I’m sick today. I was sick yesterday. I may be sick tomorrow. My husband’s sick. “It hurts to smile,” he groans. “Heck! My eyebrows hurt!”

But illness can be a mixed blessing. One exists in an in-between world of not-quite asleep and not-quite awake. But with illness comes an odd kind of mental clarity. Things fall into perspective. All my day-to-day pursuits suddenly seem incredibly unimportant.

As I think back on the twelve years I spent working my way up the corporate ladder, my career seemed so important. Each meeting, each conference call, each PowerPoint presentation had worth and meaning…until I got sick. Whether I had a cold or some other complaint, suddenly I realized that, to quote King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecc. 1: 2-3)

Well, of course, I got money and health insurance. And a sugar-water version of self-esteem because all my coworkers would coo, “You’re the best!” to manipulate me into doing way more than my job description actually required.

So when my husband gave me the option to leave a company I’d grown to hate in 2012, I leapt at the opportunity. There was only one problem: I didn’t know how to live without the faux self-esteem my career gave me.

So I set about replacing my office tasks with homemaking tasks, freelance writing tasks, eBay seller tasks, artist tasks et cetera ad nauseum to buoy-up my shaky self-esteem.

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But guess what!?! None of that really mattered either.

In essence, I’ve been living symbolically for most of my life. Performing to earn self-esteem brownie points. Producing to deserve to be alive.

Living symbolically has been my modus operandi for the past twenty years or more. For the victims of narcissistic abuse, it’s a way-of-life that extends from our work to our relationships to the way we part our hair. It’s all about performing, producing and lookin’ good.

Living symbolically means behaving like everything is fairy tale perfect á la codependence…even when it isn’t.

Living symbolically means smiling when someone hurts you.

Living symbolically means whistling and slapping on a fake smile to disguise the pain.

Living symbolically means wearing the right clothes, having the right manicure, wearing the latest hairstyle, driving the hottest car and otherwise trying to appear like we have it all together.

Living symbolically means filling your life with a bunch of activity so that, in the words of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, you’re “…pretending to be madly active, I suppose. Activity suggests a life filled with purpose.”

I don’t know how to stop living like this. Hell! I’m lucky if I can heat up a can of chicken noodle today!

All I’m saying is, the next time you’re sick, see it as a blessing. Let it reset your viewpoint on life and all that useless activity and all those fake smiles. As you snuggle with your heating pad, ask yourself, “Am I really living-living…or merely living symbolically?”


For more rants, ravings and reverse engineering of narcissism, please visit www.lenorathompsonwriter.com and don’t forget to subscribe for daily updates by email. Visit my website to order “anti-narc” art! The proceeds go to help me afford therapy. Thanks!

This article is for informational and educational purposes only. Under no circumstances should it be considered therapy nor replace therapy and treatment. If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting himself or herself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is staffed by certified crisis response professionals. The content of these blogs and all blogs written by Lenora Thompson are merely her opinion. If you are in need of help, please contact qualified mental health professionals.