Hello! I just wanted to alert subscribers to my blog that shortly I will be launching a podcast entitled The Savvy Shrink! I am excited to interview top experts in the field of mental health in specialities such as narcissistic abuse recovery, maternal mental health, special needs parenting, trauma and loss, and other subjects. I am very interested in bringing attention to evidence-based and trauma-informed interventions for those who have experienced trauma and loss, and it will be very informative to interview people who bring their expertise from a wide variety of modalities and approaches to healing. Stay tuned for social media links as this podcast is in its very infancy and website updates here as well. Thanks for your patience! Namaste, Andrea :)
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
Summer season can be a joyous time for family reunions and treasured memories of gatherings by the beach, fireworks, camping adventures, etc. For some, unfortunately, this scenario is not the case. In families where an individual has narcissistic tendencies (or exhibits behaviors of full blown NPD or malignant narcissism), such reunions transform into a nightmare. Much literature has been written on the subject (see below for resources). This article is merely an attempt to remind survivors of narcissistic abuse in family systems that there is hope to heal and that there are things you can do to protect yourself from further exposure to the force field of toxic emotional abuse by a narcissist (or other psychological abuser) in your family:
1) If the toxic individual (whether family member/friend/boss/lover/ex-lover/colleague) will be present at the family gathering, you are under no obligation to attend. It is okay to bow out of any commitment where you feel you will be exposed to further emotional abuse. Remember that psychological abusers like to send FOG (Fear/Obligation/Guilt) -- if you are feeling immersed in the FOG haze, likely a manipulative tactic has been deployed to cause you cognitive dissonance and emotional pain. Again, protect yourself and place your emotional well-being as number one. That action is not selfish -- it is an act of self-care.
2) You can go No Contact with toxic family members, just like you would with a toxic ex. It may feel guilt-inducing, and other family members may not understand why you have chosen to proceed with No Contact. However, remind yourself that you have every right to protect yourself from psychological harm. The toxic family member may have done a very skilled acting job of convincing others that you are the crazy one (projection/blame-shifting) or that they are just perfect (false mask) and why would you treat them so unfairly (playing the victim)?... Stick to your fortitude and know you are setting a healthy boundary by protecting your emotional and physical health from further abuse by a toxic person. You don't need to justify or explain it to any one.
3) Such like an abusive ex, if a toxic family member is harassing, stalking, or generating unwanted contact, you have every right to pursue legal action and consult with an attorney or Legal Aid regarding filing a restraining order and other protections (like a Cease and Desist Order). The added layer of legal protection is an additional barrier of accountability and potentially containment of an abuser. Narcissistic people do not want to be exposed for their transgressions.
4) Seek psychological counseling to receive support for separating and extricating from toxic family systems. There are licensed therapists who specialize in helping to empower their clients from a strengths-focused (versus victim-shaming/blaming) perspective. Interview potential mental health professionals who are trauma-informed and know something about narcissistic abuse, to be sure you feel empowered, not shamed or blamed. Good psychotherapy can be invaluable in healing from any residual trauma, depression, anxiety that has stemmed from a family system perpetuating narcissistic (or other forms of) abuse.
5) If your tribe (by blood) has some toxic members, you can create your own tribe of unconditionally supportive, authentic and safe members -- these individuals don't have to be related to you by blood. They can be friends, colleagues, neighbors. Look for authenticity, integrity, reciprocity, compassion, empathy, honesty, accountability and compromise as important features in healthy relationships.
6) If a toxic person wants to get better, you can't do the work for them. They have to figure out their own pathway of healing and connect with the motivation to do so, and usually that involves a ton of therapy over a long period of time. Just because someone begs and pleads for you to stay in the relationship (whether familial or romantic), doesn't mean you are obligated to do so. If a person is capable of change, you are going to see evidence of sustained, continuous behavioral change over a lengthy period of time, with evidence of accountability and empathy and remorse for harm caused. For individuals who are further on the spectrum of narcissism, change is very limited and so is insight. A malignant narcissist/psychopath will not change...they are sadly welded to their ways and hardwired to be who they are. Someone with "traits" of narcissism may have some limited ability to shift and change if they can harness some insight and empathy.
7) It is not your job to diagnose your family member or determine "where" on the spectrum of narcissism your family member lies. What you need to focus on is : YOU. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding a skilled, strengths-focused clinician to assist with healing.
8) Read up on narcissistic abuse and family systems to understand your situation and gain some detachment and distance from the emotional pain. (see below for resources)
9) Self-care -- you've heard the word, do the action...good sleep, good nutrition, exercise, strong social supports. Yoga, meditation, stress reduction exercise, omega-3 fish oil, nature, journaling. Boom.
10) Have hope that you will move through the pain. Whether or not your family member is capable of repairing the hurt, you will move on to have healthy connections with healthy members of your tribe or those who you have vetted to become a part of your newly founded tribe. We are social creatures as human beings; humans need and deserve to be surrounded and supported by people who are trustworthy and respectful. Bottom line.
