Photo credit: Greg Lightner
Our Winter Entrepreneurs are Energetic War Heroes. They are the pioneers in a new industry of healers emerging from both sides of the coin: the traditional healing arts and the western clinical approach. Ranging in age from 20s to 50s, these bright health warriors are sharing a little bit about their journeys to a new health care paradigm.
SYJ: Thanks for being with us today, Meredith. First, give us a bite-sized introduction to your work.
Meredith Miller of Inner Integration: My mission is to bridge the gap between trauma and purpose. I am a coach and I help survivors to self-heal after relationships with psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists.
SYJ: What inspires your work in this field? Why have you chosen to focus in this way?
Meredith: I believe narcissistic abuse is THE thing that’s wrong in the world, and everything else stems from there. When I look around at the problems I see in society, families, and interpersonal relationships, this is the underlying pattern that shows up. The more aware we are of these patterns collectively, the more we are able to change what’s not working in our world. We are all in this together.
SYJ: Can you explain a little bit about how narcissism interplays with our society?
Meredith: There are people without conscience in many positions of power – in government, banking, corporations, military, religious institutions and spiritual communities. Conscience is the root of empathy, love, compassion and healthy emotional attachment. Essentially, our conscience is what makes us human. Without it, a person can exploit others without feeling the pangs of guilt.
It’s very dangerous when the powers that be have no conscience. The result is unnecessary suffering and injustice in the world through the exploitation of this planet and all her inhabitants.
Watching mainstream media (MSM) is often an experience of narcissistic abuse. Emotional manipulators use a technique called gas-lighting — an aggressive way of distorting another person’s perception of reality. For example, MSM carefully crafts talking points and controlled narratives that are then repeated as if to induce a hypnotic trance. Most viewers subscribe to the illusions and believe what is portrayed on TV. MSM can then indirectly influence the behavior of viewers by driving their emotional states.
SYJ: And how to you see narcissistic abuse playing out on an interpersonal level?
Meredith: Much like on the societal level, the nature of narcissistic abuse on an interpersonal level is challenging to recognize. It’s subtle, invisible, but very real. It usually doesn’t leave physical bruises and broken bones. Yet it can leave a person feeling like they’re losing their mind, their self-esteem and self-worth, even their entire sense of self.
Most targets of narcissistic abuse have no idea what’s happening to them until they somehow stumble across a keyword that leads them down the rabbit hole. Like most people who grew up in a family with narcissistic abuse, once I finally recognized it, it was like my whole life started making sense.
SYJ: Right, like the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. Can you share with us how someone in an abusive dynamic can reach that place of clarity you’re describing?
Meredith: It’s very important to understand the Big Picture. The first thing that most survivors do is learn to identify the emotional abuser(s) in their life and recognize the signs as well as the relationship dynamics involved. Naming it as abuse and putting a label on the manipulator is key to recognizing the truth of who and what we are actually dealing with. The acceptance of that truth is how we break free from the trauma bond.
However, it’s important not to stop there. It’s easy to put the problem outside of ourselves and blame others, which is true on one level. Yet until we accept 100% responsibility for our own lives, nothing really changes and we will keep repeating the same old patterns.
Learning about codependency is needed so we can understand that we are not helpless in the dynamic. When we realize that we have a choice, we can then choose to opt out and take our power back.
SYJ: So we’ve arrived at the codependency door. Open that door for us. For those who don’t know, what is codependency?
Meredith: A codependent is the ideal partner for the emotional manipulator. An adult codependent is usually a product of a dysfunctional family where the parents (one or both) were a narcissist, psychopath, sociopath, histrionic, borderline personality, alcoholic or addict.
The formation of codependency happens when the child learns that they are only loved and valued when they meet the expectations, demands and needs of the parent(s). As adults, codependents become fixers and caretakers, often with a high degree of empathy and relationship investment.
SYJ: And how does a codependent end up seemingly stuck in the abusive dynamic?
Meredith: Well, the abuse only works when we play the game – when we subscribe to the abuser’s reality, or enable it through rationalizations (“he probably didn’t mean it that way”), excuse-making (“she had a rough childhood”), and second-guessing our own intuition (“maybe he’s right and I’m just being hypersensitive.”)
SYJ: How do we “end the game”?
Meredith: Everything changes when the codependent forms a stronger sense of self, healthy boundaries, and a self-care practice. When we treat ourselves well, it’s so obvious when someone else isn’t treating us well. As the codependent gets healthy, the relationship with the narcissist falls apart. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but becoming a survivor is about understanding our own part in enabling the abuse.
SYJ: If you will, please describe the abuse cycle as you would to your clients.
