I am a perpetrator of narcissistic abuse. I carried it out aggressively and single-mindedly. I hurt the person nearest and dearest to me:
When the narcissists weren’t around, I still carried forth their agenda with a single-minded allegiance to their mission to “fix” me. When they were absent, I kept their words fresh in my own mind. I berated myself, lectured myself, punished myself.
I was complicit in the narcissistic abuse against myself.
But why? Why would any reasonably intelligent person do this?
For two reasons:
- The desire to be “a good person.”
- To end the pain of narcissistic abuse by attaining to the narcissist’s high standards in a bid to finally please them and end the abuse.
Perhaps that sounds, well, stupid! But cast your mind back. Remember what your narcissist told you? You were at fault. You were flawed. You were in the wrong. All their criticisms, harangues and manipulation were caused by you. They did it to make you a better person.
Who wouldn’t want to be a better person!? After all, only a narcissist thinks they’ve achieved perfection and have no flaws to correct, and we certainly didn’t want to be like our abuser!
So we became complicit in the narcissistic abuse of ourselves. And for the best possible motive. You wanted to be a good person and so did I. So we internalized the oft-repeated accusations, the repetitive lectures and repeated them back to ourselves.
But it gets worse.
I’ve yet to meet a victim of narcissistic abuse who isn’t intelligent and well-spoken. In a way, our own intelligence was our biggest liability. We reasoned that if we could only achieve the rarified level of perfection our narcissist chided us for not attaining, then the abuse would go away. Hey! It’s a logical assumption.
So we set to work, abusing ourselves even more in our quest for the Promised Land of Perfection. We applied all our intelligence and ingenuity to fixing ourselves so we’d could be loved, accepted…left alone! The narcissist always dangled perfection in front of our noses, the carrot they used to excuse the stick they wielded against us. If we’d stop being irritating, sinful, stupid, etc., then they wouldn’t “have to” treat us the way they did.
But we’re not quitters! We’ve got a heck of a work ethic. After all, if the narcissist didn’t believe we were capable of being better…why would they bother to dangle the carrot and wield the stick!? We wanted to give up but we never did. We rolled up our sleeves and tried even harder.
We watched our actions even more closely. We interrogated our motivations. We harangued ourselves. We stopped doing anything that irritated the narcissists, like going places and having friends, and became reclusive shut-ins. We tried to become asexual. We spoke less and smiled more. We dreamed about being invisible.
We died inside.
Our motives were pure. Our allegiance was true. It looked good, it seemed good, even holy, but it wasn’t. What we did to ourselves was wrong…dead wrong. In our quest for goodness and perfection, we actually did something morally wrong.
We abused ourselves. We hurt ourselves. We treated ourselves most unfairly. We failed to follow the Golden Rule towards ourselves. We “did unto ourselves” in ways we would never “do unto others.”
So what is the alternative? If we stop browbeating ourselves, will we relapse into the selfish, egotistical, hedonistic hoodlum the narcissists accused us of being? I know you’re worried about it, but trust me. Inside, you are already a very good person indeed.
If both narcissistic puffery and victimized groveling are wrong, in the words of Francis Schaeffer, “How should we then live?”.
First, apologize to yourself. Wrap your arms around yourself and tell yourself how sorry, deeply sorry, you are for participating in the narcissistic abuse of yourself. Even if you can’t cry normally, the floodgates may open. Weep. Mourn. Comfort eat. Give yourself time to grieve.
Second, forgive yourself…because you meant it for the best. Like a brainwashed cult members, your motives were pure even if your actions were wrong. You were brainwashed, mind-controlled. Let yourself off the hook.
Third, realize that you are a good person. No, not perfect. But good. Good-hearted. Well-intentioned. You care about doing the right thing. And all the evil the narcissist suspected or accused you of…oh, that was just projection! The projected all their badness onto you.
Fourth, find a comfortable place to “land”…to form your new-and-improved understanding of who you really are. Refurbished self-esteem. Perhaps your Happy Place is found amongst positive affirmations. Perhaps you prefer a blissful kind of self-unawareness. It’s a process! You don’t stop loathing yourself overnight. Five years into recovery, I still have rare moments of yelling “Failure!” at the reflection in the mirror.
Personally, I hope to land in a place called “humility.” Oh, not how the narcissist defined it when they screamed, “YOU NEED TO BE HUMBLE!” on that one-and-only occasion when you made the mistake of standing up for yourself and protesting your innocence. I prefer how C. S. Lewis defined humility in his amazing book The Screwtape Letters.
“[God] wants to bring the man
to a state of mind in which
he could design the best cathedral in the world,
and know it to be the best,
and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less)
or otherwise glad at having done it
than he would be if it had been done by another.”
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Relaxing. Neither egotistic nor groveling. Just calmly happy.
Lewis goes on to say…
“[God] wants him, in the end, to be so free
from any bias in his own favour
that he can rejoice in his own talents
as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talent –
or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.
He wants each man, in the long run,
to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself)
as glorious and excellent things.
He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible..”
And the narcissists have done that for us already! They definitely killed any love we may have cherished for ourselves.
“…but it is His long-term policy…to restore to them a new kind of self-love –
a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own…”
Charity. Gratitude. And here is the denouement. The best part of the quote.
“When they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves,
they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.”
Dear readers, we have loved our neighbours, our friends, our families and our narcissists well and truly.
Now, it’s time to love ourselves as gently, warmly and kindly as we love everyone else.