McBride, Karyl (2009) Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, Atria Publishing. (references daughters of narcissistic mothers -- however, substitute appropriate gender pronoun -- the book does a good job of explaining narcissistic family systems)
narcissisticbehavior.net -- Christine Louis de Canonville's website on narcissistic abuse recovery
selfcarehaven.org -- Shahida Arabi's website on narcissistic abuse recovery
blogtalkradio.com/mentalhealthnews -- Kristin Walker's podcast programs interviewing experts in narcissistic abuse recovery field
Summer time is often a season of playfulness, long daylight hours, rest and relaxation, and outdoor activity. For many, vacation and family reunions take place. Where the summer solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere, the sun shines for the longest stretch of time, allowing people to linger outdoors, play in lakes, pools, and oceans, catch fireflies, camp, connect with nature. Some feel summer is a time of rejuvenation and renewal, while others harness the sun's energy and complete projects that have been put off. However you view summer, the longer daylight hours symbolically also shine light on darkness, from a healing perspective.
Whatever your take on the symbolism of summer, I encourage you to connect with its meaning as it applies to your life. If we are to harmonize with the seasons, summer can be a time of illumination, whereby the sunshine casts laser beams of bright light upon personal goals, areas of growth and discernment, additional studies needed for personal or professional endeavors, or perhaps a return to the child-like playfulness that summer is often associated with.
Some ideas for further exploration:
*find a new hiking trail
*research classes (whether online or in person) to enrich your knowledge base of your profession or personal growth
*read a book purely for fun
*watch a movie for an escape
*luxuriate at a beach, mountain meadow, desert panorama and take in nature's bounty
*move your body in a new way, whether by trying out yoga, hiking, swimming, dancing, etc
*enjoy seasonal foods and recipes (strawberries, sweet corn, watermelons, etc)
*fine tune plans and strategies for professional endeavors and take action-- one action (no matter how small, per day)
*clear the clutter to open space for the new (throw out, recycle, sell items no longer needed)
*get a musical instrument and take lessons or play music that inspires and energizes or relaxes
*be ok with resting on a hammock and taking in the peace of the sun's rays
*celebrate friendship with authentic friends
*build a sandcastle at the beach or make a fort in the forest with your children or friends
*create a painting, collage, sculpture symbolizing the summer season
*rest, restore, rejuvenate and play hooky from work for a pampering self-care kind of day
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
It's hard to believe we are now entering summer season! The school year for us moms is rapidly coming to a close, while many of us continue to do the juggle dance of work and family year 'round...My first priority is always my family life, with focus on my 16 and 11 year old sons....they certainly keep me on my toes.
I am fortunate to be able to blend a very busy private practice with an active family life. Life doesn't slow down for me very often, and I do need to take intentional time off to replenish and fill my cup...which I will be doing this summer for sure. But before, a little update regarding the goings on at my office...From Andrea's Couch...
I have two primary practice specialties which address trauma and life cycle transitions. Most of you know that women's reproductive mental health is one of my loves. I work with many moms (and their families) who are struggling with perinatal depression/anxiety, birth trauma, perinatal loss (miscarriage, stillbirth), infertility, and women entering/in perimenopause. I also volunteer as a Co-Coordinator for Postpartum Support International whereby I provide resources and support for new moms who are looking for qualified mental health services during the childbearing year. It's my 11th year with this largest non-profit dedicated to women's reproductive mental health. I have historically provided trainings and also spoken at conferences for this practice specialty, which will continue to be a part of my practice offerings. I have also incorporated a newer practice specialty over the last 5-10 years...
I discovered also that many of my general population clients had been exposed to narcissistic abuse (a specific form of emotional/psychological abuse) in love, work or family life domains. My most recent work has centered on helping those clients affected by narcissistic abuse in addition to supporting new and expecting parents in the transition to parenthood. Many of you know about my publications. I wrote an ebook entitled Soul Vampires: Reclaiming Your LifeBlood After Narcissistic Abuse . My ebook is available on Bookbaby to access via most online platforms for downloading. I will be updating a new edition over the summer with new resources and links, as well as finishing up a companion workbook for survivors, which I am proud to say, is trauma-informed. Many of you have read my articles for goodtherapy.org and The Minds Journal on subjects ranging from women's reproductive mental health, narcissistic abuse recovery, special needs parenting, grief and loss, expressive arts and trauma. Stay tuned for more publications on these topics and others. I am glad you are following me also on my blog here.
I wanted to update my readers about some new practice offerings on the pipeline coming up...since our world is becoming increasingly technological, I am working to increase my services telephonically and via webcam. Many of you know that I offer psychotherapy and life coaching via telehealth consultation/psychotherapy for those that are geographically far from my office. I am also in the process of uniting forces with another provider to co-facilitate an online support group for survivors of narcissistic abuse (in family of origin and also romantic relationships).
In addition, I am hopping on the podcast bandwagon as well, with the assistance of a cherished colleague. I am looking forward to interviewing many experts in various mental health specialties and sharing their wisdom with you.
I am also getting EMDR certified this year. I completed the first half of the 50 hour training...and I am so excited to utilize this modality in-office for my clients impacted by trauma. One thing that unites all my clients, whether they are experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD, C-PTSD, grief, loss, stress, etc...is trauma...EMDR is proven to be a very effective modality in helping people move through trauma. I also like to incorporate mindfulness based CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) with expressive arts modalities, and other interventions.
