healing from narcissist wounds

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For months I have been toiling over a breakup I did not ask for, and healing from all the pain I had no idea I endured until I was released from my ex’s narcissistic clutches. Breakups operate much like losing someone to death in the emotions your grapple with–waves of grief, loss, anxiety, depression. It is like being thrown into the arena, forced to stare directly at your demons and fight for yourself. You feel your way around the dark, hoping and praying that light will find its way to you someway, sometime.

So understandably, I’ve been tired. Exhausted. But it’s a bone-deep tiredness, one I’ve had for years and years. It took this event in my life to help me realize how subconscious it was. I’m tired of helping and caring for people. I’m tired of giving and giving, while receiving very little in return. I’m tired of being made selfish when I ask. I’m tired of people expecting me to be perfect, to never express any “negative” emotion to save their feelings or ego. I’m tired of being shamed for my feelings. I’m tired of being so understanding, and people asking me to be so, when they have no empathy to give to me. I’m tired of not being valued. I’m tired of being made at fault for not feeling valued. I’m tired of being lacerated for having weaknesses. I’m tired of the emotional abuse. I’m tired of being the victim.

As a therapist, I knew where all this was coming from. I imagine this is how a doctor feels, when he feels a sickness coming on. Monitoring his symptoms and diagnosing himself, treating himself once he checks himself in the hospital. Just like the doctor, I’m in my own hospital, treating and healing my emotional wounds. So what is the cause of my illness? Family of origin. And the diagnosis? Dearth of self-love.

Even before all of the shit hit the fan, I knew this fact: it all starts in you. But it took shit hitting the fan for me to realize what that meant for me specifically in my life. I did not love and value myself. I saw myself as a piece of crap, so therefore, I accepted it when people treated me like crap. I saw my value predicated on how much I gave others, and if they weren’t happy, I was not deserving of love–which made me a perfect match to my narcissistic ex. But I did not even realize he was a narcissist until my own, post-breakup therapist diagnosed him… because I was so stuck in my low self-worth. I did not value my wants and needs, so I accepted it when he shamed me for expressing them to him. I sustained his verbal lashings and took on all the blame, because I did not love myself enough to trust my thoughts and gut feelings.

He is the kind who cannot see how his actions affect others–cannot even see past his own nose. He even told me on the day we broke up, “I don’t like how actions have consequences,” and “I don’t like you having reactions to things.” Aka, he lacks empathy. He projects his fears onto others and lashes out on them, because it is safer to lash out on someone else’s weaknesses than to look at your own. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions… he rationalizes and rationalizes so that he can be made the victim and others (me) are the bad one. He shamed me for my weaknesses and expected me to never express anything bad or negative. He guilt-tripped me, even if I was the one hurt. He has no awareness of how he hurt others, and if he does, engages in mind jujitsu to avoid taking responsibility. This is what we call a narcissist.

But you must always look at yourself, to see what allowed you to keep such a person in your life in the first place… asking yourself, what made me a complete match to this kind of person? Who does this person remind me of in my life? I was neglected and emotionally abused as a child. So I recreated an exact match to my family and past experiences. I sought what was familiar to me. Someone with higher self-worth would’ve seen his actions and said, “Okay, it looks like you have a lot of issues. Thanks for the memories, but you need serious help. I’m out.” I started at a low point as a child and thereon, and presently, it has been my goal to work myself up to that high point.

So what is the antidote? Self-love. And it’s more than just appreciating you strengths and talents. But it is also about loving yourself and giving yourself a right to have wants and needs, and to express them. It means giving yourself permission to not take all the blame for everything… and to blame others, rightly, for their own actions or wrongdoings. It means expecting to be respected by others and valued by those you love… and not keeping those who cannot do either. It means not internalizing every negative comment or blame people shove at you, and giving yourself permission to say, “I understand you feel that way, but that’s complete horseshit.”  It means accepting yourself fully, even the weaknesses, and being unconditionally present with every emotion you hold. It means not denying yourself the right to speak up for yourself… and maintaining ground even when someone pushes against you or worse, shames you. Because you know who you are and you have every right to be exactly that.

In all of this, I also want to add: while you take responsibility for your issues and actions, in the same vein, others are responsible for theirs. So if you’re anything like me, the constant giver or empath, resist the urge to pick up others’ baggage or responsibility, even if they guilt-trip or shame you for it. Because it is not yours to pick up. It is theirs. So leave it there for them… it is their choice to own themselves or not.

thoughts on bad relationships

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“If someone treats your feelings as unimportant or lets you down in large or small ways frequently, drop them fast. You are not dreaming, and they will always be that way. Three strikes is enough.” -Jeb Kinnison

There are times in life when you have to learn lessons through your own experience. Someone can tell you many times to not play too closely to the fire, but you won’t learn until you get burned.

In my case, I got burned many times before I learned better. There are many of us in our life development who are naive to relationships and love. Disney movies, TV shows, romantic comedies, media, and even our fellow naive friends tell us that love will conquer all. If you love, the relationship will last and you can put up with anything, even if it is emotional abuse or severe lack of attention or affection. My understanding nature worked against me in this way. I would explain away my ex’s behavior, It’s because of his childhood that he’s like that. He said he’s trying. Maybe he’s right, I’m not appreciating his efforts enough. Yet that is the crux of abuse–the abuser manipulates you to buy into their broken and selfish way of thinking, and you unwittingly begin to operate under his control. His actions speak louder than words. And my thinking is what led me to collude in the emotional abuse I experienced.

