What happens to you during your tough times? When “the going gets tough”, to quote Billy Idle, do you get going?
And if you do, where and how do you get going?
Especially when the going gets tougher and tougher?
Being a survivor of narcissistic abuse tends to mean that you don’t just have to deal with tough times. Tough times soon become the norm for anyone either with a narcissistic parent or two, or else in narcissistic relationship. (And let’s not forget that hideous – but not uncommon – double whammy of having both a narcissistic parent or two and a narcissistic partner.)
Tough and tougher
What is asked of a survivor of narcissistic abuse is often to deal with Tough and Tougher, or Tough, Tougher and Tougher Still.
There is simply no way of sugarcoating the reality that Narcissists transport industrial quantities of unnecessarily hard times into your life.
Being without them is always the upgrade.
But getting there can be a true white knuckle ride.
What strikes me from my own experience and that of my clients is that, when you are on that journey, it often feels like you are on a sinking rowing boat on high seas. In order to keep afloat, you can end up throwing stuff overboard with one hand, while still desperately holding onto your one remaining oar with the other.
(Or is it just me that has felt that way?)
What survivors jettison
When we are doing everything we can to survive a narcissistic abuser, what do we end up throwing overboard?
Everything that we perceive as unnecessary “luxuries”.
First and foremost among these is our self.
We throw our own needs, feelings, worth, importance, well-being, self-care, hopes, dreams, space and self-compassion overboard in our desperate attempt to remain afloat.
We jettison even our sense of humor in our effort to survive.
What are we left with?
Often, all that we are left with is a Narcissist’s internalised judgement of us. It has become so much a part of us that we don’t even realize that we could throw it overboard.
The distorting mirror
Instead, we see ourselves through the Narcissist’s distorting mirror. We judge ourselves by the Narcissist’s crazy, toxic yardstick – that is, the one the Narcissist uses for us. That yardstick is very different to the one that he or she uses for him or herself.
So, you see yourself as lazy, prone to procrastination selfish, inadequate, incompetent, stupid, needy, unattractive both physically and mentally, unlovable, a failure in any and every area of your life and, overall, a decidedly poor excuse for a human being.
That makes living inside your own head far more uncomfortable than it needs to be.
Of course, you don’t have any time to really think about this and what you might want to do about it, because the time and space for constructive self-reflection is just one of the things that you jettisoned to keep yourself afloat.
Only, as you already know, it is incredibly hard to keep yourself afloat when you have such horrible feelings about yourself.
Ironically, that heavy load of self-loathing – because it is, ultimately, self-loathing – is far more likely to sink your boat than any of the things that you have thrown overboard.
That seems to leave you between the devil inside your head and the deep blue sea. Right?
The devil and the deep blue sea
Except what springs to mind is that, a while before I met him, my revolting, narcissistic ex (the devil) once nearly drowned in a deep blue sea. Not metaphorically but in reality.
But here’s the interesting thing: there was a fog that winter’s day and when the hovercraft that he and his fellow travelers were on capsized, they were not at asea, as they thought. They were actually only a short way out from the shore.
Had they but known that and known in which direction to swim, they would have been fine.
Now, I know that you are nothing like my revolting ex. And yet, the metaphor of thinking you are bobbing about, at severe risk of drowning on a high sea, holds true.
The problem, I believe, is not that you are truly lost at sea.
The biggest problem
The biggest problem that you face is the fog that prevents you from getting your bearings is the vision that you have of yourself.
Not for a moment would I suggest that your life is not hard, even almost unbearably hard. While I am sure that some people have fairly easy lives, they are not the people who are driven to learn about and seek healing from narcissistic abuse.
Circumstances can be as tough as hell.
However, it is what goes on inside your own head that makes the difference between what is heavy and what is soul-crushing.
Just yesterday, I worked with two clients who felt crushed and hopeless as a result of horrendous trauma that was constantly triggered and retriggered. Both doubted that they could ever overcome the feeling of not being good enough and hence to blame for every bad thing that had befallen them.
We could have gone the band aid route: I could have told them that bad things happen to good people and that they are good souls. They would have been smart – and polite – enough to acknowledge that objectively speaking what I said was true.
But would it have really dissipated the fog of self-loathing inside their head?
How do you dissipate the fog of self-loathing?
Maybe for a matter of minutes. However, it would have been unsustainable. The fog would soon have started to wrap its tendrils around them again.
Instead, I worked with them on getting them to feel a different reality for themselves. In both cases, they responded with radiant smiles, as happens here in the UK when the sun burns off the fog.
The important thing here is that their reality had not changed one bit.
The acutely painful situations that they are obliged to face still obtain.
But the feelings of self-loathing were gone. Instead, my clients saw just how admirable they were. They saw it and experienced it for themselves – for the first time ever.
What difference did that make?
It made the tough circumstances easier to carry. Because they only had to carry the heavy load of circumstances – instead of the heavy load of circumstances plus the even heavier load of self-loathing.
What made the difference?
The degree of compassion, care and kindness that they could bring to themselves through the work that we did in the session.
Healing work is about becoming gentler
Healing work is not about becoming smarter. It is about becoming gentler… towards yourself.
That may well meaning becoming firmer in holding other people accountable for their behavior and the mind games they play. Too many of us heart-centred souls believe that the only justifiable behavior towards all an sundry is some kind of unboundaried love and support routine – as if we were following in the footsteps of the artist Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm O work. [link]
Unfortunately, in the real world, it makes no sense to expose yourself to unnecessary, even predictable harm.
You would not try to housetrain a lion the same way that you would housetrain a dog, for obvious reasons. By the same token, you cannot safely hope to civilise and socialise a Narcissist in the way that you would a normal, healthy toddler.
Besides, it really is time that you shifted your focus away from these hopeless creatures and back to yourself. Why would you waste any more time trying pointlessly to transform a Narcissist when you could use that energy – successfully – to transform your relationship with yourself?
The tools that you need are simply kindness, self-compassion, care and gentleness. They work in almost miraculous ways when applied to the self. But if you are still too busy jettisoning whatever you can to keep the boat afloat, get the help you need. Don’t put off taking care of yourself any longer.
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.