That's about it for now...sending you well wishes as you begin to enter the summer season...may you replenish, restore, and relax this summer. You deserve it!
Andrea Schneider, LCSW
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
I am excited to announce that I am in the process of being trained to provide EMDR for my in-person clients impacted by trauma. Whether single incident or chronic/long-term trauma, EMDR has been shown to be effective as a trauma-informed intervention for many client populations. If you'd like to know more about EMDR, please take a look at the following articles for more detailed information:
EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: goodtherapy.org
Can You Benefit from EMDR Therapy? (PsychCentral)
What is EMDR?
EMDR and Complex-PTSD
Why EMDR Therapy Might Be Right For You
If you'd like to consider EMDR as a trauma-informed intervention, discuss with your licensed mental health professional if EMDR may be appropriate for you. To practice EMDR, your mental health clinician needs to: 1) have a graduate degree in psychology, counseling, or clinical social work, 2) have a clinical license to practice psychotherapy, 3) and have taken the EMDRIA-approved Basic Training Course (which includes a total of 50 hours of lecture and experiential practicum, as well as supervised clinical consultation). If someone offers you EMDR (i.e. like some "life coaches" I see hanging a shingle online) and that individual is not a licensed mental health therapist nor have they taken the EMDRIA-approved Basic Training, they are engaging in malpractice. EMDR is an in-person intervention that is contraindicated for telehealth practice.
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
Gaslighting. The Silent Treatment. Blame-Shifting. Push Pull. FOGging. Smear Campaign. Cognitive Dissonance....at long last, these terms are now common vernacular, thanks in part to DJT and his very public demonstration of how narcissistic abusers operate.
In my psychotherapy practice, I work with survivors of emotional abuse, specifically narcissistic abuse, in love, work, and family. I wrote an ebook, entitled Soul Vampires: Reclaiming Your LIfeBlood After Narcissistic Abuse (2015), which is available on all major online platforms. It can be purchased (I might add, for a very reasonable price) at BookBaby. What differentiates this concise and fact-filled book from others is that the author is a therapist and writes from a trauma-informed perspective, offering evidence-based tips for healing as well as several resources. An updated version of the book will be available in the next year (with additional resources), as well as a companion survivor workbook with additional evidence-based trauma-informed interventions.
It is important for survivors to receive compassionate, competent, and trauma-informed care from licensed mental health professionals who are trained in the clinical aspects narcissistic abuse recovery. With help, survivors heal and move into a place of thriving. There is hope for healing and reconfiguring a new life, free of emotional abuse.
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
As a therapist working with survivors of narcissistic abuse, I am consistently in awe of my clients' willpower, fortitude, determination, and courage as they emerge free from abuse and trauma. Whether impacted in work, family or romantic relationships, survivors of emotional abuse have a special kind of resilience that is akin to a possessing several superpowers. In the psychology community this striking empowerment is entitled post-traumatic growth, which essentially means rising to a higher level of functioning after experiencing signifiant adversity. Connect with your inner Lagertha (Viking Shieldmaiden) and read on below to "get woke" on your kick a*& superpowers....
When I first began working with survivors of narcissistic abuse, I came across the writings of pioneer Sandra Brown's seminal book Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm with Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Narcissists (2009). Unlike other books and articles written for survivors of emotional and psychological abuse by personality disordered perpetrators, Brown's book was the first I encountered that actually described survivors in an empowering light (versus the common victim-shaming/blaming tone that is so prevalent on many websites). Brown is one of the first writers and experts who went beyond the "codependency" labeling of victims and actually sought to describe the many "super traits" (Brown, 2009) that survivors of psychological abuse possess. These emotionally intelligent qualities are gifts versus some inner psychic defect. So often, survivors have been gaslighted by their perpetrators into a state of cognitive dissonance whereby they feel they are to blame for the emotional abuse or that some broken quality within them brought on the abuse. I can emphatically and unequivocally say that no survivor of abuse is ever to blame. It often takes months or years of therapy for survivors to shed this self-blame and shame.
Further rubbing salt into wounds, many well-intentioned survivor websites have popped up over the last 5 years in which survivors are labeled as "codependent" and in which victim-shaming and blaming language is bountiful. Some, but no means all, survivors have codependency issues that stem from family-of-origin dynamics. It is a trend for some individuals to hop on the (unregulated) gravy-train of life-coaching, whether or not they have done their own psychotherapy. What I see online is quite appalling and would be considered malpractice if they were licensed therapists. Untrained "life coaches" are claiming to treat the very clinical concerns of depression, anxiety and complex-PTSD as a result of relationship trauma. (Basically lay people are offering to do heart surgery). The danger is that vulnerable clients who are hungry for healing from psychological trauma and seeking to find answers to complex-PTSD as a result of dizzying cycles of abuse can easily succumb to charlatan's victim-shaming lingo, resulting in further trauma and shame. Survivor communities have created forums which can be supportive, but on the contrary, some can also cause great emotional harm if not facilitated by healthy moderators (i.e. those who have done their own recovery work).. I have had to undo the emotional harm and trauma re-inflicted on my clients as a result of their stumbling upon very disempowering literature (which can also be completely inaccurate and scientifically unfounded). What is most upsetting is when a survivor is blamed in some way for their abuse. It is NEVER a survivor's fault that they were abused. Period.