Meredith: The abuse cycle involves two phases: idealization (AKA “love-bombing”) and devaluation. It’s also known as the “sweet-mean” cycle. At first, the abuser secures the target with flattery (in the form of words, acts, gifts and/or sex.) The intensity of this stage confuses the target into thinking that there is more intimacy than there really is.
Brain chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine intensify and the target becomes addicted to these feelings, which are often a distraction from the devastating sense of loneliness or rejection caused in childhood (or, in some occasions, right after experiencing a huge loss.)
This first stage lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to a few years, depending on how soon the target becomes dependent on the abuser and whether the abuser is grooming the target for short or long-term abuse.
As soon as the abuser perceives that the target is hooked or locked in, the devaluation stage begins. Now the abuser puts down the target for the very things that were flattered at the beginning, often the things the target is most ashamed or self-conscious about. In this devaluation stage, the target usually starts working harder to win the approval of the abuser and to get back to “the good times” at the beginning of the relationship.
SYJ: How does an abuser sustain the dynamic? And why do so many fall prey to the abuse for so long, even when they know they don’t like it?
Meredith: The flip-flopping between the two stages becomes like an intermittent reinforcement. The abuser may go back and forth from idealization to devaluation in the same week, the same day, even the same conversation.
This is what causes cognitive dissonance and a short-circuiting of the brain as we try to hold onto two contradictory thoughts at the same time. The cycle is like an emotional black hole, sucking the target in deeper and deeper, making it all the more difficult to get out.
Most survivors have a hard time admitting to themselves that they’re being abused because “sometimes s/he is kind,” but it’s important to realize that that’s just part of the cycle. These perceived acts of kindness are a key component of the Stockholm Syndrome (trauma bond) formed in abusive relationships. The abuser knows how to dose the target in order to keep the hope alive.
SYJ: What are some common symptoms of narcissistic abuse our readers can look for?
Meredith: The top 5 symptoms that I see among survivors of narcissistic abuse are confusion, brain fog, anxiety, obsession (with the abuser), and exhaustion. The primary symptoms are psychological, but over time when the mind is overloaded with stress the body may somaticize the stress and manifest digestive issues, headaches, chronic illness, auto-immune diseases and many other health issues.
Survivors of narcissistic abuse often describe how they’re on a roller coaster ride of emotional intensity, even long after they leave. Common phrases I hear from survivors are, “I felt like I was going crazy,” “I feel like it’s all my fault,” and “I have no idea who I am any more.”
SYJ: How did you first get involved with this realm of healthcare?
Meredith: I had been into holistic healing and personal development for almost a decade, but hadn’t identified my niche focus until a year ago. There was a huge part of my own wound that I still needed to uncover.
In October 2014, I left a psychologically abusive relationship to go to Peru with the intent of working with ayahuasca and wachuma (Native psychedelic medicine plants) in order to figure out what in me was attracting narcissists and other emotional abusers to my life.
During my medicine experiences, I had some major insights and breakthroughs about the “Decades of Devastating Loneliness” that had haunted me my whole life and caused me to get hooked into abusive types. The medicine works like a mirror. It doesn’t heal us, but rather invites us to face our pain and the very things we spend a lifetime running from, so we can accept our truth and set ourselves free.
I spent the next year in Peru working with the medicine and meeting several sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists and borderline personalities. It was the cosmic equivalent of an immersive language program. The medicine provided me with spiritual and emotional understanding, and then the universe showed me first-hand how narcissistic abuse works in all sorts of relationships. It was painful and devastating, yet I believe those culminating experiences were divinely orchestrated trainings to help me hone in on my calling.
SYJ: And once you felt that calling, did you go straight into personal coaching and teaching about narcissistic abuse? What were your next steps?
Meredith: At the end of 2015 I had an unexpected return to the States, and everything came full circle during my PTSD crash. There was a defining moment when I finally saw my mother for who she is.
I made the mistake of sharing my hopes and dreams with her, and how I was going to make it happen. She was exasperated. “Why are you even considering this healing thing again? It’s never worked before! Why would it work now?!”
In that moment, for the first time in my life, I finally gave myself permission to be me, and to stop seeking approval from others. In the following months, I began researching narcissistic abuse while setting new boundaries with toxic people. That’s when my whole life began to make sense and everything started coming together.
In January of 2016, I made my first video describing what it’s like to be in a relationship with a narcissist (“Did This Happen To You?”), which now has over 30,000 views. It’s raw. It’s real. It’s authentic and I think that’s why so many people commented that they felt like I was describing their own life.
Since then I have been able to help thousands of people transform their lives through my educational videos, digital training courses and online coaching by providing a map and leading by example.
