Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse
A friend gave me this orchid last September. She told me Orchids require sun, so I put it on a shelf by my front door that gets light. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. A few months later, two leaves were cracked, one with what appeared to be a burn mark, and there were no blooms in sight.
I was ready to toss it, assuming that either it was defective or I incompetent. At the same time we were reorganizing duties at work, and we had hired a woman to take care of our plants, one of which is an orchid. She told us that the way we had been caring for it was wrong. We’d been putting 2 ice cubes in it each week. She reminded us that orchids are tropical plants and do not like ice. Duh!
I went home and did some research. Most of the sites that first pop up when you google orchids give the same advice – 2 ice cubes each week. Where on earth did this come from? I have no proof of this but I suspect that someone was trying to convey that orchids require little water, approximately the amount found in 2 ice cubes. Since it is easier to plop ice cubes on the plant rather than actually water, this became a thing. Except, it is wrong.
In February I began to experiment with different locations for my orchid. I tried a number of different places and eventually found the perfect place – a table which supplied a short amount of filtered light each day. It was also over a vent, which is great because orchids like a drop in temperature at night, which that vent supplies. I also stopped using ice cubes, and instead gave it small amounts of water. Within 2 months there were 4 new buds!
I was so excited, and I couldn’t wait for the buds to open. Except they didn’t. I checked them every day for about 4 weeks and, while they grew a bit larger, there was no sign that they would open. So I went back to my research. I learned that my orchid had outgrown its container and was probably not getting enough nutrients. While it is normally not advisable to replant an orchid while it is trying to bloom, I knew it was my only chance. I carefully repotted the orchid, loosening but not pulling apart the roots. I added new planting medium (mostly bark-who knew?) and gave it orchid food. It was a risk, I knew. I fully anticipated that the buds would fall off and the orchid would go dormant, and I prepared myself for it. Instead, within 2 weeks the 1st bud opened! What you see in the picture are 3 opened buds, with a 4th that started opening yesterday.
Why am I writing about this? Because it dawned on me that, like orchids, people are meant to bloom! We are supposed to thrive, to grow and flower and be beautiful. As the orchid, we are also supposed to have times of dormancy, times during which we hunker down and rest, recover, regroup. What is not supposed to happen is excessive periods of paralysis.
I spent over 20 years in a period of dormancy, or, more accurately, inertia. Under the heavy hand of a covert narcissist, there was no way I could bloom. There were the occasional moments during which I grew a bud, but those buds were quickly snipped by the narcissist.
I wish it was as simple as the message that if you are not thriving it’s time to move on. Unfortunately, it is not. If you are being abused by a narcissist, you are probably experiencing Stockholm Syndrome. The victim of Stockholm Syndrome believes that she is deserving of the life she has been given. She also believes that her captor is not a captor at all. He has convinced her that she is defective, undeserving, crazy. Further, he has implanted in her head the idea that he is doing her a favor keeping her around.
From the orchid, we learn lessons, like:
- live beings require the right environment to expand
- there is no ideal time to replant; replanting is a risk
- all living beings must be fed, in many different ways
- small changes bring big rewards
- it is possible to thrive, even if on the brink of death.
Here’s the real issue: how to get out. For me, it took a brush with a deadly cancer to get out. It was the thought that I had less than 5 years that finally pushed me over the edge. And, when I took that leap, I did not envision a happy ending. I never saw myself flowering, like my orchid. I never even anticipated growing buds. All I knew was that I didn’t want to spend my final years in the trancelike state of dormancy I’d been living in.
I had no idea I was in an abusive relationship, because I was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome.
This is the only advice I have:
People Deserve to Blossom.
Being stuck, living in a fog, going through the motions of day to day life with no source of joy, this is not life – this is dormancy.
My marriage began unraveling early on, and it happened to coincide with some issues my sister was having. She and I were dealing with children of alcoholic issues, and she decided that she needed to make drastic changes in her life. She told her husband that she needed to focus on herself and, as part of this, she did not want to have sex. I don’t know exactly how the conversation played out, but I know he accepted her request and allowed her the time and space she needed to recover. They remain together and, as far as I can tell, have an amazing marriage.
I remember her telling me this story and thinking there was something wrong with her husband. My husband would never have agreed to that. The idea that she had unilaterally changed the rules of their marriage, and that he went along with it, seemed crazy at the time.
In fact, there is nothing crazy about it! In fact, this is one of the signs of a good marriage. When one partner is willing to make a dramatic change for the wellbeing of the other, they are reaffirming their love and commitment to their spouse. In agreeing to a change in parameters, the partners are reiterating one of the most sacred part of wedding vows: to love in good times and bad.
Recovering from abuse is not easy. Starting the process is terrifying. But it can be done. The first step is to change something. This might be as simple as implementing new rules, or as drastic as packing up and leaving. Chances are it will involve the latter, as narcissists are often loath to give up their supply (i.e. you).
It is not easy and, finding the strength to make a change often feels impossible. I can guarantee you though, if you take the step and remain on a new path, eventually you will grow new buds and one day, you will bloom.