about proving to them and yourself (and anyone else, if necessary) that you can be your own person, too, more so than it is actually finding who you truly are and rising up. At first, it may look and feel more reactive than proactive, I know.
And for right now, that’s okay. Because the bottom line is, you’re engaging in healthy activities that do indeed focus on yourself. You’re no longer tethered to their every wish and whim. You’re doing work that needs to be done. And that can help immensely.
I’ll share my strategies with you. Yours may be different from mine; what works for me might not work for you, and that’s okay, too.
1. Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET)
This has by far been the most effective in efficiently helping me break those emotional ties, beginning with the treatment I had this morning. This morning’s treatment was not my first since the relationship broke down; it was actually my third. But three times was the charm, as I had a massive emotional release during today’s treatment, and it’s now nightfall, and the tears have not surfaced again since, which is in stark contrast to the past 5 days, where I was breaking down sobbing every few hours. NET is gentle and powerful; I highly recommend it.
Therapy is also a must. It’s important to have a professional in your corner who can guide you through the process and help you “hold on to yourself”. It’s important, too, to have someone you can vent to or seek help through a particularly acute crisis situation.
However, the efficacy of therapy all depends on a combination of the therapist, how well you click with them, how narcissism-literate they are, and how hard you’re willing to face your own challenges and insecurities and work through the pain.
My therapist was pretty decent — not a Dr. Ramani-level expert or anything, but he gets a little more than the basics. It works more slowly than NET, but the good news is that you get to talk, and while doing so, we hear ourselves. A good therapist will also clear up any confusion about the nature and gravity of the situation, and suggest action steps to take when in certain situations, whereas NET generally will not.
You don’t necessarily need to seek out a yoga studio or professional yoga instructor. Rahter, you can actually do this at home on YouTube these days (it’s free and there’s no driving or COVID19 risk or restrictions).
Run a search on YouTube and you’ll find literally tons of videos of varying lengths, yoga types, goals/purposes, target populations, yoga experience levels, and instructors to choose from. You can do an 12-minute routine to boost your brain or a 40-minute one for strength and stability, or anything in between. It’s great in the morning and afternoon.
4. Spiritual videos
YouTube is getting a workout these days. I gravitate toward videos in which various topics such as depression, attachment/letting go, fear, grief, disappointment, emotional pain, and many others, are tackled through a lens of Buddhist wisdom and teachings. I find that this is effective for helping ground me, solidify my place in the universal consciousness, and find my inner peace. I also watch Buddhist videos on why we’re here, finding contentment, being at peace with oneself, and so on.
I found the Buddhist Society of Western Australia particularly relevant and helpful. These videos are appropriate for anyone, regardless of religious or spiritual path. They’re primarily about “life lessons and wisdom” as opposed to Buddhism itself.
5. Narcissism videos
You guessed it–YouTube. This was a powerful first step–arming myself with information, educating myself on the nature of the situation I was (and still am) in. I actually began watching a lot of these videos long before the relationship actually disintegrated.
This is usually an unpleasant leg to your healing journey, but a necessary one.
During this phase, your experience is validated as you learn about the various traits of narcissism and how they might manifest in real life, the various vocabulary words used in articles and videos about narcissism, why narcissists won’t and typically can’t change, and how to either break up, go no/low-contact, and/or survive in a relationship that can’t be left.
You’ll probably also learn about the various sub-types of narcissism, of which several experts theorize there are about 6 or 7 (depending on whom you listen to). You may realize that you’ve actually dealt with many more narcissists than you’d ever imagined. I know that was the case for me — not only my most recent ex, but all of my previous exes and 3 out of 4 grandparents.
Most importantly, I learned how to detect the early warning signs of a narcissistic relationship. And now, I’m learning how to heal from narcissistic abuse.
For narcissism videos on YouTube, I recommend several channels in a fairly specific order
- I would delve into Dr Ramani’s channel first. She has a glossary section that defines all the different subtypes and vocabulary terms that serve as an excellent Narcissism 101.
- Then, I recommend Lisa A Romano (especially her “Signs of a Narcissist” playlist) and Dr Les Carter, who focus a little more on relationships with narcissists and how to deal with them.
- Next, I recommend Melanie Tonia Evans, since she’s much more upbeat and proactive when it comes to actually beginning to heal from narcissistic relationships and abuse.
- Finally, I recommend circling back to Lisa A Romano for the next stage of healing, which is to look deep within your core, accessing your authentic emotions and reflecting back on the earliest memories of your childhood and examining them closely for any clues that may have created insecurity, vulnerability, and/or codependency.
There is plenty of informational overlap between the various channels, but I’ve summarized the focus of each one, based on my (limited but growing) experience thus far.
It’s extremely important not to spend too much time on the “dissecting the narcissist”, “what went wrong?” stage, or it can actually begin to replace the narcissist for the brain-chemical hit and continue the addiction. Once you’ve got the lay of the land, shift into more proactive/strategy/healing/recovery information.
