Emotions are powerful. They are the basis for our connections to others and essential for our innate survival mechanisms. Emotions allow us to experience joy, happiness, compassion and empathy. They allow us to bond. Emotions bypass logic, but when regulated well, contribute to self-care, productivity and healthy relationships. However, when emotions inappropriately overwhelm logic, they can reduce a person’s ability to anticipate consequences, cause irrational reactions and get us into trouble.
Often, it’s hard to let go of past painful events. People often talk about their past when they’re feeling bad because it’s their negative emotions that connect them to the memories of their past. Going over and over these thoughts keeps you in the past; not just mentally, but emotionally and physically. It makes it nearly impossible to change your reality.
How Emotions Affect the Body
You think 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts every day and 90% of those thoughts are the same as the day before. Habit. If it’s true that your thoughts have an impact on what your future will be like, and almost all of your thoughts are the same as yesterday, then it makes sense that your life isn’t going to change much at all. Why is this? According to Dr Joe Dispenza, the same thoughts lead to the same choices, and the same choices lead to the same behaviours, which leads to the same experiences and the same emotions. Those familiar emotions then influence the same thoughts and we begin the cycle again.
Your thoughts and emotions trigger hormonal secretions, for example happiness sends a wave of endorphins, while worry floods the body with stress hormones. Your brain doesn’t know whether an event causing an emotional reaction is happening now, or is just a thought about a past (or future) event. So even if you’re just thinking about a painful event from the past, it will still have a physical effect on your body.
So imagine if you’re stuck in a pattern of negative thoughts about the past like I was. I was in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic during 2018 to early 2020. Now despite all the pain he put me through, there was love there, but one day he disappeared. Well “coincidently” a few days after I told him he needed to stop this bad behaviour, he dumped me over Facebook and I haven’t seen him since.
This was traumatic, mainly because I don’t know why, and that’s the difficult part, no answers. This caused a lot of negative thoughts and unanswered questions that I went over and over in my mind for months and months. This caused me to go further back in time and beat myself up about red flags I ignored and why I allowed this monster into my life in the first place.
Can Emotions Make You Sick?
Being stuck in negative thought patterns like this had a physiological effect on my body. My constant thoughts about this relationship caused ongoing stress to my body. My thoughts would be triggering my brain to believe that I was still in these bad situations, even though it was all in my head. But the brain doesn’t know this. It just does what it’s supposed to do. It believes I am under stress so it releases stress hormones.
Stress hormones are useful and they keep us alive when there’s a REAL danger present. I’m not going to use the tiger example, everyone uses that. Lets go with spiders, they cause me stress! You know how you react when you walk through a spider web? You start jumping around like a maniac, hitting yourself in an attempt to get a possible spider off your body, screaming at your friend to check your back immediately! I guess this example is only relevant to those of us who are petrified of spiders.
Anyway, that surge of energy when under stress is useful in dangerous situations. Fear and stress shut down your immune system, reduce digestion and constrict blood vessels in the torso so that blood flow increases to the arms and legs, where it’s needed to defend or run. Fight or flight. This means that the digestive system had minimal blood flow as it’s not needed during times of stress and the immune system isn’t defending against pathogens as effectively. The brain also ceases to use conscious reasoning, and focuses on pure automatic reaction as this is much faster and necessary in dangerous situations.
Now all of this is very effective at saving our lives and the body recovers just fine from short bursts of stress with adequate recovery time. However, when stress becomes chronic, which it can from ongoing negative thinking, worry, and any perceived modern-day stress, the body remains in this fight or flight response which it isn’t designed to do.
Remaining in this chronic state of stress can lead to illness. The immune and digestive systems are much less effective in this state, opportunistic pathogens may take advantage, digestive issues may arise due to poor blood flow, and the body will remain in a state of inflammation which is the beginning of many diseases.
It’s easy to overlook thoughts as a potential cause of disease, but it can begin there if you allow negative though patterns to control your life. Of course, there are countless other mechanisms that contribute to disease, it becomes like a snowball effect as one leads to the other.
