In a recent entry I asked you all to tell me what you wanted me to write about. I got some excellent suggestions and Caliban’s Sister came up with a doozy: “I'll start off by asking you how you achieved some emotional detachment, given your “sandwiched” situation between MNM, and ND. Any thoughts about that are welcome. Your posts are always so insightful anyway, but I think your resilience probably intrigues me most.”
It may not look like it at first, but emotional detachment and resilience are actually very close bedfellows: in order to gain resilience, however, you must first have emotional detachment.
First, though, you must understand that there are two kinds of emotional detachment, one harmful, the other helpful. When you are unable to connect to others, when the detachment is beyond your control or command, that is harmful. It keeps you isolated, damages your empathy and compassion, can prevent you from ever having a meaningful emotional relationship with another person. When you choose to disconnect emotionally from certain others, when you control the detachment and refuse to permit others to control or manipulate or otherwise affect your emotions and emotional perception, then you are engaging in a healthy, helpful form of emotional detachment. And once you have mastered the art of detaching from the emotional vampires in your life, resilience is actually the natural outcome.
WikiHOW has an interesting article on how to become emotionally detached. The six steps are outlined below:
1. Take a deep breath. If you are stressed out, your body naturally tenses and sends your thoughts racing. Breathe deep and slow to avoid a lack of oxygen that can add to the problem.
2. Don't think about it. If you are constantly being yelled at or threatened, block out that voice by not thinking about it. Changing our thinking is easier said than done because it requires taking positive action in a negative scenario that if repeated will lead to a change in attitude and behavior (your behavior). Instead of obsessing about the person who is hurting you, count to 100 in your head, count sheep, count the number of things in the room, think of the names of all the United States, anything logical and unemotional that will take your mind off the situation.
3. Take action physically. Go for a walk, a bike ride or any other cardiovascular activity. Aerobic activity is proven to boost endorphins and will help you be in a better position to monitor and change your reactions to emotional predators.
4. Practice crying alone. Crying in front of the one who is harassing you will only provoke them to taunt you more or continue with their harassment. Breathing deeply and thinking of something other than the situation will prevent you from fully processing their mean words and ultimately prevent you from crying. BUT it is not healthy to keep that sadness in. Try your best to wait until the situation has ended and for the antagonist to leave the room before you begin to cry.
5. Write things down. Just as it is unhealthy to keep from crying, it is also unhealthy to keep anger and confusion inside. Write down how you feel in a secret journal or diary.
6. Keep up the habit. Eventually, your mind will learn to store things away and you'll go into thinking of logical and unemotional things naturally when being harassed.
While I agree with all of the six points, I think numbers 2, 5 and 6 are the most important…and in that order. We sabotage ourselves when we refuse to let go of the hurtful things people say or do to us, when we dwell on them, when we pick ourselves apart trying to figure out what we did or said to “deserve it.” It is critical that you learn to simply acknowledge that the other person did something hurtful or wrong (which absolves you) and then put it aside. Refuse to think about it. Force yourself to think of something else.
It isn’t easy…but what have you ever achieved in life that was really worthwhile that was easy? I spent five brutal years in therapy to get the NMonkey off my back and not a day of it was easy: but I knuckled under and I did it…and I came out a better, happier, more whole person as a result. It was worth the work, the effort, the picking myself up from failures and stepping back up to the plate…and putting in the effort to train your mind not to dwell on the hurts people try to inflict on you will be worth it to you in the long run just like, 20+ years post-therapy, those five years were very worth it to me.
I have already gone on record with my opinion of journaling. One of the ways you can help put things out of your mind is to purge them by writing them down. Repeatedly, if necessary. Write. Rage. Cry. Express your fury and your hurt as if your tormenter were bound and gagged in front of you and had to listen. Use language you might ordinarily not ever use, if it feels right. Purge yourself of the poison their words and deeds have created in you and purge it as often as needed.
I have heard it said that it takes eight weeks to establish a new habit…eight weeks to root out an old one and put a new one in its place. So commit to eight weeks of refusing to dwell on your hurts and purging the poison: work at it, practice it. When you fail and find yourself picking at your psychic wounds, stop yourself, use one of your distracting behaviours, and resume practicing. By the time those eight weeks are up, it will be feeling familiar…keep it up. When you find your mind wandering back to pick at the scabs of your old emotional wounds, practice your distracting techniques again, don’t let yourself do it because if you do, you will be the one inflicting pain on yourself, not your abuser…you will be acting like her flying monkey, abusing yourself. Practice your detachment, learn to let the pain go, take the next step into resilience.
