For four years, I’ve been blathering on about narcissism, the endless subject that just keeps on a-giving. But I’ve devoted precious few words to normalcy simply because I haven’t got the first clue what normalcy is!
But lately, I’ve begun noticing normalcy in the oddest places. C. S. Lewis wrote about experiencing “stabs of Joy.” Normalcy is like that. When you notice it, it doesn’t overwhelm. It stabs.
These stabs of normalcy happen at the oddest times, in the most unexpected places. The other day on the way to the grocery store I was listening to Fred Child hosting NPR’s classical music program, Performance Today. “If Emanuel Ax is playing [piano] within fifty miles, I’m going,” Fred Child remarked.
It was a little nothing of a comment but it stabbed me with unreasonable force. It was a clue into normalcy. What normal people’s limits are…and aren’t. Even rich, famous people like Fred Child have their limits, in this case, he won’t drive more than one hundred miles round trip for a special concert.
Living in a narcissistic family, you’re exposed to unreasonable extremes of behavior. They’ll drive fifty miles, one way, to use a 10¢ gas coupon, but won’t drive twenty-five miles to the Renaissance Festival nor “allow” me to drive my own car there myself.
I beg your pardon…what!?! How in the world can you learn normalcy from people like that!?
When the answer to most things is “no,” it can be easy to assume that normal people say “yes” to everything. That’s when resentment grows. We feel like life is passing us by, and it is, but perhaps not to the extent we fear.
Even normal people have limits they consider reasonable. Exploring normal people’s limits and then deciding what your comfortable limits are is part of discovering normalcy. I don’t mind driving seventy-three miles one way for classical music in Grand Forks…but driving all the way to Fargo is a bit far especially because the drive is just so boring! Flat, flat, flat fields…no towns.
Here’s another thing that’s normal: Change. Narcissists seems to be stuck in a rut. They mock normal people for being “changeable.” But it’s normal to change your beliefs, your knowledge, your interests after you’ve exhausted same ol’, same ol’ and outgrown it.
It’s normal to have dreams. Big dreams, even unreasonable dreams. As W. B. Yeats wrote…
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Narcissists love to tred on other people’s dreams. Love smashing their air castles with derogatory terms. “You’re just a dreamer,” Michael’s mother would say, squashing his dreams. Far be it from narcissists’ children to succeed where their parents have failed, proving that the usual prediction, “You won’t amount to shit” wasn’t true after all.
At this point, I must admit to you that this article has bogged down simply because I haven’t got the faintest clue what “normal” is. I’m fighting to express normalcy positively…when all I can think of is “it is not normal to….” That’s not how I want this article to be written. Positive! Not negative!
For us ex-cult members, perhaps the clue to finding normalcy is when you find yourself saying, “Oh no, we don’t do that.” The “that” you’re referring to is probably something very normal indeed. The number of times I’ve found myself saying “Oh no, we don’t do that” are innumerable. Just basic things normal people do like going swimming, wearing clothes that fit their bodies, watching new releases, going to the theater, learning about art and sculpture. We cult folk feel very daringly evil if we do those things.
It’s normal to visit art galleries and marvel at the paintings and sculptures. My family’s belief that all nudity is pornography robbed me of so much richness because “we don’t do that.” Conversely, it’s given me a whole world to explore and discover that I never knew existed. Great museums, old master paintings, amazing sculpture, opera, ballet, fashion shows.
It’s normal to be spontaneous, to make a midnight run for snacks or go out for Perkins pancakes at 3 a.m. when you can’t sleep. It’s normal to take in a late movie or spend the night in a hotel, just to get away from it all for twelve hours. To see something…and do it on a whim because it’s fun. Before I met Michael, I’d never done anything spontaneous. Bedtime was strictly 9 p.m. and woe to you for leaving your bedroom at night to fetch an ibuprofen or even to pee too frequently.
It’s normal to step aside and watch your young adult children make their own decisions and, yes, their own mistakes. For those of us who’ve been controlled, this is a devilishly hard one.
It’s normal to have pets. I was raised to fear dogs and assume they were germy and about to bite me at any moment. “Cold and aloof” cats weren’t even on the radar. Pets=dirty or something like that.
Again, what richness we robbed ourselves of! Sure, pets have dander, an occasional boo-boo and get the sniffles now and then. But isn’t a bed full of soggy chewbones and warm, loving, fuzzy, snoring bodies hogging the mattress worth it!? It’s normal to wake up with your sleeping dog running and woofing in her sleep, one cat wool sucking the blanket….and the other cat fast asleep with her head in your mouth. Yes, that actually happened to me!
What is normalcy?
It’s living with what narcissists might call “hedonism” which is just another word for enjoying life in very normal ways. Thinking outside the box. Being creative. Dreaming. Experiencing. Enjoying. Living with courage and panache, spontaneity and joy.