As I reparent myself after a narcissistic upbringing, more and more I realize, as if for the very first time, facts about life and living that are so basic they’re like dirt. It underpins everything but no one ever talks about it.
Narcissists may teach their children many things, both good and bad. I learned how to change a tire, bake bread, fill out a Form 1040 and to distrust and loath myself. But I didn’t learn how to think about life and people (including myself) in a realistic way with clarity and yes, even humor.
In this longish article, I’m happy to share with you the common-as-dirt life philosophies I’m discovering and learning.
No One Has the Monopoly on Rightness.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: narcissists take life much, much too seriously. “Tighten up” I was always told. It bred a belief that there’s a right way for life to be lived and all else might be wrong. The right way being, of course, the narcissist’s way.
Have you ever noticed how everything must be done exactly their way. Dishes have to be washed their way. Cars have to be washed exactly their way. There’s no room for creativity, fresh ideas, quirkiness or personal initiative. They act and talk like they have the monopoly on “rightness.”
Which makes learning how to do things your way, being creative and making decisions independently doubly hard. Faced with my first really big mess, there was no narcissist there to tell me how to clean it up. I didn’t trust myself. Hadn’t learned initiative and creativity. Heck! Even deciding what to cook for supper was fraught with the landmine of, “Yes, but what is the right thing to cook?”
Oh for goodness’ sakes! Life isn’t that serious! Just have fun with it!
Leave People the Hell Alone.
What I learned at home is that everyone should behave exactly as my narcissist thought they should behave. His Flying Monkey was always quick to suggest how he could behave to manipulate coworkers into working as he thought they should work.
Here’s an idea: leave people the Hell alone. Let them even fail and be it on their own head. Maybe they’ll learn something!
My wonderful fourth grade teacher had it right, when she shook her head over a stubborn, naughty student and said, “I can lead a horse to water, but I can’t make her drink.” How different from the narcissist’s standpoint that people must be controlled, manipulated, shamed and forced into being exactly how the narcissist wants them to be.
I Don’t Have to be Anyone’s Security Blanket!
This one is particularly apropos to the only children of narcissists. You’re their security blanket, their talisman against the old folks home. Nothing must happen to you – not sickness, not accident, not moving away – lest they lose their old-age insurance. It’s just assumed that you won’t be one of those “bad, unloving children”who stick their aged parents in nursing homes, tsk, tsk.
Well, guess what. Not my job. Not my problem. Already devoted a decade to their care. They’re adults. They’re responsible for themselves, just as they would be if I’d pre-deceased them. They’re not as needy as they made out! Done my duty. Moving on.
This gives me the freedom to live like a normal person, instead of a fragile piece of Ming pottery. I can get sick and it’s okay. Take a few risks. Move wherever tickles my fancy and get sick, get old, get gray and die even if it’s inconvenient for them.
Which leads me to …
Everyone Gets Sick, Gets Gray, Grows Old and Dies. You Can’t Control It. It’s Not Your Fault.
Ever since my father was diagnosed with cancer, he’s “taken responsibility” for it. Each time he relapses, he makes list of all the things he did wrong to cause his own relapse and sighs deeply over the list. Things like eating a slice of pizza or getting angry at a coworker. I remember once telling my mother, “Why doesn’t Dad just stop blaming himself?”. I thought it’d make him feel better.
“Leave it alone,” she said, in a dire tone. “It gives him a sense of control.”
Along the way I got the loud-and-clear message that whatever illness befalls us is our own fault. The medical community is quick to agree, often blaming health problems their medications and advice cause on the sufferer.
Apparently, we control it. We cause it. If we just eschew sugar, wheat, meat and instead eat the “right” rather foul-tasting things, we can cure anything. Meals become a miserable task of poking down yucky “healthy” food, as I know only too well. (Never again!)
Well, I’ve learned better. Sickness happens. Aging happens. Death happens. Not. Our. Fault!
There are those who eat anything and everything they want, smoke, drink, take drugs…and live to be centenarians, crediting their longevity with “eating bacon every day.” There are skinny people who have strokes; super-fit vegetarians who drop dead at fifty from a heart attack. And vice versa! None of the so-called “rules” can explain the seemingly arbitrary wellness and longevity of those who “should” have lasted forever (and didn’t) vs those who should’ve died young (and didn’t)!
Psalm 31:15 says, “My times are in Thy hand” and I believe it! Narcissists may think they control their lives, but they don’t. There’s no rhyme or reason to who gets sick and who stays well, who lives long and who dies young. Plastic surgery can disguise it; it can’t change it. Only He sees the beautiful side of the embroidery He weaves with our lives. We are doomed only to see the snarls underneath.
Mind Games Don’t Work. Don’t Play Them.
When I was unhappy in a narcissistic household, the resident Flying Monkey as well as the resident Narcissist urged me to play mind games. I wasn’t encouraged to leave the situation making me miserable but to play mind games so nothing changed but how I thought about things. Once I was encouraged to “put a rug in your room” in response to not wanting to live there anymore. Play house, in other words!
It’s hard to remember, but I’m training myself to ask “What can I change?” about anything that makes me unhappy now. My gun instinct is still to play mind games. Taking the initiative to change XYZ is always an after-thought, but a welcome one. “Oh! I can actually change things. Well! Fancy that!”
Nothing Needs to be Done Quickly. Nothing Needs to be Done Perfectly.
When I think back to the many home projects I was volunteered for by my Flying Monkey, two things stand out. First, my narcissist insisted on perfection. The lawn had to be mowed with motorless, old-fashioned lawnmowers. Every stripe had to deeply overlap with the next stripe. The lawn had to be mowed twice and the sidewalk edges clipped by hand. Nothing less than perfection would do!
