An unexpected parting gift from my whiteboards, no less
How has the start of 2023 been for you? I’ll admit that I haven’t been overexcited by it, so far. The days are getting longer which I love, but qualitatively, it feels remarkably like the end of 2022: gruelling. In fact, yesterday, I was just embarking on a cozy, little pity party for one, when I was stopped in my tracks by my three unloved whiteboards, with a heartening message of hope.
Let me explain.
How the whiteboards came into my life
Years ago, I bought three whiteboards on the insistence of a dear friend. He and I were going to write a book together – but only on condition that I bought three whiteboards.
I needed the whiteboards because he was a very visual thinker who loved having his thoughts outlined on the walls of his home. He thought I would love that, too.
However, different people’s brains work differently. My brain doesn’t work his way, and I hate the sight of my impossible, scrawly writing at the best of times.
But he was charismatic and I was obedient and willing to learn and grow… So the three whiteboards took up residence in my office
The writing project never went anywhere good. But the whiteboards stuck around and survived a house move. In their new abode, they made only a very modest contribution to the planning of my next book. After that, they remained forgotten for years, on my office walls. But because I can be superstitious about some things, they spent those years, still with some important information about my book scrawled on them, in washable marker pen.
Eventually, during Covid, they migrated into the spare room.
Finally, in the last few days, I resolved to part company with them. Before resorting to Freecycle, I asked another dear, local friend whether she could use them.
It turned out that she could, in short order.
That meant hastily preparing them for collection and their new home. I duly hefted them down to my front door, before registering that they needed a quick wipe down, in preparation for their new life of service.
The quick wipe-down that wasn’t
It was at this point that the whiteboards forced me to really engage them.
The washable marker refused to budge.
I rubbed at it gently with a dry cloth, then rather more energetically with a damp cloth and eventually, furiously, with a proprietary washing up liquid – which is actually used to clean diamonds. But to no avail.
Suddenly, the prospect of my early night before my early morning chauffeuring my dog to his Neurology appointment 125k away disappeared. My dear friend needed to take ownership of the whiteboards in pristine condition. This was not going to be anything like as simple as I had assumed.
Now, I know that our assumptions about situations and people generally serve to confound us.But discovering that this can apply to something as lowly was a whiteboard was a cruel blow.
What happened next was a great deal of proprietary washing up liquid and elbow grease. Hissing and fussing with irritation, I had to scrub away, one tiny area at a time, until the “washable” marker finally yielded.
Once the first whiteboard looked pristine, I started on the uphill struggle of the second one, once again hoping against hope that this time around it might be easy.
It wasn’t. Magical thinking never works magic.
But the end result left me feeling quite proud and giggling to myself about how the seemingly ruined could be brought back to its original, dazzling whiteness. It actually felt like a minor miracle.
The unexpected gift
That laughter shifted something in me and made me think about the whole business of healing from narcissistic abuse.
We embark on the process of healing with so many shoulds – and shouldn’ts:
- It should be easy
- It should be quick
- It should go exactly according to plan
- We should be able to fit it around all our other commitments
- We shouldn’t have to make it a priority
- We should be over it within days/weeks/months
- We should be able to bounce back into new relationships
- We should be able to do it and forget about it
- Moving on shouldn’t be a problem
The unexpected gift in the situation was the realization that what applies to whiteboards applies equally to healing from narcissistic abuse.
Accepting what you can and can’t do
You can’t just take a swipe at those marks with the proverbial wiper of Getting Over It and Moving On and assume that they will just disappear.
You can’t take a swipe at those marks with the next level multi-purpose wiper of generalized counselling or personal development tools and assume that they will oblige you by disappearing.
You have to use the appropriate, powerful materials to gain traction in the first place.
Even then, progress is likely to be slow-going at the start.
It can take a little while before you see that the marks really are starting to shift, albeit in just one small area.
However, at a certain point – which, sadly, you cannot predict – the energy and effort suddenly start to have an effect across the board, so to speak. The marks fade out, leaving a clean, empty space behind them.
That doesn’t just happen to whiteboards.
It happens to survivors of narcissistic abuse, at a far more profound level.
Commitment not judgement
When you are trying to heal from narcissistic abuse, you can think that you are getting nowhere for very much longer than seems right or fair. Especially if you are judging your progress. Because judging your progress tends to be the best way to slow it down or freeze it entirely.
Instead, you have to forget about judging, let go of the time frame, keep humbly putting more time and commitment into your healing than you think you should have to and, at some point, you will see your efforts paying off.
It helps if you survey the progress you make, small area by small area, rather than focusing on the messy areas that you can see across the board.
The real magic
The real magic lies in seeing what works in any one small area of your life and then applying it across the board.
For all the years that I cohabited with the whiteboards, I never saw the point of them. Prior to their departure they gave me one of those annoying gifts that nobody really likes – one of those gifts that come in emotional kit form.
You have to take all the parts and put them. You have to do the assembly work before you can actually enjoy the gift.
Who wants to have to take on any extra work – especially emotional work?
I have yet to meet anyone who shows enthusiasm for that prospect.
Yet what I have observed in both my clients and myself is that doing that work leads to enduring happiness and peace of mind. Because you learn how to do the assembly job of building your happiness and peace of mind for yourself. Therein lies true magic.
I had no fondness for the whiteboards while I had them. But I look back on them fondly and hope that they do great work, a tad less slowly, in their new residence.
To say that I feel grateful to them would be a stretch. But I am grateful for the lesson. My whiteboards’ parting gift was exactly the lesson that I needed at that precise moment in time. It helped me with the ongoing emotional work that I have to do. Because we never get to the end of our emotional work.
Still, emotional work does get easier and more rewarding over time. Plus, we become more confident about our ability to do it and reach the point when we can benefit from the gift that it brings.
If you have come into 2023 knowing that there is a certain amount of emotional work that you need to do but don’t relish doing, I understand exactly where you are coming from. And I would urge you not to get disheartened. Beginnings can be slow and hard. Intermediary steps can feel dispiritingly inconclusive. Nevertheless going forward has to be better than either going backwards or standing still. If you are someone who feels that having a roadmap and blueprints would help, then check out my Break Free Membership. It breaks that work down into small, emotionally manageable chunks so you don’t have to become discouraged by overwhelm.
Not seeing the results that you would like to see in your ideal timeframe is, undoubtedly, incredibly frustrating. But all that has to mean is that, if you focus on one small area at a time and work on that, you will achieve the across the board transformation you desire.
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
Over the next 5 days, I'll send you some lessons and tips that I've found have really helped women to heal from narcissistic abuse. Starting with the basics.