Before explaining the exercises in depth, let me explain what we have to get detachment from with the sociopath, in particular when s/he triggers “our inner victim.” We all have deeply ingrained reactions from childhood that are triggered in any committed intimate relationship.
If you, for instance, had a good looking older sibling who did everything right and excelled in school, but you didn’t, you might have an issue with not feeling “good enough” that gets triggered in your current relationship. It might come up in jealousy, or you may be waiting for your partner to wake up and realize he or she is with no prize and leave you. Perhaps you grew up in a home in which you were always corrected or criticized, and you react in your current relationship by taking everything negatively or fighting to be right all the time.
Perhaps you grew up in a home in which there was alcoholism, and the intoxicated parent was unpredictable and volatile (where love was there sometimes and not others). You might, in your current relationship, react with great anxiety if your partner gets angry or forgets to call when s/he is going to be late. Perhaps you grew up in a home where you were neglected for either reasons of alcoholism or addiction, a needy/sick sibling who took up your parents’ attention, parental depression or disconnectedness. You might, in your current relationship, feel worried if you’re not getting continual reassurance of your partner’s love, but no amount of it helps you feel important to your partner. If you grew up in a violent home where you or others were abused, you may have a difficult time trusting emotional closeness, in fact, you may have picked a partner who is not capable of true connection to protect yourself from the terror associated with close love relationships.
These are some examples of how our early wiring makes us react similarly in the presence of the emotional intimacy and dependence of a committed relationship. It feels like childhood all over again, though we may not conscious of it. (For a clearer understanding of how this works, I recommend reading, Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix.)
Making a change
In a normal adult relationship, we can hopefully communicate about the issues that come up, and even recognize our inner child being triggered. Then we can listen to and respond to each other, or in some way resolve the issues, and, in doing so, we can ultimately even resolve those childhood issues.
But here’s the difference in a relationship with a sociopath: There is no getting listened to, or responded to, or resolution. There is only the sociopath’s demand that we respond to his/her need for control and/or keep up a ruse, resulting in our helplessness and confusion. So, the childhood “victim” is constantly triggered – the child who is powerless in the face of their parent(s) to change their views or behavior toward us – as well as the fear that if we don’t comply we will lose our parents’ love.
The good news is that the more we become aware how the child victim is being triggered, we will begin to react less from the victim place. Here are some exercises to help create mindfulness, which helps us become conscious of our triggers and, therefore, less immersed in them, and less reactive in the same ways. Mindfulness also creates inner strength and calm by being more centered in our “core.” Mindfulness is attained, oddly enough, by learning to “be inside your body.” Take some time daily to do one or more of the following exercises:
Imagine a Boundary. Draw with your hands an imaginary boundary around your body, and become aware of when you are “leaking out” and losing your “self” in the relationship, i.e., giving in and doing things that don’t feel true to you.
Erect Posture. A client recently told me that when she held herself very erect in doing ballet, she could better feel her core more, her strength and her center.
One-Minute Daily Mindfulness Exercise. Close your eyes.
1. Focus on the thoughts in your head. Just notice what they are, don’t judge them. Acknowledge them by saying something like, “That’s the way it is right now.”
2. Focus all your attention now on your breathing. Just the breathing in and breathing out, either naturally or deeply. Keep your attention there for a few moments.
3. Put your attention now on your body. Notice any sensations in your body. Notice what it feels like to be inside your body right now. Notice any emotions located in it. When you feel ready, open your eyes.
Yoga or Stretching. While feeling your body in various stretches or positions become conscious of how your muscles feel, where tension might be stored, what emotions may want to release.
Meditation. Either a guided meditation, or simply breathing in and out slowly and focusing on your breath, helps you to become aware of your body and even your thoughts, and feel connected to your core.
Walking Meditation. This is an Eastern practice of walking with mindfulness of your body in nature and your surroundings.
Awareness Wheel Exercise. (video clip on www.drdansiegel.com) This exercise can help you start to become aware of how your body, your senses, and even your thoughts hold your reactions, tension, trauma, etc., and to have detachment from them.
Massage, Body Energy Work, or Hypnosis. These techniques (with a practitioner) help you feel and be in your body in a soothing, calming way.
Becoming mindful is the beginning of all change. It will help you recognize when your child “victim” is being triggered, as well as other triggers. Then you can begin to do something different — making the choice to do something more beneficial and healing for yourself. In the next article, I will go into more exercises for that.