Getting Out of Negative Thought Patterns
Just like drugs, emotions can become additive. In emotional addiction you become “hooked” on feeling a familiar way, or automatically responding to the powerful emotional pull. Emotional addiction leaves you at the mercy of feelings provoked by circumstances that can be either real or imaginary, and your perceptions of these events. Overwhelming emotions easily cloud judgement and may cause you to react like a loony towards loved ones. But rather than reacting to impulses, you can stop and make sensible decisions.
I believe I was, or still am addicted to my negative emotions from my past relationship. I look at the logic of it all and it makes no sense to continue to allow some nut from my past to influence my present and future. Yet I so easily get caught up in it all. The answer is very simple, yet not so simple to put into action. It’s the answer I knew all along, but I didn’t want to hear it; and it takes work and persistence.
I’m sure you’ve already heard it before. It’s called a few things, mindfulness, or staying present, or remaining in the now. And despite how long I battled this idea, it actually does work. It takes time, practice and patience, and I’m nowhere near a professional at it! But every time I notice my thoughts going back into that negative space of my past, I say “Where are you Nikky?” Which makes me laugh at myself, here I go again. Then I realise I need to come back to now and focus on what I’m doing now. Suddenly you realise how much time you spend in the past!
When you do bring yourself back to the present, you have reclaimed the energy that you have been wasting on events that don’t exist anymore. This energy can go into what’s important to you now. What you want to achieve and change to create a better future for yourself. New thoughts. If we go back to Dr Joe's example but in a positive way, different thoughts lead to different choices, and different choices lead to different behaviours; resulting in new experiences and sparkling new emotions!
I have no idea how long this process takes. But persistence does work, it’s how the subconscious mind learns. But remember, you will fail many times; I have failed more than I have succeeded so far by getting caught up in the drama. But every time you notice your thoughts in that negative space and you bring yourself out of it, that’s a victory and you deserve chocolate! I mean you deserve to congratulate yourself.
One very difficult thing to get your head around is how a person who claims to love you can then go on to abuse you. If you’ve been in a relationship with an abusive narcissist (narc) which ended abruptly, you will understand the trauma and confusion it brings. How could this person go from telling me I was the love of his life to treating me like a piece of shit? And how could I have misjudged this person so badly who lied, cheated, and devalued me in front of people for his own amusement? How do you trust anyone again?
You may think that narcs are horrible people, and on the surface, they are! However, underneath they are hurting, they are sad, they need help. Narcs often use a variety of methods to numb and hide their pain, and abusing someone is probably one of these methods. From my experience though, alcohol was another method my ex narc used to numb his pain. Unfortunately, this only made his behaviour worse, as you could imagine.
Anyone who has experienced a narcissistic partner will wonder how they made such a huge mistake and how they can avoid making that same mistake again. The good news is, that like me, you would have learnt a lot about narcissists and how they operate. You understand the red flags now, those ones you ignored in the beginning. I know I saw HEAPS of red flags, and I ignored them all! Stupid, stupid.
Narcissists are predictable, they follow the same pattern in each relationship, from victim to victim. You can recognise the early signs if you pay attention to their behaviour at each stage of the relationship. Even though I saw all of these signs, I didn’t understand much, if anything about narcissists at the time, and I tried to bring the issues up with my partner. Little did I know that narcs are experts at lying and will say everything you want to hear just to shut you up. However, none of what they say is genuine. Once you settle and become comfortable again, they will go back into old habits and the cycle begins again. They do not change.
Why Narcs Often Have Abusive Traits:
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often have a few things that predispose them to becoming abusive. These are:
Narcissists in Relationships:
Narcissists don’t do well in relationships. One reason is because they lack empathy and only think about themselves. But also, because they lack whole object relations, and have very unrealistic ideas about their partners. They see things in black and white, there are no grey areas. You are either perfect, or flawed.
As a result, narcs repeat the same relationship abuse patterns instead of settling down in a good, healthy and long term relationship.
