This is painful for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the grain of truth it contains. Once we step onto the healing path we begin seeing narcissists everywhere and this causes us to doubt ourselves because our rational brain immediately questions whether or not it is possible that almost everyone we know is a narcissist. We look at our family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and we see a profusion of narcs. We begin to wonder if we are seeing things that are not there or if, indeed, that we are the problem. What we—and the clueless others—fail to take into account is the simple fact that it is entirely possible that we actually are surrounded by narcissists because 1) they are attracted to us; 2) we are attracted to them because they feel normal within our N-influenced sense of the world; and 3) it is not unusual for entire families to be made up of narcissists and their flying monkeys. It is entirely possible for you to be the only white sheep in your family.
Even if there is only one narcissist in the family, it is common for the rest of the family to be held in thrall by that narc. From an enabling spouse to clueless siblings to children/siblings who know better than to thwart a narcissistic parent, your narcissist is surrounded by enablers, flying monkeys, cowed victims, and fellow narcissists. Of course your life is full of them!
Outside of the family, we make narcissistic friends. Narcissists are drawn to people like us, people who are groomed to be accommodating to the demands of narcissists, and we are drawn to them because of the sense of familiarity they evoke in us. So our friends, lovers, spouses—and even our own children—can add to the population of narcissists in our lives. And as long as we remain clueless and compliant, everything is ok…except for us.
Everything changes when we start becoming aware of our true status, when we begin seeing our narcissistic and enabling parents and our complicit siblings for who and what they really are. As long as we keep our knowledge to ourselves and don’t attempt to act on it, as long as we go along to get along, things remain relatively calm. But most of us find it impossible to keep up the charade: once our eyes are opened and we begin to see just how poorly we are being treated—and how the rest of our family expects us to simply accept that treatment—we start wanting change. And that is where the trouble starts.
Initially, most of us want the others to change. That is because, on some level, we believe that if she is in the wrong, she needs to fix it. Many of us come away reeling from the shock of realizing that not only do our abusers refuse to change, they won’t even acknowledge that they are doing wrong. Firmly entrenched in self-righteousness, they accuse you of changing and upsetting the status quo, often expressing the opinion that if you would just go back to being who you always were, things would be just fine. And that, actually, is the truth, at least from the N’s point of view—things will be fine for her and that is all that matters.
Some of us can get stuck in this phase—wanting the abuser to acknowledge the abuse, show remorse, and then show love by changing. Some of us stay stuck there for decades, beating our heads against the brick wall of their obstinacy and our need to be loved. We seek out explanations for their behaviour, help in getting them to understand, help in getting them to change into the loving parent we need and have always yearned for. And some of us are lucky enough, in our search, to learn that we cannot change them, only ourselves, and when we accept that, we set our feet on the healing path—and we begin to change.
This is when the shit starts. Because nobody wants us to change (except us and perhaps people who honestly love us). They don’t want us to change because our changes threaten them. And so they begin to fight back, they try to stuff us back into the role we have filled all of our lives to this point, and the more we move away from that role, the harder—and nastier—they fight to keep us there.
Their perception of you and your changes is necessarily different from your perception. You know what you are doing—you are starting to see the abuse you have been in denial about and/or felt helpless against and you are starting to withdraw from it, to separate, individuate, even fight back. Where once you tried to elicit their approval, now you are challenging their perceived right to control you. They see you as having inexplicably changed from the person you were—someone they knew how to predict and control—into a loose cannon whose responses they can no longer depend on. This is threatening to them because, first of all, they no longer feel in control and secondly, they can see that if you aren’t brought into line, they are going to experience some kind of loss. Unfortunately, the kind of loss they are worried about is not the loss of a beloved child but the loss of the services you have been providing, whether those services were tangible (cash, chauffeur, house cleaning, check book balancing, home maintenance, etc.) or intangible (whipping post, receptacle of blame, scapegoat, identified cause of angst, etc.).
They aren’t about to let that happen and they—the narcissists in particular—have no limit to the levels to which they will stoop in order to snap you back into line. Flying monkeys may have limits (if they aren’t narcissists themselves) but the narcissists do not. Depending on how desperate they are feeling, they can go as far as damaging your credit, your reputation, your health and put your job, your marriage, and even custody of your children at risk. Mostly, however, they will attack your feelings, your self-esteem, so that you will feel as low as they perceive you to be. And then they blame it all on you—it is you who can’t get along with anyone anymore, not they, who have manipulated and lied and twisted and spun everything to make themselves the innocent victim of you and your lies.
This, of course, is extremely painful. The injustice smarts. Then the flying monkeys and clueless family members rally round the narcissist, sympathizing with her fake hurts and the injustice is amplified. And you find it jaw-droppingly inconceivable that they are all taken in by her, that nobody can see who and what she really is, when it is as clear as glass to you. And that is why they all perceive you as the source of the problem: because they think that they are all getting along with your N and you are the odd one out.