This is not the same as denial. Once you have mastered detachment and resilience, you will be able to return to those old hurts and injuries without being sucked down into the endless cycle of pain and self-doubt. Once you have that detachment, you can examine, explore, even pick apart the old hurts, see where they came from, what your part really was in them, where the responsibility really rests. To try to do this before you achieve detachment and resilience, however, just invites you deeper into the spiral of despair.
Just what does “resilience” mean? PBS.org has this to say: “Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe…[It] doesn’t mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. People feel grief, sadness, and a range of other emotions after adversity and loss. The road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events.
“Resilience is also not something that you’re either born with or not. Resilience develops as people grow up and gain better thinking and self-management skills and more knowledge. Resilience also comes from supportive relationships with parents, peers and others, as well as cultural beliefs and traditions that help people cope with the inevitable bumps in life. Resilience is found in a variety of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span.” Gee, that sounds a lot like the “How to become emotionally detached” covered above, doesn’t it? That’s because when you master that detachment, when you have habituated the behaviour of not worrying those wounds, not automatically assuming you did something to deserve the emotional abuse, not falling into the N’s traps, resilience is what you get.
Key in the PBS definition, to me, is “…working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events…” and “Resilience is found in a variety of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span.” This means your behaviours, thoughts and actions…this means what you choose to do with those unpleasant events and painful emotions : you can continue picking yourself apart over them or you can choose to distract yourself from them and refuse to play the N’s game. And this means, as I said a few entries back, that you have choices here, choices that can lead to resilience and choices that can lead to being stuck.
The PBS article cites supportive relationships with parents, peers and others as being instrumental, but in this I must disagree. Like many of us from narcissistic families, I had no support from my parents or even my peers: when I was honest about my mother’s predatory behaviours, even people who believed me were offended that I was disloyal enough to my own mother to reveal the truth about her, even as they agreed that what she had done/was doing was reprehensible. Even when they were clear that I was being victimized, I was still expected to put her first because she was my mother. So, support from family and peers was pretty much non-existent. But I did find immeasurable support in a couple of therapists who were not bound by the cultural taboo of “honour thy mother, even if she is a soul-crushing psychopath.” And that is where my own journey into resilience really began.
Up to that point, I had merely survived. And I didn’t do it well. I bounced from place to place, job to job, man to man, lifestyle to lifestyle. I reacted to life, to what life handed me and, being buffeted by the winds of chance, seldom even made an effort to put my hand on the tiller of my own life. Every time I did, every time I tried, some situation came along and ripped control of my life out of my hands and so I just gave in to it and drifted along with the vagaries of the current. Sometimes I managed to get a step ahead, but I sabotaged myself with behaviour that was not in my best interest, like getting involved with narcissistic, selfish, predatory men. On some level I knew that I was recreating my maternal relationship with these men, attempting to “get it right” this time, but that never happened. If anything, it just made things worse. Between the ages of 17 and 37 I made two suicide attempts and planned a third…the last time with a gun so nobody could rescue me at the last minute as had happened before. I couldn’t bounce back, only sink…and I became so depressed that I probably should have been hospitalized because I was virtually non-functional.
Chief in my despair was feeling helpless. Victimhood was so deeply ingrained in me that other people could see it. I tried to hide it with bombast: a formidable vocabulary paired with an equally formidable temper scared people off, made them wary of crossing me, exploiting me, victimizing me. It worked to some degree, but the really skilled narcissists could get around it by sussing out what I really needed and pretending to give it to me until my guard was down. One of the worst Ns of my life, the one who drove me to buying that gun, was just such a man.
Over the course of the 13 years we were together I came to feel absolutely helpless to change the course of my life, and the life I was living was so unutterably painful I could not see myself going on. I sent my son to spend a few weeks with his sister out-of-state—I could not bear to think of him finding my body or having only my nasty, malignant narcissist of a husband for comfort after my death (this was before I recognized the depths of my daughter’s pathology)—and I set about to kill myself.
I had the gun in a drawer under the bed. I took it out, checked to make sure it was loaded, and took the safety off. The thing about having a gun under the bed, though, was that to retrieve it I had to look down at the floor. And that is what saved me. Because on the floor was a newspaper with an article headline about a new kind of therapy for adults who were abused as children…and I put the gun back in the drawer, slid it closed, and picked up the paper. I must have read that article 25 times or more in the next days…it was Labor Day weekend so the clinic was closed. But I was the first caller when it opened and their very perceptive receptionist recognized I was in crisis and got me in to see a therapist within the hour. It quite literally saved my life.
