Not Your Normal BreakUp
Most people assume they understand the depths of any issue you have, and can’t wait to tell you how to fix it. For example, I have insomnia. There are a number of reasons for it, but chief among them is an adrenaline based inhaler I use in the morning and at night. My dr. has taken me off of sleeping meds while I undergo testing to find out why I keep falling, so I haven’t slept in almost a month. Today at work I was cranky. A woman my age asked me what was wrong and I told her I’m not sleeping, haven’t slept in a month. She grabbed my hands (already off to a bad start – don’t grab me and refuse to let me go; does that work for anyone?). She then said “it’s not a big deal. I don’t sleep sometimes, and I remind myself that I’ll sleep another time, it won’t kill me, it’s not that big of a deal”. I thanked her for her thoughts and left, seething in anger.
I think many would say she was trying to be helpful, she meant well, I was wrong to be upset by this. Here is the truth: She was not trying to be helpful. She was trying to build her own ego. She did not mean well. She thought nothing of me in this lecture, it was only about her. Finally, I was 100% justified to be upset Not once did this woman ask me what my experience was. Not once did she ask if there was more to the problem than the occasional bouts of insomnia. In fact, had I listened to her lecture and decided to act on it, I’d do nothing. Doing nothing for me in reference to insomnia could be very, very bad for me. Not once did this woman think “hmmm, I don’t really know what’s going on with her, so I’ll keep my solutions to myself”.
It reminded me of one of our yoga teachers. Most yoga teachers believe in holistic “medicine”. Some take it further than others. Recently, a young girl at our studio was diagnosed with degenerative disc disorder. Her father has the disease, and she is excruciatingly aware of what her path holds. She is already in pain at age 25 and, since there is no treatment, that pain will only worse. Unfortunately, she talked about this in front of one our teachers. The teacher said “oh, I have the same thing. Let me show you some stretches that will help”. The teacher then spent a half hour showing this poor girl stretches and exercises that would “cure” her. Here are the truths’ about this. First of all, the teacher does not have “the same thing”. She has mild back pain which can be improved with exercise; not the same as degenerative disc disease. Secondly, most of what this girl has been doing at the studio has exacerbated her pain, not helped it. Finally, the fact that yoga will not help this disease is backed by actual Medical Evidence, versus Ancient Sanskrit Writings that claim to cure everything. Fortunately, this girl is new on her “journey” and not yet sick of the “well meaning” people who will suck at her soul, lecturing her about their snake oil treatments. She will learn to keep her problems to herself.
This is also the path of recovering from narcissistic abuse. Be careful who you share with. Those who have “recovered” from a breakup with a normal person will assume that your breakup should follow a similar path. This is Not True. Recovering from narcissistic abuse is one of the most difficult life experiences you can go through. Why? Because you have been brainwashed. You have been taught to internalize every negative thing that happens in a day, and then claim it as your own; of your own making. You have been taught to believe that you don’t matter, that your “negative character traits” make you less worthy than others. You have been taught to accept substandard consideration from others as all you deserve. Alternatively, you have also grown dependent on the narc in your life. This is called Stockholm Syndrome. While you were being manipulated and abused, you were also being put on a pedestal and protected in many ways (love bombing). This positive reinforcement kept you from questioning what your narc was telling you. This kept you dependent on him/her.
Once on your own, you are weighed down by the negative reinforcement, and no longer receiving any of the positive. What a space to be in! It is debilitating. Once cut free by the narcissist, you are sent into a terrifying, strange world, in which you most certainly will fail, because of your negative character traits and inability to be truely loved. This is paralyzing.
I had days, weeks, even months during which I wandered around in a daze. Entire days passed by and, at the end of them, I had done nothing. I had moved through my house and my life, yet accomplished nothing. I might set out to do the dishes but instead, just moved them around, my mind running rampant with 25 years of mixed messages, repeated over and over and over again.
That in no way that this separation from narcissistic abuse equals moving on from the break up of someone who actually cared.
I was very fortunate to have a sister who realized early on that this breakup what not a normal breakup. While she did not yet understand the magnitude of my experience (hell – I didn’t understand it, how could she have?), she did understand that my relationship had not been normal or healthy in any way. That awareness, coupled with an understanding that I was extremely fragile, led her to respond to me with tremendously gentle responses. Often her response was “hmmmm……I don’t know. That sounds horrible/crazy/not right”. Actually, she often had no idea what I was saying, I was sobbing so hard!
My point to all of this is two-fold:
- Do Not Assume you understand someone else’s situation/problem, and that you can offer useful advice. Istead, ask questions. A lot of questions. I’m guessing that somewhere in those answers you’ll find you don’t have much to offer in the way of advice
- If you are breaking up with a narcissist, go easy on yourself. You have a lot to recover from, and few people will understand it. Do not look to those in regular relationships to help you. Their advice will be the opposite of what you need. You don’t need to “get over it”, “get back out there”, “forget about it”, or any of the other platitudes you will hear. In fact, taking any of those actions will impede your recovering. What you need right now is to hunker down, take it slow, breathe and remember. You need to wade through all the bullshit messages pummeled into your brain. You need to sift through the real and the fake. Once you’ve done that, you need to figure out who you are, not the who you were taught to be, told you were. This will not happen quickly.
Unfortunately, much of what you are now up against is a solitary journey. Embrace this time and, as well as you can, accept the fact that you need to take a step back from the day to day while you sift through it all.
For right now, It’s Totally OK to Be A Total Mess!