Again, not all survivors are codependent. The vast majority of survivors I have worked with are actually highly emotionally intelligent and possess the "super traits" Sandra Brown discusses in her literature. Emotionally intelligent people are ironically very attractive to personality disordered individuals for the very reason that such insightful people possess the very qualities the abuser is lacking. Survivors of narcissistic abuse are not broken! On the contrary, survivors have SuperPowers that allow them to not only do the work of healing from the trauma of being in an emotionally abusive relationship but to also be great partners in healthy relationships in work, family and love.
The following are some SuperPowers that survivors of emotional abuse uniquely possess (and I should also add, need to be very protective of):
1. High empathy and compassion: Survivors I have worked with generally show an amazing capacity to empathize with their fellow human beings and creatures on the planet, and the are quite intuitive, some with deeply intuitive abilities. Many have described themselves as "empaths," which basically means highly intuitive and with a deep compassion for other living beings and nature.
2. Great ability to reciprocate and compromise/problem-solve: I saw a meme that showed a picture of a donkey's head poking out of a barn door with the phrase: " You don't have to be a Jack-Ass Whisperer." So many of my clients are outstanding problem solvers and also know how to resolve conflict and compromise in very difficult situations. They have great people skills and diplomacy. When they are in the throes of a relationship with a narcissist or other emotional abuser, they realize that to have to explain what is common sense (emotionally) to another person says a lot about the abuser, than the other way around. If you have to explain how to be humane, Houston, we have a problem!
3. Integrity and authenticity: Survivors are often known for their honesty and actions/words lining up very congruently. An abuser is drawn to this fabulous quality because, almost as if by osmosis, they can assume the personality of their partner just by being associated with him/her and the survivor's good works for the community. Even though these super powers are something to behold and to be proud of, they are also qualities that the survivor must protect and not give away unless and until they know that the recipient is worthy of receiving such gifts and that those super powers can be reciprocated back.
4. Accountability for actions: Most survivors I have had the honor of working with possess an uncanny strength to be able to have the humility to know when they need to own responsibility for their own mishap and then to take action to make that change. Unfortunately, their abusers generally do not possess this gift, and thus, gaslighting and blame-shifting/projection exacerbates the already vulnerable position a survivor finds her/himself in. When free of abuse, survivors are able to fortify and reclaim boundaries in future relationships, paving the way for healthier interactions in love, work and family.
5. Willingness/capacity to evolve a relationship into mature levels of true intimacy: An empathic survivor generally knows what it takes to experience a healthy love relationship. This understanding includes the awareness that at some point the infatuation stage will peter out and the roll-up-your sleeves work of true intimacy (and the "you left the toothpaste cap off" frustrations) of really getting to know one another on a deeper level unfold. Remember that extreme emotional abusers tend to home in on folks who know how to do the work of relationships past the shiny high of infatuation, including all the messy and not fun work of paying bills, child-rearing, house-tending, etc. We know that extreme abusers do not have the capacity to evolve the relationship to a higher, more mature level and stay stuck in cycles of idealize/devalue/discard. Survivors, however, can and do move on to experience healthy relationships in love, work and family with healthy others who are able to reciprocate deeper levels of emotional vulnerability and trust building.
So you see, there is great hope for survivors of emotional abuse to heal! The very qualities that were draws for abusers are also draws for emotionally healthy people. When survivors do the healing work of trauma recovery in psychotherapy, they move forward to gather stronger powers of discernment as well. When a survivor encounters a potential abuser, often times the "Nar Dar" Alert goes off as the survivor fine-tunes their capacity to engage in healthy connections with others post recovery. Most important for survivors in recovery from narcissistic abuse is to connect with competent and compassionate helping professionals who are licensed to provide psychotherapy for relationship trauma; broaden and deepen healthy social support tribe; ramp up self-care regimens, and to fully own and practice the Super Powers that have been uniquely bestowed upon them.
Here's to healing!
Andrea Schneider, LCSW
When Mother's Day Stings: A Discussion of the Intersection of Perinatal Depression and Relationship Trauma History
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
Well, April just flew by and we are suddenly entering May...which for many mothers is a joyful time to embrace and partake of festivities, also honoring seasoned caregivers who play a strong role in nurturing the new generation of nurturers. However, for some childbearing women, motherhood may not be a happy time. Due to a range of reasons , approximately 20% (or more) of all childbearing women may experience perinatal depression or anxiety (PSI, 2017). It is never a woman's fault that she develops perinatal depression/anxiety (PMAD). Rather, a complex interplay of biological, hormonal, neurological, and environmental events can blend to create the perfect storm for an "episode." Fortunately, these eruptions of psychological pain are temporary and can be resolved with excellent care by trained practitioners (therapists, psychiatrists, doulas, lactation consultants, pediatricians, Ob/Gyns) and a supportive tribe of helpers (healthy extended family and friends, etc).