So what is the resilience part? The part where I learned practical, real-world coping skills. The part where I learned that I had choices that I was not even seeing, the part where I learned to start sorting what really was my responsibility and what was not…and how badly I had that confused and turned around.
Resilience is really about choices…how we choose to view things, what we choose to believe, what we choose to do about it all.
But resilience is almost impossible to achieve without emotional detachment…and emotional detachment is all about belief and choices, too.
Resilience is also about expectations: I expected rescue. From what quarter I didn’t know, but just as I had expected my NexH to rescue me from a rootless, aimless life, on some level I was waiting for someone to rescue me from him. And as the time passed and no rescue came along, I fell into deeper and deeper despair.
As children we are helpless to defend and help ourselves. If we are able to get a reprieve from our dysfunctional parents and upbringing, it has to come from outside: a grandparent or teacher or neighbour or officer of the law. What little we can do…tell the truth, run away, act out…is all too often ignored, discounted, or even punished. We are forced into the passive position of waiting for rescue because we cannot take care of even our most basic needs: no matter how bad it is inside the family, it is almost always worse outside of it. And so passivity and the expectation of rescue is inculcated into us as dependent children and when we grow up it doesn’t change because our dysfunctional parents and families shirked their responsibility to teach us how to think and act like independent adults. Our bodies mature, but inside we remain passive, dependent, unhappy children waiting for rescue. Only now we need to be rescued from ourselves, from the internalized voices of our narcissistic, abusive parents.
What we need is to disrupt this is a healthy dose of reality, something that seldom comes about without some kind of epiphany. My epiphany was in a newspaper headline that opened a door to hope. And the next five years of therapy revealed one epiphany after another, not all of them easily achieved or willingly embraced.
Inertia tends to breed inertia. The longer you believe that somebody else should be fixing your emotional problems (because somebody else created them…why should you have to do all of the dirty work to clean up somebody else’s mess?), the harder it will be for you to accept that, regardless of how it was created, it is yours and only you can fix it. Once you overcome your own inertia and resistance, once you accept that, fair or not, only you can fix the problem, the first step is taken into the world of reality, which is the only place the fix can happen.
As I learned to embrace reality I began to see some of the choices that I had been blind to for so long. Part of embracing reality was to learn to put the brakes on my empathy, to put limits on it. I had to change the idea that I had to fix or rescue everybody else around me and start fixing and rescuing myself. This brought about an unexpected bonus: people who were just using me (but whom I had viewed with empathy and went out of my way to help) suddenly became very aggrieved when I was no longer available for them to exploit. Family, “friends,” and others—the real friends helped me while the not-so-real friends called me “selfish” or simply disappeared in a puff of resentment.
I became empowered with knowledge, truth, reality. With the support my therapists provided, support I had never had before because I had been censured every time I spoke the truth about my mother, I began to embrace the reality of my life—all of my life—and with that, I found even more choices. And somewhere in there, I discovered that the choice to be happy or unhappy was mine to make and the conditions I had put on happiness were so much bullshit. I didn’t need to have so much money or fine things or a perfectly clean house or an enviable job for happiness, I needed only to choose it, regardless of my circumstances.
I learned about growth…that you can be happy while you are growing rather that shunt it aside until—well, until never because the goal post for that kind of happiness is always moving. I learned to stop blaming myself but to take responsibility, a fine distinction but an important one.
One of the things I came to realize is that virtually everything I was believing and basing my hopes and dreams and expectations on was not mine. I was fed these beliefs and hopes and dreams and expectations by my society, my culture, my family…but none of them were my own. Raised in a dysfunctional household where NM came first and my wants and needs weren’t even on the table, I internalized that other people and their needs matter, but I and mine do not. Made responsible for my younger brother’s behaviour and punished when he misbehaved, I saw myself responsible for my husband’s behaviour and frantically debriefed him after work each night, putting the crazy to right so he could spend another day with sane people without doing something that would get him fired. All of the inappropriate expectations and roles dumped on me as a child I had internalized and responded to in my adult life, putting myself last so often and so profoundly that I virtually disappeared into my roles and became a faceless, suicidally depressed nothing. It didn’t help that I had a husband who came right out and stated that a good wife was like an appliance: did her job flawlessly with a minimum need for attention.
I had to relearn from the ground up, to create my own values and beliefs, to check my expectations against reality. I had to learn to be “bad” (under the terms of my upbringing) and learn to put myself on the list of priorities, and to put myself near the top. I had to accept that I was not responsible for other people; I had to learn that if someone didn’t like me or love me, my world was not going to come to an end; I had to learn that not only was I entitled to have my own feelings and likes and dislikes and they were ok, I had to learn that the same applies to other people: it is OK for people to not like me and I don’t have to turn myself inside out or think less of myself as a result. In a nutshell, I had to completely revamp my attitude about “caring,” and, critically, I had to learn how to not care: that was my first step into detachment.
