It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Unloved

It is almost Christmas again. For many people, this is a time of good cheer, love and togetherness. For others, not so much.
I am not talking about the homeless or the non-Christian or those incarcerated or locked away in mental institutions. I am not talking about the poor, those who can barely afford to eat, let alone waste money on a tree and gifts that are not strict necessities. I am not even talking about the Scrooges and Grinches among us. I am talking about the unloved.

Unloved people fit into every niche and category of human being you can name. They are atheists and devout followers of a faith, they are Christian and non-Christian. They are rich and they are bone-chillingly poor. They live in palatial mansions and in cardboard boxes. They wear castoffs from dumpsters and they wear designer labels. They surround us, they are our co-workers and our neighbours, the strangers in the street, the acquaintance at the park, the cop on the corner, your hairdresser, your barber, your dental hygienist, your vet. They surround you on any given day, like strangers in a crowded elevator. And they are completely invisible to us.
Some of them react to their status with churlishness. “Happy Holidays!” you say, extending a greeting intended to include those who do not identify as Christian and their celebrations as well. “Don’t ‘Happy Holidays’ me,” they snarl back. “It’s ‘Merry Christmas’!” They don’t hold doors for those whose arms are too laden with packages to do it easily themselves, they don’t step aside so a child can see Santa at the mall, they don’t smile and return the love of the season because, feeling unloved, they have none to share.
Some react to their status with manipulation. They earned their status with it and they keep themselves in denial with it. Having driven love away with their manipulations and petty cruelties, they have cast a web of fear and obligation and guilt out to snare the unwary. They will draw you in to a nest of festivities planned to create an atmosphere they can pretend is love. Giving none, they receive none back, just the pandering of those who continue trying to squeeze love from a heart of stone and the obligatory appearance of those who fear repercussion for their failure to attend the command performance.
Others react to their status with fear and longing. Most of the year they keep it together but during the times perceived as “family togetherness” periods, they feel their isolation most acutely. Even the crumbs they receive, from last minute invitations to thoughtless gifts, from negative attention to being talked over and ignored, they believe that the little they receive is better than the nothing they would surely get if they were to demand the respect that was due them. They fear they are not loved and they will do anything they can in order to avoid confirming that fear.
The unloved are legion. They are the children who got socks and underwear under the tree when the siblings got coveted toys. They are the children who reaped lavish heaps of costly gifts but who are merely props in the dramatic script of the adults in their lives, fawned over for photo opportunities, badgered to bring home brag-worthy grades, valued only for what they can do, not simply for their existence.
They are the wives and husbands who endure abusive spouses rather than be alone, the mothers and fathers who vow to give their children better than they received but who simply go to the opposite extreme, giving their children what they need to give them, not what the children individually need. They are the people who don’t recognize love when it walks into their lives and sits down next to them because they don’t really know what it looks like. Their definitions of love were gleaned from their experiences of abuse and being ignored, of being engulfed and overwhelmed, of being prized for their performance but never for the simple fact of their existence.
The unloved suffer. Often in silence, occasionally dropping hints in the hope that someone will hear the echo of emptiness inside them. Afraid that others will feel threatened by their emptiness, they seldom speak of it and instead, silently hope for the miracle that is someone who can hear them. Their pain is smothered, expressed in a sigh or a wan smile, released only to run in the privacy of darkness. Sometimes it escapes, alarming witnesses, generating distance at a time that closeness is most needed. The pain lies buried, often forgotten, existing as an undercurrent of fear that permeates all aspects of life. Some allow the fear to control them, others rebel against it, but it shades life with its grey pallor.
The unloved are unloved by themselves. They have accepted their unacceptability. They live in the guilt of being flawed. They unlove themselves as much or more than others do. They are, in truth, their own worst enemies because as long as they do not love themselves, they validate those others who do not love them. And at no time of the year is this lack of love felt more than now, during the season in which we are reminded by heartless corporations and soulless sellers that this is the season of love, to give to show your love, view your gifts as an indicator of how much you are loved.
