In 1956, the beautiful English actress Deborah Kerr warbled, “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you” in the classic movie The King and I.
Easier sung, than done.
I’m just coming to terms with my own sheer bloody balls-out terror of intimacy. My dread of letting anyone get to know me. No, not that smiling face and spasmodic giggle. Not the woman who hides behind humor. That’s the Public Lenora for public consumption only.
I mean the real me behind the smile.
“Just be honest,” Michael says dismissively.
Anyone who’s been raised in a culture of narcissistic and/or cult abuse probably has the same terror of intimacy. In your past life with the narcissists, they encouraged you to bare your soul and confide in them and, well, the result wasn’t good. In my case, the narcissists’ flying monkey/codependent sycophant tried to “fix” me. There were endless, long-winded “lectures,” about how to think and feel. Invalidation on steroids.
That taught me one thing: intimacy is dangerous.
So excuse me if I’m terror-stricken at letting anyone know the real Me. Sometimes it took hours for me to work up the courage to confide in my husband. My terror of intimacy felt like a hand on my throat, physically strangling me. I think we can all agree that becoming physically intimate with someone is much, much easier than becoming emotionally intimate with them.
Which leads us to today. Rekindling the relationship between myself and my now-grown step-daughters is another challenge to my long-held belief that Letting Anyone Get Close to Me Is Terrifying. When I first met them in 2012, we didn’t have enough time to really get to know each other. Heck! I didn’t know myself in those pre-narcissism-discovery days. The 2019 Me is vastly different from the 2012 Me.
Authenticity is not something you learn at a narcissist’s knee. My mother had a public face, a private face and a real face. Her public face was happiness on steroids. She compensated and then over-over-compensated for her shyness to such an extreme degree, that Michael once whispered to me, “Is your Mom on dope!?”.
Of course she wasn’t. She was just overdoing her Public Self. And that’s how I was socialized. The trigger is Someone Else. Anyone Else.
It’s like a form of mind control. I can’t help myself. If someone else speaks to me, the Public Self is instantly triggered and runs on auto-pilot. The big smile! The infectious laugh! Be super happy, super interested. Personality on steroids. Make them laugh. Hide behind humor. Only positivity always.
I can easily hear someone saying, “Yes, but who is the Real You when she’s at home?”
Quiet. Super quiet. Irritatingly quiet, according to Michael. My goal is to be as pleasant, serene and happy as humanly possible 24/7. But sometimes, I slip.
If I ever want to really know my step-daughters, and have them know me, then I’ve got to drop the veil and let my girls meet the real me on a bad day. To let them see me when I’m sad or stressed or PMSing or guilt-stricken or depressed or desperate.
I’m not an easy-going, shallow, skitter-across-the-surface-of-life person. I wish I were but then Narcissism Meets Normalcy wouldn’t exist. I dig deep, explore life to the Nth degree, put unspeakable feelings into words and this blog is the richer for it. But I’m not Pollyanna. Heaven knows I try to be, but it’s incredibly stressful. Unlike my mother, I can’t keep this up for the rest of my life. I don’t have the energy.
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you
Getting to know what to say
Haven’t you noticed?
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and I’ve found that to be true. Even in the happiest and most blessed life, there are corners of “quiet desperation.” Corners the Public Me doesn’t want my step-daughters to know about.
I don’t want them to know about the Me that’s keeping a stiff upper lip but said “I do” expecting and fearing being widowed in less than five years. It hasn’t happened, but with all of Michael’s health problems, there are no guarantees. Well, there are no guarantees for any of us.
I don’t want them to know the Me that is perpetually guilty. The Me that never feels like a good enough wife, a good enough caregiver to their father. Michael insists he’s happy with me, but I never feel good enough. I don’t want them to know my perpetual guilt or that I’m a guilt addict.
I don’t want them to know Me when I’m PMSing. Questioning the meaning of life. Struggling to keep the ol’ gray matter occupied. Irritating the crap outta Michael. That’s not their problem.
I don’t want them to know Me when their dad is back-seat driving or struggling with pain and irritating the crap outta me. That’s not their problem either.
I don’t want them to know the Me that worries, worries, worries. To worry is not to trust God and I’d prefer to be known as a woman of faith….but I’m not sure how true that is.
Worst of all, I don’t want them to know the Me that is informed by my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist cult-like, legalistic, black-and-white upbringing and education. Until you’ve lived that crap for decades, you’ve no idea how hard it is for a child-of-a-cult to cope with the real world without freaking out, judging it sixteen ways from Sunday. And, vice versa, how hard it can be for someone “normal” to cope with the child-of-a-cult. The culture shock is fierce.
I don’t want them to know the Me that struggles to be supportive as they experience a youth I never had and quite envy. I recently wrote to a friend, “Hurrah for the passive aggressive, silent MICRO-rebellions of our middle-aged years.” I got my ears pierced; she got tattoos. Neither of us had the opportunity to enjoy our youths, let alone rebel. We both know how humorously pathetic our micro-rebellions are, but like Sheldon Cooper said, “Age is just a number,” he tapped his head. “Up here I’m ninety.”
I’ve always been ninety. I never got to be young like my step-daughters and I’m a teensy bit jealous.
I don’t want any of this to be Me. I don’t want my step-daughters to know the sides of my personality that I’m not proud of.
But intimacy isn’t a pick-and-choose thing. You have to relinquish your pride and your privacy to be intimate. It’s sheer, bloody terrifying. But like my youngest step-daughter told me when she was thirteen, “When you married my daddy, you married me too.” Profound and true.
I just hope that, well, what did Deborah Kerr sing?
Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me
I hope they like me, not in spite of the real me, but because of it. I certainly like them.