I started cooking. And it was the beginning of the end. I know, I know. That sounds, well, weird. So let me explain.

Of Narcissists and Creativity

Have you ever noticed how narcissists sneer at your creativity? Give it a think. I’ll wait……

………..

It’s true, isn’t it? And the reason is obvious. They’re jealous of anything they don’t have. Your creativity makes them feel inferior. Because now, you’ve got something they haven’t got.

Yet, they fear striking out in their own creative pursuits because, well! If they aren’t the best, the highest, the most celebrated in their chosen field, then they again feel inferior.

So they don’t even try.

And they don’t approve of our forays into creativity either.

Which leads me to the Case of the Lentil Hotdish.

The Case of the Lentil Hotdish

“Here’s the recipe for Lentil Hotdish,” I was told, high-handedly. “You stay in the house and make this dish. We’ll be back at 5 p.m. to eat it.” The LAW had been LAID DOWN.

I was twenty-nine. My life stagnated, stuck in a narcissistic household. And now they simply took it foregranted that I would stay home on a beautiful Saturday and cook because they ordered me to. Because it was assumed I didn’t have anything else to do. As if I didn’t contribute enough and pay enough and work hard enough for the great privilege of being forced to live in a place I hated. Now I had to cook that disgusting recipe as well. It was the maraschino cherry on top of the shit-pile of narcissistic abuse.

Oh, but it gets worse. I looked down at the recipe in my hands: Lentil Hotdish on Fettucine. From eating it many, many times I knew this un-salvageable recipe had only one end result: a gooey, sticky mound of lentilly mush, liberally seasoned with cinnamon, resting on a bed of gummy noodles. Nothing could rescue this dish.

My family ate it frequently, happily scarfing one, two, even three servings per person. I could barely poke it down, filling up on garlic bread and milk instead.

Worse yet, the recipe left no scope for imagination. Even if there had been a drop of cream in the refrigerator, cooking for the family left no room for culinary creativity. Follow…the…recipe. That was how I was taught to cook. No spontaneity. No…no….panache! 

No wonder I hated cooking!

A year later, I began cooking for myself, sans recipes. Oddly enough, it was the key that unlocked the door to freedom.

Cooking vs Creating!

“You’re baking a loaf of carrot bread?!?” She was pissed!

Incensed! Upset! Flabbergasted that I was wasting the energy to bake an entire loaf of carrot bread, rather than baking the same batter in muffin cups which would’ve taken half the time to bake.

Later my efforts in disastrous caramel-making by boiling sugar and water for a long time were met with a condescending, “Well, just this time, but don’t waste that much natural gas again.”

And we mustn’t forget the drama and paranoia over the specter of my contaminating the kitchen with so-called “raw meat germs.” In the end, their high-strung nervousness over my use of the communal kitchen was one of the reasons they finally “allowed” me to leave. As I told them, “There isn’t room for me in this house anymore.” By appealing to their self-interest, the key began turning in the lock of my “stuckness.”

Heaven only knows what would’ve happened if I’d tackled a real Julia Child-esque hollaindaise sauce, littering the kitchen with separated raw eggs, eggshells, lemon juice, lemon rinds, clarified butter, cold butter, whisks, a bain-marie…

You see, narcissists enjoy putting a stick in the spokes of our creativity. They’ll find some reason…practicality, cleanliness, finances, lack of space, whatever…to take exception to our creativity…on purely practical grounds, of course. But it’s about motives. And theirs are rarely pure. To this day I wonder…do they know their motives aren’t pure?

Sour Grapes over Sour Notes

It wasn’t just in the kitchen that creativity tangles with narcissistic folderol. Their nonsense even invades the sacred sphere of music.

I dunno about you, but music has always been my escape. In Bach I hear the perfection that precludes any evil. In klezmer, I found an outlet for the anguish and anger I wasn’t allowed to express in any other way. And in fiddling, I found pure joy. That’s why I began learning how to play the fiddle at the ripe ol’ age of twenty-four.

And the narcissist didn’t like it.

I mean, “on paper” he was encouraging…even proud of me. But new fiddlers will hit sour notes. After the first ten thousand Twinkles you start getting it right. But the narcissist cringed and grimaced at my clunkers. He sent an emissary to tell me my efforts were causing him distress. I needed to slow down and “fix” all my sour notes (which is the very antithesis to learning fiddling. To learn to play fast you gotta play, y’know, fast…and to Hell with the sour notes. They’ll fix themselves in time.)

