Do you ever wonder why your emotions feel so out of control? I often thought maybe he was right…I was crazy.
The truth is, that traumatic experiences, such as a toxic relationship, often lead to reactive rather than responsive behavior.
What’s the difference?
A reaction is instinctual and happens before your brain can process the situation. Fight, flight, or freeze. It’s supposed to keep you safe when you don’t have time to think about what to do next.
Trauma rewires the brain to always be defensive and alert; you naturally become more reactive.
Narcs create this and they feed on it. They say you’re overreacting and crazy…and, you start to feel that way. You can’t expect to prevent reactions, they happen in a split second.
Why would they want you to behave like that? Power. Control. Making you look bad makes them look better – they get to play the victim because you are jumpy, snappy, withdrawn, and defensive. Boo-hoo poor narc has to deal with someone who’s such a mess.
Calm responses are the way to counteract this. Before you do anything, evaluate the situation and your feelings, possible actions to take, and the consequences. You can’t predict how someone else will react to your behavior, but you can respond in a way that feels best to you – for you.
Often, no response is the best response to a narc. Anything you say or do can be used against you – which will drag the conversation out and make it worse. You’ll never be able to explain your feelings enough that they understand and agree with you. It won’t get better until you just agree with them. So, if you disagree or are conflicted about what to do, then say/do nothing.
How do you get better at responding vs. reacting?
Educate yourself about narcissism by reading the how-to and self-help and talking to other survivors. Once you know what the narc is doing and why, it’s easier to not take their actions personally. You’ll start to pay attention to the physical signs your body gives you when prepping for fight, flight or freeze mode. Do you get hot, tense, burning ears, “see red”? If you hear yourself thinking, “Are you fucking kidding me?” or “YOU’RE the one that…” or “And another thing,” then you’re definitely in a reactive state.
Grey rock is the term for little to no response. Don’t let them suck you into the conversation and force you into a reactive state. If you have to deal with them, use grey rock. Practice your replies to them. “Ok.” “Sure.” or a thumbs-up emoji. “I am fine with that” (this is my favorite when someone tries to shame or insult me). Keep it short and simple with no emotions and as few details as possible.
Once you start to do this, just be prepared for their reactions to get worse – intensify. If you know these things, then it’s almost laughable to see it play out.
Textbook reactions deserve controlled responses or no responses. Block them if you can. Avoid their drama. It sounds easy, but it is not, especially if you have kids. But you have to start somewhere to break the trauma bond.
You won’t do it perfectly in the beginning. This controlled response is new to you. Narcs have been at their game for years so naturally, they will be better at it. When you’re talking through text or email, there’s more time to calm down and respond rather than react. In-person is a little harder because there’s less time to collect yourself and formulate a calm response.
It’s ok to slip up and get drawn back in but don’t stay there. Start again the next day or the next interaction. Eventually, you’ll be good at it, and then a calm response will be a natural reaction.
Note from the Author:I am not a therapist or life coach, and I don’t pretend to be one on the internet. These blogs are my thoughts, perspective, and experiences based on my nine-year relationship with a malignant narcissist and my healing journey since leaving him.
The ideas suggested are simple for a reason. Trauma rewires the brain, and healing needs to start with simple, doable steps.
It’s not my intention to attack the validity or integrity of the info provided in self-help books and how-to articles. There is valuable information in all of them. It’s essential to read and educate yourself on the basics of narcissists and toxic relationships. I intend to point out that reality is much more complicated. Someone may not have all of the characteristics and are probably much less obvious, but they are still abusive. Don’t dismiss their behavior because they don’t fit ALL the criteria of a narc. And don’t classify someone as a narc just because they occasionally fit one or two of the criteria.
It’s also not my intention to imply this is a gender-specific issue. My blogs are written from a woman’s perspective because I am one. Men suffer from emotional abuse too. I hope they can overlook the gender terms and adapt the content to be relevant to their own experience.
All my best to you,