Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to heal, to transform the patterns in our lives that cause pain and suffering? Even people who are aware of the painful patterns and can put a name to the disorders that plagued their families and childhood still struggle. Years of therapy, intelligent minds are not arsenal enough to repair the rips in a shredded emotional body. Yet, every small step is a victory in self-awareness and towards self-love. These tiny victories just might be the major reason that we are here on this earth.
Often, we look to others or things outside of ourselves, whether it be food, a drug, an activity such as work, or various compulsions to fill the void we feel because of mistaken beliefs about ourselves that were planted in our minds at a tender age. Because those beliefs lurk in the dark places of our subconscious minds and seem to be so much part of us, it is hard to even see them clearly for what they are, let alone let go of them. This is why relationships with other people are so important. Unconsciously, there is a force – you could call it love or light, that seeks to help us to grow. To grow in love with ourselves, by aiding us to fulfill our potential. When we are drawn to other people and situations, sometimes what happens can be painful and even seem disastrous. But the pain cracks us open and allows us to feel our own grief, and hopefully to see, little by little, which of our own thoughts and beliefs are causing us to hold ourselves back and to suffer. Universal love is what holds everything together, and it is a very patient force. Have you ever noticed how you seem to repeat the same type of destructive relationships, over and over? This is, in reality, not a bad thing. Because you are in charge of your own life. Once you become aware that you are inviting in darkness, you can change your thoughts and your heart to a more loving focus on yourself. This will change the type of people and situations that come into your sphere.
It is not easy to change, but it is possible, and this growth is a source of great joy.
Just recently, I received an invitation to join a meet-up group on the theme of adult children of narcissistic parents. I had been trying to put a finger, if not a label, on the strange and destructive force field in which I valiantly (although terrified) managed to grow out of childhood and into adulthood. While solitude is a place where I feel comfortable for the most part, it would be nice to share with others who are awakened and who have worked through their pain, at least to a point where it would be safe to talk. My hope was that I would meet other people who had experienced similar challenges and to chat with them, in an attempt to learn more about their own struggles with the tears and traumas of their own emotional bodies and spirits…and the solutions they created to live happier and more satisfying lives.
It is very hard for children of narcisstic parents to love themselves, and it is a great victory to finally accept that the family from which I originated will never love or accept me…but that I do love and accept myself.
No matter how much my conscious and rational mind may understand or attempt to rationalize the problems and difficult relationships that I have experienced since childhood, I sense that it is a very different part of my brain, body, and spirit that have been so deeply affected by the barbs of control, the nets of emeshment, and the dusty webs of neglect that I navigated and managed to survive as a child trying to understand, trying to repair, trying to make everything better for everyone else. I grew up feeling excessively responsible and terribly in need of clarity. I wanted so badly to understand others, and I learned to do this well. What I could not seem to learn is how to trust others…really how to trust myself (to say no, to know what was good for me), and how to create positive and warm relationships with others.
The upshot of my childhood was that because I was scapegoated by my family for not submitting to their will (a truly heroic act, believe me!), I felt that everyone else was somehow better and more worthy than I was while simultaneously feeling that I had to be stronger and more independent than anyone…to never really need to count on anyone else.
To go back to the meet-up group…something striking occurred when I met this other woman who had grown up in a highly abusive home, one characterized by crime, drug abuse, and overt disrespect of the children who lived there. This woman was obviously very intelligent and well-spoken, and according to her own narrative, her life was in a shambles, held together by the good-will of a boyfriend with a good job. I am sure that this woman has more than the necessary intelligence and ability to take very good care of herself, but a broken spirit and heart will self-sabotage again and again. She explained that multiple health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a ruptured appendix that the healthcare system did not recognize as such, had plunged her into debilitating debt. She seemed to have accomplished so much in spite of her wounds. It is so difficult to witness, even in oneself, how we can repeatedly hurt ourselves or expose ourselves to hurtful people or situations, just because they are familiar or we believe we deserve to be hurt.
This woman had just created this group, trying to reach out to others, and I really applaud her efforts…but something went terribly wrong. I don’t know what thoughts coursed through her mind…but let me explain first what happened. Every other Saturday, I have a day off from work, and my son and I have some regularly scheduled activities on those days. Mornings, I take my son and our dog Ruby to dog training class, followed by a Finnish language class we take together in a different part of town. My first encounter with the meetup group was set for 2:30 pm, and I had planned to take my son home from the language lesson (about a 30 minute drive), then drive another 30 minutes to the meetup. Well, the lesson lasted longer than usual, and I realized this too late. I did not have a contact phone number to call the meetup organizer nor did I have my computer on which I could e-mail her.
I decided it would be more courteous to show up with my son, rather than not be able to notify her and take my son home. I imagined that a first meeting would just be an exchange of introductions and not get immediately plunge into the personal depths of pain and despair. I explained to her the circumstances, but I did not gauge perhaps the depth of her need…to control the outcome of the meeting. In any case, the meeting itself went ok. I listened to her story, admired her courage, and also felt the anger and determination in her voice. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing much of my own story, given the circumstances, but I was fine with listening. On weekends, I don’t often check e-mails, so perhaps two days later, I looked at my inbox. There were three e-mails from this person, the first expressing her surprise at my showing up with my son, but with a general feeling of warmth and courtesy. The second e-mail was somewhat neutral in affect and was adressed to all group members banning children from all future meetings. The third e-mail was adressed to me, stating that I am a narcissist, and banning me from the group, and telling me that she has blocked me from her e-mail account – basically silencing me. I was left a bit stunned, and I realized that she must have somehow interpreted my silence as “hostile”.
In any case, I will never know how she really felt or what was her thought process regarding the interaction. What I did realize is that my own response to her behavior was what I could take from the relationship, as short as it was. Her behavior in some ways reminded me of my own mother. The intelligence, the anger, the need to control and to silence me. After the initial surprise, I felt the gift of the situation. Here was an opportunity for me to face a virtual version of my mom, or at least a part of her that haunted me and held me back for so long. And I was fine with it. This woman was surprised and even upset that I was able to forgive my mother and feel compassion for her. I still do, even though I was neglected and treated cruelly by her and by the rest of my immediate family. The main thing is that I learned to love myself, and it took a long time to change the beliefs that held me back for so long. This encounter was one small step on the healing path for me, and I am thankful for it. And I wish this woman all the best. Who knows? Maybe she saw a little piece of herself in me.