Narcs have no middle ground. When they first meet you, they are likely to believe you're perfect. They will chase you endlessly with attention, gifts, texts, complements and anything that proves they're devoted to you. You may notice that they will come off as a very likeable, charming, and talkative person and you may even experience "Gaslighting", like I did.
The thing is that they are very charming and likeable in public, but later, behind closed doors this will change. They will hide this negative side from family, friends and others, so that you look crazy if you try to tell others what they're really like. No one else sees it, only you.
Narcs often move fast. They will “fall in love” with you very quickly. I put “fall in love” in quotation because from my experience, narcs cannot love properly, so this is very likely fake. If you notice that they are over the top, moving fast, or it all seems too good to be true, this may be a red flag.
The Narcissist's Former Relationships:
Soon you will start to hear about their past relationships. Now pay attention here because this will give away a lot about them and who they really are. They love to play the victim, so all of their former partners will be horrible people. They will talk about past partners as being crazy, abusive, or cheaters etc. Yet the narcs will always present themselves as the perfect one, and the victim each time. This is another red flag I ignored.
When you begin to see how badly they treat you further into the relationship, you will start to question these stories about their exes, and realise that it was more than likely the other way around. This became very clear to me when I noticed my ex narc would always tell “edited” stories. Even if I knew what actually happened, he would edit the story so that he was the hero or the victim and myself, or whoever else he was talking about was the “bad guy”.
Oh, You’re Actually Not Perfect:
Once a narc has “caught” you they begin to relax and start to notice little things about you that they don't like. This is when they begin their construction project. Narcs will start to criticise little things about you to try and make you into their idea of the perfect partner. They may insult what you wear (I got this a lot), how you look (I got this a lot), what you do etc. They may “suggest” ways to improve yourself so that you become the image that they want. Or, as I experienced, they will use insults to make you feel bad about yourself and force you to change.
The Lies, So Many Lies!
Narcissists are expert liars. Well, I’m not sure if my narc was an expert at lying because I caught him out several times! However, he could look me in the eyes and lie to my face with absolute ease; and even when he was caught in the act, he would still try to lie his way out! Although I will admit, there were probably countless more lies that I never knew about.
The pattern of narc lying is interesting. They will say or do something to you one day, and then swear until they’re blue in the face that they never said or did it the next day. If you challenge them, they will go on the attack. They will turn it around on you and blame you. You must have heard them incorrectly, or somehow, it’s all your fault. The narc will not take responsibility for their own mistake, because saying sorry is a sign of weakness to them. Their mistake, lie or abuse will be YOUR FAULT.
So why are narcissists so good at lying, even when they're caught? Even when you have evidence? Because it works. They are experts at manipulating you and turning the blame on to you. They can talk their way around almost anything and confuse you, and this works! You will start to doubt yourself. They are compulsive liars and excellent talkers. They talk the talk, but won't walk the walk. Yet sometimes I wondered if my ex narc really believed his lies, it often appeared that way. This is why narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition.
What Happens When You Put Up Boundaries:
The worst thing you can say to a narc is “no”. When I had had enough of being used, abused, lied to and generally treated like a piece of crap, I put up boundaries. These were very healthy and very reasonable boundaries. But they initiated what would be three months of hell.
Saying no to a narc is like taking their control away, and this hurts their ego. When you hurt them, they will punish you! They will get revenge. A switch flips and a monster appears. They will use what they know will hurt you the most. This is when I became the next victim to throw away, but not after he had gotten his revenge first. For what? Because I said no.
What a normal person would take with maturity and solve with a healthy discussion, a narc will take as an attack on their sense of self. This means their so-called love turns into hate. The revenge they unleash on you will be extremely hurtful. I won’t go into detail about what my ex narc did to me, that would need a whole other article. But once they're done, you will be thrown to the side like you meant nothing; and unfortunately, you didn’t mean all that much to them in the first place. They will soon move on to the next victim if they haven’t done so already.
What Positives Have I Gained from a Relationship with an Abusive Narcissist?
