When the PTSD Hits (Warning: Potential Triggers)

I did not have a full-blown PTSD episode yesterday. I was able to navigate it and stay present.

I had a toothache and I went to the dentist. In testing cold sensitivity, he ran a q-tip with some liquid nitrogen on it across my tooth.

The cold was horrible. I felt violated and angry to a degree that didn’t make any sense to me.

And then I had a flashback. Oh Lord, do I hate flashbacks.

Any arbitrary thing can trigger an old feeling. I’ll suddenly be back in that situation, feeling all the old feelings, as well as the present-day rage that I didn’t have the luxury of addressing at the time.

A Twist on Life, “Narcissistic Recovery: Rage

He and I were sitting next to each other at the bar. He was bantering with the bartender.

The bar was only a couple blocks from my office. I had just gotten off work and was settling in, and was not mentally present yet.

I did not understand why, shortly after I sat, my lap became freezing cold.

No, wait. It wasn’t my “lap.” That would minimize the experience. Calling it my “lap” doesn’t do service to the horrible, shocking sensation of feeling my thighs, pubis, and labia awash in a kind of cold I had never before experienced or imagined existed.

I jumped up and was visibly irate.

The Narcissist laughed at me, as did the bartender.

“It’s just liquid nitrogen,” they said. “It won’t hurt you,” they said.

The bartender had spilled liquid nitrogen on the bar and it had landed in my lap. I hadn’t seen it happen, but I assumed it was an accident and tried to not lash out.

I bit my tongue and sat back down. I expressed to the Narcissist how uncomfortable I was and how horrible a feeling it had been. I was upset. My genitalia was uncomfortable and there was nothing I could do about it.

The Narcissist only smirked.

I could feel the cold on the skin and muscle of my most private, sensitive areas. I could feel it in the cloth of my jeans. It was not fading away. While it didn’t hurt physically, the emotional pain was horrible.

I thought it had been an accident but they were laughing in a way that made me doubt myself. They weren’t moving on or acting contrite like folks do when they make a mistake.

I recognized I wasn’t in a safe space. I was being laughed at and used. I felt violated. Intense discomfort in my genitalia was being used by two men as a source of amusement.

The bartender wandered off to serve other patrons. The Narcissist was prattling on about something and I knew I needed to focus on him or I would enter dangerous territory. My priority had to be him, regardless of the distress I was feeling.

I saw the Narcissist smirk and give a quick nod to the bartender, who was out of my range of vision. The horrible cold hit my lap a second time.

This time, I knew it was on purpose. I jumped off my barstool again, furious.

They didn’t try to hide that they were laughing at my discomfort and displeasure.

The bartender slunk away. I believe he suddenly recognized I wasn’t in on this game. I believe he saw what he was participating in and felt appropriately abashed.

The Narcissist convinced me to sit back down, promising it wouldn’t happen again. I was upset but knew there was nothing I could do about it. Any attempt to portray myself as having been wronged would result in a days-long battle in which I would suffer far more than him.

I knew better than to try to get an apology and knew wanting one would only result in further distress on my part. 

The Narcissist was delighted to have provoked a reaction. He repeatedly assured me that liquid nitrogen “wouldn’t hurt me” while continuing to laugh at me and my discomfort.

Instead of recognizing my feelings, he expressed he was upset that I was “no fun.”

The Narcissist and the bartender used me as amusement and ignored my boundaries. It involved my vagina. Their prank was cruel and upsetting even if it “wasn’t going to hurt me.”

To the Narcissist, I was a plaything that had proven disappointing. I only existed for his pleasure and I hadn’t performed well. This was upsetting to the Narcissist. That’s all that mattered to him.

Of course, I would feel violated and filled with rage in remembering the incident.

I am proud that I didn’t lose myself in the remembered emotions. I am shaking with rage as I write the story, but I am not losing myself in the memory.

My world no longer includes the Narcissist. Yes, it’s horrible that I experienced that. Yes, it is completely valid to be furious about it.

At the end of the day, though, it’s only an example of the Narcissist’s narcissistic tendencies. That’s all. It doesn’t have to affect me anymore.

As I wrote about in Narcissistic Recovery: Rage, when I get triggered like this I find it helpful to break down the remembered experience.

I identify the behavioral patterns and themes that cause me rage. This helps me detach from the memory and stay grounded in the present.

The 9 criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM”) (as documented on Medscape) comes in handy for this purpose. (Link: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1519417-overview)

The Narcissist exhibited five of the nine NPD criteria that night:

    1. Desire to be seen as “cool” by the bartender (need for excessive admiration)
    2. Bonding with the bartender because they both had some vague knowledge of the properties of liquid nitrogen (A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions)
    3. Willingness to use me to achieve his aims (interpersonally exploitive behavior)
    4. Not caring about my experience of the situation (lack of empathy)
    5. Feelings of justification in treating me as he did (sense of entitlement)

I could get lost in anger about him having Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

It would serve no purpose to do so. I would only hinder my progress in healing from narcissistic abuse.

I choose to be grounded and present, and see this memory for what it is:

Further evidence that leaving him was the right decision.


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