In 1911, English writer, philosopher, and theologian G. K. Chesterton published a Father Brown mystery entitled The Three Tools of Death. In the tale, an ex-alcoholic named Armstrong runs a sort-of Cult of Happiness. He is aggressively happy and no one is allowed to be less than joyful in his presence, especially his daughter and the suitor he forbids her to marry.
Yet this gleeful ol’ soul is found dead under suspicious circumstances. Naturally, everyone assumes it’s murder. Surely, such a cheerful man would never do away with himself. Yet, they also can’t fathom such a happy person having any enemies.
Father Brown proves otherwise.
My family was a sort-of “Cult of Happiness” too. There was no place for sadness. No place for depression. And no self-compassion, self-empathy, or pity parties were ever, ever allowed.
Even a calm neutrality was unacceptable. Aggressive cheerfulness was the name of the game. “Surely,” you’re thinking, “it must have been a wonderful place to live.”
Instead, the pressure to be constantly cheerful made it not a sort-of Heaven but rather a kind-of Hell. The Hell of Perpetual Happiness. Here’s how Father Brown described it:
“You see,” said Father Brown, blinking modestly, “I’m not sure that the Armstrongcheerfulness is so very cheerful — for other people.”
My friends tell me that this situation is typical of a narcissistic home. Not that narcissists want to see us joyful or anything. But they also don’t want to live with the repercussions of their unkind words and actions. “Why are you such a sad sack?” my friend’s narcissistic husband often snipes at her. His unkindness and adultery are, naturally, the cause. But he’ll never, ever own it.
I’m convinced the pressure to be all sweetness-and-light was to assuage my family’s collective conscience (btw, “conscience” literally means “with knowledge” in Greek) so they could “honestly” say or do whatever their cult-like narcissism desired. Luckily, all those lectures on being happy and how my sadness was like “B.O. of the personality” belie any claim they might make about having “no idea” I was miserable!
The pressure to be bubbly underpins why narcissists always accuse us of “not being able to take a joke.” Their genius lies in couching cruelty in humor. But dare to react to their meanness, or even worse, call them out and you are the problem, not they.
No matter what was said to or about me, I learned to keep my smile in place and my mouth firmly shut. (Actually, I whistled when hurt. Mom told me later she knew it was a sign I was upset.) Even now, I often find myself sitting around, perpetually smiling out of sheer habit. My fellow narcissism survivors tell me they do the same thing. They’ve been told their faces are only at rest when they’re sleeping. Must be nice! Personally, I talk, sit upright, kick, flap my feet, grind my teeth and even chew on tongue in my sleep.
Forbidding sadness and self-empathy heaps cruelty upon cruelty. Basically, the Cult of Happiness was foisted upon us so those with NPD could continue to abuse us endlessly with no repercussions, no guilt, no accountability. As Father Brown said:
“And the Religion of Cheerfulness — ”“It is a cruel religion,” said the priest, looking out of the window.
“Why couldn’t they let him weep a little…behind that merry mask was
the empty mind…to keep up his hilarious public level, he fell back on…alcoholism…he sat here and cried he was in hell…”
Perpetual happiness: It’s a kind-of cruel Hell.
Merry Christmas to all my readers. God bless us, everyone! And if you liked what you read, please subscribe!