Why is acceptance such a big deal for survivors of narcissistic abuse?
Have you ever had an issue with acceptance? Maybe you still do. The reason I’m asking is because, over the last week, I have talked to a number of clients about acceptance and nobody seemed particularly pleased to hear about it.
Not only did I see a slight pucker of the lips when I mentioned the word but I felt a need to apologize for using it – despite being a strong advocate of acceptance as well as a firm believer in it.
So, what was really going on?
Could it be that too many of us have misunderstood what acceptance requires of u – and what it offers us.
This week, I want to do my part to rehabilitate the concept of acceptance for survivors of narcissistic abuse. Because acceptance is fundamental to healing.
In fact, acceptance can really fast track healing.
At the very least, it serves to eliminate one of the biggest obstacles to healing – our need to validate our own position by holding on to the injustices that have been done to us.
One of the most damaging things my narcissistic ex ever said
My narcissistic ex was a truly offensive human being. Possibly one of the most damaging things he ever said – specifically about his own refusal ever to acknowledge my point of view – was:
“You’re just going to have to suck it up.”
What made that so devastating?
The Narcissist’s brilliant ploy of conveying the concept that there is no viable alternative to their worldview.
Earlier in the relationship, he would fall back on that old, abusive mainstay, “You can take it [and me] or leave it [and me].” However, over time, he became more and more confident that there was no alternative to him. So, he felt confident to be as blunt and uncaring as he pleased in the way he expressed himself.
I was just going to have to “suck it up” because he was never going to do anything to make “it” (the issue/scenario/relationship) any easier or better.
His statement devastated me, every time, because it catapulted me right back to childhood. My father did not use those precise words. However, he labored the same concept any time he met with even a hint of rebellion.
The Narcissist’s definition of Acceptance
What both of these Narcissists were saying was that I was just going to have to accept that the only way open to me was their way.
Hence my distress around the word acceptance.
What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that they were doing that typical, narcissistic thing of subverting language. What they actually meant was,
“You are just going to have to submit to whatever suits me.”
That is the Narcissist’s definition of Acceptance and that is exactly how a narcissistic relationship works. It is a relationship in which you are obliged to submit to increasingly offensive and distressing treatment.
The price of being someone who commits to staying in a narcissistic relationship in the hope of it one day being miraculously transformed is that you are stuck with a very limited “choice” of responses to the rampant abuse.
Your choices in a narcissistic relationship
To be specific, your choices in a narcissistic relationship are are:
Clearly, none of these have much to recommend them. The last – and best – one is the one that you only take when you hit absolute rock bottom and feel that your very survival hinges on getting out.
Acceptance is different
Notice that acceptance does not figure in any of the above options.
Why doesn’t it figure?
Because, when we make the decision to stay in a narcissistic relationship, the one thing that we do NOT practice is acceptance. Instead, we tell ourselves a threadbare, little story either about loving each other “really”, or else about the magical “Someday” when all that is wrong in our world will be more or less magically transformed.
We fight with ourselves, we submit to the Narcissist’s rules (with or without a degree of futile resistance) and we deny just how hopeless the situation really is.
The one thing that we do not accept is the truth: that we are in a vile relationship that will just continue getting viler and sucking every last ounce of joy and life out of us.
Acceptance requires us to do something quite different.
Acceptance requires us to validate our reality.
Acceptance is about validation
Acceptance is, ultimately, the opposite of denial. Acceptance is all about validating what is. That means owning the bleak reality of the relationship. It also means owning your frustrations, despair, self-blame, frailties and everything else that you feel.
Now, once upon a time, I would have challenged that furiously.
“Why” I would have asked “do I need to own these feelings? Haven’t I done so already since I spend most of my time feeling them?”
In reality, like so many other survivors, I spent my days feeling submerged by those feelings and fighting or trying to suppress them.
What I did not do was own them – or own my own struggle with them.
What true Acceptance of my narcissistic relationship would have meant
Acceptance would have meant acknowledging that I was totally lost, confused, hurting, ashamed of myself, heartbroken, despairing and not prepared to give up on someone who thoroughly disliked me.
It would have meant acknowledging that all the awful treatment really was that awful and had gone a long way to creating the way that I felt.
It would have meant acknowledging that my horrible husband was no better than my family of origin.
It would have meant acknowledging that I had been through an awful lot and I didn’t have a clue about how I could possibly get through the rest of my life and get myself together.
It would have meant acknowledging that I couldn’t see any good future for myself.
It would have meant acknowledging all of this and more.
It would have meant according myself the rudimentary compassion of acknowledging the tremendous amount of pain, rejection and abandonment that I, like any survivor of narcissistic abuse, had endured.
It would have meant acknowledging that I had good cause to feel the way that I did and that I was scared that acknowledging it would make me feel weaker than I did already.
It might well have meant having an almighty pity party.
Above all, it would have meant just hearing myself out, for once – without interrupting with self-judgement, or the shoulda, woulda coulda’s.
And that would have meant finally validating myself.
What would have changed?
What changes with acceptance
In the short term, it would likely have brought a sense of relief inasmuch as I had finally poured it all out and listened to myself, for once.
It would have meant that I had broken the old pattern of dismissing and suppressing my own feelings.
It would have felt like the calm after the storm. But it would not have magically changed everything.
There would always have been other storms. And other calms. There always are.
Over the years that I have been practising acceptance, there have been many storms and calms. I have emerged from so many storms like a drenched, exhausted animal.
Every storm has been cathartic.
I have learned to be at peace with my feelings and myself. In the main.
And because I can be at peace with myself, I have ceased to see either myself or my feelings as a problem. It has become normal for me to see myself as someone who matters; another person who matters in a world of people who matter.
That has made my life a far more comfortable experience than it ever was before. (It has made writing this unexpectedly personal piece a comfortable enough experience.)
Validation is a normal human need
Validation is a need that everybody has. It goes with the territory of being human. Sadly, not everyone of us received that validation as part of our birthright. So, not everyone learned how to validate themselves.
Those of us who did not receive validation from the people we most needed validation from, learned to settle for crumbs of approval and live an emotionally disadvantaged life.
Acceptance is the tool that you can use to start to redress the balance. Practising acceptance enables you to give the experience of validation to yourself. That enables you to show up differently in the world and connect more easily with more validating people.
Validation enables you to get beyond your old narrative. Thereby, it creates endless possibilities for who you can become.
Acceptance opens up a space that allows you to embrace your humanity unconditionally. It will relieve you of huge amounts of effort expended, fruitlessly, in trying to be good enough… to be loved, ultimately, by unloving people.
If Acceptance is a way of being with yourself that you would like to learn, I invite you to check out my Break Free Membership which centres on self-acceptance. Because, in the end, the best antidote to all the invalidation and rejection that a survivor of narcissistic abuse endures is the coming home to self of Acceptance.
Certainly, I have only ever seen clients grow in confidence, self-worth and happiness as they embraced authentic Acceptance. I hope that you, too, will give yourself that gift.
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.
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