I responded by refusing to play fiddle around him anymore at all. Instead, I made him play my fiddle.

And he thought I sounded bad!?! Ha! Where’s my knee? I gotta slap it!

Clean Up Your Mess

Yet another way for narcissists to crap on our creativity is the ubiquitous “clean up your mess.”

And as any creative person knows, creativity thrives on leaving “the mess.” Putting up and tearing down constantly is the antithesis of creating. It destroys the creative process. Saps the energy. Drains the passion.

“You may not come back,” I was always told, “so clean up your mess.” Heck! I was told to “fold your lap blanket” every time I left the futon for a moment.

Granted, we had a smallish house and limited space…but creativity is more important than clean spaces and a spartan existence.

Creativity feeds the soul! Neatness be damned!

Creativity For Recovery

Narcissism throttles creativity. Thus it follows that reclaiming and rediscovering our passions, our creativity is vital for our recovery. For healing the soul. While books on narcissism might not mention it, books on cult recovery always discuss creativity as essential to recovery. And cults / narcissism…pretty damn similar. So it follows that the recovery process is petty darn similar too.

Think back to your happiest moments as a child. Times when the world, your surroundings, even yourself ceased to exist because you were so immersed in creativity. Lost in your passion for building, designing, decorating, painting, playing an instrument, singing. Those are the happiest, highest moments.

I’m grateful for having been exposed to great art, great orchestras, great poetry in childhood. My childhood was littered with watercolor paints and glitter, playdough and pipe cleaners, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and C.S. Lewis, Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Brandenburg concerti, kneeding foccacia, sniffing all the spices, tasting Tobasco (big mistake!) and cutting out Christmas cookies. In childhood, I learned to treasure creativity. The only thing missing was a pet.

Narcissistic abuse intruded more in my teens and got so much worse later on. Narcissism precludes those wonderful moments. We feel watched…critiqued…criticized. We’re always looking over our shoulders to see if they’re watching us. We can’t relax enough to lose ourselves in the joy of creativity in an atmosphere of narcissistic abuse.

Organically Reclaiming Creativity

One of my greatest joys upon escaping from the narcissists was basking in an environment of free, calm, relaxed creativity. One table was devoted to creativity…and I never cleaned it up. No! It remained a delightful, creative mess ready for my forays into decorating, sewing, you-name-it at any and all times…even if it was just for five minutes. Best of all, I could finally have dogs!!!

My condo balcony bulged with planters…even the railing sported over-the-rail planters. (HINT: Don’t plant 3-foot tall plants in railing planters. It looks ridiculous! LOL.) Morning glories trailed up the balustrades, wound around the railings, met and twined around each other forming gothic floral arches. It was joyful!!

Best of all, Julia Child and I had a meeting-of-the-minds in the kitchen. I delighted in deveining my own shrimp. Learning to cook with wine. Not sparing the butter, the cream…or the power to cook my food. Cooking went from a chore I passionately disliked to a creative in-the-moment hobby. My cupboards bulged with oyster juice, anchovy paste, red wine vinegar…how pleased my brand-new husband was when he explored my kitchen for the first time in 2012! “This woman has everything!” he exclaimed to himself.

But all that went on hold when I discovered narcissism in 2013. Flooded in anger and grief, cooking became merely a necessary evil yet again. Me and my OCD would much rather clean than cook.

Healing Re-energizes Creativity

Suddenly, Julia Child re-entered my life two weeks ago. Without thinking much about it, 6’2″ Julia and 5’7″ I “inhabit” my kitchen again. What’s so surprising is that I didn’t plan it. Didn’t even realize my recovery had reached the place where creativity returns. My interest in French cooking spontaneously re-ignited after a four year sabbatical.

With healing comes creativity. Spontaneously. You don’t have to try. It’ll just kinda’…happen. As your heart heals (and it will!) and your soul finds more peace (and it will!), suddenly you’ll find yourself pursuing your passion again. Immersed in a painting. Fiddling a tune. Tickling the ivories. Warbling a melody. Cooking a boeuf bourguignon or dripping with sweat, whipping up your first Hollandaise sauce. (Never sweat so much in my life! LOL)

That’s when you know healing has begun and you can finally get on with it.

Get on with the business of living a happy, creative life.

Photo by Stacy Spensley