“Tighten up!” he told me, his hands balled into fists to demonstrate what tightening-up should look like. “Tighten up. We don’t live like other people.” Well, that’s for damn sure. I’d made the mistake of trying to be normal. Ah, foolish me. I forgot how to live in the narcissist’s way.
That’s how narcissists live…all tightened-up. Terrified of not appearing perfect at all times. Terrified you won’t be perfect and will reflect poorly on them. They take life so…damn…seriously and insist that we do too. Good grief!!!
As I approach my fortieth birthday, I become more and more convinced that life is quite ridiculous. “Life is the funniest thing that ever happened to me” I like to say. And humans are the most adorable silly creatures God ever made.
To quote Dame Thora Hird in Lost for Words, we all just need to “wink at” life. “Wink at it” she said in her garbled post-stroke efforts to talk. She was right. Any other approach to this maddening, confusing, wonderful, frightening, blessed, funny, challenging thing called “Life” just doesn’t work. If we’re going to get through this life with our physical and mental health intact, humor is the best approach. We need to “wink at it.” Not take it so damn seriously!
I’m preaching to the choir here because, goodness knows! I don’t do that. I am my narcissist’s daughter after all. My narcissists took life extremely seriously. They modeled, showed, taught, preached, insisted and hands-in-fists demonstrated how to live a tightened-up, serious life.
All I ever wanted was a normal life. A relaxed, romantic Améliesque life. A happy life. An eccentric, artistic life with lots of laughter, theatre, dance, music and travel. So, I’m writing this article for me…and you’re welcome to it too. Together we can figure out “how should we then live” with humor and a twinkle in our eye.
Ah, a twinkle. Narcissists don’t twinkle very much, do they. One of the saddest things about their existence is how they have no sense of whimsy, love or humor towards their fellow man’s faults and foibles.
They are the polar opposite of comedians like Bill Engvall. His whole schtick is based on observing his fellow man with love, humor and a twinkle…and voila! Out comes his trademark “Here’s Your Sign.” (As in they need to be handed a sign to wear that says “I’m Stupid.”)
If you’re unfamiliar with Bill Engvall, here’s my favorite “Here’s Your Sign.” A semidriver gets his truck stuck under a bridge on the highway. When the state trooper pulls up, he just can’t help captioning the obvious: “Ya get your truck stuck?” he asks.
Without missing a beat, the semidriver responds, “No sir. I was delivering that overpass and I ran outta gas.”
Where Bill Engval sees lovable foibles, narcissists see only idiots that anger them. Where Bill finds humor, narcissists are quick to congratulate themselves that they would never be that stupid! Where Bill sees struggling humanity that always has a pearl missing from their necklace and a thread hanging from their hem, narcissists get mad. Mad!
That’s an extension of their lack of boundaries. Others’ faults anger them. Others’ foibles enrage them. There is no whimsy, no fantasy, no cherishing of eccentricity in a narcissist’s heart towards themselves, their loved ones nor the world at large. They’re so “tightened up” they want everyone else to be similarly highly-strung and tightly-wound.
Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, there was a narcissist who took life deadly seriously and was adamantly Right about everything. Then he got cancer and he was furious with God. After all, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink, he proselytized, he controlled his family with an iron fist, he tried to always do the right thing…and he got cancer anyways. How could God have allowed that Bad Thing to happen to such a Good Person!?!
So he went through chemotherapy. And the cancer came back. This time, this man decided his stress level was causing it. So he got to work on decreasing his stress level. In a teeth-gritted and hands-in-fists kind-of-way, he fought to control his stress tooth and nail. He layered stress-about-being-so-stressful on top of being stressful in the first place. And the cancer came back and back and back.
Cancer became his hobby. Every spare moment was devoted to researching cancer. Reading medical studies. Finding out about clinical trials. Fighting cancer became his whole life, his identity. Every menu was designed to fight cancer. He took fighting cancer as deadly seriously as he took his whole life seriously.
He didn’t watch comedy shows to fill his system with cancer-fighting endorphins. He didn’t get his cortisol tested. He didn’t take St. John’s Wort or other calming herbs. He didn’t travel. He didn’t make a bucket list and have so much fun fulfilling his bucket list that he simply forgot to die! He even seemed to ignore the simple, safe, natural cancer fighting techniques his daughter kept updating on her website for him. He played a lot of sports and took a lot of supplements and went from über-controlling to control freak. He tried to control everything…from his family and coworkers to his own stress and cancer, he doubled down on controlling everything and everyone. He wouldn’t even let his daughter use the bathroom at night anymore. He was his own worst enemy. Need I add that he was a narcissist?
Now let me tell you about another man. A man who, in his late thirties, was told he had an extremely rare and terminal lung disease and wouldn’t make it to the age of forty. You know what that man did? He said, “Thank goodness! It’s wonderful to know what’s wrong with me finally after three years of testing!” He didn’t succumb to depression or anger. Knowing the truth at long last was a relief. He just winked and said, “I guess I’m a lunger like Doc Holiday in Tombstone.” Then he got busy with living!
He winks at death, just as he winks at life. He doesn’t take anything particularly seriously. He eats what he wants, when he wants (within reason.) He has many hobbies and is passionate about them all. He doesn’t try to control anything or anyone, including himself or me! He laughs a lot and is the happiest person I know…despite chronic, constant pain that puts a cramp in his style and severely limits his activities. And guess what!? I married that man when he was forty-two and he’s almost fifty now!
They say that a deathbed confession is considered reliable in a court of law. Maybe that’s why I look at my husband with one-foot-in-the-grave-and-the-other-on-a-banana-peel as giving the most reliable life advice. If anyone knows “how we should then live,” it’s he.
Wink at life. Don’t take life so damn seriously. Si’down. Relax. Just do what you wanna do. That’s what he always tells me.
There’s more!!! Click here to read Part 2!