One of the wounds that abused women have received is, undoubtedly, the wound of naivety. We tend to believe too readily. We are too easily deceived.
Of course, we’re not alone in this. But our naivety, where abusers are concerned, costs us dear.
Some women who had loved, and been hurt by narcissists challenged me recently. They said: “You can’t see a narcissist coming. He is so good at acting the way you want him to be that you simply can’t spot him, until it’s way too late.
And, besides, you have to have trust in a relationship.”
I replied, first, that trust in a relationship should only ever be incremental.
Trust is too precious a thing to cast before swine. It needs to be earned, progressively. Over time. (Preferably quite a long time. And, by this I don’t mean a few weeks, or even a few months.) If anybody demands your trust, you have serious grounds for concern.
My second statement was that I doubt whether narcissists can ape selflessness convincingly for any length of time – given that they are, by definition, self-focused to the point of obsession.
The response I received was that these men had shown selflessness, by being generous (with flowers, dinners, and promises). And they had fooled the women’s families.
Do you see what is happening here?
We learn our values somewhere – usually from parents, and carers. If they equate generosity with selflessness, so will we.
Why is this so important?
Generosity is, admittedly, no bad thing. I much prefer it to tight-fistedness.
Still, we need to be clear about what we understand by generosity.
My ex-husband could be generous with money – he was aware that he could use it to buy goodwill. But he was not generous with kind words, respect, empathy, and gentleness.
He could be financially generous. But he was not emotionally open-hearted.
A friend of mine called yesterday to say how frustrated she had become with a female friend of hers. And how upset she feels with herself. She said:
“She’s my friend. I’m 100% loyal to my friends.”
Loyalty is another great virtue.
But loyalty to another person is not the ONLY virtue.
We are still DUTY BOUND to be loyal to our own needs, values, and convictions.
That’s called having boundaries.
As an ex-abused woman, my friend is still struggling with her right to create boundaries.
The distinction between the duty of loyalty to others, and the duty of honouring our own boundaries is another key distinction.
But we forget that we have a right to exercise our own judgement, to test how things will sit with us, at all times.
And last week a couple of clients spoke about putting up with rudeness from individuals because they did not want to ‘rock the boat’ and create unpleasantness in a social situation.
There are a couple of telling BIG DISTINCTIONS here:
First – and it seems that abused women have to learn this again and again at different levels of our being – we are not responsible for other people’s rudeness, or bad behaviour. Ever.
Abusers, as we know to our cost, demand that you accept their point of view. They teach you there is bound to be a price to pay for disagreement.
But, generally, long before that abuser appeared on the scene, you had already been taught that Nice Little Girls Do As They’re Told, and Nice Little Girls Aren’t Rude To Grown Ups.
Abused women often forget they are grown ups, and continue to act like Nice Little Girls.
Which means they have yet to realize that they’re actually free to do, and say, whatever they like – within the limits of what is safe.
Challenging a violent partner is not safe. But refusing to accept social rudeness is.
It just may not feel safe to Little Miss Nice.
So, here’s the BIG DISTINCTION: you can respond to socially unacceptable behaviour robustly, but in a polite manner.
You may feel hurt and angry and be tempted to vent past and present hurts through a raised voice, and a personal attack. That would be rude.
Or, more likely, you may be paralyzed by the fear that if you try to respond, you will inflame the situation and be held responsible for the consequences. So you turn your anger in on yourself.
Little Miss Nice probably didn’t have too many options available to her. But here’s the thing: as an adult, you do have other options. You’re free to state firmly, but pleasantly enough, that you don’t agree with the other person’s viewpoint. Period.
There really is no point in arguing with someone who is rude, opinionated and – most probably – downright wrong. There is no point in trying to persuade them – that never works: opinionated people love the sound of their own opinions.
Nevertheless, you have every right to:
- challenge them (“Do you really think that? Gosh!”) or (“Are you always that negative?”)
- question their assumption (“What a fascinating opinion. You don’t really expect me to agree with that, do you?”), or
- state your disagreement (“You know, I disagree/Well, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. But I sense you’re probably pretty set on your opinion, so I won’t argue with you”)
There are many, many things that you can say without locking horns in a battle you would probably lose – not because you’re wrong, but because you’re caught up in old beliefs and patterns.
The bottom line?
Right or wrong, it’s their opinion; they’re entitled to it.
They’re entitled to their voice. You’re entitled to yours.
That’s not rudeness.
It’s simply the way adults interact.
And if it’s all too much for them, and they have a hissy fit, throw themselves on the carpet, foam at the mouth, and everyone in a 30 mile radius cringes with embarrassment, that’s still their behaviour, and their stuff.
You may well have been taught that one thing means another. It doesn’t. It means what it is. Period.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at the dictionary. I just have. My OED tells me that “generosity” and “selflessness” are two different things. So, too, are loyalty and self-protection; and rudeness and assertiveness.
Somewhere along the line, you stopped believing you could make those distinctions for yourself.
Actually, you can now.
You’re an adult and you can start making all the distinctions you like for yourself – starting with this one: “If it (whatever it is) makes me feel uncomfortable, that’s a problem. I am not the problem. I have a right to address that problem with a view to dealing with it to my own satisfaction. I matter.”
It’s time to heal that old wound of naivety.
“Married to Mr Nasty” will show you how you can stop struggling to row that boat upstream and come, instead, to rest, at last, in the peaceful port of your choosing.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
The 5 Simple Steps to Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
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