The Chaos Theory of Narcissistic Abuse
Most people have heard of the Butterfly Effect, which states that a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world – at just the right point in space and time – can eventually cause a hurricane on the other side of the world.
And while we don’t have any control over the world’s butterflies flapping their wings, we set in motion a different set of events for each decision we make inside toxic relationships.
People generally want to stay away from hazardous situations, right?
Most people avoid trying Meth because they’ve seen pictures of what it can do to one’s physical appearance.
Others avoid drinking and driving because it’s against the law, and because it would put themselves and other drivers in danger of losing their lives.
We know that smoking cigarettes can lead to lung disease or cancer.
…and any sensible person would steer clear of a mother bear who’s foraging with her cubs because they know they probably wouldn’t leave that encounter alive.
More than the immediate or short-term effects of these actions, people typically strive to avoid engaging in them because those activities have the potential to destroy lives.
But what about the long-term implications of being in a toxic relationship?
Just like the butterfly flapping its wings in China might cause a hurricane in Mexico, there are longstanding effects for every decision we make, and the ones we make while in toxic relationships can either move us and the world toward healing…or move us toward chaos.
The Choice Point
Each time a narcissist’s target completes another cycle of emotional abuse, there is a window of opportunity called a Choice Point. It’s in this place where we have the chance to change the negative cycles that have become a pattern…in our lives and those of the people we love.
In that space, we can either keep making the same choices that keep us entangled in toxic relationships, or we can choose a different path. We can choose other ways of behaving and different ways of thinking.
Every choice we make is creating our future.
It’s challenging to stop and think about this when you’re in constant fight-or-flight mode during narcissistic abuse. But, the choices we make now not only affect our future, but the futures of our children, our grandchildren, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our society.
In moments of betrayal and emotional devastation – which are inescapable inside narcissistic abuse – we just want to feel better about ourselves, to stop the pain, and for things to change back to “normal”.
But what we typically don’t think about in those moments is what could happen in the next week, year, or decade when we choose to stay in toxic relationships. We don’t ponder that we are creating ripples that will affect other individuals and ultimately, the world.
Many people believe they’re immune from the effects of narcissistic abuse…until they get fired from their job, their pet is harmed or killed, they have a psychotic breakdown, or their child commits suicide due to constant verbal assaults and being made to feel unworthy.
- We don’t ponder that we might be ruining our career because we won’t stop answering an abusive partner’s text messages in the middle of a corporate meeting – putting ourselves at risk of homelessness.
- We may not recognize that when we experience repeated stress from emotional and verbal abuse, our brains are being restructured… for the worse.
- We don’t think about how staying in toxic relationships will likely set our children up to be either narcissistic or codependent…thereby perpetuating generational dysfunction.
But, what can you do when you’ve just found out the narcissist has cheated (once more) or you’ve discovered they told you a whopper of a lie (once more) and all you can do to get through the moment is breathe into a paper bag to prevent yourself from hyperventilating?
You always have a choice
It’s almost impossible to think rationally during moments of emotional crisis. But, even during times of unbearable anguish, there exists that fraction of a second when your cognitive mind says, “See, we knew this would happen. I don’t know why you won’t listen to me.”
But then, your traumatized subconscious mind tries to beat your cognitive mind to the ground. Almost instantly, you start wondering how you can make the narcissist accountable or how you can get back into their good graces so they’ll choose you over their affair partner.
These are your choice point events. And there are much larger forces at play. Choice points are not random episodes, but wake up calls. Times where we need to read the signs and make better choices.
Some choice points are extremely important in our lives… life-changing turning points. When we can bring our awareness to when important choice points are at hand, our lives can become greatly enriched with far wiser choices.
How to navigate your Choice Point moments
1 – Notice your “Not This” moments
In every toxic relationship, there comes a point where you look at your life and think, “Not This”. It could be a fleeting moment of awareness during your morning shower or when you’re being subjected to yet another Silent Treatment or Triangulation event.
We all have “Not This” moments during the course of toxic relationships.
“At some point in our lives (unless we have done everything perfectly…which is: nobody) we will have to face a terrible moment in which we realize that we have somehow ended up in the wrong place — or at least, in a very bad place.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Option A – It’s during our “Not This” moments that we can choose to start planning something different for ourselves. We may not know what that will look like, but in the moment, it doesn’t matter. All we know is “Not This”. There is no turning back.
Option B – Or, after the dust settles, we choose to “work on” the relationship because staying means less upheaval than leaving. At least with a toxic partner, we know what to expect. Nobody’s life is perfect, right?
Getting out on one’s own is often a scary proposition, so we choose to stay in “Not This”, thereby setting ourselves (and our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren) up for lives of chaos and emotional ruin.
2 – Don’t let old paradigms chart the course of your life
Most of us were raised with very limiting ideas and concepts, such as:
- Marriage is sacred and to leave that institution is unforgivable
- Having a job and bringing in a steady paycheck is the formula for success in life
- We shouldn’t let emotional setbacks delay our progression…any breakups or fights with significant others should be kept to oneself
- Suck it up and get over it
Subscribing to these beliefs is part of what’s wrong with our world today. They’re why most people never create a Plan B for their lives.
Perhaps you’ve had many “Not This” moments, but you are frozen because…
…your brain can’t bring itself to say “NOT THIS”, because that would cause a serious problem. The problem is: You don’t have a Plan B in place. This is the only life you have. This is the only job you have. This is the only spouse you have. This is the only house you have. Your brain says, “It may not be great, but we have to put up with it, because there are no other options.” You’re not sure how you got here — to this place of THIS — but you sure as hell don’t know how to get out…
So, your brain says: “WE NEED TO KEEP PUTTING UP WITH THIS, BECAUSE THIS IS ALL WE HAVE.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
You don’t have to have Plan B in place to make different choices. It only requires that you believe a different life is possible.
It requires you to stop for a second to observe what you are doing, feeling, and thinking. Allow inner experience to flow throw you. Decide what kind of person you want to be. Decide on actions and do them. Choose actions that will reflect your values.
Choice points are times when you can stop, reflect, and look for answers.
3 – Know that you are no less than other survivors
Ultimately, there are no defining differences between you and others who have made it through their own choice points.
I’ve seen doctors, attorneys, and therapists lose everything while choosing to stay with abusive partners.
I’ve seen people who were unemployed, on disability, and even a few people on the brink of homelessness decide “Not This” – and work toward building a different life for themselves after leaving narcissistic abuse.
Our circumstances don’t define us. Change is an act of will.
“Will is our acting upon and in our world. It is not wish, want, hope, try, maybe, should, kinda, soon, have to. It is the act that moves us from purpose and meaning through deliberation into choice and action. And right in the middle, between purpose and action is the Choice Point. There is always a fraction of a second, or a minute or days, when we are poised at the edge of a decision.” – Dorothy Firman, Ed.D
Choice points are precious moments where we get to identify the actions which will become our legacy. When we consider that moment between impulse and action, we then have a true choice. We can act in accordance with our values instead of against them. We can act in congruence with our deepest truth.
Copyright Kim Saeed 2018
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