It’s funny. The things you do learn from narcissists…and the things you don’t. The choice of life lessons narcissistic parents choose to impart is almost more interesting than the lessons themselves.
Maybe it’s recovery. Maybe it’s getting older. All I know is, I’m learning a ton of Life Lessons now, with forty creeping closer day by day, that I never learned at my narcissists’ knees. They really tried to cover all the bases but somehow missed these basic lessons.
1. Life Is Right Now. Be Kind to Yourself!
Once upon a time, oh, I must’ve been about seven or eight, my parents remodeled my bedroom. No more dark, depressing paneling. Now I had bright white walls and a new closet door!
At Menards, my eye fell upon the most darling doorknob for the closet door. It was white porcelain with a ring of gilt and a delicate bouquet of flowers painted in the middle. Oh, how I wanted it!
But Mom said, “No.” We didn’t need to be wasting good money on fancy doorknobs when the plain one that came with the door works just as well or words to that effect. But Dad said, “Yes.” If his little girl wanted a chintz knob, by George, she was going to have it and I never forget his kindness to me!
He won that round but he lost a lot of other rounds. Looking back, I see how scrimping and scratching and saving on little things that wouldn’t have cost much money, like an extra curricular or two, robbed me of so much joy in life.
Life is short. It can be snuffed out in an instant. So be a little kind, a little generous with yourself. Dare to be gasp! a hedonist. Buy that bag of shrimp or that floral doorknob! Make life beautiful for yourself now! Michael has taught me that “Tomorrow may never come.”
2. Life Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint.
For the life of me, I can’t think of any long projects my narcissists ever attempted, well, except for raising The Project. My dad wasn’t the type of man to patiently and lovingly build a ratrod over fifteen years, as time and money permitted, wielding a torque wrench while imparting life lessons to the children. My Dad was more the type to plunk me on the back of a tandem bicycle and then pedal like mad for fifteen miles. No real scope for conversation.
No, if we did any project, it had to be done all in one day. Trips were usually just day trips. There and back again in one rushed day. If we did a project on the house, it usually had to be done in one day…no matter how exhausted we got.
From this Just-One-Day pattern, I failed to learn one huge Life Lesson:
Anything worth doing takes time.
Take your time! There’s no rush.
Slow down and enjoy the journey…
even if it takes a week, a month or years.
It was my Garden that recently taught me that lesson. I always wanted a big, bouncing, crazy cottage garden full of herbs and colorful flowering perennials. But oh! It just wasn’t working out until 2018 when Michael built me a raised pallet garden. Instead of bending and stooping to pluck a weed, now I have to climb on a step-stool to work in my pallet garden. I love it!
Best of all, the boxes are surrounded by mounds of perennials. It seemed to come together so suddenly…and yet not suddenly. That’s when I realized that projects worth doing take Time and a lot of it.
Those bouncing rhubarb plants…were growing in my neighbor’s yard for years before they came to me. The ferns? They came from behind the house. Were probably growing quietly back there since 1912 but I never noticed them til 2018. The moss? Grew slowly for years before I transplanted it in flat sheets. The thyme? The mint? Planted the seeds years ago. The hollyhocks? Stole the seed from the hollyhocks over at the City Hall and transplanted my plants a half dozen times before they found a home in the pallet garden. They don’t blossom the first year. You have to be patient!
My point is, it took six years of bumbling around, throwing seed in the ground, transplanting, trying things that didn’t work…and suddenly I have the garden I always dreamed about. Seemingly overnight…but not overnight at all.
Our whole culture is based on “right now.” Want a garden? Call in a landscaper! You can have it right now! Want a beautiful home? Call an interior designer! You can have it right now! As Bogie said in Casablanca, “For a price, Ugarte, for a price.”
But where’s the fun in that!? No, no, no, no, no! Take your time. Enjoy the journey. Build it slowly, authentically, planting a flower here or buying an antique doorknob there. That’s where all the richness and authenticity comes from. That’ll yield a garden and a home chockablock with nostalgia and memories. Let time work its magic. Don’t be in a rush to have perfection NOW!
3. Help Thy Neighbor
When Michael had his emergency surgery last May, we went it alone. I shuttled back-and-forth between the hospital and home (a two hour round trip) so I could be with Michael and take care of our dogs. Meanwhile, unbeknowst to me, our neighbors were quite concerned. They knew our habits. They knew something was wrong and they wanted to help!
I never realized that before: People want to help people. They want the buzz of doing something kind for someone else. If you go it alone all the time, you’re robbing yourself and you’re kind-of robbing them too.
Since then, I’ve learned to be vulnerable. To communicate and to speak up when we have a need. That’s not something I learned from my narcissists. Wrack my memory as I might, I can’t think of a damn thing we ever did for our neighbors nor a damn thing they did for us, well, I mean, apart from blowing snow for each other. We were all entirely insular and isolated from each other. Neither needing nor helping. Islands.
What’s more, I can’t think of much our extended family helped us with nor much we helped them with apart from some remodeling in 1987. Well, Grandma did bring KFC over when Dad was first diagnosed with cancer, but when Mom gently reminded her that the “Call First” boundary was still in place, Grandma dropped us like a hot potato. Yes, we were left to shift for ourselves, cancer or no cancer. Kinda’ missed the coleslaw.
So I learned to be utterly independent. Don’t talk to anybody. Don’t rely on anybody. Don’t expect anything from anybody. Hoard your little pennies cause you’re on your own, Toots. When it’s gone, it’s gone…so be stingy with spending anything much on enjoying life now so you never have to stoop to the shame of asking anyone for a dime.
Well, that’s not true either. GoFundMe has proven that!
Moreover, our neighbors in this idyllic “hamlet” have enveloped us in care. When Michael was so sick, one of them took it upon himself to mow the lawn for us. Another took in our mail and sold me her extra lawnmower for $50. Another offered to dogsit and opened their shed to reveal a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of every health aid known to man. It was all there — crutches, walkers, bedside commode, toilet-seat-raiser. “Just call if you need anything,” she said.
I do! I’ve learned to swallow my pride and go flying to them for help when Michael needed crutches last Autumn. I communicate and they seem downright happy to help! It’s so heart-warming! I try to reciprocate by kissing their dog, starting Morning Glory plants for them and sharing garden vegetables. (Last year, I could not give squash away! It was a great year for squash and we were all sick of it! LOL)
When the financial chips are down, I do a fundraiser on GoFundMe or Facebook. What with two more surgeries and other unexpected expenses, we got behind this year. Constantly robbing Peter (next month) to pay Paul (this month), as it were. That’s not a sound fiscal policy but we just couldn’t catch up. In two days, readers of Narcissism Meets Normalcy put us back in the black…and how! I was in tears. Michael was floored. Such kindness! Such generosity! Thank you!
The success of sites like GoFundMe and my personal experience has proven this: People want to help people. You can’t do this life on your own and you don’t have to! Sometimes you need help, sometimes your neighbor needs help. That’s okay. That’s how life is supposed to work! Random acts of kindness that always come back around.
Back in March, I wrote an article titled Common Sense, Humor and Other Lessons Narcissists Don’t Teach Their Children but there’s a whole life philosophy we didn’t learn from our narcissists. Like how to do this thing jocularly known as Life.
Recovering from narcissistic abuse includes learning to do kind things for yourself. It means learning to take your time and enjoy the journey. It means being vulnerable and allowing others to practice “random acts of kindness” on you and then returning the favor when they need a helping hand.
It’s about living much more happily than our narcissists ever dreamed of being!