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How can I control my thoughts?

We recently received the following letter that expresses very well what many victims tell us they feel. Although I have written on this subject before, this week I would like to share new insights on healing and recovery.

I spent two years in a relationship with an antisocial psychopath. In the last four months, since I last saw him, I have built a new life, I get on with my life, I am successful in my job, I am a good mother, I am comfortable in my own skin, and, for the first time in my life, am content to live a single life.

This sounds like a success story, but in every minute that my mind is not occupied by the routine of daily life, I am totally consumed by thoughts of my “ex”. Most of these thoughts revolve around the things he did and said. As we all know – the words and actions of these people are almost always opposite. After all, someone who “loves you more than anything……wants to be with you more than anything…….wants to marry you….is 100% committed to buying a house with you”, doesn’t hit you, trip you up, get on top of you with is hands round your neck, spit on you, and leave you to pay $4,000 a month for a house you moved into a month before (just to mention a few of the nightmare scenarios).

I need help with two things in particular:

- Every morning now, for over a year (since he left me paying for the house, a day after my dad died and my ex said, “you should be glad he’s dead”), I have woken up, and the very first thing that enters my mind is him. I am totally emotionally exhausted. I dread going to sleep at night. How can I stop this? It is worse, in some ways, than the abuse itself. I have considered going to a hypnotherapist, but am scared that, like medication, there could be “side-effects”. What should I do?

- My ex and I had an amazing sex life. I know this is common with psychopaths, and losing this I can live with. What I can’t live with is remembering how we were together in bed, in a very deep emotional way. We could lie there for hours, just stroking each other, massaging each other, “grooming” each other. When we fell asleep we would move through our three positions every night, all the time touching and stroking until we fell asleep. I can’t get that out of my head, and I miss it so much. I can read over and over again that, “it wasn’t real”, but it doesn’t remove the fact that it happened, and the feeling was real. How do I disconnect that amazing feeling from the person who gave it to me?

I really need help. Being so completely unable to control my thoughts is killing me, and though I can keep thoughts of him out of my mind when I’m totally busy, I can’t be busy all the time as I’d be exhausted!

I hope you have some insight, and thank you for your help.

First let’s repeat the basics. You cannot heal mentally without also addressing your physical health. Our friend is wise to be concerned about her state of exhaustion. It is important to eat healthy foods and get 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Also consider taking a daily multivitamin with minerals like calcium. Please limit alcohol and do not use street drugs.

It is very common for victims to respond to the financial and other life stress by feeling like they have to be energized and vigilant. This feeling that we have to be “on alert” is magnified by what our friend describes in her letter. The minute we slow down, we experience “the thoughts.” In fact, hypervigilance is noted to be a symptom of PTSD.

For many victims the hypervigilance comes naturally at first due to stress hormones. But, since this feeling of energy and alertness becomes a habit, victims want to maintain it. To do so over the long run they turn to caffeine.

Excessive consumption of caffeine (more than about 120mg/day) leads to insomnia, anxiety and depression. It is not difficult to overconsume caffeine since a Starbucks’ Grande has over 300mg.*

Many victims are afraid to cut down on the caffeine because they fear that if they are not super-alert they can’t keep going, and the thoughts will come back. Victims are also afraid to fall asleep because they fear being attacked in the night.

So how do you end the vicious cycle? How do you stop wanting to be on alert? First, you have to convince yourself that it is necessary to slow down and you have to have a means of coping with your fear/anxiety. Acceptance is an important ingredient here. Unfortunately, we have to accept that we are going to feel pain, fear and anxiety. That is a normal and even necessary part of this process. We often spend too much energy trying to fight the pain, fear and anxiety. A good therapist will tell you that tolerating these is an important part of recovery.

It is OK to let yourself feel it. I can say that to you because I say it to myself.

Apart from tolerance, coping by using relaxation techniques, exercise, psychotherapy and friendship is important. I recommend Stress Management for Dummies. I use that book to teach therapy students about stress management. Everything you need to know is in there and it is an inexpensive book.