But when you don’t love yourself, nobody else can love you. You cannot feel the love of another if you cannot feel your own. You cannot rejoice in it, embrace it, revel in it when you cannot see it or feel it or touch it. No matter how much love another has for you, you cannot relate to it if you do not have self-love. If you do not value yourself, you do not respect the value others have for you. Love begins at home, within you, with you loving yourself and believing that you are worthy of being loved. It all starts with you.
So in this holiday season, remember that those who taught you that you are not worth loving, who viewed you as burdensome chattel rather than beloved child, those who gave you manipulation and control instead of love and understanding—they have earned their aloneness. Not only have they earned it, they have spent all of the years right up to this moment telling you that when it comes to love and respect for you, they are a dry well, an empty cup, a drained basin. They never had it for you, they don’t have it now, and the future cannot be any different. Hope will bring you back, again and again, but there will be nothing where there was never anything in the first place.
You didn’t cause this. It is not something you did when you were five months or five years or fifteen. It is them: they decided, from the moment you were a reality to them, the role you would play in their lives—not the role they would play in yours. Your role was created and cast with no consideration for you and your personality, sensitivities, wants, likes, fears, or desires. You were a lump of clay to be moulded to fit the role they created and forced to conform through any means acceptable to them. Depending on their own peculiarities, those means could have ranged from emotional privation, manipulating, shaming, guilt, gaslighting, untruths, and even physical attack. Their objective had nothing to do with helping you to develop into the best you that you could be, it was entirely about moulding you to be who and what they wanted to fit the role they created for you.
If you are still feeling unloved, it is because you are. It is because you bought into their bullshit and have not yet let it go. You are unlovable because you did not fulfil the roll to their expectations—and you have accepted and embraced that.
But the truth is, they are wrong. Their proper role was not to create a role for you and force you into it, their role was to discover you, and then your talents, and help you develop them, and to guide you, gently and lovingly, into the society in which you live. Their role was to focus on you and your needs and to adapt their lives to care for you and support you and assist you in becoming the best you that you can be. Instead, they sacrificed you on the altar of their own glorification. They were more important than you. You were a tool, a means to an end, a way to gain whatever they sought in the form of narcissistic supply. It is not your fault—it never was. They had a choice of who to put first and they chose themselves every single time.
This is the season of love, the perfect time to start loving yourself. The ideal time to stop measuring yourself against the yardstick of their perceptions and self-serving evaluations and to start creating your own. This is the time to stop self-sabotaging yourself because feeling guilty is more familiar than feeling self-pride. It is the perfect time to look to pleasing yourself rather than others. It is the ideal moment for you to learn and to practice the use of the most powerful word in the English language: NO.
When they disparage you, tell them no by walking away. Even if you are sitting on the floor surrounded by boxes and wrapping paper, even if you are sitting at the table with a half-eaten plate of turkey, even if you are standing in the kitchen with your hands full of hot food—now is the time to refuse to accept disparagement, belittling, scorn, and derision. This is not the time for words that can be twisted and turned back on you, this is the time to take their unloving behaviour and, rather than accepting and amplifying it, reject it. Reject it in the most powerful way you can: walk away.
On Christmas Day, 1990, my mother-in-law leaned across the dinner table in the middle of the meal, and told her son that, because he was refusing to sign legal papers without having an attorney read them first, he was stupid. And she repeated the word, shaking her dinner knife in his face, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” He was dyslexic and had trouble reading, so this accusation cut deep. The hurt on his face was plain. I knew nothing of narcissists in those days, but I knew I was not obligated to tolerate her behaviour, her hurting my husband, who had grown up to be a fine man in spite of her. I got up from the table and went to the coat closet, took out our jackets and my handbag, got the car keys, and walked out the door. It took her eleven months to realize we weren’t going to call her and make nice. She never called him names again—she knew we would not accept it any longer.
The most powerful message you can give a person is with your actions, not your words. When people treat you badly and you accept it, you laugh it off, you choose to ignore it, you are giving them permission to continue. When you say something to them, you not only give them an opportunity to ridicule you or put you down, you give them an opportunity to tell you why you deserve to be treated badly.
