Learning to separate feelings about the past from needs in the present is the biggest gift you can give your future. Hearing that you need to separate feelings from needs might sound a bit odd coming from a counsellor, but bear with me.
In non-narcissistic interactions, bringing your emotional experience into things can be a great way of engaging understanding and empathy. If you can make them understand WHY this matters to you (linking it to past experiences, your own life experiences) then they’ll understand how much your needs matter and are reasonable.
You’ve been hurt. Really hurt. There are feelings of betrayal, disbelief and shock. You are still trying to process the injustice of it all and, for those of you coparenting, the injustice is ongoing. You aren’t just trying to process past pain, and what has been done to you. You are processing present pain. And this can really add to the confusion every time you interact with your partner.
For many of us, this is a confusing trial by fire – we are learning to set boundaries that we never wanted to have to feel as necessary. And it’s hard to set boundaries in the present, when we are still catching up with our past. And yet it’s crucial.
Our partner is not the safe place to express our emotional pain. The only thing we can do with them, is boundary set around our present day needs. And separating our expression of present day need from our past pain means we can set goals that are much more achievable.
Boundary setting now needs to be much more about meeting our actual needs – not my need for them to like/agree/support me – but my need for financial commitments to be kept or contact arrangements to be consistent. If I can put aside my need for affirmation, I am now free to focus on the ‘long game’. I might feel pain and frustration about delays on child maintenance payments but communicating this only fuels their power.
So focusing on present day need might free me up to get in touch with external mediators or communicate my willingness to do so by a certain date if agreement hasn’t been reached by then. None of this will meet me in my emotional pain. But it will move me towards present day need, and future freedom. And separating out my emotions from the situation will protect me, as well as focus me on MY goals.
Gift yourself time with an understanding friend or family member, or book time with a counsellor, to unpack and make space for your past pain. This gifts you not only processing time and self-compassion, but also the ability to separate out past pain and present need. You can feel more empowered to enter negotiations or boundary work focused on your desired outcome in the PRESENT – and you aren’t going to let the narcissist in your life drag you under with pain from the past again and again.
Clarity comes when you are able to focus on what you need NOW, and stands strong in the face of gaslighting, smoke-screening, emotionally triggering behaviour. Gifting separate spaces to past pain, and present need can help you move forward into the life you want.