Last week, I turned thirty-six. I’ve finally decided that I’m so done with the pain, denial, false guilt and sundry miseries resulting from decades of narcissistic abuse. I want to be happy. I want to be free.
Easily said. Less easily done.
I’ve been so unhappy for so long that it’s become a way of life. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried very hard to feel happy and not have “B.O. of the personality.” I’ve perfected the “happy” act. And there have been thousands of truly happy moments, good laughs and self-unaware times of bliss in my life.
I have everything to be grateful and happy about. A husband without peer, who I treasure more each day. (Happy 4th Anniversary, Honey!) Wonderful friends who’ve stuck with me through my highest and lowest moments. Two wonderful puppies who wag, lick and love unconditionally. A warm cottage. Reliable transportation. Work I enjoy. Food in the fridge and water from the tap. And at least sixty bottles of nail polish. What more does a girl need?
And yet…and yet…every day is a struggle to keep a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. It’s getting jolly old.
The Root of the Pain
I was a very happy (and sometimes very angry) little girl, so I know I’m capable of happiness. So what’s the problem boiled down to its lowest common denominator?
I feel like crap about myself.
I think they call it low self-esteem. (No shit, Sherlock. What was your first clue?)
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Low self-esteem isn’t a personal problem we can keep secret in a bubble. It creeps into every aspect of our lives, wreaking havoc.
Intellectually, I know my Michael loves me unconditionally. I’m totally secure and have been from the first moment we spoke on the phone…a conversation that lasted six hours. But if I can’t love myself…how in the world can he? What does he see in me anyways, when all I can see is an ugly failure. Sometimes I even call myself “ugly” and a “failure.” Ooooh, that really pisses him off.
Intellectually, I know my friends accept me for who I am, but there are many moments when I doubt it. “They just put up with me,” I tell Michael. “You’re really the one they like.” That pisses him off too.
Intellectually, I know my dogs love me, but I can’t understand it and I can’t feel it.
My inability to love myself makes it impossible to feel love from anyone else.
That’s right. Why, why, oh frickin’ why!? Why does the name “Lenora” bring nothing but shame, disappointment and sometimes loathing. What is so bad about me? What have I done that was “so bad”? (Click here to find out!)
The answer: Nothin’ much
If the opinion of others is to be believed, even in the morass of narcissistic abuse, I maintained my integrity , character, kindness and love in spite of them…not because of them.
“You are a sweet, smart, beautiful woman – how did you turn out so good?” – coworker
“[Lenora] was a saint to put up with a parent like that.” – Facebook comment
“You are so brave and resilient and strong. I admire you very much.” – Friend
“You are a credit to yourself for the person you have become.” – coworker
“Lenora, you deserve many rewards with how you have succeeded
in turning years of abuse, criticism and character destroying upbringing
around into a successful career of helping others by writing based on your painful past.
Congratulations on achieving such great success.” – blog comment
…on the other hand…
There’s what the narcs told me about myself. An identity they gave me. The one I’ve embraced as truth for decades. But is it really true?
Y’know, it started before I can remember. Starting with my first “spanking” at six-months-old, they considered me a sinner who needed to have my will broken. How many times did they tell me I was an angry baby and headstrong toddler? As a teen I was slut-shamed and as an adult warned that I had “bad sexual genetics” just because some shoe-string relatives I’d never met were “bar tramps.”
“Then Jesus addressed the crowds and his disciples. “The scribes and the Pharisees…preach but do not practice. They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders—yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them.” – Matthew 23
And I owned it. Owned, believed and internalized every shitty thing they told me about myself.
But do I deserve it? Da-da-da-daaaaaa! Truth to the rescue!
On his site www.voicelessness.com, Dr. Richard Grossman wrote, “Narcissists use everyone around them to keep themselves inflated. Often they find flaws in others and criticize them fiercely, for this further distinguishes them from those who are defective. Children are ready targets: narcissists consider children flawed and lacking, and therefore most in need of severe “teaching” and correction. This negative picture of children is a sad projection of how the narcissist truly feels about his or her inner self before the self-inflation began. But the narcissist never recognizes this: they consider their harsh, controlling parenting magnanimous and in the child’s best interest.” Projection, anyone?
A New Self-Image
Am I perfect? No. But neither is anyone else…including the narcs! So fuck ’em!
I’ll settle for being a humdrum, garden-variety human being with human failings, foibles and yes, triumphs too.
Starting now, I’m giving my self-image an extreme makeover based on the truth I know about myself. The false image the narcissists projected onto me is bullshit…and I’m so done with it.
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Learning to Live
Maybe now, I can look myself in the eye in the mirror without cringing and looking away. Maybe now I can accept and feel love because I’m learning to love myself. Maybe now I can have self-empathy and the tears will finally flow. Maybe now I can take a day off from work without drowning in guilt. Maybe now I can enjoy “hedonistic” pleasures. Maybe now I can start living…levenskunst…dolce far niente.
My narcissists don’t really LIVE. They have few hobbies. No friends. Never travel. No dreams for the future. Ever since cancer happened, it’s seemed like they’re just hoping to get through life unscathed by this “dangerous” world. Maybe that’s why they forbade moving out, traveling, etc. during my twenties. It feel like they’re just biding their time, planning on doing their living in the next world. In some ways, I feel like I never learned to really live and enjoy life by being raised by narcs. There was something missing.
Having a husband with a terminal illness has been a blessing because he’s taught me an entirely new outlook on life. Enjoy every moment to the fullest. Be grateful for everything. Travel whenever you can. Spend a little bit on things that’ll make you happy. Have hobbies. Always have hopes and dreams for the future…but don’t plan to do your “real” living in the future. No! Live now.
Yes sirree bob, I’m finally learning to laugh, live and love myself for the first time!