6 minute read
The impact of narcissistic abuse, whether it be from family members, partners, friends, or colleagues, can be crippling. The abuse centres on power and control, using manipulation including gaslighting, triangulation, isolation, devaluation etc. to make you feel worthless, confused, dependent and questioning your sanity. The effects can leave you spinning long after the relationship has ceased.
Significant self-doubt and self-blame often plague survivors prior to recovery. As well as the tireless quest to understand what you did wrong (despite having done nothing wrong, and the responsibility sitting entirely with the narcissist) you are likely to also be revisiting traumatic thoughts and memories which seem to intrude no matter how much you try to avoid them. You might feel hopeless, powerless and stuck in the trauma.
These are symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex-PTSD (C-PTSD), commonly experienced by survivors of narcissistic abuse.
Accepting what has happened, and letting go of all that is holding you trapped in the nightmare is part of your antidote. This may seem an insurmountable and impossible challenge, but you can do it. Securing support through a therapist you connect with, who specialises in narcissistic abuse, PTSD and C-PTSD is strongly recommended.
There are also things you can do in your own time, at home, to stimulate the needed shift of letting go as you begin to recover. As bizarre as this may sound, decluttering can be a mighty force in helping you achieve this, as well as being instrumental in reclaiming your true self, and carving out what your best life will look like for the future.
Decluttering & becoming unstuck
Decluttering is about reducing the stuff in spaces where you spend most time, for instance your home or work space. It’s about choosing what you will keep based on various litmus tests such as what you need vs. don’t need, what you use vs. what you don’t, or what brings you joy.
Decluttering, and minimalism, have for some time now been widely pushed as life changing for a variety of reasons: to lead a more intentional life, to increase creativity and greater capacity for focus, to reduce stress and cultivate calm, to promote better sleep and health, to shape an aesthetically pleasing space, to become more organised, to foster environmental sustainability…These are just a small sample, there can be little doubt that decluttering delivers super positive outcomes! Ask any convert and light beams from them as they excitedly share their story.
So given the awesome life changing power of decluttering, is it possible that it can also be beneficial for narcissistic abuse recovery? Is there a link between letting go of physical stuff enabling moving forward emotionally? Is it possible that ditching things can precipitate becoming unstuck from the memories that are holding you in place in that cycle of traumatic memories and self-doubt?
The answer is yes. Here’s why.
The things that surround you have all been acquired at some point in your past. This means that each item has the power to trigger memories from your history, if you have associated that item to a person, event, or situation. Where this link has been forged, the item cues recall of emotional memories and connected thoughts.
These of course can be positive. Photos of special moments with friends you hold dear, are likely to bring you huge warm & fuzzies. In this instance, you probably would choose to keep these safe and close by.
Conversely, items can hold negative connotations for you. Using the same example, you may ponder a pic of a special moment with a friend who ultimately betrayed you deeply, which may give rise to great sadness and hurt. In this scenario, you may want to consider whether having this constant reminder will serve you in the future or hinder you by pulling you back to focus on the pain. Is it time to let this item go? More importantly, is it time to let that pain go?
Having suffered narcissistic abuse, you are likely to be surrounded by many items that trigger replaying the traumatic emotional memories and agitate that cycle of self-blame and doubt.
We tend not to really pay all that much attention to how the things in our daily lives make us feel, until we take the time to reflect on them. Until you mindfully ask yourself how you feel, and what comes to mind when assessing different items, awareness of the impact the stuff is having on you may be limited.
I encourage you to use Maire Kondo’s question ‘does this bring me joy’ (2014) to truly tap into what emotions are connected to any given item. This probing will show you what does in fact add to your life positively, as well as identifying trigger items that are anchoring you to the causes of your pain. When you determine it’s the latter, it’s gotta go!
Setting aside items by giving them away, recycling them or throwing them out, PARTICULARLY when there is a strong negative emotional memory attached to them, sets you free. When you keep these things despite the pain it gives you, you are choosing to remain attached to what has caused you harm. In doing this, you remain stuck.
When you let go of the thing, it’s not really about the thing – you are choosing to break the power the person, event, or situation that caused you harm, had over you. You are choosing to reclaim your power, let go, move forward, and seize your freedom.
So, by intentionally choosing to keep only things that bring you joy in your surroundings and removing all things that trigger negative emotional memories, you are building a safe and nurturing space for you to begin healing. True, the memories are still within you, but these will no longer be regularly cued by your environment. This may also calm feelings of hypervigilance, another symptom of PTSD/C-PTSD.
Decluttering as a superpower
These benefits can be profound, although decluttering isn’t just about stuff in your environment and removing anchors to negative emotional memories.
As survivors of narcissistic abuse, a strong sense of identity is often compromised as a function of the trauma experienced that shatters previously held worldviews. This loss of sense of self is in itself deeply distressing, and finding a way back to your true self fundamental for recovery.
Getting clarity on what you like and don’t like, what is versus what isn’t important to you, is strengthened through the practice of decluttering. You’ll perceive an awakening sense of becoming reacquainted with your true self.
You’ll also notice a dawning superpower within you of being able to identify negativity and walk away from it – if you are co-dependent, this is indeed a revelatory superpower and precious gift. Repeatedly asking yourself whether this or that material thing enhances your life by bringing joy, starts to creep into other areas of your life. You will find yourself mindfully asking yourself this same question of people and situations, and choosing to let go of the negative and hold onto the positive, laying the foundation for your best life to bloom.
The empowering nature of decluttering is about developing a mindful practice to consciously choose what you will allow in your life.
Letting go of things, people and situations that keep you attached to traumatic memories kickstarts the narcissistic recovery process and short-circuits that stuck feeling.
Ditch the material, people-shaped, and situational junk in your life and make way for the goodies that make your soul sing. Get your decluttering revolution started now!
- Blum, H. (2002). Psychic trauma and traumatic object loss. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51(2), 415-432.
- Davidson, J.R.T. (2000). Trauma: The impact of post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 14(2), 5-12.
- Kondo, M. (2014). The life changing magic of tidying up: The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. Berkeley, US: Ten Speed Press.
- McAlary, B. (2017). Slow. Sydney, Australia: Allen & Unwin.
- Vandervoort, D., & Rokachi, A. (2006). Posttraumatic relationship syndrome: A case illustration. Clinical Case Studies, 5(3), 231-247.