Teasing! Narcissistic teasing! Cruel teasing! It was no mistake that teasing made it into the “Top 10” topics I first published when Narcissism Meets Normalcy launched almost three years ago. Today I find myself inspired to return to the subject by one thing: the bathroom mirror. Apparently I’ve misplaced my Ring of Power because, unlike Bilbo Baggins, I’m definitely showing my age.
I don’t know what happened to me but hello silver hair! The first thing that crossed my mind was not “dye it” or “let’s get this menopause show on the road.” No! My first thought was, “I will never let my narcissists see me like this.”
Why? Vanity? Vain pride? Ego?
I just don’t need any more hurtful teasing couched in so-called humor. My lifetime quotient is shaken down, spilling over and maxed out.
It’s fascinating that over five years into recovery, I still find myself anticipating every possible criticism or tease that can possibly come my way. It’s a lifelong reflex. One of my earliest memories was tearfully begging, “Mommy, please tell him to stop teasing me! I’m scared to ask him myself.” It was a request repeated from time-to-time that rarely did much good.
It’s not that I can’t take a joke, a jab or a josh. So can you! Of all people, we victims of narcissistic abuse are most able to chuckle when our own little idiosyncrasies or foibles are pointed out. But there’s a subtle yet dramatic difference between the cruelty of narcissistic teasing and, well, other types of teasing. Here, I’ll give you an example.
My husband likes to tease me which, I guess, is good because “boys tease girls they like.” I don’t mind his teasing because, oddly enough, it’s constructive. For example, last Wednesday he was scheduled for an ultrasound at the hospital (an hour away) and I planned on going with him.
On Tuesday, he noticed I was vacuuming and dusting. “Ah,” he remarked with a twinkle, “cleaning in case we die on the road tomorrow?” I stopped, dumbfounded. He was right! I learned at my mother’s knee to always wear new(ish) underwear and always clean the house if you’re going on a trip. That way, if you die in a fiery vehicular crash, no one will think badly of you after you’re gone. With that little tease, he showed me just how ridiculous I was!
Narcissists’ teasing is quite different. They may indeed be pointing out a weakness, foible or downright failing of ours, but their teasing is cruelty couched in humor. It makes us feel shame, guilt and embarrassment. It tears us down instead of building us up. Makes us more tense, more uptight, more perfectionistic, leaves us feeling more vulnerable, more judged, more paranoid.
Soon we learn to anticipate the teasing. To head it off at the pass. Without the advantage of knowing what narcissism was, we determined to become above reproach. In a word, perfect.
It’s a habit that becomes so ingrained, well, I don’t know about you…but I have yet to shake it. Which leads us back to my temples sprouting silver hair at an alarming rate. I don’t mind it for its own sake. If anything, I find the signs of aging to be interesting. As they say, “wrinkles are just where smiles have been” and apparently I’ve smiled a lot.
But I know my narcissist well enough to know what my silver threads amongst the gold would be like a baseball set up on a tee. He just couldn’t help hitting it out of the park. He’d find it utterly irresistible.
And I am utterly done taking his teasing. Others may tease me and I’ll laugh heartily right along with them. But his teasing days are over. He outstayed his welcome and frankly, he’s not nearly as funny as he thinks he is. He trespassed on my good nature for a quarter of a century. Not only that, he used teasing as a form of discipline which brings me to an interesting phenomenon.
Many people use teasing as an innocuous way to hint that they dislike something about us but don’t want the drama and emotional upheaval of a direct confrontation. That’s what my husband does and I find it diplomatic and rather charming.
This doesn’t work for narcissists. Because they tease so much, so constantly, about absolutely everything, when they do use a tease to diplomatically bring a real failing of ours to our attention, well! It falls on deaf ears. Yes, it hurts. All their teasing hurts. But we’ve trained ourselves to appear deaf and blind to it. To ignore all of it.
I first ran across this phenomenon at my office. A particularly emotional coworker was shooting messages my way. Well, that’s a bit of an understatement. Actually, she was yelling at me. Stomping away mid-conversation. I had no earthly idea why! What could I have possible done to piss her off!?
It took a neutral coworker to do some discrete inquiring to determine her huff was based on a very wrong assumption. This neutral coworker was the perfect guy for the job. His “superpower” was being extremely acute to all those little messages that may (or may not!) be implied in the most innocent conversations.
He was a big believer in, as Bing Crosby says in White Christmas, “Everyone has an angle.” This coworker was convinced that everyone had an angle, everyone was always working their angle and he was brilliant at figuring out their angles.
This shocked me. I was as blind and deaf to all “angles” as he was, IMHO, overly sensitive and even imaginatively saw angles where none existed. How could I be so hardened? So numb? So utterly unaware of hidden messages?!
Teasing!!! Years and years of training myself to ignore all teasing — the good, the bad, the honest, the cruel, the constructive, the destructive — I ignored it all. Perhaps I remonstrated a little, but generally I pinched my mouth shut, whistled a happy tune (literally) and kept my pain to myself. From the age of six when I futilely begged, “Mommy, ask him stop teasing me!” , I developed two dysfunctional coping mechanisms: ignoring everything and perfectionism. They did me both great service and great disservice.
Ignoring everything meant, if I had an actual fault, you had to sit down with me and explain it very clearly and calmly. Hinting didn’t work. Teasing didn’t work. Only direct confrontation worked.
Perfectionism made me, well, a perfectionist with all the misery that brings!
And now? Now that you and I have gone No Contact, what now? Both the “ignoring everything” and the “perfectionism” are biting us in the ass.
The truth is that a valid criticism can be kindly couched in a humor to soften the blow. Not the cruel type of humor; the constructive type. It’s a skill we need to learn — both how to hear it and how to use it ourselves. It’s the middle ground between angry in-your-face confrontation and nasty nitpicking concealed in humor.
And that old bugaboo perfectionism: what happened the last time you were imperfect? Perhaps you forgot something. Misplaced something. Were late for an appointment. Forgot to pay a bill. Ran out of gas. Left the dishes unwashed. What happened? That’s right! Nothing happened. You fixed your mistake, paid the bill, eventually got the dishes washed. Your “failure” disappeared. Those who truly loved you didn’t jump all over you. They didn’t notice it, helped you with it, didn’t hold it against you. Life went on quite nicely.
Here’s the funny thing. Life can be quite nice, quite relaxed, not-as-serious-as-all-that if we just remove the narcissist(s) from our sphere or remove ourselves from their sphere (whichever works best). If I may quote Tolkien: “Life in the wide world goes on much as it has this past age, full of its own comings and goings, scarcely aware of the existence of” your dirty dishes!
Sans narcissists and their poison tongues we can grow gray and wrinkled (and fat!), like hobbits, in peace and quiet behind our round green front doors.