Furthermore, a subset of those women who experience a PMAD also have relationship trauma/loss history which can include physical, emotional, sexual abuse by a prior caregiver/parent or a current romantic relationship. It is these women who are exponentially more vulnerable to not only developing a PMAD but also experiencing more severe "episodes", due to the layers of trauma/loss woven into the already challenging sleep deprivation, hormonal fluctuations, role and identity changes that jolt a new mother into this chapter of her life. It is this subset of women which I am devoting this article to, in an effort to provide some solace, that there is hope to heal and recover, even in the face of the Hallmark commercials depicting the myths and expectations of what motherhood "should" look like, but very clearly does not for many women.
So, May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, and with that comes social media posts galore about the prevalence of maternal depression and anxiety. Thankfully, with the help of the internet age and technology, maternal mental health is one of the "in" topics addressed across all dimensions of media. In general, I am pleased to see mental health awareness evolving into a less stigmatized topic over the span of the last decade and beyond. However, even with a tremendous amount of advocacy on many levels, there is still much work to be done to completely incorporate maternal and family wellness from the standpoint of mental health into the mainstream discussion and to ensure adequate and competent care for mothers and families. Many organizations have worked and continue to work diligently to press for legislation, training, and awareness of maternal mental health (some of those are listed at the bottom of the article). Barriers to care continue to be a problem for families who are disadvantaged, impoverished, or face financial, geographical or discriminatory challenges of any kind. Women in unsafe relationships (whether familial, romantic or work related) are particularly isolated and at risk for a more complicated recovery unless they are linked with supportive and competent mental health care which includes a trauma-informed approach.
Karyl McBride, PhD, P.C., is considered one of the pioneers in the research, writing and treating of adult children of narcissistic parents. Her website, books, and literature are groundbreaking and very helpful for adult survivors of psychological abuse by a narcissistic parent. I often refer my mom clients to Dr. McBride's writings when I discover that my client carries the trauma of emotional abuse, with her family-of-origin pain is rising back up in the form of flashbacks. At just the moment my client is trying to bond with her baby and make the passage to motherhood, she may be plagued with feelings of doubting her ability to be able to love her own baby unconditionally based upon the blueprint she was given as a child. With support and trauma-informed counseling, my mama clients who have been impacted by narcissistic abuse do move through pain and healing to attach and bond in a healthy manner with their babies. Without competent and compassionate help, these new moms would be passing on another generation of unresolved trauma to their offspring. Again, not all moms who experience a PMAD have a history of narcissistic abuse by a caregiver (or romantic partner), but for those who do, this trauma is sure to rise up at just the moment she is attempting to embrace the joy of motherhood. Likewise, if a mother is in a relationship with an emotionally abusive partner or is employed in a toxic work environment with emotionally abusive personnel, she is also more at risk for developing a PMAD. These psychological stressors are additional risk factors that magnify the dramatic hormonal, biochemical, and role transition dynamics in a new mom's passage to motherhood.
In providing psychotherapy for a new mom with a PMAD who also has a history of narcissistic abuse (either in family-of-origin or in a romantic or work relationship), I will not only provide the evidence-based interventions (for PMADs) of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, I will also blend in other trauma-informed approaches that support my client in working through some very complex relationship dynamics. Some of these approaches may involve expressive arts, trauma-informed approaches which include bilateral simulation (such as EMDR and other techniques), and lots of psychoeducation and therapy about narcissistic abuse recovery, boundaries, reclaiming self-worth, and creating a safe tribe of supportive others, to name just a few. Acute depression and anxiety symptoms may lift fairly quickly with interventions addressing PMADs, while the more long-term work delves into family-of-origin, trauma/loss and attachment concerns.
I find that it is helpful to provide some bullet points for the new moms I work with, for those who have been raised by a narcissistic caregiver, as Mother's Day approaches. So as to fully embrace the special day for the new mom:
1. Be sure to seek and obtain qualified psychological support with a trained, compassionate and competent trauma-informed psychotherapist who knows about maternal mental health primarily to address acute symptoms. If that therapist is trauma-informed and has training in narcissistic abuse recovery, longer-term work can address resolving psychological abuse history. (Both areas are highly specialized). You can research provider names through PSI for PMADs. You will have to dig further on a google search to find a provider who also knows about psychological abuse from a trauma-informed perspective...Ideally, the provider will know something about both specialties. With help, you will be well. Once PMAD symptoms are stabilized with a specialist, you may need to be referred to a therapist who is trained in narcissistic abuse recovery if your current clinician is not knowledgable about that subspecialty. Again, the ideal is to work with a skilled clinician who can address not only the PMAD but any trauma/loss history that also encapsulates and magnifies emotional pain.
2. Seek out social support in the form of new mom support groups specific to PMADs and also Adult Survivors of Narcissistic Parents. Stabilize depression and anxiety symptoms first and then tackle the deeper trauma issues at a pace that is not overwhelming. Narcissistic abuse recovery is multi-faceted and will take a good bit of time past resolving the PMAD. PMADs can be resolved in 2-3 months for some women (the clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety). Trauma and loss issues may take quite a bit longer to work through. But with qualified support and reduced isolation, relief is on it's way in waves. Like a cake, the client is excavating through the layers of healing.
