Meditation and mindfulness in general is something which is now widely circulating the recovery space as a resource to help people let go of toxic relationships with psychopaths, narcissists, or other toxic Cluster B personalities.
But some people are definitely skeptical about it’s benefits, especially those who have never tried it before and are not by nature prone to doing reflective and introspective things like this.
But does it really work for helping people to recover after relationships with toxic people? We want to give a careful and nuanced answer on this, because it isn’t actually a simple yes or no, as some people would portray.
Meditation can definitely help in recovery from relationships with psychopaths and narcissists, but only once your emotional flashbacks are moderated and under control. If you are still flash-backing and disassociating after the breakup, then you need to address this first, otherwise the benefits of meditation may be limited, no matter how diligently you practice it.
This is something I can attest to with my own personal experience overcoming toxic relationships. I spent a couple of years meditating daily, and yet made little progress, the reason being that I was still suffering from emotional flashbacks. Only once I got these under control using other self help methods, did I start to see the real benefits of meditation.
That said, once we do this, then meditation can be a fantastic, free, portable resource to increase calmness and let go of unpleasant things from the past.
To put this issue differently, whether meditation can be effective right off the bat in helping let go of toxic relationships depends on just how toxic and prolonged your contact with the narcissist or psychopath was.
Here are two broad scenarios:
- If the relationship was only brief and your boundaries were strong enough for you to see the abuse for what it was and get out quickly, then the damage might not have been so severe and meditation may help right away in helping you let go of the nastiness you suffered. If you believe this applies to you, you may want to skip straight to the meditation section further below.
- If the relationship was longer and the abuse more severe and prolonged (lots of gas-lighting, identity erosion and devaluation), then the effects on you are likely to have been far more traumatic and you are likely to be suffering from moderate to strong emotional flashbacks. If you believe this applies more to you, then I recommend reading the sections on flashbacks before the ones on meditation, otherwise the benefits of meditation may be limited.
Let’s look in more detail firstly at the primary issue of emotional flash-backs and how to identify them and get them under control, and then move onto the issue of using meditation to help recover from toxic relationships with psychopaths, narcissists, borderlines etc.
Your Must Resolve Emotional Flashbacks First After Toxic Relationships
This is a crucial issue which is not shared enough in the recovery space. Too often, well meaning people (including me in the past), have thrown out meditation as a resource to help with recovery, and it definitely can be a great tool.
But in this I missed the crucial issue that emotional flash-backs must be reduced first, before meditation, or any other recovery tool, can work properly.
If you are still suffering from flash-backs and disassociation post toxic relationships, then meditation in my experience will not resolve this, at least not in the sense of minor to moderate daily practice that most of us can undertake. If you go to an intensive meditation retreat somewhere for several weeks, the results may be different, but many of us don’t have the time or resources to do that.
Emotional Flashbacks can be defined as situations or interactions in your daily life that are still “triggering” distressing emotional states in you, continually taking you out of the present moment and into rumination or other strong emotions.
Here are some examples of how disassociation and emotional flash-backs can manifest:
- Hearing certain words or sounds can trigger you back to traumatic experiences.
- Thinking of certain things or concepts can re-trigger you.
- Even watching TV and films which contain emotionally powerful motifs, like intimacy or conflict, can re-trigger you.
- In work scenarios, you can find yourself overthinking things and struggling to complete tasks that should be unconscious and automatic.
- More generally, daily life just becomes harder to live through than before, because at any moment, you could encounter something that triggers you, opening up more negative mental states.
- A general paranoia and mistrust of others. Innocent questions or statements from others are interpreted in a negative way.
- Any kind of interpersonal conflict or unpleasantness, however brief and mild, can put you back in a state of negativity and shame that often feels global (“it’ll never get better”). As a result, you retreat into yourself and stop being assertive.
- You feel this negativity is affecting your relationships with others, preventing any kind of real closeness or bonding.
- Frequent disassociation or flight from the present moment, into rumination or fantasy or “what ifs” about the past/future. You may also struggle to focus/concentrate.
- A lot of your mental bandwidth is occupied by rumination and brooding over the toxic person and relationship.
- This rumination can sometimes snowball into internal rage attacks, replaying conversations with what you wish you had said, and other “mental gymnastics” which achieve nothing in reality.
- In general, you just feel vulnerable, like you are permanently open to attack and manipulation because pretty much anything in normal life has the potential to trigger you.
If any of these things are happening, then it is a strong sign you are flash-backing and disassociating, and you need to resolve this first for meditation to be really effective.
See the video below from Richard Grannon, where he very quickly and articulately summarizes this issue of emotional flash-backs being the core focus of recovery in the early days.
Richard Grannon – “You must reduce flashbacks to heal”
I fully concur with everything he is saying, having spent several years getting nowhere despite meditating daily and seeing a therapist, precisely because I was not addressing the core issue of flash-backs.
What I found was that even though meditation was very effective as I did it, and in the immediate aftermath I did feel much calmer and more composed, I found that as soon as something in daily life triggered any kind of moderate to strong emotional flash-back, this completely over-powered any calmness that I had from meditating and I was put right back into a highly distressed and unfocused state.
