What’s the very best thing to do if your toddler is laying on the floor, kicking, screaming and thrashing in a full-blown temper tantrum? Ignore them…utterly. Why? Because if you take it seriously, you give their tantrum and them power and they’ll keep repeating the behavior that moved you to action…and emotion.
But if your toddler’s huge expense of energy and emotion achieves precisely nothing, if it’s not even noticed, well then! They may just “straighten up and fly right” as the old song goes.
Hmmmmm, I wonder if that wisdom also pertains to narcissists. After all, we’ve been told they have the emotional intelligence of a toddler. Like a coloratura sorprano warming up, their favorite song is “me, me, me, me, ME, me, me, me, me.” What if we were to ignore them and their drama, their grown-up sophisticated versions of a toddler’s temper tantrum? What then? Would it take away all their power?
Seriousness! That was one of the main lessons I learned from growing up in a narcissistic home. Life must be taken dead seriously. Narcissists must be taken dead seriously. Their every word, every tale of woeful victimhood, every pronouncement of superiority, every fit of swearing, every passion of impatience, every show of bravado and, especially, every blackout rage must be taken drop-down dead seriously!
It wasn’t just implied or modeled. It was said outright. “Tighten up!!!!” I was told by a parent with fists clenched into balls to demonstrate exactly how “tightening up” should look. Apparently, the right way to live was all “tightened up.” Hyper-perfect to the point of nausea. Hyper-clean to the point of paranoia. (I was once told to go wash my hands in the middle of supper because I had reached up and touched my own hair. True story!)
Life wasn’t a joyous adventure where “the destination is the journey.” Heck no! It was something to be triumphed over. To be succeeded at while also impressing those around you. (I speak as Exhibit A for the Defense, the Golden Child who had to prove to all and sundry what wonderful people and parents I had!) There was no winking at life, no chuckle at the absurdity of it all…especially our own eccentricity. (I now subscribe to the theory proposed by C. S. Lewis that life, like sex, needs nothing so much as a good dose of belly laughter!)
We were nose-to-the-grindstone, wax-the-car-twice-a-year-without-fail serious, damned serious, people.
What if all that seriousness was simply narcissism-in-action? Take it all away and whaddya get? Narcissists’ kryptonite: not taking them seriously. Treating them and all their drama with a colossal eyeroll…the kind that’s so dramatic you can almost hear it.
That thought occurred to me this morning because, well, let’s just say my Michael is not a morning person. There’s a certain amount of cantankerous damning and onnery blasting that goes on until he’s sufficiently caffeinated. Or, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw in Pygmalion, I make espresso for Michael “until he'[s] drunk himself cheerful and loving-like.” I mean, he’s always loving-like but caffeine really helps with the whole “cheerful” thing.
Now, as we know from my article Triggers, Triggers, Who’s Got Triggers!?, swearing is my trigger because my narcissist only swore when he was raging.That’s why I provide coffee and then absent myself to “go work on my articles” until my dear ex-truck driver has enough caffeine in his system to smooth off the rough edges. What I’m really doing is protecting my triggers!
But this morning, I had a stroke of brilliance. Yes, it only took almost seven years of marriage! But today I thought, “What if I didn’t take his damning and blasting so damn seriously!?”
Then I realized I only take it seriously because I was taught to take everything seriously, but especially swearing, at a narcissist’s arthritic knee.
Take away “taking them seriously” and what do narcissists have left? An audience that is slightly bemused and thoroughly disgusted by their antics. A family that sees straight through their bullshittery and can’t be moved by their RADA*-worthy dramatics anymore.
Remove seriousness and you’re removed narcissists’ power.
Let me tell you a little true-life story about narcissist’s egotistical assumption of power by being taken seriously and what happens when they lose that power.
As most of you know, my narcissists tried to wrest control over this blog (and force me to re-establish contact with them) a mere two months after Narcissism Meets Normalcy was launched as I wrote in The Dramatic Untold Story of how Narcissists tried to Hijack this Blog. As I had obeyed them implicitly through fear for three decades, they assumed their threat of legal action would cow me into full submission, as I’d always submitted before.
Stupidly, I tried to meet them halfway without jeopardizing my integrity nor the truth and freedom of this blog. Instead of respecting my compromise, they took my graciousness for weakness and directed their attorney to came roaring back with a whole new set of paranoic demands that can only be described as batshit crazy. I was literally shocked by the lunacy of their demands.
Their mistake (well, one of many!) was to assume that I still took them seriously — as seriously as I did when they went into their bedbug phase and put the library books in a hot dryer to “kill the bug eggs.” Back then, I acquiesced to their every demand. The seriousness with which I thought about them and my fear of their anger informed my abject obedience. When I stopped taking them seriously, I stopped fearing them and began to chuckle at their antics.
Now I see narcissist for what they are: big, grown-up, hairy, wrinkled toddlers, using long words that can be summed up: “Waaaaaaaaa, I want my own way. Waaaaaaaaaaa.” They may swear and pound to frighten us and trigger our PTSD, but if they were just a few years younger and a few feet shorter, they’d be laying on the floor kicking and screaming, babbling in baby talk instead. Come to think of it, I once saw a narcissist laying on the floor, kicking and screaming … but it was because he was ecstatic over winning a game of Parcheesi. True story.
Yeah, I’m gonna stop taking life, “onnery” people and narcissists so damn seriously. It’s taking all the fun out of life and giving them waaaaay too much power.
But if I forget…you remind me. 😉
*Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
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