I had no idea where this was going when I started, but I truly feel I have found my calling. I am deeply grateful for this journey and I know that I’ve only just begun helping survivors of narcissistic abuse to bridge the gap between trauma and purpose.
SYJ: What is the most universally experienced after-effect that you have witnessed in your work with abuse survivors?
Meredith: PTSD is the predominant aftermath, likely a more complex form known as C-PTSD due to the ongoing nature of the relationship and the repetition of abuse with different abusers over the years.
The injury to trust is huge. The survivor loses trust in self, in others and in the universe/God. The survivor doesn’t know how to trust his/her own feelings, emotions, thoughts, needs and perception of reality. Usually people tell me, “I don’t know how to trust my judgment any more.” But then I ask them if at any point during the relationship they had an intuitive feeling that something was wrong. I’ve never met someone who didn’t say they definitely felt it at some point, but doubted themselves.
SYJ: And at that point, what do you say to your clients?
Meredith: I remind them that their intuition still works, and it only goes downhill when we second-guess ourselves. To restore core trust after abuse, it’s imperative to start acting upon our own intuition. Every time we make a decision to honor our intuition, we rebuild another layer of trust. It all starts with the self.
Due to the invisible nature of this form of abuse, when a victim seeks help, the PTSD is often overlooked, even by many mental health professionals. But when the root cause isn’t addressed, the survivor stays stuck in the old patterns, and worse yet, feels like “it’s all my fault.”
SYJ: What was the hardest realization/stage in your personal recovery from abuse?
Meredith: For me this was facing the bittersweet nature of truth. The truth is what sets us free, but we can also feel so angry, sad, and devastated when we realize that something we believed in was all an illusion. It’s like finding out Santa Claus isn’t real. It’s the visceral acceptance (not just the intellectual understanding) of our truth that allows us to break free.
SYJ: Can you tell us about boundaries?
Meredith: Yes. It’s dangerous not to have boundaries. Those of us raised in families with narcissistic abuse patterns learned that we didn’t have the right to have boundaries because when we tried to uphold them, we were punished, violated, or shamed.
Boundaries are an essential part of self-care and healing the patterns of codependency. While most codependents have been conditioned to put others’ needs first, which appears to be a spiritual and noble act, Canadian physician Dr. Gabor Maté reports that compulsive people-pleasing behavior is actually correlated with a higher risk for developing chronic illnesses. Learning to say NO when we need to choose our own wellbeing first is important.
SYJ: Especially since the “free love” movement of the 60s, we’ve often seen boundaries being discouraged and antagonized in our spiritual communities. What can you say about that?
Meredith: Unfortunately spiritual communities and religious organizations are prime environments for emotional manipulators to seek out targets. Narcissists masquerading as spiritual students may tell their partner that they can’t be monogamous or reliable because they practice “non-attachment.” This can make the partner feel inferior, needy and wrong for wanting a healthy emotional bond, which is a basic human need.
Narcissistic “gurus” are cropping us as well. Non-judgment could be a positive belief; however, it can be hijacked and easily manipulated by an abusive “guru” who conditions his students to believe they are unworthy of the teachings if they judge or question him. That same guru could preach compassion, and how we are all deserving of compassion, in order manipulate students into tolerating the abuse.
SYJ: Can you share some words of encouragement for those who may just be waking up to this reality, and are beginning to recognize the symptoms in their relationships, friendships and family lives?
Meredith: First, you are not alone. There are millions of us survivors of narcissistic abuse. If you feel alone, check out some online support groups and see which ones resonate with you. Do some research on the kind of relationships characterized by narcissistic abuse, and you’ll realize you’re not alone and you’re not crazy. It wasn’t your fault, but you can change it.
Transformation starts within you. You’ve got to begin somewhere. Remember that it’s always darkest before the dawn. You might get set back and have to start over, and that’s okay. It’s in those moments when we’ve hit the bottom of the bottom that we have the greatest opportunity to summon our inner courage and do something bold, because there is nothing left to lose.
Never, ever give up on yourself. Don’t give up on your dream. Don’t believe people who don’t believe in you. You have no idea how many lives you may be able to impact by sharing your message with the world.
SYJ: What is a favorite inspirational quote that helps you remember your mission here in this world?
Meredith: “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” ~Carl Jung
On my homepage you can enter your name and email to get your personal login info and access to my course, Fundamentals of SANA. This 3-part video training is helpful for newbies starting the self-healing journey from the ground up.
Get free access here: www.InnerIntegration.com
You can also subscribe for lots of free educational content in English and Spanish: www.youtube.com/c/InnerIntegration
Please show your support by “Liking” Inner Integration on Facebook: www.facebook.com/InnerIntegration
Big hugs to you! Meredith Miller, Inner Integration