Recently I ran across a story about a woman who was raised, married and (basically) enslaved in a cult for many years. One of the cult’s dogmas was that the female members leave school as soon as legally possible without receiving their High School Diploma.
Sarah, as we’ll call her, desperately wanted her GED but her parents refused. They bent the cult’s rules just enough to yield, “But if you insist on getting your GED, we’ll allow it but you’ll have to pay for the test yourself.” Elated she responded, “Wonderful! I’ll get a job.”
“Oh, no,” they responded, “You can’t get a job. We won’t allow it.” They told her the world was a dangerous place with people living evil lives. Only in the cult would she be safe. She spent the next twenty years in that “safety” — uneducated, doing menial labor, living in poverty, bearing one child after another for her husband-by-arranged-marriage who was too good to support his wife and children.
It’s a terrible story but what sprang off the page at me was the “Yes-You-Can-But-Actually-No-You-Can’t” impossible situation Sarah’s parents created for her. They said “yes” to make themselves look and feel good, while setting so many rules that their theoretical “yes” become a real “no.”
The Impossible Situation is a topic I’ve long wanted to address in Narcissism Meets Normalcy, but how do you broach such a hard-to-pin-down topic? Sarah’s story was the key I needed to finally write about how narcissists are masters, nay, artists at creating impossible situations for their Loved Ones.
I know just how Sarah felt as I too was handed impossible situations by my narcissists who said “yes” to CYA for themselves, while simultaneously say “no” … by setting so many rules that their “yes” was no long reasonably viable.
It reminds me of something Sheldon Cooper said in The Big Bang Theory: “At our committee meeting, Amy made a motion for a picnic in a park, but I tacked so many amendments on that thing it sank like a lead balloon.” That’s what narcissists do. They may vote “yea,” but by the time they’re done, they’ve made so many amendments on their “yea” that it turns into a concrete “nay.”
Why not just say “no” you ask? Oh, narcissists are much too clever to actually come right out and say “no.” No one wants to be the bad guy, the wet blanket, the slayer of dreams. They simply make the situation so impossible that we throw up our hands and say, “Forget it!” Then it’s our fault. We’re quitters. We’re losers. We are the problem. Not them. (Alternatively, they may use their Flying Monkey to be the “naysayer.”)
My first real awareness of the Impossible Situation came when I turned eighteen. I’d finally mastered all the rules for my teen years and figured I might have a shot at never getting in trouble ever again. Then I turned eighteen, got my driver’s license and the apron-strings began to stretch a bit. That led me to ask, “What are the new rules?” Did my narcissists tell me? Nope! Frankly, I don’t think they were prepared to answer that question. “Just ask us if you want to do something,” they said. I felt like I was being set-up for shame and embarrassment and I was right.
When I think back to those years, the most Impossible Situation I encountered surrounded the seemingly innocent topic of Transportation. Oh, I had my license, a reliable car and a perfect driving record. Transportation should have been a breeze. Right? Wrong!
- I wasn’t allowed to drive very far from my house. (How far? That was never made clear.)
- I wasn’t allowed to drive on freeways or highways.
- I wasn’t allowed to drive after dark (except by special dispensation.)
- I wasn’t allowed to drive somewhere where I couldn’t be easily “rescued” (whatever that meant and why I would need to be rescued still puzzles me.)
- I wasn’t allowed to fly for business or pleasure because Dad didn’t want his daughter to be groped.
- I wasn’t allowed to take the bus to visit my grandmother.
I was allowed to …
- Call every time I arrived at or left an approved destination. (This becomes incredibly embarrassing when you’re with friends or coworkers.)
- I was allowed no deviation from the narcissist-approve-route to and from my destinations.
- I was allowed to hand over the keys to my car to the narcissists and be dropped off and picked up by them like a pre-teen at locations or events deemed out-of-bounds for me to drive to myself. This included the grocery store five blocks from my house if I went there after dusk.
- I was allowed to be driven by female friends who may or may not have had good driving skills or a reliable car on the forbidden highways. (To this day, that makes no sense to me either. If safety was truly the concern, it would have been safer to drive myself!)
- I was allowed to take the train for business (but my boss said “no.”)
- I was allowed to present a strategy, route, itinerary, arrival-and-leave times for the narcissist’s approval or denial for events I wanted to attend and be bound to abide by their decision.
But I had freedom of transportation. Right? Wrong! I wasn’t free at all. It was a classic narcissistic Impossible Situation. Most of the time, I chose to stay home rather than bow to their demeaning, infantilizing control. It may’ve been boring, but it was better for my opinion of myself. A silent rebellion. I’ll never forget the surprised tone in my mother’s voice when I told her I’d be driving my own car on highways up to my new cottage when we moved. Did she actually think I would abide by The Rules forever!?
Indirectly, that Impossible Situation drove me into yet another situation, that could have been impossible too. A rushed, “rash” marriage. Often I tell my husband, “Of course I married you after just one date. The narcissists wouldn’t have ever allowed me to do all those fun dates you had planned. The transportation rules precluded them.” In the end, their Impossible Situation forced me into another Impossible Situation. Thankfully, it turned out fine!
The impossible situation is the masterpiece of narcissistic manipulation. They can go around telling everyone how easy-going and open-handed they are, while denying the iron-fisted control, isolation and manipulation they actually wield over us. You don’t have to be in an actual cult, like Sarah, to suffer under a cult-like environment.
Don’t do what I did. Stick around, suffering, frustrated, self-blaming and self-doubting. Get out while the getting out is good. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find you are completely able to do everything the narcissists denied. The “amendments” supposedly for your safety or whatever, were all self-serving, narcissist-serving. I’ve defied all the Transportation Rules and guess what!? Nothing bad’s happened.
Always remember what Christopher Robin (but it was actually a Disney writer) said, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” That’s true! Don’t let Impossible Situations stand in your way. They’re not impossible at all. Only narcissists are impossible so I suggest we leave them to Heaven and get on with our lives.