Once upon a time, now about seven year ago, I invited a lady friend to spend the day at my townhome. We had a lovely time, talking, eating and playing with my dogs. As evening approached, everything changed.
You see, the plan was for her husband to come to my house after work, eat supper and then they would go home. (They only had one car.) The closer the time came for her husband to arrive at my house, the more tense she became.
It was as though she was a mechanical doll with a winding key installed in her back. The closer he got, the more stressed she became. All the fun went out of the day. She became nervous, uptight, high strung and yes, even bossy and controlling.
She hovered over me as I prepared a simple meal of fried eggs and sausage. You could almost feel, see and smell how uptight she was that I get the meal “just right.” It seems her husband demanded that his meals be ready and piping hot the moment he arrived. Nearly done, wasn’t good enough. Done and cooling wasn’t good enough. Table set, but ooops! forgot the forks wasn’t good enough.
Everything had to be ready, perfect and hot, hot, hot.
By the time he arrived, his wife was a tightly coiled spring of tension. You couldn’t have wound her any tighter if you tried.
Her husband jestingly refers to her as “high strung.”
He should look in the mirror for he would be viewing the cause.
He is a narcissist. And a very impatient and perfectionistic one at that.
I grew up with a narcissist much like him. It was a nerve-wracking way to live. But you know that already. If you’re still reading this article, you’ve lived that nail-biting life too. You may almost feel the winding key installed in your back, ready for your narcissist to wind you up into a tightly coiled mass of tension.
After you escape a narcissist’s clutches, the memories dim, perhaps too quickly. That’s why I like to look back to how things used to be to increase my gratitude for how hedonistically relaxed my life is now.
For me, the tension began even before I got out of bed in the morning. You might say that the key sticking out of my back began to be wound up instantly upon waking.
Before even going to the bathroom in the morning, I would lay still and listen. Just listen. Take in the mood of the house, you might say. Listening was what I did. I was always listening, creeping around the edges of life, preferring to be the invisible mouse behind the wainscoting or the spider in the corner web. I listened to determine if there was arguing in the house…or harmony. Perhaps “harmony” is too strong of a word. Pseudomutuality might be closer to the mark.
It’s my understanding that normal people wake up slowly. There is a morning ritual that eases one gently into the day. Coffee. The newspaper. Something like that.
Not so in a narcissistic home! You’ve got to be ON from the moment you wake. Sometimes, I awoke to being volunteered. “Hurry, hurry, hurry. You’ve got to help with XY project.” Rarely I woke to a new Edict being handed down. A new “Thou Shalt” or “Thou Shalt Not.” Mostly, I awoke to a handwritten note, parenting by proxy, and verbal teasing. If I woke early, I was teased. If I woke late, I was teased.
All the while, the coiled spring that is Me was being wound tighter and tighter.
But I’m preaching to the choir, because you’ve already lived all of this, haven’t you.
Narcissists nag us to relax, chide us for our stress level but never realize or acknowledge the cause: THEM.
Here’s another classic example. Occasionally, I would be volunteered to cook for the family. You can tell from my terminology it wasn’t my favorite task! I wouldn’t have minded quite as much if creativity had been involved to bring joy to the job. But there was no creativity involved. Stick to the recipe! Secondly, I hated the food I had to cook. It was unequivocally gross.
Anyways, as I put the finishing touches on the meal, my Narcissist seated himself at the kitchen table and began staring at me. Watching me. Watching me. Watching me.
Then he started criticizing.
Now being watched is bad enough. Anyone but the coolest among us will start to get a bit nervous, a bit jumpy when watched. It gets worse when you know criticism will be forthcoming. And it’s even worse when you’re cooking. I dunno about you, but when I’m cooking I’m like an octopus on a hot plate. I cook with panache and fervor. I’m all over the place! That’s what makes it fun.
His chief criticism: “You’re so jerky and nervous. You need to be smooth and graceful in the kitchen.”
What did I say?
Nothing. As per usual.
But what the heck!?! If you stare at someone and start nagging, of course they’re going to be jumpy!! You’re winding up their internal spring. Classic narcissistic lack-of-empathy. Quintessential inhumanity.
Yet another way narcissists make us as jumpy as a cat on a hot tin roof is their impatience. At my house, there was one Cardinal Rule: “Never, ever, ever make him wait. Ever!“ If the narcissist drove up, you’d better be out the door and into that car immediately. Your stomach was in knots, one eye on the window, the other on the clock. The instant he pulled up, jump out the door, pull it closed, lock it and high-tail it to the car. That was our “normal.”
My stomach is in knots just writing about it. An ache of constant tension. A tension so “normal” I don’t realize I’m tensed until something triggers it to relax. My relaxation trigger? This may sound weird but it’s the Muzak background music they play in Asian restaurants. I dunno what it is about it! Walk into a Panda Buffet and my stomach muscles suddenly go splat. Sproinggggggg. Only when they go sproing do I realize how tightly spasmed my stomach has been for weeks, months.
To live with a narcissist is to have your internal spring wound more and more tightly each day. It’s about shots of adrenalin. It’s about constantly raised levels of the stress horomone, cortisol, which causes all kinds of physical problems from elevated blood sugar to heart disease, from high blood pressure to cattywampus horomone levels.
So “normal” may be your tension, you may not even realize you’re tense. Are you stiff? Are you jerky? A nurse recently chided me for having my bicep flexed while she tried to take my blood pressure. I literally could not tell that it was tensed. I couldn’t feel it.That would explain why a teacher of massage therapy once gave up on massaging my shoulder muscles saying, “I’ve never felt tighter muscles than yours.”
You may have been on a cortisol “high” since childhood. I remember my little friends refusing to play hand-clapping games with me in 1st grade. “You’re so stiff and jerky,” they said, “Relax.” I couldn’t. That explains my childhood stomachaches and headaches too. I rarely get them now that I’ve gone No Contact.
For the sake of our physical health, not to mention our sanity, we need to go No Contact with narcissists. Only then can our internal spring relax, our stomachs unknot, our cortisol levels go down…naturally.
It really is a matter of life or death.
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