Who might you not be showing the care they need?
How familiar are you with the experience of worrying deeply other people’s feelings to the point of tiptoeing around them, metaphorically speaking? Not least because you know that something about the way that they connect with you (or don’t connect with you) feels a tad off to you. But you aren’t sure whether you have the right to bring it up. After all, they have a lot going on in their life and you wouldn’t want to add to their burden.
“But they’re going through a hard time”
A client showed up to her session recently, clearly bogged down in her own, personal slough of despond, worrying about someone else’s feelings because “they were going through a bad time.” That other person was going through a bad time. But they were also, punishing my client for it.
Why would they do that?
Because they had to do something with the feelings that they weren’t prepared to work through, so they visited those feelings on my client because she is a beautiful, empathic soul.
They worked on that old, toxic principle that if they were unhappy, someone had to pay. They scapegoated my client for nothing she had ever said or done.
Needless to say, my client resorted to the abuse survivor’s time-honored technique of holding herself accountable for another person’s feelings and behavior. She felt bad about feeling wounded and rejected by that person. She also felt bad about not being able to rise above her own feelings and somehow make the other person happy.
Does that resonate at all?
What would you want to say to that scapegoating person who is going through a lot – given that you likely have been subjected to exactly that kind of person?
Also, what could you say to that person that would land in the way that you would want it to land?
The honest answer is probably not too much.
The emotional time-travel scenario
The scenario in which my client found herself took her back into the emotional landscape of her own deep wounds.
Not that she even recognized it at the time.
Because who does spontaneously clock that inner shift from present to past, all too familiar distress?
It was as if she had time-travelled so quickly from present to past that she didn’t even notice that the landscape had changed. She had spent so many years immersed in an abusive world that she didn’t notice when she time-travelled back into it.
Especially since the internal dialogue associated with that time travel never seemed to change. It was always about anxiety, focusing on someone else’s feelings, and feeling horrible.
Narcissistic abuse, inevitably, catapults you into a very specific place – actually a windowless prison cell.
The worst of it is that you don’t even notice it. That prison cell just feels so familiar and normal. It feels that way because your life experience and your abuser worked to normalise it.
With my client’s consent, I brought her out that prison cell and back into the present.
When I asked her what she would take away from the experience, she replied: “I need to learn to care about myself as much as I care about other people.”
Intellectually, she saw it clearly.
Unfortunately, getting there emotionally can take a while longer.
An unlikely teacher
Can I say that I now achieve this clarity all of the time?
I wish. I do better and catch myself a whole lot faster but… There is still a whole lot that I could learn. Occasionally, my little dog Bazyl K serves as my teacher.
You have to understand that Bazyl came into my house on an Emotionally Unsupportive Dog’s contract. He has taught me a lot. But he is very much a Paws-Off kind of teacher. He works the Show Don’t Tell method. Plus, he never sugarcoats anything.
Rather, he operates on his own version of the Buddhist principle that when the pupil is ready, the learning will become clear enough.
Now, my beloved Bazyl K has had a really tough time of late with major back problems. Thanks to a month of crate rest, vast amounts of laser therapy, hydrotherapy and about a million Shih Tzu inspired modifications to our lifestyle – including the magnificent flower-bordered ramp in the photo, loving installed by his beloved, human girlfriend – Bazyl is doing a whole lot better, even though he isn’t quite the hyperactive, small, furry maniac that he was.
Not uncommonly, he cannot be bothered to do his daily walks – unless the conditions are perfect. His ideal walking scenario is following another dog and doing his Alpha snorting routine as he darts along in the other dog’s wake.
That wouldn’t be a problem, if we didn’t happen to live right on the edge of a small village where other dogs and owners appear only infrequently.
So, how do walks go now?
The mad dog-woman
Walks now seem to require strategic thinking. Once we get outside the house, Bazyl waits patiently until another dog comes along. This can take some time. When another dog appears, he darts off in hot, heavy-breathing pursuit, leaving me obliged to explain to the other owner that we are not actually stalking. I am, I tell them, just trying to get my dog to do a decent walk. Plus, we have to walk behind, not alongside, the other dog as Bazyl doesn’t behave too nicely towards other canines.
I can’t say I relish my new identity as village stalker and mad dog-woman. But I believe that Baz is worth doing that too for, in addition to carpeting our entire kitchen, installing stair gates and a ramp from the back door down to the garden.
Bazyl regards it as absolutely normal that we revamp our lifestyle for him.
He knows that he is worth it.
I do a LOT for my dog. I pay his eye-watering health bills, ensure he has the best medical treatment, ferry him around the country for his various appointments, gladly share him with his wonderful human girlfriend who he adores, transform my home for him, sacrifice my sleep for him, make myself look like a lunatic for him and more besides.
What do I routinely do for myself?
I think I might have to plead the Fifth Amendment on that one. 😉
Life chez Kaszina has not been easy for a while, even without Bazyl’s problems. He knows that. He also knows that it is not his job to burden himself with my load. Bazyl’s job has always been just to do Bazyl. This he does to the best of his ability, thereby bringing a lot of joy to my life.
Does he work at it?
Bazyl does not work at anything. He has always had a take it or leave it policy. Whether or not I like the way he runs his life – and mine – is down to me.
He knows that it is my job to deal with my own feelings – whatever I happen to be going through.
Therein lies the message.
Bazyl is quite clear. He isn’t going to baby me. I am a grown up.
My job and yours
Bazyl’s teaching is a powerful one:
I can either take the learning and start to treat myself more like I treat my dog. Or not. He won’t be losing any sleep, either way.
Certainly, for empathic, people-pleasing, self-effacing survivors of narcissistic abuse the emotional shift to taking good care of yourself is not an easy one. But it is key to feeling less drained and invisible.
When you don’t see and care for yourself, you are more likely to be disappointed by other people – even well-intentioned other people – who, in the present, can never do enough to help you fill your old, deep chasm of neglect.
Much as I would love this one article to change your life, it likely won’t. But you can use it as the wedge that enables you to start making that mental and emotional shift. It will make your whole life far, far easier. And if you struggle to do that alone and would benefit from being coached through it by someone quite clear-eyed – especially when it comes to others – drop me an email.
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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