Friday, April 29, 2011

What Did You Say?

“I said, "Narcissism is not healthy. It isn't funny and it isn't charming and a narcissistic personality isn't flattering on anyone. By the way dear friend, you must stop wearing that pink hat. You have an autumn, not a summer complexion."

Good things happen when women talk. Miracles happen when we listen.  We find out we aren’t alone, we aren’t powerless, we aren’t strange (well, maybe a little bit). We’re not disposable objects to be cherished or trashed; and we discover women aren’t our enemies. We are. We become our own worst enemy when we reduce our circle of friends and family members.  This is particularly true of narcissists who demand her full attention and time.  Torn between her needs and his, she frequently reduces the time spent with other people and attends to his needs instead.

Without external support as a reality check on the narcissistic relationship, women become isolated, even separated from her true self in the confusing nature of the relationship. She becomes dependent on the narcissist to meet her needs. His grandiosity increases. So does his desire for control. This fuels his superiority but reduces her self-efficacy and esteem. A woman in a narcissistic relationship needs female friendships keeping watch on a potential imbalance of power. She needs a listening ear when she dares speak of her relationship, her feelings, her intuition.  With friends as allies, a woman is better able to protect her children and herself—making healthier and safer decisions because her perceptions are validated by other women.

The male narcissist utilizes manipulative tactics separating his partner from her meddlesome friends. Those meddlesome friends are threats to the goodies narcissistic men believe they are entitled to---even making demands on par with the children. Most relationships struggle with balance but the narcissistic relationship exhibits extremes.  He does this by:

1-criticizing her friends and family members (blowing situations out of proportion; suggesting she’s too naive to see their ulterior motives)

2-expressing his insecurity (she doesn’t care properly for his needs and he feels sad, ignored, she doesn’t understand him anymore)

3-manipulating her guilt (she values being a good partner, a loving mother and feels guilty for hurting his feelings, or ignoring him)

4-undermining her self-confidence (he infers that he is the only person who would put up with her many flaws and he only does this because he loves her so much, effectively increasing her insecurity)

5-undermining her worth (if she can’t create a relationship with her intimate partner, she thinks, “I must not be very good at building relationships with anyone.”)

6-psychologizing her desire for friendships as immaturity, excessive neediness, mocking women talking as ‘gossip and chatter’

7-insulting women and women’s ways of being (he will say ‘she’ is different from most women. She isn’t like other women. He can’t stand women but she is ‘special’ because she isn’t like them)

Ignorant to these dysfunctional dynamics, she may sacrifice outside friendships to prove her loyalty. She does not realize she is jeopardizing her mental, emotional, and spiritual health until noticing the only person left in her life is the narcissist. She feels lonely and isolated, having disconnected from friends and family. Rather than creating the intimacy she desired, her disconnection increases the narcissist’s unhappiness, displeasure, disagreeableness, disdain. Feeling more alone than she’s ever felt, she has no witnesses to his behind-the-doors hostility. She awakens after a traumatic insult shattering her numbness and realizes that contrary to her intentions, she had sacrificed the most important friendship in her life: her relationship with herself. “Who am I?” she asks. She’s not even sure she knows anymore.

From this moment of awakening, the healing journey begins, slowly reintegrating aspects of self that had been invalidated, diminished, repressed, ridiculed and even silenced. Reclaiming personality traits and behaviors the narcissist  deemed unacceptable (r she perceived to be unacceptable) may be the work of her lifetime.  The healing journey is an opportunity for a woman to know her self intimately, courageously, and compassionately.

She becomes self-aware, tolerant of human fallibility, conscious of suffering, resilient to rejection, and grateful for commonality, community, and communion.  She no longer seeks validation for her right to exist in the eyes of her critic. She restores her self-respect. She creates friendships with people who embrace difference as joyful, not threatening. This is the journey of self-discovery restoring meaning and purpose in her life as she emerges from her grief and loss. She restores her connections to the whole of life and because of her intimate bonds, recognizes her own worth as she recognizes the worth in others.

As Carol Gilligan writes in A Different Voice, "We know ourselves as separate only insofar as we live in connection with others, and we experience relationship only insofar as we differentiate other from self.”

Gilligan’s words sound like a paradox: we embrace our individuality through our commonality with others. We connect and separate because our friends aren’t threatened by our difference, which liberates us from the tyranny of rejection. As a woman overcomes fear of women as competitors, she becomes an individual in her own right without need of male approval for her existence.

We emerge to ourselves as to others in the crucible of friendship. We make amazingly healing connections by chatting and talking and laughing and crying together---being vulnerable together and becoming strong apart. The less frightened we are of difference, the less frightened we are of ourselves. The more friendships we build with women, the more we befriend ourselves, forging a trustworthy relationship with our selves. We become the friend we’d like to meet. 

Be brave. Be you. Start talking. 

“The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.” ~Judith Herman

When women talk openly with one other, they break taboos prohibiting anger, rightful ownership of 'self', her thoughts, and feelings---her right to be taken seriously---her right to tell her story, defining her existence through intimate talks in a circle of friends.

Contemporary communities are transient. We abandon hometowns in seek of fortune or opportunity. We leave friends and family behind, tradition and consistency: intrinsic connections. We are more disconnected from one another than we ever have been. 

We live alone together in a technological world appealing to narcissistic wants without meeting human needs. And the more isolated we become from one another, the less familiar we are with ourselves. Women aren't chatting and washing clothes at the community wash well today, but we are chatting in cyber-groups. Our intimate conversations contain within them, the power to change our world. When one woman awakens to her power and worth as a human being, the entire world shifts. Sit still when a group of women are talking. The ground virtually shimmies beneath their feet.

"Now, what were you saying, my friend? Oh yes, I remember. You said pink hats clashed with my complexion…what color do you think looks best?" 

Love to all,

© 2011