But when your actions speak for you, they cannot ignore you or try to talk you around. I had a tenant who was abusive to me every time she called me on the phone. When I started hanging up on her, however, whenever she was rude, it didn’t take her long to realize that she had to civil to me if she wanted me to hear her. Your actions are your most power message: do not permit them to abuse you and, one way or another, they will stop.
Sometimes the way they stop is the way my mother did it: she disappeared me (and my children) from her life. We did not hear from her at all—no cards, no calls, no gifts. We ceased to exist until the day came that we were useful to her. When you determine to stop the unloving from abusing you, this could be your outcome. My daughter has done the same. I am no longer useful to her, so she no longer has anything to say to me.
Thinking about such an outcome can be very painful. Nobody likes rejection. But if you put it into perspective, it is the kindest thing they can do for you, albeit unwittingly so. It saves you years—even decades of repeated little rejections, back stabs, insults, and abuses. It gives you the truth in one huge bombshell: they don’t care about you, writ large. The truth, in all its ugly glory, finally in your hands.
So, what do you do with it? You first recognize that they are the ones who are flawed, not you. They cannot appreciate anything beyond their own narrowly defined, selfish and self-centred perceptions. They will take anyone who fits their mould: my daughter found herself a surrogate mother who would behave the way she wanted me to behave, who put no limits or restrictions on her, who wouldn’t make her go to school, who supplied her with drugs and alcohol and did not act like a parent. Your Ns may do the same: find a substitute for you who will play the role. My mother substituted my daughter for me—my daughter played the role where I insisted on being myself.
You find out who you really are and you embrace it. You find your real self, your real tastes, your real likes, dislikes, values and beliefs. Some of them may mirror your Ns and that is OK, some of them will be diametrically opposed—and that is OK, too.
You embrace your real self, the one who doesn’t share their ethics or tastes, the one who is different from what they have tried to shape you to be. You love what you learn about yourself even if it goes contrary to what you have been taught to believe—create your own beliefs, beliefs that feel right to you. Listen to information contrary to what you have been taught, think about it critically, accept what feels right to you and discard the rest. Let yourself become the real you and love that new person for no other reason than it is you, the real you, the you that you were always meant to be.
When you love yourself, you feel whole. Even if you are not truly whole yet, when you love yourself, you feel that way.
When you love yourself you open the door to others to love you. Not exploit or manipulate or control you—to love you. New people come into your life and love comes with them. Sometimes romantic love, sometimes platonic love, but it is all love.

The way for you to no longer be one of the unloved starts with loving yourself, wholly, completely, and unconditionally. It opens the door to a whole new world.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Another year, another holiday season

In South Africa we call it “The Festive Season.” South Africa is a melting pot nation that takes its mélange of cultures and faiths with serious respect. The season usually begins in November with fireworks for Diwali and Guy Fawkes Day and moves on through a variety of holidays until after New Years. So serious is South Africa about its multicultural Festive Season that the country virtually shuts down from 15 December until around 15 January. Everybody goes on holiday, which creates some interesting situations: you own a busy B&B in a holiday mecca like Cape Town and your plumbing clogs up—and your plumber has gone to Durban for the month…
But despite its differences, when it comes to families—particularly dysfunctional families—South Africa is no different from any other place on the planet: if you are estranged from a toxic, dysfunctional family, you are again going to be faced with the clueless, well-meaning twits who find this the appropriate time to poke their noses into your personal business and rag on you about reconciling with your noxious and feckless family members. And, no matter how successful you were in getting them to understand—or at least accept—your situation last year, this year it is like their brains has been wiped clean and you have to start all over again.
Well, here’s the good news: it is not really necessary for you to do that. In fact, doing that is a waste of your time, effort, and emotional energy. I am here to tell you that you are not obligated to explain to anybody why you are NC with your mother, why you are LC with your grandmother and why your relationship with your mother-in-law is as good as it ever will be. That’s right—not only do you not have to “mend fences” with the very people who keep tearing them down, you are under no obligation to explain yourself to anyone. Ever.