3. Build your tribe of authentic helpers whom you trust with baby care, running errands, dropping off meals. These individuals may be related to you or not, hired or volunteer. New moms need to be nurtured so they can nurture and bond with their babies. Any person that triggers a prior trauma or is abusive in any way shape or form does not belong in your inner circle or tribe.
4. Set clear boundaries about your availability for any family gatherings. Put your own self-care as number one. Self-care is NOT selfish. Self-care is vital to the recovery of a PMAD, not to mention the long term tough work of trauma resolution. Again, you are not obligated to attend any function that exhausts you or diminishes your mental or physical health in any way.
5. Find a pathway to honor yourself on Mother's Day if it is not possible to be in the presence of family members who are safe emotionally. Again, consult your safe tribe of supportive others who can help to celebrate you in a way that feels good. Maybe you'd just like to be in bed all day taking a luxurious nap. A bubble bath. Have food brought to you. Receive a foot massage. Be treated like the Queen you are on your special day by people in your circle that you trust.
This article just barely touches the tip of the iceberg as relates to the intersection of PMADs and recovery in narcissistic abuse. I can assure you that more writing and research is in the works. Again, not all moms with PMADs have experienced narcissistic or psychological abuse. But many have, and those are the mamas that are not only struggling with sleep deprivation, hormonal fluctuations more dramatic than a seismograph, extreme fatigue, mood shifts, panic,,,but they are also dealing with flashbacks and unresolved complicated grief from prior instances of abuse either from family-of-origin, work, or romantic relationships. The good news is that with help, moms recover. All moms and their families deserve access to qualified competent and compassionate care. If you or your loved one is seeking help for recovery from a PMAD or in need of a trauma-informed therapist who is versed in narcissistic abuse recovery, see the resources below for additional support.
Postpartum Support International --largest non-profit in the world dedicated to women's reproductive mental health; list of volunteer coordinators in each state of U.S. and many countries who will link moms and partners with resources and providers, as well as warmline support.
Maternal Mental Health Now-- Los Angeles based advocacy group provides list of providers in L.A. County; trainings, policy, advocacy, resources, research www.maternalmentalhealthnow.org
2020 Mom-- national organization whose mission is "closing gaps in maternal mental health care through education, advocacy, and collaboration. " www.2020mom.org
(Narcissistic Abuse Recovery)
Christine Louis de Canonville - www.narcissisticbehavior.net -- pioneer therapist in narcissistic abuse recovery; author of The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking The Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse; prolific writer, speaker, therapist
Kristin Walker - CEO of Mental Health News Radio and everythingehr.com; has internationally recognized podcasts and radio programs specifically addressing mental health and the subject of narcissistic abuse recovery with wide-ranging speakers and specialists; excellent resource; advocate, writer, life coach.
Karyl McBride - www.karylmcbridephd.com -- pioneer therapist, writer, researcher on adult survivors of parental narcissistic abuse; articles and books as well as resources available on her website; also addresses high conflict divorce with narcissistic partner
Eleanor Payson --www.eleanorpayson.com -- one of the first therapists to address narcissistic abuse in 3 settings of family, work and love relationships; author of The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One Way Relationship in Work, Love and Family
Linda Martinez-Lewi - www.thenarcissistinyourlife.com -- pioneer therapist in the field addressing narcissistic abuse in all life domains; prolific writer, advocate and therapist.
Shahida Arabi - www.selfcarehaven.wordpress.com - prolific writer and advocate for narcissistic abuse survivors, specifically from romantic relationships
** Please note that there are more fantastic resources for both PMADs and narcissistic abuse recovery -- I have an extensive list if you would like to email me for more information. ** Kind regards in healing - Andrea Schneider, LCSW
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
So many of the clients I work with report to me that their friends and family, although well-meaning, say and do things that exacerbate the pain of healing in the aftermath of narcissistic abuse. People are exposed to this form of emotional abuse in love, work, family or friendships. Particularly in the area of romantic relationships, I hear so often from clients that friends and family say things such as, "Just get over it! This is taking way too long!" or "He was a jerk! Why do you feel like you still love him after all this time?" or " You sound like the crazy one because you keep talking about her non-stop!" or "I don't understand why you can't just start dating someone else and move on."
These comments are not helpful to the survivor of narcissistic abuse. Although most all well-meaning and empathic friends and family have difficulty witnessing the pain of their loved one and the suffering they are experiencing after being in a relationship with an abuser, there are word choices and actions you can take that are more empowering for your loved one who is going through tremendous emotional pain. Try to look at this situation as a persnickety illness or infection that is taking a while to completely shake out of the system...and be patient during the process of healing from traumatic loss. Your friend/family member will thank you.
Here's what you can do:
1. Do validate and listen. Listen to your loved one's story and pain. Part of the healing for survivors of emotional abuse is having a safe other(s) witness/hear/validate their story of pain and healing.