But perhaps the most important thing I learned about was expectations and how we can poison not only others but ourselves with them. I expected my mother, my husband, my daughter to love me. I expected it like I expected the sun to rise in the morning. And when they disappointed that expectation, I beat myself up. But I didn’t beat myself up over having expectations, I beat myself up for somehow being unworthy, reasoning that if I had been worthy, they would have lived up to my expectations. Not healthy at all.
Resilience and emotional detachment came from learning and accepting that other people are separate entities from me and that they have an absolute entitlement to like/dislike/love/not love/agree/disagree independent of me and my feelings or expectations. Their validity of their existences have little or nothing to do with me, just as mine have little or nothing to do with them.
What I really had to do was to learn to not care, to set boundaries on my caring. That is hard, especially when you have been groomed from infancy to not only care, but to care for others more than you care for yourself. I had to learn perspective, where I really fit into the scheme of life, not where I was told to fit. I had to give up my own rescue fantasies, not only of being rescued, but my hero complex where I flew to the rescue of every wounded soul I came across, often crippling them in the process of saving them. With perspective I learned to harden my heart to those whose plights plucked at my heartstrings, to resist the urge to give and give and give until I had nothing left, and then give a little more. I had to learn to say “no,” to stop letting people take advantage of me because I was unwilling to take a chance that they weren’t truly needy. I had to start growing up, taking responsibility for myself and allowing…sometimes making…other people to take care of themselves.
Most importantly, I had to stop making my personal self-esteem rest on the opinions of others. I had to grow up and learn to discern when people were being spiteful and mean-spirited and recognize that they did not speak the truth, that they were intentionally trying to hurt me. This was difficult for me because I am not a person given to engaging in that kind of behaviour, so it was difficult for me to spot: I couldn’t relate to it, so it was hard for me to see it. I’ve never been a very adept liar, so I have a tendency to literalness and bluntness, both of which are rooted in honesty: I had to learn and to accept that other people are not the same way, that their cruel comments weren’t truths, they were barbs intended to wound. And once I knew that, I had to become sufficiently secure in my own positive view of myself that their negative opinions could be dismissed as mean or meaningless. I had to learn to not care about anything but the truth, and to learn to tell the real truth apart from those mean epithets hurled at me by those whom I had once held in high esteem.
That is not always easy and I don’t always succeed, but a defining part of resilience is that you always…always…get back up and get back into the game. You might acknowledge feeling defeated, but you never, ever give in to it. You get back up, you recharge yourself, you pick it back up. Your NM said something mean and it got through your armour and hurt you—choice time: do you wallow in it, pick at the wound, wonder what you did to deserve it, rage silently at her and allow her barb to take over your emotional balance? Or do you acknowledge that the barb got through, she won that round because she hurt you, but she is a narcissist and that is what narcissists do. Try to think of it this way: if a mosquito bit you, would you spend the next two weeks in angst wondering what you did, why the mosquito hated you, and rage inwardly at the beast? Or would you dismiss it as an annoyance, knowing that biting is what mosquitoes do and, in this instance, you were not adequately protected?
As I said before when discussing hoovering, some people use negative ploys to hoover you back into their spheres and those can include spiteful messages designed to cause you self-doubt, insults to hurt you, even indications that you have disappointed their expectations, as if they had a right to those expectations and your compliance in the first place. Reality—truth—honesty—can you ferret them out from the manipulative messages handed to you by people who want to control and use you? I couldn’t—and it ultimately made me suicidal and crazy—until I saw a competent therapist and spent five years on the couch.
In order to have resilience, you must have the emotional detachment that allows you to see past the obvious or superficial and down to the reality, the truth, of those around you. You must learn to believe in yourself so much that the attempts of your Ns and their flying monkeys don’t even dent you. When I came to the point that I could see right through my daughter’s lame attempts to dissuade me from marrying my present husband, when her apocryphal stories of other couples like us (younger husband) whose marriages foundered were so transparent that I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud at her, when I could see the wheels in her mind turning, the worry that her inheritance was in jeopardy and she was eager to talk me out of a marriage that is now approaching ten good years, I knew I was going to be ok. When you can see through the people you love the most, see what they are really about and not start wallowing in self-doubt, you know you have finally made it.
But I didn’t do it without help…lots and lots of professional help. And I honestly don’t know if I could have made it without it.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.