When you carry anger due to a narcissistic mother, you are bound to have “highs and lows”.
One contributor to the “highs” is when you use your anger as energy to protect yourself or your loved ones from harm. One cause of the “lows”, however, is when the anger seems bottomless and out of control.
During the lows, you may feel your life is engulfed by anger–much like you once felt, or perhaps still feel, overwhelmed by your narcissistic mother.
One way to deal with the bad side of anger is to interrupt the stress response of fight, flight, or freeze. Decreasing toxic anger effects is done with a special form of breathing which will be explained below.
Many of us who grew up in a narcissistic family system are frustrated when asked to breathe in order to calm down. Our discomfort often shows up because we’ve learned only shallow breathing from the upper chest. Shallow breathing is necessary for a quick get away or to hide from danger.
Remember, growing up with a narcissistic mother put you in survival mode. Your response to a threat, then, was the instinctive fight, flight or freeze response. If stuck in a fight, flight or freeze mode due to our childhood challenges, we may not have received the benefits of deep breathing.
Fight allowed you to do battle, flight enabled you to retreat, and freeze helped you attempt to avoid negative attention, dissociate or hide. This instinctive stress response involves shallow breathing, is meant to be a short-term solution to an immediate danger and often associated with a response to trauma.
It makes sense, then, that breathing isn’t the first thing we think of to relax. Shallow breathing that feels only heart deep tends to raise the shoulders instead of using the diaphragm, a muscle designed to pull air deeply into the body, and only continues the stress response. Unfortunately, chronically breathing this way causes a feeling of being on guard and ready to spring to action, which can tire us out and make us irritable.
Instead, practice deep breathing otherwise known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing. Learn to redirect your breathing energy so you can move from surviving to thriving mode.
Deep breathing relaxes the body out of the primitive, reactive part of the fight, flight or freeze response mode and allows us to access the more advanced, proactive, strategic parts of our brain so that we can access wise mind or functional adult skills and capacities.
Breathe deeply, way down into your core. You should see your stomach push out to the world, as a drawer opening to fill with air. If you sit or stand in front of a full-length mirror, you should see the tummy go towards the mirror to take a breath in and push toward the spine to squeeze the air out. The shoulders should not move much at all. If they are, it is a sign you are practicing shallow breathing instead of deep breathing.
A great time to practice this one you’ve checked your form in the mirror is while waiting at a stoplight or in line. Practicing during times such as these has three benefits; you are using otherwise wasted time, you are reducing your stress response to waiting, and you are practicing a way to let go of negative feelings.
Part three of this article will cover another strategy helpful in reducing anger’s cost to you.