2. Do encourage your loved one to get psychotherapy with a trauma-informed therapist. This form of psychological abuse results in PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), C-PTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other clinical conditions that require treatment by a licensed psychotherapist. The survivor needs time to grieve the traumatic loss.
3. Do educate yourself on narcissistic abuse: For example, read my articles entitled What is A Narcissist?: A Primer for the Layperson and Finding Peace After a Toxic Relationship.
4. Do know that it is NOT your job to heal or fix your loved one. See #2.
5. Your job is to offer unconditional empathy and comfort to your loved one. If there is something you do not understand about narcissistic abuse, ask your loved one. They likely will have read a library of articles and books on the subject in their quest to reduce the cognitive dissonance associated with narcissistic abuse. (see articles on cognitive dissonance, gas lighting, and silent treatment)
6. Do understand that your loved one is in the process of breaking a trauma bond with an abuser. Please read about what a trauma bond is, why the attachment is like crazy glue, and why your loved one is likely feeling like they are going through withdrawal from a bad drug (albeit temporarily).
7. Do encourage your loved one to engage in self-care, including: good sleep and nutrition, exercise, positive social supports.
8. Do provide hope that things will be better. Because they will. Keep helping your loved one to envision what life will be like free of emotional pain. Recovery can and does happen with sustained effort, fortitude and endurance.
9. Empower him/her. Pathological people seek out smart, successful, empathic people as targets for their abuse. It is because of their emotional IQ and compassion that the survivor was targeted. S/he will heal in time and reclaim their wellness.
Here's what you can refrain from doing:
1. Do not blame, shame, or criticize your loved one.
2. Question the timing of the healing process and how long it seems to be taking to heal (on average, with solid No Contact with an abuser, a survivor may take at minimum 18 months to really heal from the traumatic relationship, and usually longer even with psychotherapy and other interventions).
3. Do not encourage contact with the abuser. Part of the healing process is breaking free from a pathological person and going No Contact (or Limited Contact in the case that that the survivor shares children/a business).
4. Do not suggest the survivor is responsible for their abuse. Abuse is never ok. There is no excuse for abuse, and it is not the survivor's fault.
5. Do not intervene between the survivor and the narcissist. Allow the survivor to be empowered to seek out his/her own qualified therapy and legal support.
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
When a person is reeling in the aftermath of a toxic relationship, there are a number of steps towards finding inner peace that can help the survivor to transcend emotional pain. It is inevitable that most people will encounter toxic people in either work, family, friendship or love relationships. The abusive person need not have a full blown diagnosis of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) or psychopathy to cause emotional harm. Just possessing a few of the traits of pathological Cluster B personality disorders can render any contact with such a person equating to emotional harm and pain (Brown, 2009). The good news is that once armed with information about how to protect oneself from deceptive, toxic people, healthy individuals develop a discerning shield in terms of their intimate relationships. And in circumstances where a survivor has unfortunately been blindsided by a malignant narcissist or other toxic person, there is hope for healing and finding balance and good health.
I want to emphasize that experiencing a toxic relationship with an abuser is traumatic for the survivor. In the aftermath of narcissistic (or psychopathic) abuse, individuals can experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, C-PTSD (complex-PTSD), somatic pain, and panic attacks. Being in the force field of a pathological abuser for any length of time (but especially during chronic, long-term circumstances) results in psychological harm for the survivor. With that, it is imperative that the survivor seek out and obtain qualified psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional who is trained in trauma-informed care and who knows about narcissistic/psychopathic abuse. Life coaching by survivors can be very beneficial as well, to provide validation and confirmation. However, because recovery from toxic relationships can feel like you are emerging from the Dark Side with a complex constellation of clinical concerns (see above), you require recovery with a clinician (psychotherapist) who understands the delicate interplay of trauma, healing from abusive relationships, and has the training to provide such interventions. If someone you are working with claims to be able to "treat" these clinical concerns, and they are not, in fact, a licensed clinician, they are practicing unethically and illegally, and out of their scope. Buyer beware. The good news is that there is a growing number of therapists who are trained in this specialty. Look for a trauma-informed, strengths-focused, empowering clinician to help you in your recovery.
The following are some suggestions for survivors that I provide for my clients in my own private practice. In the aftermath of abuse in a toxic relationship, survivors need and deserve inner peace and healing:
* As mentioned above, connect with a qualified helping professional who can address the very intricate and specific nuances of C-PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc. Healing will take some time, and the traumatic grief resulting from the toxic relationship requires an "unpacking" that is multi-layered in the presence of a caring, empathic, non-judgmental specialist (In some circumstances telehealth consultation may be appropriate for individuals who are geographically far from specialists). In-person trauma-informed clinicians can also provide EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) interventions which help the brain to release how trauma is encoded. Trauma-informed clinicians may practice other interventions such as Emotional Freedom Technique, somatic experiencing, mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy and/or expressive arts. You need to research and inquire how your trauma-informed clinician approaches trauma release and integrating wellness into the treatment plan.
