Well, if that ain’t hypocritical! This blog is called Narcissism meets Normalcy but only three articles have been about normalcy.
Oops. My bad.
Maybe it’s because I’m not sure what normalcy is. Do you know what it is? We could glibly write the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for “narcissism” and make a pretty good stab at all its rotten little cohorts like projection, Stockholm Syndrome, infantilization, codependence. The list is endless.
But when faced with penning the entry for “normalcy” we draw a blank and suck pensively on the end of our pen.
This article came to me suddenly in the place, to quote Frasier Crane, “where I do my most profound thinking.” “What is normalcy?” I asked myself as I sat and “dreamed of glory, alone inside the lavatory” to quote Roald Dahl. Hot on the heels of the first thought came a second question, “For whom?”
How can we define normalcy when each nation and each culture are so vastly different? What is normal for a Swede is decidedly abnormal for an Italian and vice versa. Once upon a time, my very handsome, undemonstrative Swedish great-uncle married a gorgeous, glamorous, dramatic, expressive Italian lady and together they had two lovely children. He earned a very nice income from Hewlett Packard while his wife shoplifted so compulsively that department stores simply totted up her theft and sent the bill to her husband. (Why bother with the police!)
When the marriage inevitably crashed and burned in flames, my uncle spent the rest of his life in hiding and packing heat, convinced she could and would have him taken out. So what went so terribly wrong? Perhaps it was nothing more than that their versions of “normalcy” clashed horribly. She wanted to talk and emote; he didn’t know how. Their “normals” were diametrically opposed…but what a great story it makes!
Surely, there must be some basic rules for normalcy that transcend cultures, languages, religions. After all, the Golden Rule is universal. Basic morality is universal. Every culture frowns on lying and stealing. So why can’t normalcy also be universal?
After six years of studying narcissism, I believe Rule #1 for normalcy is simply this:
Leave each other alone!
That is what causes all the problems, isn’t it. Wars are fought because nations must meddle with each other. Families splinter because everyone has their noses lodged in everyone else’s business! No one can leave each other alone. No one can mind their own beeswax. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries!
Oh no! We’ve all got to meddle, meddle, meddle. Even the church encourages us to meddle by intoning Galations 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens.” That’s all fine and good. But when have you ever heard a pastor preach from Galations 6:5, “For each one will bear his own load.” In other words, buzz off and mind your own beeswax. Or as my Grandmother says, “Attend to your own knittin’.” (I’ve yet to hear that from the pulpit.)
The other day, I heard a Public Service Announcement on late night (or early morning) radio. It encouraged parents to “talk to your kids.” I was so shocked I found myself exclaiming outloud to four sleeping pets and one sleeping husband, “Americans have to be told to talk to their kids!?!” There was no answer except for one kitten who got up, stretched, yawned and went peacefully back to sleep curled up on my throat as if to say, “Shut up, Mom.”
But seriously. My family has been talking to each other for decades, well before the PSA got around to telling them to do so. But they took it too far. They were enmeshed, entwined, nosey, inquisitive, prying, gossiping, controlling and yes, there was emotional incest too. But they talked, didn’t they!?
Perhaps that’s what once made my boss exclaim admiringly, “Your parents were so modern.” It was one of those moment when my jaw dropped open and stayed there. I must’ve looked incredibly stupid but I couldn’t help myself. Modern. Modern!?! Now, when I see the culture as a whole following in my parent’s footsteps in so many ways, I finally understand her comment. Now I’m that poor person standing in the middle of the road, waving their arms, screaming, “No. NO!!! Stop! Turn around! Go back! It’s not as good as it looks!”
The pendulum is swinging from the far extreme of completely disconnected, uncommunicative families of the 30s, 40s and 50s to families that are super-enmeshed with each other. Sure, they’re talking to each other now, but too much! Everyone is enmeshed, entwined, controlling, over-protective, infantilizing and that’s not good either! For Pete’s sake, why can’t we find a nice, comfortable place in the middle? That’s where normalcy is to be found: in the middle!
When I think of normalcy, I immediately think of my husband. It amazes me that after one of the most horrendous childhoods I’ve ever heard of, he is such a mild individual. He is a credit to himself and to his grandparents. He’s simply pleasant and well, normal. You have to be completely bloody-minded, work very hard at being obnoxious and drive him away before he’ll react in any way. Best of all, he’s got lovely boundaries.
If you want to talk to him, he’ll talk. If you need your privacy, he respects that too. He doesn’t demand information, but it’s also safe to share anything and everything with him, in your own good time. He doesn’t blame. He doesn’t shame. He doesn’t try to rescue and have all the answers. He doesn’t control. He may make a suggestion but it’s just that: a suggestion. Take it or leave it, no hard feelings. And definitely no game-playing, no pouting and no manipulating. (Well, except when he wants coffee.)
“Leaving each other alone” is the antithesis of narcissism. I imagine that very few hermits are narcissists. Most of what narcissists do requires meddling with someone else. If you’re leaving others alone, you can’t project on them or control them or invalidate them. You’re stuck with (gasp! horror!) yourself. Narcissist’s worst nightmare. Being left alone with themselves with no one to blame but themselves must be a narcissist’s version of Hell.
In his wonderful book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis describes seeing Napoleon in Hell:
They went up and looked through one of the windows. Napoleon was there all right….Walking up and down-up and down all the time-left-right, left-right-never stopping for a moment. The two chaps watched him for about a year and he never rested. And muttering to himself all the time. ‘It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault. It was the fault of the Russians. It was the fault of the English.’ Like that all the time. Never stopped for a moment.
And why? Because he couldn’t leave anyone alone. Oh no! He just had to conquer Europe and now he can’t take responsibility for his actions. He must blame everyone else but himself.
So again I repeat: Rule #1 of Normalcy: Attend to your own knittin’. Mind your own beeswax. Leave other people alone. Let them be responsible for themselves. And the world, and you, will be happier and healthier for it.