I received an e-mail this week that speaks to so many of us raised in alcoholic households.
I just went through a breakup again on Saturday. My 34th birthday. There were many things wrong. Mostly, yet again, I was giving it 100 percent and not getting enough back. He proceeded to ruin my birthday and tell me how I felt & that I was giving him a guilt trip and playing head games. Which I was not. I was actually pretty peaceful, a little disappointed, but I was making the best of it. He asked me 4 times what was wrong. In so many words I told him, “You did not make me feel special at all. Something simple, like making my coffee or something, but I got nothing.” Yes, I was a little disappointed, but I was fine. I was having fun at work and trying to enjoy the day. In reality I was so tired of the bullshit and it being all about him. I was not ignoring him or acting a certain way, I was just introverted and being peaceful with myself. After a big blow up where it turned into I am a crazy bitch again. I moved out after working a 14- hour day.
Now it is all my fault because he didn’t wish me Happy Birthday fast enough. I am really sad because when it was good it was really good. When he was my loving caring boyfriend he was the best in the world. Telling me everything I wanted to hear. But when I had a need, a want, something to communicate it was always escalated into a fight and I was a crazy bitch who was pouting.
I think that describes narcissism very well.
Growing up in an alcoholic family I have chosen to accept more than any normal human would. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want a partner who can be there for me who can communicate and figure all this out with me.
Oh, my darling, I don’t even know where to begin.
- Giving it Your All; Receiving Nothing in Return
- Pretending You’re Not Upset When You Really Are
- The Inability to Communicate Your Needs And Wants
- Allowing Resentment to Build Until You’re Forced to Pull the Plug
- Attracting Those Incapable of Loving You the Way You Need
When I was a few years older than you are now, I found a wonderful therapist named Felicia. She was an older woman (probably the same age I am now), with greying, curly hair and warm, intelligent eyes. It was the narcissist I was dating who found her for me, who recognized my need for a mentor, someone mature and wise, whom I could respect and learn from. (Back then there were no such things as coaches, and in many ways that’s what she was for me.) She was a gift from the least likely source. Goes to show you that labels, like narcissist, are reductive.
I needed to heal after my ex-husband’s long illness and death, or so I thought. I was wracked with grief and guilt. But what I learned about myself in that year with Felicia filled three spiral-bound notebooks.
For the first time in my life I came face to face with the misconceptions about life I’d picked up from my alcoholic upbringing. Lord, how Felicia would stare back in horror as I recounted how I saw the world! She was the rational, outside perspective I needed most.
One day, as I was expressing my frustration with The Narcissist, about my inability to get him to love me in any way, shape, or form, she told me this:
You can’t know this now, not from where you come from, but there is a man out there—I promise you—who will love you the way you need and want. He will be your champion. He will nurture you in ways you never thought possible. He will make you feel safe, secure, and prized.
I cried in the car all the way home.
Years later I met and married Walt. And I realized—in a jerk your head back kind of moment—-Felicia’s prediction had come true. Here was a man who loved me in ways that FRIED MY BRAIN.
We’ve been together for eight years. And this is just a short list of the things Walt does to show me love EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just on my raggedy-assed birthday:
- Brings me my cup of coffee at 5AM
- Snuggles with me in bed as we chat about our day
- Hugs me—like a Koala, a tree– for a full 5 minutes before he forces me to get up for our run
- Runs with me while we discuss the world
- Makes me breakfast
- Puts out my 542 vitamin pills and a glass of water
- Heats up my “special” cup, and my almond milk, before he pours me another cup of coffee
- Writes W&A on the steamed-over window in our bathroom
- Calls me 2 or 3 times if either of us is away
- Opens the car door for me before he gets in
And I pity the fool who gives me trouble when Walt is in the area. I. Pity. The. Fool.
If I told you about the things he does on a less frequent basis, believe me, you’d have to throw yourself off a cliff.
So why do I tell you this, J, particularly when you’re so sad, after one more break up with a man who can’t even begin to love you the way you want?
Because Felicia’s statement is true for you, too.
It took me years to be ready for a man like Walt. Years. Because who I was before would never have drawn such a creature to me. I was attracting narcissists, and married men, and people totally incapable of loving me because I didn’t know how to love myself. Actually, I didn’t know how to love, period. Not really. All that manipulative stuff we do to convince people that we’re worthy isn’t love, Honey, it’s what I like to call a perky monkey dance. Intimacy, the very foundation of love, requires that you allow others to see you for who you truly are. All of you: the good and the bad.
Talk about risk!
I had to think long and hard about HOW I am different from the way I was way back then. And if I were going to choose one thing—for the sake of brevity— I’d say it’s the way I communicate when things are not going my way.
People like us, J, are taught to keep our yaps shut when we’re upset. In fact, if we know what’s good for us, we’ll act like everything is HUNKY DORY just so we don’t draw fire.
- We smile when we feel like crying.
- We bite our tongue when we feel like screaming.
- We stand stock still when we feel like bolting.
- We look away so our true feelings can’t be read.
- We work harder so we can distract ourselves, and them
- We say we’re fine when we’re anything but
- We convince ourselves the phase will pass
- We beat ourselves up instead of directing our anger at them
- We make excuses for their bad behavior
- We try harder to be helpful, or useful
I bet you can add to this list, J, can’t you?
When Walt and I get into it, and like any couple we have our inglorious moments, I still go quiet. I still look away. I still shrug and sigh dramatically when he asks what’s wrong. I still pout. Like a bitch. I still tell him I’m fine. Fine, fine, fine.
But before too long I remember that keeping my negative feelings to myself is the KISS OF DEATH. By refusing to tell him what I’ve got going on inside my swirling head, I leave our relationship vulnerable to resentment, and we all know where that leads.
It has taken a very long time to trust that, by telling the ugly truth about what I’m thinking or how I feel, our relationship will not immediately explode. That I won’t be living in a cardboard box under some bridge eating cat food. Alone. Forever.
I know the very moment when I claimed my power, my worth. When I set myself up for real love.
Walt and I had just started dating. He was in the process of cleaning up a mess from a former relationship and he was telling me a story about something I saw as a threatening entanglement. I felt fear. I was heartbroken that this perfect man might not Be The One, the way I had so hoped. But instead of ignoring the warning signal, pretending that it didn’t bother me, I said what I was thinking in a perfectly calm voice, “I’m not sure how this relationship is going to work out for me.”
Do you see how that switches up the dynamics?
Sometimes, J, people don’t love us the way we want because they’re simply not capable. There’s a motley crew out there—narcissist and sociopath among them—who flock to us because they KNOW we’ll never demand of them what others will.
Sometimes, J, we destroy a perfectly viable relationship because we’re too afraid to tell the truth. We let resentment take over until we have no choice but to pull the plug.
Who knows which, this time, is the case for you. Do you?
Fix what needs to be fixed, my love. Because there is someone wonderful, just around the corner, waiting for YOU. With a steaming cup of coffee. Who will move heaven and earth to see you happy. You need to be ready, and willing, to show him who you are.