It felt like my meditation efforts were being wasted, and in a sense they were, because I had not got my emotional flash-backs under control.
Thankfully, there are some simple resources and exercises to help us get them under control, which we’ll cover now in more detail.
Meditation can be a great recovery tool, but only as long as you have sufficiently stabilized any disassociation and emotional flash-backing
Resolving Emotional Flashbacks (Crucial First Step)
Richard Grannon (Spartan Life Coach) is a superb resource on recovery from toxic relationships with Cluster B disordered people, because he provides solid information but also practical advice and exercises to better help people recover from these relationships in quicker time.
He is one of the few people that has also emphasized this crucial issue that the order in which you do things in recovery is very important in determining how successful you are.
To account for this, he has produced plenty of content on the issue of flashbacks (short and long form), and simple, free courses on reducing them, to get people quickly stabilized so they can then move onto other things like meditation and therapy.
Here are some of his free resources:
- See here, here and here for some shorter bite-size videos on emotional flashbacks.
- See here and here for some longer, in depth videos where he covers emotional flashbacks in more detail.
- Great video: “The narcissist has no power over you if you aren’t flashbacking“.
- See his free course on reducing flashbacks on his Spartan Life Coach site.
- His Fortress Mental Health Protection Channel also offers the same kind of material on reducing flashbacks.
- Following his material, you can easily reduce them down considerably within a 6-8 week period, which will make meditation and other recovery resources far more effective and useful.
Progressing Onto Meditation in Recovery From Toxic Relationships
Once you have used the resources above to get your emotional flash-backs under control, then you should be in a much better position for meditation to deliver far more noticeable and generalized benefits.
Meditation can be a fantastic resource to help with recovery from toxic relationships, because it can train your mind and brain back towards present centered awareness and focus. Over time it is also widely reported to help people let of the unpleasant and traumatic experiences that characterize relationships with narcissists and psychopaths.
Meditation in a nutshell involves focusing on a central “anchor” point, often the breath or bodily sensations (body scan), and repeatedly practice a) noticing when the mind has wandered from this anchor point; and b) bringing it back to the anchor point each time it does wander.
Each time you notice the mind is not focused on this anchor, and bring it back, you are “repping” the attentional and “present moment” mental muscle. Over time this brings the default state of the mind back towards present centered awareness.
Focus and concentration will improve as a result and more negative mental states like rumination, excessive daydreaming and getting caught in negative emotions should lessen the more you practice.
Meditation can train into us a greater capacity to be with things as they are now, instead of resisting them, pushing them away or disassociating into fantasy or thinking about the past/future.
The benefits of this for people recovering from toxic relationships should be clear, since the one thing psychopaths and narcissists love to do is fill up our “distress cup” with deliberate and predetermined abuse, and also take us out of the present moment with relentless drama and conflict, that leaves us constantly agitated and ruminating.
Meditating over time can bring us out of our heads and back into our body and feelings, helping us to undo some of the damage poisonous people in our life have caused, as long as we have the worst of our emotional flash-backs under control.
The great thing about meditation is that it is a totally free and portable resource; anyone can do it and all you need is a quiet space and the commitment to keep up the practice on a daily basis.
On the other hand, it does require persistence and practice and is not a quick solution. It requires patience and diligence over time to deliver the best results.
If you are looking to give Mindfulness a try then an excellent way to get into meditation is the 8 week introductory course given by Mark Williams. This comprises of a series of 8 short meditations that run on a weekly cycle.
Practice these meditations once or twice a day for the 8 weeks and you will almost certainly gain some benefit.
Mindfulness Course – Week 1 – Breathing Anchor
- Week 2 & 3 – Body Scan
- Week 4 – Breath and Body
- Week 5 – Sounds and Thoughts
- Week 6 – Exploring Difficulties
- Week 7 – Befriending
- Week 8 – 3 Minute Breathing Space
See also Yutthadhammo Bhikkhu’s brief 3 part introduction to meditation
- How to Meditate I – What is Meditation?
- How to Meditate II – Sitting Meditation
- How to Meditate III – Walking Meditation
Other Resources to Help With Recovery From Toxic Relationships
We’ll briefly list here some other common cited useful tips to help with recovery from relationships with psychopaths and narcissists.
- Exercise is a great tool to improve mood and health. Swimming especially is great for those looking for more mindfulness in their daily lives.
- It is also a good idea enlist the help of a good therapist, but they need have very specific skills and experience to properly help people deal with the aftermath of Cluster B abuse. See our Find a Therapist page for more on finding someone suitable to work with.
- Go no contact with the toxic person if you haven’t already, or strictly limit the contact if children are involved.
- Build a good support system around you of solid, reliable, empathic people. Avoid apathetic, volatile and unsupportive people.
- Keep up good general self care – eat well, get enough sleep and relaxation and so on.
- See our recovery guide from toxic relationships for more practical suggestions and resources.
- See our secondary guide that provides more informational resources on Cluster B disorders for those still looking to more fully understand what happened in the relationship.