The same was true for shoveling snow off the sidewalks. No narrow path for us. No snowblower for us! Those sidewalks were massaged into perfection with hand shovels.
Not only that, but most projects “had” to be done quickly. Entire huge projects “had” to be done in one day. (Oh my poor little thyroid! The exhaustion was horrible, but I was encouraged to show energy. I couldn’t let the side down!)
Now I look back and say why!?! Why was every project such a rush? Why was there so much exhaustion? Why was there never the right tool for the job? Never an engine to help the process? Why so much anger? So much perfectionism?
My husband’s taught me a completely different work ethic. If he does a project, he does it sitting down (damned back pain!). He insists on having the right tool for the job, preferably with a loud, gasoline engine attached. (More power!) He takes a lot of coffee-and-talking breaks. If something doesn’t get done today, that’s okay. There’s always the next day…or next year. And nothing has to be perfect.
What a relief!
You’ll Never Be Ready for Anything.
“You’re not ready for marriage,” I was told in my twenties. Nothing could’ve been more painful to hear; a knife twisting in my gut. Of course if they meant “You’re not ready to marry a narcissist” then I fully agree. No one is; no one should have to be. But the concept of “readiness” was huge. In my household, you had to be ready and “have a strategy” before you did anything or went anywhere. No spontaneity for us!
Then I heard radio host Dennis Prager say something to the effect that you’ll never be ready for any particular situation. How can you possibly “get ready” for something you’ve never experienced!?! Just dive in and learn on the job!
Wow! thought I. What brilliant advice! You can learn “everything there is to know” about parenting, but personality-wise the baby you actually have may be unlike any baby known to Dr. Dobson or Dr. Spock. They don’t come with manuals!
The spouse you marry and relationship you develop may rip up and burn every marriage book on the planet. That’s what I’ve found. Almost every damn piece of marriage wisdom I learned, observed or was taught doesn’t work for Michael and me. Nothing could have prepared me to “be ready” for him because he’s utterly unlike anyone I ever met. So easy-going, hands-off and “Oh, I’ll eat anything.” It’s not a textbook marriage and that’s okay. It’s a relationship. Not a performance. I wasn’t ready to marry a non-narcissist, but nonetheless we’ve sailed through the Tinfoil, Ziploc Bag and Wax Paper anniversaries and are on the verge of the Clingfilm anniversary!
Life is a Series of Oopsies, Mistakes and Regrets. Get over it!
For a long time, I felt stupid over the friendship with a cult-member narcissist that I chronicled in this blog last year. I kicked myself for ever drifting into that friendship in the first place. I could hear my narcissists saying, “You didn’t use good discernment.”
No. No!!! I made a good choice based on the available data at the time. It’s unfair to judge a decision you made based on data you received after making that decision! It’s unfair to judge a decision you made then by the person you are today.
The truth is, we all just bumble through life. “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” I was always told. So true!
A person that may be a great blessing before we discover narcissism, isn’t a blessing afterwards. A church that appealed to us as a young Christian, may seem vacuous and cult-like after we’ve grown in our faith. A job that was a blessing five years ago becomes a toxic environment under new management. A major that fascinated you back in college is all shopworn and boring now.
Does seeking a change equal regret? No. It shouldn’t. What’s right for us in 2013, may not be right for us in 2019. We’re allowed to be “changeable,” even if it’s something that narcissist’s don’t like. Going through phases and stages shows personal growth!!!
Do narcissists have personal growth, I wonder?
If You Have to Impress Someone, Get Rid of Them!
I once saw an adorable round mirror in a pink frame at a boutique. The frame of the mirror was painted with the ditty, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am my mother, after all.” Yeah! That’s so true. Just like my mother before me, if anyone is coming over I lose my freaking mind cleaning already-clean things.
How well I remember the stress before my Grandma came over. Our house was always clean and hyper-organized, but if my narcissistic Granny was due, the lunacy went into warp speed.
Looking back I think, “If someone is that critical, that gossipy, that resistant to calling ahead before dropping by because ‘my-house-is-always-company-perfect’, then why in the blue blazes do you want the person in your life!?!”
I didn’t learn this at my narcissists’ knees. From them, I learned to bend-over-backwards to impress, act, lie and play stupid. If someone is that toxic to your existence, jettison them from your life! Good riddance!
Have a Sense of Humor
In Goodbye Mr. Chips, the titular character says, “Give a boy a sense of humor and a sense of proportion, and he’ll stand up to anything.” We Americans don’t use the word “proportion” much. To me it just means “knowing what normalcy is” and not having our chain yanked by weird-ass behavior by narcissists (or anyone else, for that matter!).
And humor. We really need a huge dose of humor because we humans are ridiculous creatures. Like narcissists, we take ourselves and our culture much too damn seriously. Just look at politics. Where is Will Rogers!? Where is Erma Bombeck? We need them to come back to prick our pomposity. To poke fun at how ridiculously our culture (and politicians!) are behaving. To make us laugh at ourselves and each other. And then to remind us that we’ll muddle through somehow and the wheel always turns.
Like I said, narcissists may be incredibly good at the day-to-day running of life, but they miss the realistic, gritty perspectives on Life, Living and People. They’re too busy being persecuted and being innocent victims. The why behind the wherefore is missing.They exist, but do they live-live-live!?!
Now it’s time for you and I to learn how to live. To revel in the delightful process of discovering the honesty and gritty underpinnings of a real life. A life lived with boundaries, humility, creativity, humor and not-taking-it-all-so-damn-seriously!
P.S. Don’t let anyone yank your chain!
P.S.S. Most of the things you fear, will never happen.