Portrait of the Artist's Mother by Pablo Picasso
I am grateful to forum members who have continued teaching me about healing because of their willingness to talk with me and listen to me, too. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not one of those people who’s always read self-help books or contemplated my navel when dishes needed to be done and the kids wanted mama to read a bible story or two.
It’s been a whole new venue for me to write out my thoughts, discover and reveal my beliefs, to share my grief, my joy, my mistakes. I don’t just naturally think about my inner self as a normal course of the day. Unless of course, somebody drives over my face with their gaz-guzzling, no-brakes, rude and crazy race car. While I’m laying on the road figuring out if my legs’ll ever move again, I tend to focus on myself a lot. While I’m laying there, the conversation in my head is about whether or not I’m worth saving. Maybe that’s part of the debate some of us have after the accidental narcissist leaves skid marks on our hearts and we’re coughing and sputtering from the exhaust wondering if our arms are still moveable and oh, by the way, do I still have a face? Is there a good enough person left inside to make it worth the pain it’ll take to walk again or go out in public without wearing a paper bag on my head? Or should I just lie here and hope nobody notices I’m bleeding because if they stop, I’ll interrupt their day and that’d make me feel so bad for putting a total stranger out.
After weighing out the pros and cons as I lay in the gutter with one eye shut and the other one squinting in disbelief, I must’ve decided to get up off my arse and limp to the bookstore. Alls I know is that suddenly there I was, standing in front of the self-help section crying my eyes out and hoping nobody noticed salty tears were leaking behind my dark sunglasses. I always wore sunglasses to the Self-help section because horror it would be should anyone from my hometown have recognized me buying a book titled, Why Men Leave Women. It’s not hard to imagine the town gossip about That Girl of the 1970’s who became Displaced Homemaker without-a-clue-what-to-do-with-herself in the 2000’s.
I used to buy Steven King books and assorted novels about science fiction until noticing that my husband was an honest-to-God alien. Now I buy psychology books to figure out where I came from ‘cuz surely I don’t belong on planet Earth where infidelity, betrayal, abuse, neglect, hatred, vengeance, malice, disregard, poverty, oppression, patriarchy and political fakes are considered to be ‘normal’; and honesty, generosity, fidelity, loyalty, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, religious principles, hope, faith, and integrity are considered to be abnormal flaws requiring modification because otherwise, you won’t fit into society and oh by the way, did you know altruistic people who give away their time and money are narcissists?
Well, there are days when if what it takes to fit in to our society is to whittle away at character traits it takes a lifetime to create, then let this left-handed misfit remain an anomaly. But please don’t call me a narcissist because it reminds me how much work I need to do to educate my accusers about the difference between self-respect and a narcissistic pathology.
I began writing about Why Its Hard to Heal a few weeks ago and intend to compose an essay each time something strikes me as being relevant to what other people have gone through. Each of us is unique as a person but at the same time, we are all alike as victims. Some of my ideas will not reflect your experience. Others will. Let me say right up front that I do not pretend to have all the answers, nor do I assume my conclusions will be identical and true for every person who has been traumatized by the narcissistic relationship (be it in the family-of-origin or otherwise). My approach to healing has worked for me and if something I’ve written can help just one person out there in cyberland, then it is worth the time it takes to sit still, reflect on my journey, and type. I do want to thank all the people who are supporting my blog even though it’s not updated regularly. My hope is to Give Back, so thank you for being willing to receive within my time limits. Not everyone is, you know. Some people are good at giving but not so good at taking. Other people are good at taking and not so good at giving. Narcissists are the people we write about who keep us so busy giving, that we don’t notice our compassion meter is running out of gas. Who has time to pay attention to what they’re getting back if they aren’t inclined to view the world through tit-for-tat eyeballs? Givers will be ambushed if that is what the taker wants to do and until we are crushed on the side of the road, we likely won’t realize we should have protected our good hearts.
Which is why we feel like such dupes when we’re told the reason we were targeted by a narcissist is because we display the attributes our culture taught us were valuable and worthy of effort. When a person has always taken pride in being generous for example, the first reaction I had at least, was to stop being generous. My thinking went like this: “Had I been a bit more Machiavellian and less naïve, surely I’d not have been hurt the way I was.”
Like the typical betrayed victim, I flipped a 180 and began attacking myself for being too kind, too generous, too accepting, too forgiving which is only true if you are committed to someone who is mean, stingy, critical, unforgiving, un-accepting and did I mention self-centered? At the time, I could not see that I was rejecting my true self by denigrating every human value formerly held near and dear to my heart. My main concern was protecting myself from further harm because instinctually, I knew this was a fight for my soul’s survival. If that meant reading books that blamed me for being ‘nice’, then that’s what I did. For awhile. Until I felt safe enough in my own skin to start reclaiming character traits formed over a lifetime of moral choices. Moral meaning ‘alleviating the pain of others’ through conscious awareness of my impact and trying, oh so very hard: to do no harm.
Once the word ‘Nice’ no longer triggered survival instincts dosing my body with adrenalin, I could sit with the adjective ‘nice’ and let myself think about whether or not being nice was important to me. One thing I figured out PDQ was that I didn’t like people who weren’t nice and surely wouldn’t want to be like those not-nice but socially tough people who called themselves bitches because it meant nobody messed with them. Not even nice people who might make them Jell-O if they weren’t…ahem…such bitches.
I decided eventually that reclaiming Nice was valuable because it IS a part of who I am. A character trait modeled after very nice Aunties who woulda given anybody the shirts off their backs although the little kids would have been traumatized at family reunions had they done that. Maybe that’s why nobody asked because they knew they’d do it. Those very good-hearted relatives served as role models to lead me out of self-rejection because I wanted to be like them and not like the commercialized nasty people revered on reality TV. Those screaming, yelling, tough-mouthed bullies don’t have friends, I’m sure. They have adversaries and people they hold at arm’s lengths because if they don’t, they’ll stab each other in the back to get a higher rating from frightened people who think bullies are awesome.
I like people who are so NICE they cry when you cry and laugh when you laugh and care about the fact that your cake failed the night before and your kids had to eat withered fruit for dessert. So what do nice people do when you tell them your sob story? They make you a cake and bring it over the next night and it’s kinda sloppy and it’s sunken in the middle because they know the last thing a woman needs after a failure is a perfect cake on her doorstep.
I love nice people.
Another characteristic denigrated by people who are not-yet-safe-in-their-skin, is generosity. What’s to worry about being generous as long as you make friends with people who value generosity, too? I cannot bear the thoughts of befriending a tit-for-tatter who keeps score of his-or-her good deeds to make sure other people don’t get not one iota more than they deserve. That’s a crazy way to live although for awhile, I hated being a Generous person because it had made me vulnerable to selfish asses who only saw what he-or-she did and never what they had been gifted without expectation.
And you know? I did not like my new ‘stingy’ self very much because yes, I’ve always aspired to be a good person and everything it entails when you’re raised in a religious environment. It isn’t easy being ‘good’ when the list is longer than your uncle’s arm and written in small print but I was not about to throw away fifty years of effort simply because people were telling me generosity was a flaw. O yea? Who do you like hanging out with on Christmas Eve? Uncle Scrooge or my Aunt Ora? I can tell you that by the end of the night, my Aunt Ora makes you feel like a precious jewel because you know by the gleam in her eyes that she loves you with all the generosity a heart can hold. Generosity the likes of which my Aunt Ora has, is not an overnight decision. It’s a lifelong process. She’s 97 and she’s awfully nice.
By the way, she had a dark night of the soul herself, which only reassured me that people can be better than ever if they keep their eye on the right role model and not give up on themselves. So to all those people who view nice, generous, compassionate and kind people as suckers, go have a reunion of like-minded people and hey, be sure to take a rear view mirror so nobody can sneak up from behind and roll their eyes your direction. And you might also want to take an attorney because if your party is a flop, your guests will sue for pain and suffering, for sure. They definitely won’t be consoling you with reassuring words of comfort by saying the party was great when everyone knows it was terrible and had started counting the minutes they had to sit there until it was Nice Enough to say ‘good night’.
Reclaim yourself. Be proud of the attributes you worked hard to develop. Refine your characteristics that mark the best of human nature and continually strive to see through the narcissistic accusation that anything that is “worthy and of good report” is a character flaw or a mistake. Do not reject all that is good and beautiful about yourself simply because someone tried to destroy that which they could not create for themselves.
It is not goodness that ruins relationships. It’s narcissism.