How Narcissistic Abuse Can Ultimately Improve Your Life
I understand how the title of this particular blog may be very controversial. Yet, as I examine this premise, perhaps it will make some sense and help with recovery and healing.
When I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s, I suffered from crippling panic attacks. I was a “functional” person with anxiety, in that I continued to work, keep up daily life and could pass for normal to all who did not know me extremely well. At that time, I saw anxiety as a sign of weakness and was ashamed to let anyone know that I couldn’t seem to cope with life. I had had a difficult childhood, but hadn’t yet put a name to what had happened to me. I saw myself as strong, a survivor and not one to let past trauma make a difference in my life. In fact, I didn’t even see my narcissistic upbringing as traumatic. I hadn’t even heard of the word narcissistic except in reference to the mythical character of Narcissus who was in love with his own image. Narcissism, I believed, simply referred to someone who thought they were special; above everyone else; someone with a large ego. Sure, I had known people like that, certainly my parents fit that bill, but how could that be anything but annoying to a young girl and teenager who thought she was immune to all of that? Where I grew up in Pasadena, life was full of rich kids and poor kids. It was a pretty mixed bag of social class. We were somewhere in the low middle and I witnessed some of the more affluent kids flaunting their privilege, clothes, trips to Europe, fancy cars. That, to me was narcissism. I didn’t even feel envious but looked at it with a sense of curiosity and even distain because those kids didn’t seem to be happy despite all their privilege. And they could be mean, and therefore dangerous to a sensitive person like myself.
So, what was all this panic about when I reached adulthood? I began therapy and started to uncover what life was really like in my family when I wasn’t dismissing, ignoring, rationalizing or minimizing it. Even though the word “narcissism” was never used in my treatment, I came to understand that I came from a family culture where, despite my best efforts, I could never be good enough. I had an abandoning father and a critical mother. I was a parentified child who was asked to be not a daughter, but a marriage counselor, family counselor, mother to my siblings, rational voice in the family, limit setter and mother’s helper. I thought at the time that this was normal and didn’t learn until I began psychotherapy, that it had overwhelmed me. I didn’t really know who I was aside from the roles that my parents, and to some degree, siblings, had assigned to me. I didn’t know my authentic self and it was causing me to panic.
Parallel to my family life and early adulthood traumas, I was a very spiritually and philosophically oriented person. I wanted to know what we were doing here on this earth. What was the purpose? What was MY purpose? I began a journey that continues to this day to find out. Naturally, I wanted to know the meaning of my anxiety. It couldn’t just be random. It couldn’t be merely a brain disfunction. Psychotherapy taught me the psychological meanings; the family dynamics that caused my fragile emotional state. But I was also a spiritual student and wanted to know even deeper meanings. This is when I realized that my pathology could become a path.
On a mega level, my pathology became a path when I became a therapist myself. As I began to figure myself out, I realized that helping others through the perilous woods to mental health, was something I could and wanted to do. This, of course, is not very unusual. Many therapists come to the field because of their own difficulties in childhood and their subsequent positive experiences in therapy themselves.
On a meta level, I believe I was moved further on my path toward self-realization by recovering from narcissistic abuse. I understand myself so much better now and have broken years- long habits of inviting narcissists into my life. I have come to see narcissism in others and in myself and where I see it in myself, I try to eradicate it. I’ve come to understand that narcissism is born of fear and fear blocks the rays of love from entering one’s life. I think narcissistic abuse has made me a better lover – of life, of others and of myself. I’ve learned that we are here to learn, grow and discover who we really are. My narcissistic parents, knowingly or unknowingly, helped me do that. For that I forgive them and feel grateful. Everything in life affords us this opportunity, if we can but see it.
As a therapist, I fully understand that we can’t jump from the abuse right into the forgiveness and self-understanding. It’s a journey and one worth taking. I don’t expect my clients to come to me with these pieces already in place. But I am excited about working with those who wish to do more than just learn to “deal with the narcissist in my life”, and discover the path that is there for you to follow toward greater self-awareness, love of self and others and forgiveness. Let spirituality and self-realization become the medicine for your narcissistic abuse.