About sleep- if you don’t sleep well you will be too tired to heal and you will be even more likely to need caffeine. Please discuss these alternatives with your physician, but I will mention two over-the-counter sleep aids that are considered safe in the short term that is why you can get them without a prescription. I believe Melatonin is the best option because of few side effects. Diphenhydramine is another option found in over-the-counter sleep aids. Be aware that this medicine causes weird anxiety reactions in some people and can cause you to want to eat at night. Since it dries out your mouth, it can also be bad for your teeth if you don’t brush well before bed.

Now I will specifically address the good and bad memories. In many experiments researchers have shown that good and bad memories are part of separate brain circuits. When people are in a good mood they have better access to “good memories.” When they are in a bad mood they have better access to “bad memories.” That is why the more you fight the pain and the fear, the more you will only remember the good part of that sociopath you were involved with. The good experiences you had with him/her are stored in a different brain circuit from the bad experiences you had.

The more you tolerate the pain, the more integrated your recollections will be because you will have emotional access to both the good and the bad at the same time. It is best not to try to over-control your thoughts, let them flow. Manage the pain and anxiety with relaxation techniques.

I also officially give you permission to enjoy the good memories you have. Those memories don’t have to cause you to try to go back. They are there as a record of your very real life experiences. The fact that you may have enjoyed some of the time you spent with a sociopath is O.K. and doesn’t mean you are a bad or stupid person.

Having said all this, it can take many years to get beyond all these symptoms. 4 months is a very short period of time, though it seems like an eternity when you are suffering. I am glad to see our friend is fighting, questioning and seeking. As for many of us, the well being of a child will be enhanced by her healing.

Please know that your children are aware of and observe your struggles. How you handle memories, pain/fear and anxiety can set a good example for them.

*Click here to check out the caffeine content of beverages.



403 Comments on "How can I control my thoughts?"

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  1. behind_blue_eyes says:

    Funny there does seem to be a strong correlation to my tearing a pectoral muscle, thus not going to the gym in a month with not only my mood but more thoughts about my x-spath.

    Thankfully, I am finally healed and can go back to the gym. Not Monday as planned, but tomorrow. I will go very easy, but I will go.

  2. aussiegirl says:

    LL -

    I do know what you mean about seeing them everywhere.

    It’s partly because we are hypervigilant in PTSD (therefore we are actively on the lookout and will spot them a mile off while in this state, when we ordinarily might not have even registered their car was there, if we had been focussed elsewhere) and partly because we get a bit paranoid as our fear factor is heightened with the PTSD (therefore we think we see them when sometimes we haven’t; or we get jumpy when someone looks/sounds/smells like them or drives a car that looks like theirs…)

    Over all, considering the big bag of stuff you are going to need to unpack (emotionally), you are really doing so well this week.

    The gym is a great idea, but slowly, slowly, okay? All in time. x

  3. shabbychic says:

    LL, yes, I still have to push myself to get things done. Sometimes I’m happy if I accomplish one thing, I had to start making lists for myself and then forcing myself to do one thing at a time, feeling a small sense of accomplishment when I crossed something off the list. You are getting your studies done, taking care of your kids, taking care of your health, you are getting so much done right in the middle of all this pain and anxiety, you are amazing, give yourself some credit! When you are feeling better… nobody is going to be able to keep up with you!!! God Bless, you are in my thoughts and prayers. xoxo

  4. ErinBrock says:

    Hi Guys….I check in, read one post and it’s like……WHAT?!
    Are we gardening tonight?

    Anywho…..I’m stirring up the hornets nest. Spath hung up on my attorney today….so approaching plan B.
    Gotta act quick….as the foreclosure sale may be imminent.

    I decided to check in on the drug case today….he sparked an interest in me, someohow that happens with non cooperation!
    Well…..it’s in front of the XX state Supreme Court….so he ain’t off yet.
    I don’t think he’s gonna like me ‘nosing’ around the supreme court because he won’t cooperate with the decree……
    His choice….NOT mine.
    I’ll do what it takes……

    I’m in MID move…..got redirected with legal stuff the past 2 days. Haven’t been to the new place since Sat. Kids have moved over……bet it’s CHAOS!
    I’ve sold most my shiat….and more to sell…..maken money honey!