This is incredibly invalidating. For their own reasons, your N’s minions do not bother to examine their relationships, particularly their relationships with the Ns in their lives. They stick to the superficial and do whatever kind of dancing and dodging necessary to get (or stay) in the Ns good books. Do not doubt that every flying monkey, no matter their age or relationship to the N, has a self-serving purpose at the core of their FM behaviour. Because they don’t look too deeply into the relationship and accept a superficial kind of bond, they cannot see what you have found. If they don’t share your experience as a victim of your N’s abuse, they will doubt you further because they have experienced your N differently from you. And because they have decided, consciously or unconsciously, to not rock the boat they share with the N, they can have very negative—even hostile—reactions to people who have found the courage to dig deeper and uncover a truth that they, the FMs, simply do not want to know.
This makes them defensive—and sometimes a good defence is an even better offence. In order for them to keep their status quo, your information has to be neutralized. Even if they don’t say a word—even if you haven’t said a word—your position is threatening to the stability of their relationship with the N and their ability to keep their mental blinders in place. They literally do not want to hear what you have to say. They may attempt to shame you, intoning judgments like “You shouldn’t talk about your own mother like that,” or “Didn’t anybody ever tell you if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all”? or “It’s not nice to spread tales about others, especially your own mother…” Or they may simply contradict you or even get hostile, telling you that you are wrong, that you are a bad person to not honour or respect your mother, or give you a dressing-down for simply feeling less than doting about your N. All of this is incredibly invalidating because in addition to having not taken your feelings and experiences into account, you are being vilified for your wholly natural emotional response to having been abused.
Why do they do this? Because your truth threatens the delicately balanced relationship they have with their Ns. Even if their N is not yours, their own personal relationships are threatened by enlightenment. If they take enlightenment away with them from a conversation with you, they may start ruminating on the subject and unbalance their own emotional life.
Sometimes it will be the N who challenges you, who calls you names and accuses you of being the epicentre of the problems. To some degree there is truth in this: if you have stopped passively acquiescing to the narcissist’s abuse and control, you are upsetting her comfy little status quo. What the N fails to take into account, however, is your unequivocal right to do just that: you have an inalienable right to autonomy, to choose your life’s path, to decide what influences you will have in it and which influences you do not. Narcissist’s have trouble with that because the way they keep themselves filled with Nsupply is to have control over the lives of others, especially people like yourself, people who have been groomed since early childhood to be compliant to an N’s wishes.
When you stop being compliant, when you stop being a reliable source of Nsupply, you create a void in the N’s life. And that N scares her, much like you might be scared if you ran out of food in your house and won’t have the money to buy more for a week. What do you do? Starve? You will probably contact friends and family and either borrow money or get invited to their houses for a meal or two—and the narcissist whose primary source of Nsupply has suddenly become unreliable, does much the same: she calls in her flying monkeys…and some of those flying monkeys call on you.
If you don’t cave in to the demands of those flying monkeys, they are going to view you as being “difficult” and when they compare notes—or report back to the narcissist who now has collected reports from several FMs—it becomes apparent that you are not cooperating, You have not only stopped fulfilling your prescribed role in the family, you aren’t particularly enthused at the idea of resuming it, either. Seen from the narcissist’s point of view, you aren’t getting along with anyone any more—you have stopped providing Nsupply and you’ve refused the blandishments of everyone who has “reached out” to you and tried to reason or guilt you into resuming your old role in the N’s drama. You actually aren’t getting along with anyone who has approached you on this!
But, contrary to what they believe, this is not a bad thing. It is good that you don’t get along with people who have no empathy or compassion for others, people who will hurt others in order to stay on the good side of another person who also lacks compassion and empathy. Remember, we tend to judge others by the company they keep—if you aren’t like these people, why would you even want to “get along” with them?
What you must never lose sight of is the simple, sad fact that they want you back not because they love and miss the real person you are, they miss having a role in their drama filled and it will be a lot of work to train another scapegoat. When you “got along” with everyone, you did so by fulfilling the role set out for you. That role had nothing to do with who you are, your needs, your wants, your aspirations—it was created to fulfil the needs of the N, and were just a player in their life drama, recruited and trained to fill that role and nothing more. That you would dare to have needs and expectations outside of your role was shocking—everybody else is fulfilling their roles, what is wrong with you?
And as long as everybody fulfils those roles, everybody get along with everybody else. Yes, there will be scraps and quarrels and drama…it is all part of the play, all part of the N’s script. And when you refuse to play your part, you throw the whole play into chaos.
Be proud that they have recognized that you have broken away. While their accusation “you don’t get along with anyone anymore!” is intended to shame you back into your role as compliant crap receptacle, the appropriate response is for you to give a big smile followed by a hearty “Thank you!” Because if you are going to heal, one of the essential steps you must take is to step away from them and their drama and to stop getting along with the dysfunction and those who have a vested interested in keeping you shackled to it.
So it’s true—if you are healing from narcissistic abuse, there is going to come a day when you don’t get along with anyone any more. And that is the best news anyone can possibly give you!