I went through a horrible experience, especially in the last three to four months. However, I’m thankful for what I learned. I have been pushed to become a much stronger person, a happier person. I’ve found a new life, surrounded with positive and loving people. I won’t take verbal, emotional or physical abuse from anyone ever again. I won't take cheating and lying. I know the signs now. And I hope I can help even just one person recognise an abusive narcissist before they get too deep into a relationship with them.
It doesn’t matter how much you love them, how much you care, or how much support you offer to help them. Narcs don't want your help, nor do they want to change. It’s a mental health disorder and only a professional can help. My ex narc desperately needs help, but will not admit or acknowledge the deep pain he has inside. I know how much this hurts. I loved him more than he deserved and I still hope he will seek the help he needs. But doubt he will. Narcs are miserable being miserable and enjoy it. In some way, that’s their comfort zone and they are happy to remain there, which is very sad. So move on; because (as a friend recently told me) you are FAR too good for them anyway!
Dedicated with thanks to those who have been there for me: Cammy, Kim, Jo, Rob, Leon and Lorraine.
I have recently gone through hell and back with someone who I believed to be one person, who changed in an instant. The change was shocking, scary and cruel. But it was something I am thankful for. Why? Because it helped me to learn a lot about what I want and need, and what happens when you challenged another person’s mask by putting up healthy boundaries. I saw the real person that had been hiding behind an emotional mask.
The Emotional Masks We Wear
Many people wear emotional masks to hide feelings that they don’t want to deal with. Emotional masks are worn due to fear. There are many reasons for this; some people come from family backgrounds that have never supported or encouraged open expression of emotions. Or sometimes a person has been through trauma or difficulties in the past and feel like they can’t express, or don’t want to express the emotions associated with the event.
Sometimes people who stop showing their own emotions to people around them, stop recognising their own emotions completely. Emotional masks are a common way to avoid dealing with these difficult emotions. These aren’t actual physical masks I’m talking about. So, what exactly are emotional masks? Here’s a few examples:
Unfortunately for those who live behind emotional masks for a long time may begin to find softer emotions trigger anger easily. Such as sadness, shame and fear. It can also lead to substance abuse, such as alcoholism and drug use as a way to numb the emotions that they don’t want to deal with.
Why Wear Emotional Masks?
Everyone wears masks to some degree. However, when it’s a long-term habit to cover emotions that you don’t want to face, it becomes unhealthy and it negatively affects your relationships. One of the most common reasons people wear masks is the fear of people finding them out. One of our greatest fears is showing our true selves!
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde.
The Courage to Look Behind the Eyes of Another Person
What happens when someone see’s through your mask to the real person? This is a deeply unnerving experience for the mask wearer. They have been caught out. Everyone longs to be seen, and known for who they really are. But the fear of being seen may be too much for the mask wearer to handle. They may not be ready, or just may not want to face their difficult emotions.
“The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.” E.E. Cummings.
Seeing another person for who they truly are, even if they don’t see it, can be a wonderful thing. However, if you challenge their mask it can trigger their fear of being found out causing them to turn on you. You have challenged their ego, their entire sense of self, even though it’s fake.
Uh oh spaghetti-O!
Challenging someone to take off their mask means showing their authentic self. This is a very vulnerable thing to do and requires a huge amount of courage, and a great deal of trust. But if you never do it, the past will continue to affect your present.
“You can’t change the past, but you can change how it affects you.” Unknown.
Why Should You Take Off Your Masks?
We ALL wear emotional masks to some degree, and this can be ok when it’s not taken to the extreme. However, there will come a point in life when juggling all of these masks becomes exhausting and pointless. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a true strength. Masks are the real signs of weakness. Masks push away the ones who love you the most. Masks can create isolation and loneliness.
Most of us can tell immediately when we are in the presence of an authentic person. One without masks, who is not “putting on a show”. These are the people who enjoy the deep sense of peace authenticity brings. They experience life and love to the fullest. It doesn’t mean they don’t experience pain, but they don’t allow past experiences to prevent them from getting the most out of the present.