Let’s look at this rationally. First of all, this is your family situation, therefore your business. And if the nosey twit is a member of your family it doesn’t matter: nobody—and I mean nobody—has the right to shame you or disrespect you or second-guess your decisions about your life. Once you become an adult, that right is solely yours, shared with another only if you decide to do so (and you can take that back at any time it suits you). Anyone who inserts him (or her) self into your decision making process where your life and associations is concerned is seriously out of line. That includes your parents, your siblings, your aunties, uncles and cousins, your grandparents, your spouse and even your own children. It should go without saying that anyone who is not related to you is doubly out of line because they don’t even have a stake in your decision.
You may go to a trusted family member and ask for advice. That’s fine. But giving advice is not the same as giving a command that must be obeyed. The fact that Auntie Tilda said to ignore your narcissistic mother’s attempts to turn your children against you doesn’t mean you have to accept or agree or take her advice. It means only that you solicited a point of view different from yours to consider. And you have just as much right to reject advice as you do to accept it.
Unsolicited advice is worth exactly what you paid for it—nothing. It is rare for a person to offer unsolicited advice about your family situation without having a personal agenda…something s/he will gain if you take the advice. Sometimes that gain is as obvious as your sister roping you into Christmas lunch, knowing MNM will tear you apart and leave her alone. Or it could be as hidden as GCBro conning you into agreeing you will come to Christmas dinner and reaping a reward promised by your NM if he could get you to show up. But when someone takes it upon himself to try to get you to unilaterally make nice with someone who has abused you, it is not out of line for you to ask “Why is this your business? What are you getting out of this?” You don’t have to ask it aloud, but you really should think about what this person will gain if you re-establish contact because this effort is not about you or your well-being. In one way or another, it is about them and what they stand to gain.
Making this kind of overture to you is actually disrespectful. It is saying “I do not believe you are capable of making good decisions about your life.” If they think someone talked you into it—like a spouse or significant other or friend they either don’t like or think has too much influence over you—then they are telling you that they don’t think you did this independently and that you are easily led or swayed…so they are going to lead you, sway you, to the other side. Whatever their reasoning, the fact remains that it is disrespectful to you and indicative that they do not perceive you as a fully autonomous adult.
Before you formulate a plan about how to handle these people you need to formulate a plan about how to handle yourself. Why? Because whenever people start this crap, our most natural reactions are guilt, shame, yearning, tears and/or anger. Any of these feelings make us vulnerable and may cause us to second-guess our choices and convictions and the boundaries we have set. It is helpful to review—hopefully you have been journaling about your experiences and feelings—the reasons you have chosen to distance yourself from the narcissists in your life. You didn’t make this decision on the spur of the moment, you came to the conclusion about separating from this person after a great deal of pain and turmoil on your part. Most people who go NC spend years trying to get their Ns to understand, to listen, to treat them with, if not love, at least respect and fairness. Going NC was a last resort to stop the abuse because when the abuser refuses to stop abusing, only two choices are open to the abused: stay and know the abuse will continue or remove yourself from the field of battle.
Going NC is not admitting defeat, although it may feel like it. It is, in fact, a pro-active behaviour, a positive step in self-protection. There is nothing wrong in removing yourself from the fray when you realize the battle is futile. What point, after all, is there in fighting a battle that can never be won? The narcissist will never change and neither will her loyal supporters, the flying monkeys. You will always be at fault, you will always be less than what the narcissist expects, less than what the narcissist wants. That is not because of something wrong with you, it is because the narcissist set up the game, its rules and its roles and your role is to be the one who is “less than.”
In the eyes of the narcissist, we have a role to fulfil and when we refuse, we are trying to change the rules and roles of their game. They don’t care if you don’t like it the way it is because the game is theirs, it is for them, and created so they get what they want, not what you want. You cannot change their game and they are only going to change it if they see an advantage for themselves in making a change.
You have to be excruciatingly clear to yourself on two points: why you went NC in the first place and why it is in your best interests to remain that way. Write it down if you have to and keep the note in your purse or pocket. Whip it out and read it when it becomes necessary to remind yourself. There is nothing an N or flying monkey won’t stoop to in order to get their way. Don’t let yourself be conned.
