How to completely heal from narcissistic abuse, loss of one’s faith and become a light in a darkening world.
I grew up in a rough culture on the east coast of the United States, in Newport, Rhode Island. I was raised by a teenage mother who didn’t really have any capacity to love me. My dad left when I was 3 and the environment before then was riddled with fighting, alcoholism and violence. She remarried right away but I think due to the trauma, she was always preoccupied with herself. She seemed always in fear, very controlling, involved with vanity, how she looked, how she appeared to the world and everything centered around her and her needs. She was emotionally somewhat histrionic and the whole family walked on eggshells in fear of her temper and her hostile reaction toward us. There was no room for me and in the home, I was considered a nuisance. I was then spanked by my stepfather weekly, criticized often and spent most of my time alone in my room. I cried untold tears. I was told I was ugly, devalued and ignored and oftentimes my mother said that she wish that she never had me.
I went to school always thinking that I was a misfit and there’s something deeply wrong with me and I really wasn’t worthy of love. So I started to read a lot of books and I studied really well and I always tried to make the teachers happy with me because that was the only sense of appreciation from anyone in authority that I had. I was really close with my teachers, got the perfect grades and one time my teacher even said to my mom that I was really bright, so much so that I should go to a special school for the gifted. The teacher was concerned because I was also really sensitive and I would get bullied and beaten up and teased a lot. This all now makes sense how I grew up because if I didn’t feel a sense of worth and confidence, small children could pick up on that weakness and I’ve always been targeted for my vulnerability.
Because of the teenage pregnancy and the pain my mother suffered and her fear, she was somewhat dissociated and unwell. I would try to spend time with her and she would send me away. I realized later that she had developed into becoming a full spectrum narcissist that was not capable of loving anyone other than thinking of herself. There was no way that we could ever resolve it as mother and daughter, since part of the narcissistic mindset denies it’s own hostility and projects all negative qualities onto other people. Narcissists, as well as other personality disorders, often must have a target of their shadow and blame. For my entire life for her, I was the chosen one. Thanks Mom!
I was fortunate in my later years to discover a book called Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, and sought counseling with the author Dr. Karyl McBride, a co-survivor. What I realized is that narcissism at it’s root, is the healthy longing for a person to take care of themselves, gone awry. What I realized is that, if we actually feel a sense of inner love and well-being, from there we can love others. The narcissists attempt to pay attention to something that’s broken inside is at it core, correct. Where it goes wrong is that the foundation of real healing and self-love is not there and in fact it’s often an emotional vacuum, devoid of compassion. From that vacuum, you begin to see others as something that you can use to fill up that hollowness and heal a core of fundamental self hatred.
Part of the fallout in this life was of course in my adulthood, to recreate the pattern of feeling broken and bullied and looking for other friends, lovers and organizations to make everything right. This is the quintessential codependent person that likewise feels broken and unwell and uses other people like a drug to put a giant Band-Aid on their loneliness. I would follow rock stars and then cult-like spiritual groups and none of this was super healthy because it was predicated on me feeling hollow, and unworthy looking for something, anything outside of myself to fill the void.
A NEW DAY… uncover bulletproof self love and genuine warmth for others
There’s a Buddhist slogan that says “be grateful to everyone.” I am not angry or bitter that anyone hurt me in this life, they probably had a harder time than I did, and maybe suffer even more. My spiritual community who I used to find solace and meaning in, recency dismantled in the wake of #metoo. I discovered later that guru worship had a lot of covert, exploitative narcissists, it figures that these communities felt somehow familiar. I found myself adrift, really, palpably alone. I decided to take a genuine honest look at my life, who I really am rawly and what matters to me. I feel like I gained my identity through this spiritual community and my friends there and without that, I felt devastated. I have my family but everything was starting to fall apart into an abyss and I wondered, what really has any meaning?
So from there, I decided to really go inward and not depend upon anything or anyone to make me feel better. I began to shutdown social media for longer lengths of time as to not depend upon people liking my posts to faux-foster self-esteem. I took some time to go into solitary retreat as much as I could. I was away from my husband and daughter and taking silence from some friends. I began to journal, meditate and begin the most rigorous process of self inquiry I could muster.
Then, something dawned upon me, a basic truism that I guess everyone else at figured out, but it’s taken me 50 years to realize…
I can’t love another person in a healthy way unless I have strong core of real self-love and self well-being to rely on.
This was my Aha! moment. I asked myself- how to have this life feel meaningful, how to love others and with hope, be of benefit? I can’t be codependent and broken and needing other people or religion or paltry social media to define who I am and make me feel better. I knew that was never going to work, so I decided- let’s start at square one, go into radical self-care and have a love affair with… myself… saucy. It’s a perfect time because all of us are on somewhat of a social timeout with the pandemic so it’s a great time to go inward.
A NEW RETREAT INTO JOY
I decided to get up in the morning and do some stretching or some cardio, enjoy sipping dark coffee and take warm essential oil baths. During my retreats over the years I use to meditate 8 to 10 hours a day and do a lot of chanting and complex visualizations. This time, I decided to just take time for me without any schedule or agenda, and just let life talk to me about what is fun and reconnect the sense of magic and wonder that maybe I’ve never even had in childhood. I decided to take a week or so and have absolutely no schedule (and I do feel grateful for the privilege to be able to take this time). I did whatever I wanted to do, if I wanted to journal on my blog, I would write, if I wanted to go for a walk I’d go for a walk, if I want to bake something special for myself I would. If I wanted to cry, I’d cry, whatever was there was listened to and honored, nothing repressed. It’s actually kind of outrageous to take even a day, a weekend, a week or a month to just feel alive, go outside and feel grass under your feet, feel sun on your cheeks, lay on a hammock and see a cloudless sky, and just feel like this life is yours, rather than always having to do something for work or for someone else.
This is where a little tiny light inside my heart started to shine and turn on. I could see it in my eyes when I looked at myself in the mirror, I began to feel the sense of self-love and self appreciation and gratitude for this life. I don’t think I really had this before, it’s taken more than half of my life to finally feel this, and it required that I let go of my tradition, every spiritual, ego prop and support.
I begin to see how real love and real well-being works since it’s never been modeled to me before. If we have this inner spark of warmth, the power and efficacy of that can’t be underestimated. The cultivation of inner warmth can give us so much strength to be able to handle these darkening times. If we can take refuge in our own inner love and well-being in real way, we can’t be narcissistic or codependent, these facets of the same brokenness dissolve. In Buddhism, we call this maitri and and it’s considered a wish fulfilling jewel or diamond. Inner warmth is like a diamond because if you think about it for a minute, if someone criticizes you it may hurt but it doesn’t stick because you know yourself and are grounded in your own well-being. Likewise, if someone complements you or likes your social media, it doesn’t get used as ego’s fodder. We consider this process of compliment and criticism to be one of the worldly dharmas. Things are always arising in duality, both positive and negative, we have both floods and rainbows, love and loss, everything is always changing. Behind that, there’s an inner mountain of real strength that we can access, that we can have our own backs, even up unto our last breath. Through taking time for this deep self care, a love affair firstly with ourselves, we can finally uncover this real, bulletproof inner warmth and joy. You’ve heard the cliche, “you can’t love anyone if you can’t love yourself.” If the relationship with ourselves is caring with positive self talk, we can then create healthy interactions with others, with qualities of real compassion, listening, patience and problem solving.
“Tune in, turn on” and shine your light into these dark times my dear friends, it can help to change our very world. ☀️