Take a moment to contemplate. It’s common to lose ourselves in narcissistic relationships; did this happen to you too?
- Do you know or remember who you are, what you like to do, and what you’re interested in?
- Are there activities you used to love but let go when you met the narcissist and they reacted with “meh”?
- Are there interests you used to have or things you used to do that reflected and expressed who you are as a person that got elbowed aside when the narcissist began to take over more and more of your time and life?
- What are your hobbies now? What would you like to do with the rest of your life?
If you’re not sure or can’t quite remember what you used to do before your narcissistic relationship consumed you and your time and energy, try reflecting back to what you used to do before that relationship began.
For me, this is sampling new “indie” or other eclectic music and coloring in grownup coloring books. It also includes reading and writing/blogging. I also love one-day road trips and playing card games with friends.
What about you? Did you used to relax and read in bed until you fell asleep but don’t anymore? Did you used to wake up and go for a morning run or other exercise activity that sort of dropped off? Did you used to eat well and your diet veered off-course? Did you used to do X, Y, or Z until your narcissistic partner came along?
7. Add structure to your day/week
Structure is crucial. Each day should begin with at least a general outline, with general time-frames.
Days that lack structure are fraught with depression, grief, and anxiety. The loss weighs heavily on you and the void left by the ended relationship threatens to swallow you whole. Without structure, we tend to wander aimlessly, not really having a clue about what to do next. And then thoughts of the narcissistic ex begin to invade our heads and hearts, tempting us to just go back to their familiarity and control–or we whip ourselves into frenzies trying to figure them out, in a fit of analysis by paralysis.
A day that is well- (but not overly-) structured by self-focused activities offers you protection against the tendencies to relapse back into the narcissistic relationship. It chips away at the loneliness, confusion, and “lost” feelings.
Setting up a structure involves making deliberate, mindful decisions about what you’re going to do that day and when. Set goals, make a list, and don’t forget to cross off the items as you accomplish them!
The content of the structure counts, too. Set criteria for your activities.
For example, activities should be:
- Focused on you and “getting back to you”
- Health-promoting — physically, emotionally, cognitively
- Well-rounded, a good variety, addressing multiple areas of life
- Realistically attainable — easy enough for your abilities
- Challenging enough to encourage you to grow and evolve
- Versatile/Flexible, to allow for unexpected life situations
- Ideally, it’s also fun! Something you actually enjoy, want to do, and look forward to doing.
This sounds like a long and pipe-dreamy list, but in reality, an endless amount of options fits the bill. Any type of physical activity, personal hobby, creative pursuit, therapeutic activity (such as meditation, journaling, counseling), housework or other “adulting” task — all “count”.
Pepper your to-do list for the day with a variety of those activities — a little meditation here, a fruit and vegetable smoothie there, maybe even a little creative writing or getting together with friends after work, and maybe a little reading to unwind before bed.
Now you have structure, and you have prioritized its parts. Those items become your top priorities. Everything else can get sandwiched around them, but they remain fairly steadfast, save for emergencies.
8. Time with friends/support system
It’s vital to build or join (or reunite with) a positive support system. All too often, our circle of friends fades away as we get deeper enmeshed in a relationship and the narcissist consumes more and more of our time. Days, weeks, even months can go by before we stop to realize that we haven’t talked to our best friend 3–4 months.
Time to rekindle that circle, and maybe even add to it.
A support system can consist of good friends, support groups, MeetUp groups, or others with common (healthy) interests. You don’t want to find a gaggle of bar buddies here; you want to find boardgamers, book clubs, running mates, fellow musicians, art clubs, intellectual discussions, local “let’s do something” groups, etc — anything you’re interested in.
Bonus: interest-based groups (or meeting up with friends with plenty of common interests) not only gives you contact with other people and structure to your day, but also re-immerses you into your hobbies, reminding you of who YOU are.
9. Self-Care in general
Self-care is almost a prerequisite for all the rest. It may be tempting to say “screw it” and let yourself go out of pure exhaustion and bottomed-out self-worth, but do not give into this temptation!
Do make sure to eat, and eat well, for you need to feed your brain and body and give them the nourishment they need so that they can function and you can maintain your mental and physical health.
You need to be able to think, focus, feel, process, create…all the things that make you YOU. You need to have enough energy to function well and get through this.
Exercise/movement is crucial as well; it actually stimulates your brain and uplifts your mood.
Getting out of the house is quite beneficial, too; changes of scenery are uplifting and give purpose to the day and ourselves.
Getting out into the sun is even better, for the Vitamin D (researchers have known for a long time about sunlight’s antidepressant effect) and glandular benefits.
Just remember: you will get through this. You have more inner strength than you may realize; after all, you’ve made it this far!
You got this.
(Remember, this is just the acute phase; I will likely publish a follow-up article on proactive strategies for further post-acute recovery.)