When our needs and true self or beingness are not met, mirrored, affirmed and integrated into our conscious awareness (ego) one of the consequences is that we begin to feel confused, empty, disoriented and twisted inside.
When we have had a narcissistic parent who was never valued and nurtured themselves we learn to connect to a false, unreal image of who we really are. We find false ways of being in the world in order to navigate the minefield of living with a parent who does not allow us to have our own needs and requires us to reflect them perfectly. Often this parent projects their rejected or repressed shadow qualities onto us which are despised. This can lead us to be very confused. We begin to feel bad for having real needs and feelings and then question the validity of what is being projected and distorted by our parent.
The devastation of this lack of mirroring or attunement is not conscious but we feel it deeply in the soul and it sets us up for patterns of abuse in later relationships. Growing up with a narcissistic parent we feel all the time the deep sting and confusion of having displaced feelings projected onto us, due to the confusion we can wander in a fog for years as there can develop a deep schism.
We often find ourselves recycling in patterns of pain and confusion of new relationships all of which are serving the need of our soul to be led to pain in order that we can know the truth.
Often a narcissistic parent only wants to identify with the positive golden qualities of superiority, happiness, success, power and control. They often reject feelings that made them feel powerless such as uncertainty, human need, vulnerability, longing, mess and the daily chaos of ordinary experience.
The true nature of the evolving human experience is not about perfection but about process. The narcissist is attached to a mask that covers over these kind of qualities. Performance and the projection of a certain image becomes all important. One must look good, be in control, hide sadness and hurt, look “nice”.
Nice is one of my mother’s favourite words. When a genuine conflict is going on where someone is trying to address real pain and issues, my mother negates it, for such a struggle is not “nice”. Niceness becomes a stultifying prison of entrapment in which we become glued and enmeshed.
To be real and express real feelings that separate us from the narcissist, is to incur the disapproval and sometimes wrath of the narcissist. Not being nice is being angry about real hurts and injuries to the self, having a self, wanting, needing and hurting as a result of coming in contact with the deep, vulnerable, real self that wants, needs, loves, hates, desires, has passion and burns in order to come into a deeper relationship with the core.
Religions become narcissistic and many perpetuate this kind of narcissism when they teach us to reject the shadow of longing and need and especially to reject our anger in response to violation. Anger is seen as not spiritual.
Repressed anger is a devastating curse. It can and does lead to all kinds of somatised feelings and pain that is the hidden message of the self, disguised now as symptoms which seem to lack meaning. Spirituality and religions can lead us to reject the primal self, in fact this occurred in the evolution of religions during our movement into the current patriarchal ego centred age. This was a necessary step but cut us off from the primal depths of sexuality and need.
The battle to integrate these repressed shadow qualities is now going on in our religions. The deeper truth is that the true response of violation to and negation of one’s self is lashing out and rage in the first stages which gives us the power to stand for the self and mark ourselves as separate in some way, a necessary stage to develop a functioning ego for ourselves without which we become vulnerable to abuse and cannot function.
One of the very painful things in healing narcissistic injury is that the breakdown of a false self needs to occur as we recover from this kind of abuse as the false construction must ultimately fall apart. Coming to terms with all the so called “shitty” feelings is essential as shit is the fertiliser of the self. It is the result of a process of assimilation and digestion of our experiences. Metaphorically it is needed for us to grow the flower of true self.
In fact the metaphor of flowers and plants trying to grow is a profound metaphor for what may occur as we grow up narcissistically wounded. We may have to twist ourselves out of natural shape in an effort to grow towards a light that is not a true reflector and those twists and turns will mark out the journey we have travelled and show the struggle we undertook to come to navigate the dicey terrain of self and other.
At the end of my last narcissistic relationship in which my own narcissistic wounds came to the surface my ex accused me of being “screwy”. It hurt, but on some level it was true. I twisted myself out of shape to become something and someone else to try and find approval.
This was not a result of being defective, wrong or bad, but a consequence of a certain upbringing and survival responses that led me to become co dependent. Finding a way to untwist from years of self negation involved, for me, a descent into pain over quite a number of years.
My twisting is a result of my responses to my conditioning and struggle to live and express in a culture and family where there was a lot of denial and in which it was difficult to fully know and identify my true feelings and needs. It was the result of my spirit seeking the light.
Twisting was also due to seeking the love I did not get in a round about way, by becoming the deeply empathetic one who would caretake and hold the feelings and tend the needs of others, I wished they could meet for me. It was a confused way of seeking love but also of trying to compensate for a collective legacy of pain carried across many generations. But it was not pathological only, since the pain I have felt of generations is real, just beyond the capacity of one ordinary human being to bear.
For many years I thought that as the youngest it was my duty to fix our family trauma and bring awareness to it. The awareness did need to come but most importantly for myself in order to find freedom while retaining compassion for the entire mess, while still having boundaries to not feel as responsible for something that in the end was not just personal but collective.
No one will know how many rivers of tears in witnessing that collective journey and the suffering were shed, but were the raft that carried me to healing.
The healing path out of narcissistic injury involves coming to know the full human self in all its dark and light aspects, coming to know where and how we got twisted and conditioned to reach outside the self for what was really within us all along.
It is about repeating the same old painful patterns just long enough and using the pain as a path to self awareness and healing. Our deeply painful unconscious journey to become conscious is a labyrinthine pathway that leads us through the dark night of the soul. In this process the pain of the unreal being stripped away is felt and we burn in order to burn clean.
The toxic relationship is really a gift. It offers us the pain that can bring us to consciousness and love. In healing we learn that the love, affirmation and approval we seek must eventually come from within. In order to get there though, we need the affirmation of others or at least to understand when negation of our whole self occurs this has nothing to do with us and everything to do with the other person’s splits and projections (although on some level we do attract that in order to understand our own splits and projections too).
In Eleanor Roosevelt’s words “no one can make us feel inferior without our consent”, when we become aware of the dynamics of projected inferiority.
As we heal we learn, unlike the narcissist that we do not need to dispel the darkness entirely but to use it and find the light hidden deep within it. We can and do have the power to emerge, express and shine as we are, our twists become a complex lattice tapestry of beauty that make us who we are.