Once you have yourself in hand, it is important to look at the person who is attempting to get you to reconcile with your Ns. Talking to them isn’t going to help. First of all, you don’t owe them any kind of an explanation and secondly, they won’t really listen if you try.
This is significant. This gives you a clue as to their agenda. The truth is, they don’t care about why you are NC. It doesn’t matter to them. What they believe has a higher priority in their minds than what you believe. If you tell them about a bunch of petty cruelties, they will tell you to be forgiving; if you tell them about major incidents, they will either disbelieve you or think you provoked it and therefore deserved it. Whatever you say, the person who has not bothered to put himself into your situation and empathize with you will, inevitably, discount everything you say, dismiss your every reason and justification, and substitute his agenda for your well-being because this is not about you, it is about him!
And that is the realization you have to grab onto and take to heart. This is not about you—it may sound like it is, it may look like it is, it may even feel like it is, but it is not. It is about the person who is pushing reconciliation. You see, your separation from your Ns he finds threatening. If he has children of his own, he projects himself into your Ns situation and sees himself being held at arm’s length by his children. You are a bad influence, distancing yourself from your parent, regardless of reason. You are demonstrating that parents can be held accountable for their actions years after the fact. They don’t want you giving ideas to others.
They don’t acknowledge your pain because that threatens them as well. If they acknowledge your pain, they have to acknowledge that somebody did something that hurt you. And if you are saying it was your parent, they may fear their own children might do the same thing one day. You, your honesty, your strength in stepping back and putting a stop to your abuse—all of this threatens them. Why? Because you are stepping out of the prescribed pattern of behaviour—putting up with whatever your parents dish out no matter what—and they do not know how to deal with that.
The sad fact is, the world is full of people who feel threatened by those who do not conform to their ideas of what constitutes the norm. Back in the ’60s families became divided over the length of a boy’s hair—some very rigid families actually fractured because the boys grew out their hair and their parents, afraid of what the long hair might symbolize (it symbolized individuation, which is precisely what teens should have been doing at that point in their lives) either forced haircuts on them or threw them out of the house and family. Over a haircut!
The bottom line is that these pleas for reconciliation, especially during the holiday season, have absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with the estranged N and/or the person trying to get you to capitulate. They don’t give a fig about your feelings or your well-being, they care about their image. Your Ns may look bad if you remain estranged during the holidays and, in the beginning, people may be sympathetic to your poor, abandoned Ns, but over time they may come to wonder about an estrangement that is long-lasting: my Uncle Gary, for example, finally understood why I had such animosity towards my mother when the truth came out, years later, about her huge deception and how she played the whole family.
But make no mistake: you are not missing your Ns, you are missing the fantasies your vision was clouded with. You are not being “bad” to stay away from them, to not send gifts or cards, or to refuse to accept gifts and cards: you are taking necessary steps to protect yourself. There is a price to pay for partaking of the Happy Families parody that your Ns script and produce every year and that price will be exacted from you with every contact with every N and flying monkey in the family for as long as you allow them to milk it..
The choice, of course, is yours. If you truly believe the price that will be exacted from you is worth the few hours of time spent in their presence then, by all means, join in the festive atmosphere and remember, six months from now when you are being accused of having been “difficult” at Christmas dinner, that you were sure that the togetherness was worth the price.
But you can also take on board this: nobody can abuse you without your consent. You give consent to their abuse when you pick up her call, when you open his gift, when you walk through their door. Each time you accept an overture, you are opening your shirt and pointing to the place where they should plunge the knife for greatest effect. They will not stop abusing you because they do not believe they are doing anything wrong and any expectations on your part for change will be viewed as outrageous and out of line. You are the bad guy in the script they have crafted and they will move heaven and earth to ensure that you fulfil that role as written.
The only thing you can do is to walk away from the drama with your head held high, knowing that that they cannot win if you refuse to play. Is winning important? Only in the sense that their win means destroying you as you are and remaking you into the perfect fulfilment of the role created for you, while your win means retaining and expanding your autonomy.
How you deal with your narcissistic relatives and their flying monkeys during the holiday season depends on what you want to get out of the deal. But if what you want is a happy, loving, normal family, remember that people in Hell want ice water…