*Surround yourself with caring and authentic others in your tribe -- these people may be family, friends, colleagues, helping professionals, acquaintances. Part of the healing in the aftermath of a toxic relationship is continuing to experience safety and belonging in healthy circles of support. For people who do not have family or friends nearby, it is especially imperative to seek out qualified helping professionals who can serve in the form of a "safe holding environment" (Winnicott, 1973) as the survivor is building her tribe of caring others. A word about online forums: some may be helpful, but many are not supervised by trained professionals. Some forums are magnets for cyberstalkers and trolls. Again, buyer beware. An in-person support group facilitated by a trained clinician and specific to healing from toxic relationships is ideal. Barring that, online support groups supervised and facilitated by trained and empowering professionals would be an alternative.
* Go No Contact with any abusive person. If you share children or have to work with this individual, you can do Limited Contact, whereby your only communication is either strictly related to parenting (in which case you can use computer software like Family Wizard that is monitored by your attorney/the courts or in the case of work, keep conversation and communication strictly for business purposes and with a witness/second party present). Ideally and optimally for complete healing, at minimum Limited Contact (and only in the circumstances mentioned) , and in all other cases, absolutely No Contact. With No Contact, that's when healing really begins. The toxic forcefield of the abuser is removed/unshackled, and the survivor has the opportunity to thrive again.
*Practice supreme self-care. Taking care of oneself is not selfish. Self-care practices that are vital to healing and target all aspects of health: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and mental. This includes:
* exercise: at least 30 minutes daily, preferably in the sun and in nature. If you live in a cold climate, getting outside is still important (snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, etc). Studies show that immersing oneself in nature has multiple mental health benefits, particularly hiking (Bratman, 2015). Exercise lifts serotonin and endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals our body and mind need to operate smoothly and without depression or anxiety. Twenty minutes of sunshine/day lifts Vitamin D in our bodies (a deficit of this vitamin can result in depression).
*Physiological release of pent up tension from trauma: in the form of yoga, meditation, journaling, kick-boxing, massage. Studies show that our bodies hold trauma; we must physiologically release trauma in a healthy way (van der Kolk, 2015).
*Connect with spiritual affiliation, whether that is in an organized religious institution or as a solo practitioner - having a sense of peace from a Higher Power, through prayer, reiki, meditation, nature, etc can have very beneficial impact on the healing journey.
*Expressive arts release-- one of the key mechanisms in releasing trauma is expressing the "felt" pain in a sensory manner (Malchiodi, 2015). Locate a trained trauma-informed expressive arts practitioner to help you with this component of healing. (Side note: coloring books are not art therapy. They can be very helpful with mindfulness, but they are NOT a substitute for expressive arts trauma-informed therapy.)
*Good nutrition and sleep hygiene. Studies show we must have at least 5 consecutive (without interruption) hours of sleep to have a complete sleep cycle. When that is disrupted (for whatever reason but often by insomnia where trauma is concerned), depression and anxiety results due to plummeting serotonin levels. Tackling excellent sleep is imperative for healing. Some individuals may need to consult with a health practitioner about possible options for melatonin or sleeping aids (temporarily), stress reduction exercises before sleep, etc. Good nutrition is equally important. You don't need to purchase expensive supplements to nourish your body with good nutrition. Studies show that omega-3 fish oil is excellent in protecting the brain against depression and anxiety (among other wonderful benefits) (Kendall-Tackett, 2014). Research healthy meals that are abundant in fiber, protein, fruits and veggies. Remember to drink ample water, reduce (or eliminate) caffeine and alcohol consumption.
*Routines are important. The brain needs time to work through the trauma, cognitive dissonance, anxiety/depression after having been in a toxic relationship. Therefore, giving your brain ample time to be bathed in logic and creative expression is key to providing relief for the intensity of emotions in the aftermath of trauma. For example, if you find you are ruminating over a abusive relationship, it will be helpful to problem solve with your therapist a list of logical or creative actions you can take to get your mind off being stuck on flashbacks. Some suggestions may include, keeping your regular routine in place (for work, etc). Keep the brain focused on logical activities that require getting out of the emotional brain (sometimes a crossword puzzle or Words with Friends can zap you back into logical thinking and reasoning). Some of my clients like to do projects that help them with mindfulness, like crafting, knitting, playing a musical instrument, or just "puttering" around the house with various organizing or cleaning projects.
*Keep a journal for when intrusive thoughts surface, because they will. And you will need help dismantling the cognitive dissonance associated with psychological abuse-- by a trauma-informed therapist. Alternatively, Zen Doodle or a sketch pad can be used as a visual journal in expressing and releasing any intrusive thoughts. As well, give yourself permission to grieve the traumatic loss of someone who betrayed you. Therapy will be important to guide you through traumatic loss, walking through the stages of grief, and healing the traumas associated with that connection.
Healing takes time and is multi-layered. The above are only a few suggestions on the pathway to healing. So much of the work is done in the therapy session and in homework assignments as you heal from trauma. Again, I emphasize the importance of working with a trained trauma-informed , strengths-focused clinician, nuanced in narcissistic/psychopathic abuse recovery. We are out there. We love helping people heal. It is an honor and privilege to bear witness to the healing my clients go through. I have seen the most courageous and fierce survivors rise from the ashes and emerge, soaring again in good health, inner peace, and wellness. So can you. Begin today!
Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW