March 11, 2017

A Traumatic Election: Emotional Overwhelm & Voice


Portrait of Woman with Bowl of Cherries, artist unknown
As mentioned in my very-long-form commentary about our 45th president, writing allows me to communicate with others and with myself. It's funny, but during a typical day, my thoughts don't crystallize into words like maybe some people's do. Maybe some people ruminate in full sentences capturing winsome quotes for impromptu lectures. (Kids love those---use abundantly and often) In my case however, I'm feeling and thinking the whole day long yet oblivious to the content until typing at the keyboard or as of late: showering. And that is why scribblers like myself need to buy waterproof markers for jotting deep thoughts on bathroom tiles and shower glass doors. 

I'm a solitary person and appreciably modest. I like my privacy, no one in my family or neighborhood will disagree. So it's been rather disturbing that for the past year-and-a-half, I have been sharing my shower with 45. I've been unconsciously (I swear!!) inviting 45 into my bathroom more often than a prudish woman care admit. I open the shower door, poise my foot near the drain, and spy a creepy patch of mold in the corner and that's it. That's all it takes. A creepy patch of mold puts me in the mind of 45 and from there it's free association all the way to toenail fungus. That's not an odd connection if you think about it. 45 is very similar to toenail fungus: you hope you never get it; it's disgusting; you have no idea where it came from; you wish you could give it back to whomever gifted you with it in the first place; and, you'd spend your inheritance eliminating the problem if you could but you can't. So adaptable folks adjust, learning to live with shower molds and fungi---with the assistance of support groups helping one other survive the insufferable experience.

Actually, what truly happened as water trickled down my scalp was an out loud transformation of trapped feelings into conscious words. Words marched through my brain like a scrolling ticker tape and the relief of telling myself what I'd been thinking-on-the-sly made me laugh. Which hasn't happened for months because for months, I couldn't get past the emotional-overwhelm-stage. Being wordless is as exhausting for me as walking a tightrope over an alligator swamp. People like me aren't aware we're suppressing our thoughts and emotions until noticing we can't read anything longer than 145 characters, we're that tired. That's an exaggeration but still, concentrating long enough to read a book without skipping sentences or starting at the end, is pretty much hopeless when you're controlling yourself that tightly. I think the reason some of us unconsciously numb feelings is because we're fearful losing control, triggering the past and stirring things up which we don't have time for because we must stay on the lookout for post-election madness reminding us of post-narcissistic-relationship madness and rightly so. I have been miserably quiet for a year and not by choice. This is an unhealthy situation for a keyboard conversationalist.

It's awful living without words when you've trained yourself to say what you feel (an important step in recovery work) and trust people enough to tell them (another important step in recovery work). Empathy and kindness have rooted me to reality and connected me to people like nothing else. Not books nor clergy or therapists, nothing has grounded me like kindly people embracing my story and sharing their truths with me. People who cared enough to listen, even if they couldn't relate precisely, even if we disagreed! We needn't mirror one other perfectly---we only need to care enough to let people be or feel or think whatever they think or feel or are.

We treat other people the way we want to be treated and humanity blossoms, civilization flourishes. (An important truth to remember in the days of trumpism).

But the thing is, in order to restore our voice, we need to acknowledge our feelings and declare what we think. This integration process restores power to its rightful owner: Ourselves. We share heart-healing conversations with anyone who will listen and admit that sometimes, we can be our own worst listeners. I knew something was up last week when "Help Me!" appeared in the condensation on my shower walls. That's one way to get my attention!

This past year I have felt blocked and numb because I couldn't express myself with civility nor precision. My bumbling attempts to talk about the election only entrenched political differences between family and friends, losing common ground rather than finding it. Instead, (and it's my fault for underestimating my emotional vulnerability and over-estimating mutual good will), I leaped into the River of No Return without a bridge in sight. That is definitely not normal and ordinary behavior for me. When we see ourselves acting in contradictory ways, we gotta ask, "What-the-hell-is-going-on......with me?" Panic. Fear. Memories. Helplessness. Anger. Obsession. Confusion. Anxiety. Patriarchal Overlords. OhMyGodWeElectedMyEx. Loss. Grief. Irritability. DoomGloomBoom-We'reDead!

By the time my feelings have run their course from mild irritation to global annihilation, the worst is nearly over. For whatever reason or why, the next stage is a breakthough: the return of my sense of humor. Humor-in-the-face-of-fear has been a reliable companion, generally delaying her appearance until my Super Competent Self, the bridge-building-common-ground-finding-peacemaker, admits defeat. Then and only then will Humor answer distress calls. She showed up. I relaxed and breathed deeply.

This makes me wonder if I haven't been breathing for a year. Could be.

All I know is that after writing about 45 last week, my lungs gathered power like a steam engine with enough energy to write that long essay and cook dinner, too. And make yogurt, want my recipe? Yesterday, I shelved a stack of books that have been sitting in my family room for years, a ghostly "Sort Me!" etched in the dust. My conclusion and it's a viable one, is that writing about 45 and expressing my opinion made me feel better. Stronger. Capable. Slightly more fearless. When my thoughts drifted towards an inevitable world-war-three after dinner that night and emotional distress choked my breath, the vision of toe fungus anchored me to the present. I felt better again. Surely 45 has toenail fungus at his age. It breeds in golf shoes people say, though I don't know because I don't golf. I'm too busy washing soft hand towels for the people who love me.


The thing about attention-hungry narcissists is they take too much of everyone's time, too much of our attention is redirected from our lives to theirs. Too much attention is stolen from the task of growing up, getting older, embracing life's joys and life's miseries.  Our lives are diminished when a narcissist targets every fear and wish he knows we have, but we don't. We won't understand the interruption until noticing we're noticing 45's every gesture, speculating about his motives, ruminating and guessing and predicting his moves. When we're more focused on 45 than ourselves, (or our kids, our jobs, our wants and needs) that's when we know we're stuck in a narcissistic soap bubble dangerously circling the drain.

The good news is that bubbles aren't impossible to escape. The process starts with a list: how are you feeling? What are you feeling? Tell me your thoughts about toenail fungus... 

Me, I'm feeling angry. I'm angry because Americans are busy people with responsibilities and kids and showers to clean. We want to do the right thing by informing ourselves just enough to cast our vote. We trust political parties will block unqualified candidates and if an unethical narcissist is elected gawd forbid, our love for America means we'll give our support to the president because that's what Americans do. It's normal to hope for the best and grant a new president the benefit of our doubt, but these aren't normal times, are they?

I've lived through lots of elections and never suffered emotional distress, or fear, or shame for electing a man of such low character to represent Americans and serve as our children's role model. I hoped my son would grow up to be like President Carter or even Reagan but I hope to God nobody's child grows up to be like 45! I assume myself to be in the majority who say 45 should never have been a nominee but at this point, we're stuck with a scary man whose hulking presence triggers ptsd in people who've been traumatized by scary hulking men taking advantage of anyone with less power than themselves. A scary hulking narcissistic man who feels better after hurting people---a sure sign of narcissism if ever there was one. Nobody within his reach wants 45 to feel bad: a condition called "walking on eggshells" in the recovery circles I hang out in.

My nephew asked me why our family had never obsessed on prior presidents the way we've zeroed in on 45. Are we more politically responsible than we used to be? More civic minded? Are we addicted to 45? If so, the whole world is addicted to 45. We are a peoples obsessed.

John Wagner Family by Sheldon Peck
I told him, "Well, nations are like families, kiddo. When presidents and parents can't be trusted, everyone focuses on he-who-has-the-most-power. Kinda like a mouse and an elephant locked in a small room. If you're the mouse, you'd better notice every move the elephant makes. For the elephant? Not so much."

When parents aren't doing their job, the resulting dysfunction breeds obsession. Kids understand survival depends on predicting a parent's behavior because figuring out what happens next can make the difference between a safe day and a scary one. Children pay close attention to the things narcissistic parents do because they can't trust what narcissistic parents say. On the other hand, children also learn to dismiss hyperbolic threats as nothing more than letting off steam. "Oh, Dad's just mad. He's not really gonna build a wall and mortar his family behind bricks......is he?"  And the kids roll on the ground laughing at such nonsense until Dad comes home with a truckload of bricks and says they'll be paying for the wall with their inheritance 'cuz an honorable man keeps his promises. If you're confused right now...great...I've done an excellent job explaining narcissism.

Important Point to Remember:

People are not supposed to spend every waking hour making sure a parent won't hurt them, nor that an elected leader isn't robbing them blind, blowing up the planet, or treating citizens like objects to be moved around his Monopoly board. Presidents are supposed to be like Moms. If they're doing their job right, we won't even know they're there.

Mother and Child by Sturtevant Hamblin 

Trauma Reactions: Write It Out

A day without feelings is another win for 45

Now that 45 is president, he oh-so-much reminds people of things we don't want to remember so we numb ourselves. Any painful memory can be triggered by 45. Memories of trust betrayed; memories of scapegoating, chaos, and a distortion of truth so disorienting you can't trust your own mind. Memories of being lied to and cheated on and hurt by someone you cared about but could not get away from. We can't go No Contact with 45 any more than children can avoid an abusive parent. Instead, we look for ways to appease political tyrants---just like children appease tyrannical parents. That's how the narcissistic relationship felt as a kid and that's how it feels as an adult; however, our feelings aren't facts we're reminded; and we aren't kids anymore, we tell ourselves. We need to find ways to prevent ourselves from slipping into unhealthy behaviors like suppressing thoughts and numbing feelings---a useful tactic for children, a silencing and powerless tactic for adults. We may feel better in the short term but we are not safe. Speaking thoughtfully and honestly has never been more imperative than it is now.

Dorothea Dandridge
When we've suffered a trauma, we should also admit to ourselves that no one is ever over it. No, we learn to live with it, to make peace with our memories and agree to co-exist. We know the past can surprisingly reach into the now. Regression happens to everyone and it happens to me and I've devoted myself to recovery forever. I'd tell you how long but fear you might give up if you're told recovery can't be done in six months or a year. Fact: it can't be done in six months or a year.

One sign we might be dealing with trauma reactions is losing our voice. If you feel trapped in a wordless space yet don't know what you're feeling, get a waterproof marker or a pen or a keyboard. Write whatever you are thinking and feeling. Write without judgment, without restraint, and with honesty. Get in the shower and close your eyes, take a deep breath and let your thoughts float in the mist. Observe your thoughts, but observe them as a friendly witness, not a judge.

Writing about 45 last week eased some of my panic-inducing rumination---that hellish place where anxious feelings and dire thoughts lead to fear and confusion leading to powerlessness and stress. Allowing myself to criticize 45 was healing. (I was raised to be deferential and if you weren't raised that way, you might not understand how hard it is for obedient girls to defy authority...even when we're supposedly liberated). People who've suffered trauma are prone to emotional overwhelm and that's a serious disadvantage right now. In our divided nation, conversations require an appreciation for opposition and a careful articulation of differences. Talking candidly about 45 will be a learning curve and we won't be very adept in the beginning and that's okay. (My lousy attempts sharing political concerns without being overwhelmed by my emotions, has already proven that).

Many of us have experienced nasty consequences for speaking our mind when mutual good will is as scarce in society as kindness in 45's heart. But for some of us, speaking truth to power is the only way to counter our victimization, the only way to recover our full humanity. My hope is that writing about my personal reactions to a president who IS a narcissist, will assist in liberating your voice, too. You're not alone in your struggle to cope with a man who flaunts his political power by hurting the vulnerable and punishing the different----a situation so creepily familiar it's hard finding words to express our fears.

Now, about that shower mold...

Hugs all,
CZ


Resources

trumpism: "The belief system that encourages abrasive, pretentious, narcissistic behavior as the way to achieving money, fame and power."

GoodTherapy.org  "Emotional overwhelm, or a state of being beset by intense emotion that is difficult to manage, can often affect a person's ability to think and act rationally or perform in an efficient and functional manner. A state of emotional overwhelm may be caused by stress at home or work, traumatic life experiences, relationship issues, and much more." 

Creative Exercises for Emotional Overwhelm



14 comments:

  1. I don't know about Mr Trump (not being american). I just experienced that to defeat a narcissist (meaning to block his malfeasant acts and attitudes) you need to not do it alone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right. We need support and back-up because we are vulnerable to distrusting our own perceptions. It's not that easy finding people to back us up, though! Narcissists can be quite charming and persuasive. They've practiced manipulation skills for years and they seem to know how to undermine their critics.

      I believe it is crucial for people to understand pathology. To know the signs of pathology, how it works, now we react to someone with pathological narcissism. Most people assume pathological narcissists are normal with occasional warts and flaws like everyone else. This is not true and it is why so many of us are writing about narcissism as a normal trait AND as a pathological personality. We need to know what to watch for in order to protect ourselves and society.

      And you are right---we cannot do this alone.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
      CZ

      Delete
  2. That different people connecting the dots speak to one another is what the narcissist fears.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That may be why narcissists pit people against each other---a sure way to keep us from "connecting the dots."

      Delete
  3. Especially to the malignant one, it's like the light to a vampire.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ha! I've always loved the Vampire analogy, so descriptive of feeling "drained" and "soulless" overtime. Even a few psychologists have used this idea to explain the unhealthy relationship between a needy-narcissist and his/her victim. We need to stop sticking our necks out for them. ha!

      I created an artsy VampIre blog if you're interested in some of the psyche articles linked on the sidebar. I don't keep it current anymore but there are plenty of articles to read on a lazy afternoon. You can see it here:

      http://thewebofnarcissism.blogspot.com/

      Delete
  4. Then he disappears to start a new life somewhere else or, if he can't, he's neutralized for a while, adding lies over lies to cover his retreat.
    But don't expect eternal peace : he'll be reborn. Having no affects is a strenght. Collective awareness is a necessity because the narcissist is forever a threat. His modus vivendi is to hurt, probably because he doesn't feel any real positive connection towards anybody.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you, nat. We need other people to be aware also. Most of us aren't quite sure of our own perceptions and we need validation from others, especially at first. It helps immensely when someone recognizes narcissistic behavior and supports us while we end the relationship (or even while we stay in the relationship if we are able to affect the narcissist and s/he is taking responsibility for themselves.

      It sounds like you have been to hell and back with a "pathological narcissist". Keep learning, keep focused on what's best for you and above all, be kind to yourself. Anyone can fall in love with a narcissist--anyone. It's not hard---they can be very charming. What's hard is falling out of love with a narcissist. That takes strength as you said, perseverance and belief in yourself.

      Hugs,
      CZ

      Delete
  5. Me again...
    Validation is what we need first.
    Then " scientific " approach : observation, hypothesis, confirmation, this kind of approach... Feeling like an entomologist sometimes !
    A broader perspective that was sometimes preexisting but on mute mode.
    Also some kind of deepening of the spiritual side.
    All this to get out of the box of sufferings and stay outside.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have broken this down effectively. Yes, we need validation of our perceptions and experiences in order to move to the next stage: learning & observation. Maybe we have a general sense that something isn't quite right but we can't put our finger on what's wrong until our conclusions are based on psychological knowledge about narcissism. This can be a long process and painful at times; however, our lives are enriched in the process.

      People seem to be drawn towards a spiritual understanding of life once they've ended a narcissistic relationship; or working through their own unhealthy narcissism.

      Narcissism is a spiritual wasteland, the inability to derive meaning from life and relationships---with others and with the self. So you are right---the spiritual life awakens as narcissism is eliminated from our lives.

      Hugs
      CZ

      Delete
    2. "Narcissism is a spiritual wasteland, the inability to derive meaning from life and relationships---with others and with the self."
      So true. I've observed such an inability to derive meaning and contentment, in 2 two different persons, both on the far end of the continuum in the cluster B types.
      Nat

      Delete
    3. These people cannot not be antagonistic. They need conflict. Thats how the neuropath in their brain is build. That's how we feel we're heading towards failure whatever the effort.
      Have you observed this nonsatisfaction on their faces when everything is going well ? And this feeling of success in their eyes when they win and you lose ?
      Nat

      Delete
  6. My blog has been dormant until today. A lot of work to be done to turn as creative as bloggers like you can be.
    https://sunconnection.wordpress.com/
    Thanks for your generosity and your kindness. Nat

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nat! I added your blog to another website called "Writing About Narcissism." If you do not want to be listed yet, let me know and I'l remove your website.

      http://narcwriters.blogspot.com/

      Welcome!
      CZ

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...