How many times did your narcissist insist that you be “sweet”? Accuse you of not being “sweet”? Remind you to be “sweet”? Shame you for forgetting to be “sweet”? It seemed that the end-all-be-all goal for us (especially we women) was to be sweet — because narcissists can walk all over sweet people with nary a repercussion.
In time, our sickeningly sweet sugar coating hardened and crystallized, turning into a crunchy brittle exterior shell — rather like the the candy coating on an M & M®, Skittle® or crème brûlée. During the malstrøm of narcissistic abuse, it was a non-negotiable part of our equipment for survival. But now…now that we’re free of our narcissists, perhaps it’s time to shed our sharp, crunchy candy coating.
Only recently did I realize just how tough my own exoskeleton had grown. I started out sticky sweet and weak. I couldn’t “say boo to a goose” as the old cliché goes on top of being catatonic, careful not to show (much) pain or anger or upset because it made absolutely no difference. Escaping the narcissist’s sphere didn’t soften me. No, in fact I got even tougher because I had to hold my No Contact decision against all odds, assailants, threats, cult withdrawal and false guilt.
Being the family / caregiver of a family member with a chronic illness is another reason for developing a hard even harsh exoskeleton. Being the advocate for your ill family member is damned tough! You’ll find yourself at loggerheads with many medical staff — some of whom care and some of whom haven’t got a clue. I’ll be honest, one of my proudest moments was convincing a pissed off ER doctor into admitting my husband to hospital instead of just drugging him up and throwing him out.
Win or lose, each fight makes our brittle candy coating ever crunchier, harder, sharper. Pretty soon you’ll wake up and realize, “I don’t like how I am. My teeth are clenched and I grind them day and night. It’s hard to feel light-hearted emotions like humor, joy and love. My heart has calcified.”
Maybe it’s time to take a teaspoon to the just-burnt crisp sugar on the crème brûlée of our heart and crack it. That’s the best part of a crème brûlée, isn’t it. Cracking the top and letting the sweet creaminess bubble through.
Because we don’t need it anymore. The burnt-sugar was our protection because we were vulnerable, confused and weak. And why? Because the narcissist held all the cards and knew exactly how to pull our strings. Because we didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know the word “narcissism.” Life was just confusion and guilt. We blamed ourselves for everything. We were always waiting for the next shoe to drop, for the next explosion of rage, for the next dramatics. For the next guilt trip. In a way, it was a relief when it happened. Dreading it was the worst part.
Those days are over! If you’re No Contact, they’re (hopefully) over. Now our hard, prickly exterior is robbing us of our joy and we need to develop a different kind of strength. Have you ever noticed that the strongest people are the quietest. They don’t rant or rave. You can feel their quiet strength. They command respect without demanding it.
One of my models for quiet strength is Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle on the PBS show Foyle’s War. Oh I know it’s just a made-up drama, but DCS Foyle had an amazing strength despite being a quiet man, or perhaps, because of it. You couldn’t move him to emotion and therein lay his strength. His “yes” was “yes” and his “no” was “no.” That was it. Finis.
He’s my model for how I want to be. Not prickly. Not hard. Not dukes-up-all-the-time. But to know deep inside that you simply won’t be abused, won’t be goaded, won’t be provoked, can’t be taken advantage of. Once we realize that we’re no longer vulnerable, we can start cracking away at our own brittle burnt sugar crustiness so the sweet, rich crème brûlée of life, love and joy can bubble to the surface.