This is a very common complaint from people who finally manage to break free of toxic relationships with narcissists, or any of the other Cluster B personalities (sociopaths, borderlines and histrionics).
They often report that they struggle to focus and concentrate, and completing even mundane daily tasks that they used to do without thinking can become very difficult.
It can also be very difficult to get any bigger picture projects they have planned started, or they may start them and not complete them. This can include things like degree and diploma courses, reading books, blogging or other online work.
This can be really frustrating because victims of narcissistic abuse really do want to be positive and move forward with their lives, but struggle to have access to the same focus and concentration that they did before the toxic relationship. Are there any ways to resolve this problem and gain these qualities back?
The lack of ability to focus and concentrate after narcissistic relationships is part of the dissociation and emotional flashback cycle that victims often fall into, where drifting out of painful feelings in the moment has become a habit to cope with the toxicity of the relationship. Once the danger has passed though, survivors may struggle to break this pattern.
Thankfully, with self help exercises and meditation, we can train ourselves to undo this and regain our focus again.
Let’s firstly run through the reason for this inability to focus post breakup in more detail, followed by some workable tips to get this focus back and more effectively get on with your life.
Traumatic relationships can leave us feeling broken, and not fully in our body and feelings the way we used to be
Lack of Focus & Concentration is Part of Disassociation & Emotional Flashbacks
Let’s be very clear about this – relationships with narcissists, psychopaths and borderlines are traumatic to the people caught in them. They can leave people with a whole host of PTSD/Complex PTSD style symptoms, one of which is a lack of ability to properly focus and concentrate.
The reason for this is that the abuse in the toxic relationship became so distressing at some point that the mind and body worked together to move you out of the present moment, because it was simply too painful.
One of the ways to do this is to resort to disassociation, or fleeing from the present moment into rumination, fantasy, or something else.
In small amounts, some type of daydreaming is fine, and even necessary for some people, but in a relationship with a narcissist, it likely became a habit that is hard to shake, even once they are out of your life.
They become so adept at pushing your buttons that it becomes unbearable to live in the present moment most of the time, and your habit of disassociation can become your new normal, instead of a temporary defense or hiding place.
Alternatively, the outrageousness of the some of the things they likely did and said to you will continue to play on repeat over and over in your mind. Whilst it is understandable that we do this, again when we ruminate in this way, we aren’t in the present moment, and we can get addicted to going over these past experiences in our mind.
In this sense, it can be difficult to return fully to being in the present moment after the relationship, as the mind and body are still on “high alert”, and your pattern of fleeing from the present has become a little too ingrained for you to easily drop it.
See the video below from Richard Grannon where he hits on exactly this issue – your lack of ability to focus post narcissistic abuse is you flash-backing into disassociation.
Disassociation Post Narc Abuse
Now let’s turn to the resources he mentions in the video that will help you reduce this disassociative tendency and get your focus and concentration back.
Reducing Emotional Flashbacks to Reduce Disassociation & Improve Focus
Richard Grannon is undoubtedly the best resource I have found online for move-the-bar tips and exercises to recover post narcissistic and psychopathic abuse.
He has great, solid information on relationships with disordered people, but has also set up courses which are specifically designed to actually get recovering victims of abuse making quick progress in recovery – winning every day.
The resources most helpful if you are suffering with disassociation and a lack of concentration/focus post abusive relationships are his ones on reducing emotional flashbacks.
This involves a series of simple, daily exercises designed to act as a pattern interrupt and bring you out of daydreaming, rumination, and other negative thought patterns and train yourself to come back into the present moment more and more each day.
See the video below where he explains the importance of reducing emotional flashbacks in the recovery process from toxic relationships.
Richard Grannon – “You must reduce flashbacks to heal”
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.
- 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 should mean you spend far less time ruminating on the past, and much more time centered and focused in the present moment.
- See also his other courses on his website. The clip above is actually taken from his “Remove the Narcissistic Malware” course.
Using Mindfulness to Improve Concentration and Focus
Allied to the reducing flashbacks material we linked to above, another great resource to use that is totally free and portable is mindfulness meditation.
When done correctly, this is another way of training the mind to be with things as they are in the present moment, noticing when the mind has wandered, and bringing it back to the present.
Meditation is like doing mental “reps”. Every time you focus on a central anchor point, like the breath or bodily sensations, notice when the mind has wandered and then bring it back to this central anchor point, it is like doing a “rep” in being present moment aware.
If you keep “repping” this over time, it will strengthen the attentional circuitry in your brain, and being present in the moment will start to become easier and more natural. You are re-training your mind and brain to be present and stay in the present. Concentration and focus will naturally improve if you keep up this practice on a daily basis.
Here are some resources to get started with mindfulness meditation to improve focus and concentration.
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
Other Tips For Increasing Focus & Concentration
Here are some other quick-fire suggestions for improving your ability to focus and concentrate post toxic relationships.
- Exercise is always a good thing to do to increase focus.
- Try to eat good, fresh food in reasonable portions, and less processed and junk food. Drink plenty of filtered water.
- Sugar is also something to avoid as it can leave you sluggish and unfocused.
- Get plenty of sleep, and try to get to bed at a sensible time. People recovering from Cluster B abuse cannot usually get away with rolling out of bed at 2pm, even if they used to be able to. There needs to be a discipline there to rebuild yourself.
- It is also always a good idea to enlist the help of a suitable therapist to aid recovery, once your flashbacks are under control. See our Find a Therapist Page for some help on this.
- See Richard Grannon’s YouTube channel for more on building a Spartan lifestyle, with discipline, routine and persistence key factors (bringing order to the chaos the narcissist caused).
- If you are serious about starting a project that will require a lot of time and persistence to complete (eg. a tough degree, starting a business or starting a blog), you ideally need to take an honest inventory of your life and remove anything that could be a distraction and time drain.
- This includes social media, TV, dating apps, video games, NetFlix, and so on – all things that drain time but don’t move you closer to a goal.
- Understand how the brain works in terms of 0’s (pain) and 1’s (dopamine hits).
- The distractions above represent easy, unearned 1’s (dopamine hits).
- Instead, try to train your brain to like earned dopamine hits (feeling good after working on something, exercise, meditation, reading, study etc.) and wean it off these unearned hits.
- See Alex Becker’s YouTube channel, where he covers this issue of the brain and dopamine in many of his videos. You may also want to lookup dopamine detox.
- See also our complete guide on recovering from relationships with psychopaths and narcissists for some more suggestions on self help strategies post toxic relationships.