    I’m tired….just wanted to check in…..only read that one post and decided not to catch up…..no energy for that! I’m in a pretty cut and dry mode currently.
    Hope your all well….hang in there……
    XXOO
    EB

  5. geminigirl says:

    Hi, EB Darlin!Im so glad things are moving on for you. you sound pumped and motivated and back in control.
    All the very best, honey, whatever happens. Love ya.!!!
    Mama GemXX

  6. kim frederick says:

    Skylar, Perhaps, “evil” is too strong a word. I suppose there is a huge difference between deliberate evil and narcissistic ignorance.
    But, I see Joy/Hulga as an emotional cripple…symbolized by her wooden leg. On a spiritual level, “she hasn’t got a leg to stand on.” She intellectualizes because her emotional/spiritual growth is stunted. She is continually infantalized by her mother. Thtoughout the story she is referred to, “as the girl” even though she’s 33 years old.
    She rebels against a presupposed identity handed to her by her mother. She is supposed to be Joy, but she feels like Hulga. Even her decision to change her name, is disrespected by her narcissistic mother.
    Her mother, the eternal Mrs. Hopewell, uses words like bloated, scowl, ugly, blind to describe her daughter. She sits and watches her back while Joy/Hulga boils eggs, all the time wondering what she and the bible salesman had to say to each-other. She’s determined to find it out, (As if it’s any of her business) and does so in a very manipulative way.
    Of course this is all an assualt on Joy/Hulga’s identity, sense of self confidence and self esteem.
    Hulga is emotionally armoured like the hull of an army tank.
    This armour is her superior intellect. She despises the hypocracy of the “good country people” around her.
    This hypocracy is evidenced in Mrs. Hopewells lie to the Bible salesman: My Bible is on my bed-side table> When in fact it’s in the attic, gathering dust. She thinks to herself, well, I can’t tell him my daughter’s an atheist and won’t let me keep it in the parlor. A two-fold lie, in my opinion. Do you think for one moment, that a woman like Mrs. Hopewell wouldn’t keep a Bible in the parlor, if that’s what she took a mind to do? And why can’t she say, “My daughter is an atheist”? First because it doesn’t reflect well on her, and secondly, because she doesn’t really accept anything about her daughter…she is ashamed of her daughter.
    Do you not think this is absorbed by Joy/Hulga.
    It is her mother’s narcissism that has crippled Joy. It has stamped out Joy.
    Joy is smart, but niave, and her coping mechanism, (intellect, and arrogance) is precisely what makes her vulnerable to Manley Pointer’s seduction. (When I hear a name like Manley Pointer, I think: erect penis.)
    He pinpoints her arrogance and uses it against her….she thinks she is seducing him, and reference is made several times to his having a child-like quality about him. She mistakenly thinks that HE’S vulnerable. Big mistake.
    He moves in for the kill.
    Clearly, it is Manley Pointer who is most evil.
    I think Mrs. Freeman, and Mrs Hopewell, are blind to themselves, narcissistic, and self sanctimonious…but not really aware of what they do.
    I think Joy/Hulga is damaged.
    Yes. I do think that spath’s can be the bearers of God’s grace, but that certainly is not their intent.
    Flannery O’Connar was raised in Georgia, and is a part of the Southern writer’s tradition. She also suffered from Lupis, (the name of which comes from Lupine or Wolf, interestinly enough, and it is a disease that symbolically eats you alive)
    She was extremely religious, (Catholic) and considered it her calling to save souls. Her writing is full of this aim, and always, always includes a spath or two. To her, it is a religious good/evil issue.
    She doesn’t use the word, “spath” or “personality disorder”.
    Her evil charactors are the devil incarnate.
    What do you think?

  7. kim frederick says:

    EB, Haven’t seen much of you lately. Moving is so very stressfull, and exhausting…but you sound like you are plowing your way through it. Sorry spath reared his ugly head and managed to side-track you….don’t they always.
    Keep trudging on. You’ll get through it.

    Gem, Hi. How are ya? I’m liking your new-age approach to recovery. It seems to be helping you, alot.

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