But regardless of someone’s background or situation, hurtful or abusive behavior is never, ever okay.

I had it right the first time, when I asked for both of our needs to be attended to during our relationship. But in his subconscious mind, his needs were the only ones that mattered, and if I argued otherwise, I was “making it hard on him”… and he would go into a rage for good measure. The sick part of the relationship was whatever issues I brought up, he would twist it and put it back on me, making the same “complaints” about me. And I almost bought into it. Almost. Now, I am happily disillusioned. His behaviors were prime examples of his primitive defense mechanisms… projection being the most frequent one (i.e., his being mad at me for not valuing him and attending to his feelings, when he was the one who struggled with both in the span of our relationship).

Yet for abusers, or narcissists, blaming things on you, or splitting their “bad parts” and projecting them onto you, are their methods of protecting and defending themselves. The reason why: they have a deep-seeded belief and fear that they are worthless or inadequate. So they will do anything–whether it is manipulating, guilt-peddling, raging, physically abusing, throwing out every defense in the book–to avoid facing the person they fear they are. It is easy for them, for that reason, to make you into the bad person, so they can be guilt- and responsibility-free… but at your expense.

In the abuser’s mind, your feelings don’t matter, and may never will. Empathy is oftentimes lost on them. So it doesn’t matter how much you love that person, to him or her, it will never be enough. They are focused on taking and taking, and you must give and give–a one-sided arrangement that will never benefit you in the long run.

But here’s the thing. A good, healthy relationship consists of mutual respect and equal balance of power. You deserve to have someone hearing your feelings and needs, just as you do the same for your partner. You have the right to take responsibility for your things only, and not your partner’s issues or hurtful behavior. You also have a right to your feelings and reactions, as well as the right to be human and make mistakes. You deserve to have emotional support, and to ask for help or for changes. These are basic needs in any relationship. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

And if anyone does violate your rights, well, I of all people know how hard it is to leave. But perhaps it is easier to start with first seeing that you deserve love and respect and to have your rights acknowledged. Every moment is a chance to change your life for the better. Sometimes it’s a process, and it takes a series of moments to get you to the next step. I know for me, my path was a windy one. But as of this moment, I can say with confidence that I will never allow anyone to abuse or treat me with disrespect again… and I will do whatever it takes to make healthier choices in my life.

kicking the depression stigma

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I hate the negative stigma in our society that comes with being sad and depressed, or struggling. As someone who works in the mental health field, I see how this stigma affects people every day. Recently I came across an article on Huffington Post about “types of friends worth keeping forever.” Although one can see it as a insightful article on the choice we have in making friends and the ones we “should” keep, there was one caveat that I found a little disconcerting. For one of the types, the article’s author wrote, “People who are upbeat.” She further elaborated on those who are the opposite, or not upbeat, “They are those folks who ruminate over every little problem in their life again and again — and yet never make one move to change their situation. They are Debbie Downers. And they bring me down. Misery loves company and downbeat friends generally are more interested in your bad news than your good news. People who are positive and motivated and optimistic and who lift up those around them are worth hanging on to.

Perhaps I am making it out to be more than it seems. And I can completely see the author’s intention in writing this. Upbeat people are nice to be around… they make you feel good. It’s good to have them in your life. However. Whether it is intentional or not (and I want to hope that it is not), just in the way she frames her words, she is implicitly encouraging the aforementioned stigma. These upbeat people are the “types of friends worth keeping,” and only those who are “upbeat” are “worth hanging on to.” I could not help but feel after reading that that one could easily read this piece and come away feeling they are “not worthy” to be a friend, or worth keeping to someone else because they are suffering with depression, or are struggling deeply and find it immensely difficult to “pretend to be happy.” Am I supposed to make you happy and talk only about good things in order to be a friend worth keeping? What if I am reaching out to you for support? Does that mean I can’t because it might bring you down? It’s as if I have to hide away my issues and pain, so I won’t be a “Debbie Downer” and bring people down, like this article writer. I need to find a way to put a mask on so people will accept me and want to be around me.

As a therapist trainee, I am seeing clients who suffer with depression, anxiety, relational issues, trauma, sexual abuse, the list goes on. And for many of them, I see them minimize their issues, feel left alone in their struggles (most likely by those who avoid “Debbie Downers”), and feel shame for feeling what they do. They constantly seek validation from me to know that it is okay to feel and think the way they do. I have found just by the act of validating my clients’ feelings, they feel greatly empowered… and it is because we are constantly de-validating each other in this society and forcing one another to “be happy.” And I can’t help but think, how would this society if we just allowed others to express sadness and suffering? What if upbeat wasn’t the main goal, but instead being authentic and genuine with ourselves and with others? Many of my clients would not be needing to come into my office, of that I am sure.

This is a long diatribe, but essentially what I want to get out is that I am not in agreement with the negative concept this article writer is (unintentionally) transmitting. What I do support is this: you are worthy as a friend and as a person, regardless of your mood, whether you are happy or sad. You are not a label (i.e., Debbie Downer). And you are NOT your emotion. You are a complex and beautiful person. You have a right to love and be loved, and you have a right to exist. No one else has the power to define you, except for you.