I have just been re-reading one of my favourite psychology books from years back Owning Your Own Shadow : Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche. It is a tiny book on a huge subject so beautifully articulated by this wonderfully wise man, Jungian therapist Robert Johnson. After my recent posts on the twisted tangled relationship between narcissists and empaths it really spoke deeply to me and I want to share some of what he has written soon in other posts.
I read this great comment on You Tube yesterday by a lady Angela Coffey in response to a Video posted on narcissism and narcissists.
In a devaluation period, by implementing manipulations, narcissists gain fuel and neutralise their subconscious feelings of unworthiness, self- hatred and envy by projecting these heinous feelings on to their victims. Thus the victims end up feeling these very emotions the Narcissist is so hell bent on repressing. In other words the victim feels what the narcissist so desperately needs to avoid feeling.
What Angela addressed in this comment was the shadow of the narcissist which is the key reason they are attracted to sensitive empaths in the first place, they see in us their own shadow material left over from childhood which they have blocked and defended against for most of their lives. To admit it to themselves or to others is a literally impossibility for the true narcissist. They are never wrong it is always others, they are never weak, or stupid or ignorant, or dull, that is always others, they never feel vulnerable, lost or sad or scared but will dump and project these feelings which we as empaths catch like a bad case of the flu!
We empaths on the other hand may have often had this kind of shadow material dumped onto us at home if we came from homes where low emotional intelligence and awareness was displayed by our parents. We are used to feeling vulnerable, small, weak and powerless. Part of the reason the narcissist attracts us is that in some way they carry our own repressed shadow. They are strong, have presence and are often dynamic and expressive. They also use a technique called love bombing at the start of the relationship, calling and texting us all the time, opening up with declarations of love early on and so forth. If we are emotionally starved or starved in our own healthy narcissism all of this feels like coming home to some kind of heaven. Soon we find ourselves deep in the throws of a love addiction.
We think we have finally found the one who is going to fill all the empty spaces left in us from childhood and from our own lack of deep self love and self knowing. We think we have found someone who will recognise and not damage us like our narcissistic or emotionally repressed families did. Some of us may not be emotionally empty ourselves as some of us came from homes where at least some love may have been showered on us. We could never imagine how it might be to come from a home where you met abuse and lack of unconditional acceptance all the time, suffering untold humiliations and shame.
In the case of my own ex narcissist he had been through the most horrendous abandonment in childhood. He carried the deep scars. When he first met me he told me I was ‘too vulnerable’ for him to be in a relationship with but now I know he was actually scared of his own deep vulnerability and his comments were projections. And I think I expected him to be strong as that was the persona he showed.
A few months in his deep narcissistic injuries would ark up when I was met with rage for making a simple comment about some household thing. It would also ark up whenever I showed empathy or compassion to his soft side. It is clear to me all of these years later that this sparked his feelings of inferiority which he felt he had to deny at any cost.
Throughout the relationship I got in trouble for the following things; expressing deep sadness when we travelled to see his father who was dying of cancer (I had lost my own father to cancer at 23!), accepting financial support from my Mum to help with some dental work (he had literally no financial support throughout his life), deciding to not seek employment in order to concentrate on my psychotherapy (he had to work so why didn’t I?). I got in trouble for reading books on narcissism and psychology as well and by about a year in I was desperately seeking information from so many sources in order to try to understand what was happening in the relationship. I would be shamed for ‘reading all that psychobabble stuff’, for my interest in astrology (according to him it was ‘all bunkam!!’). Then I got trashed for setting boundaries ar0und having him come to live with me (he wanted my emotional support while he was working), he broke up with me over that one. According to him I was like all of his past partners who didn’t know how to share. On some level I was holding myself back out of fear of being flooded and overwhelmed by his repressed pain. I had got dizzy and collapsed the first night we slept together, something I did too quickly by the way. I have to own my part in this dynamic!
I will admit that I became less willing to do such things after I saw that the more I gave, the more would be taken and the less he would give to me. He told me once “you need to know surfing will always come first for me, you will always be second”. Would a person with a solid sense of self have stood for that? Also “I can’t care about your needs, my needs come first!!”
When I cast my mind back to all of these things now it is clear to me that my ex narcissist was actually doing what I needed to do. I needed to care less about whether he loved or accepted me and care more about providing for my own needs. Instead of getting upset by his long, long absences due to surfing I would have been better to have developed solid hobbies of my own. Instead of pulling on him and asking him for his attention and care I needed to look to myself and to other sources. However none of this was conscious for me at the time as my own deep wounds from childhood had not been addressed and I was suffering from intense PTSD from two injuries which had taken place on the first and second anniversary of my marriage breaking up which triggered much earlier loses that due to my active alcoholism I had neither grieved fully or addressed.
What is also clear to me many years later is that we were attracted to each other by our own wounds from childhood. I was working on mine but my ex narcissist was not willing to work on his. At the end I got dumped and blamed. In the break up email he sent I was called flighty, screwy and insecure. Discussing this with several therapists over the past few years it has become clear to me that a lot of what he said was actually projection of his own dark side and I took it on board for years. As a good friend of ours said to me later, “Deb he used you like a bar of soap to wash his dirty soul clean.”. Kapow!!!
I want to close this post with some paragraphs from Robert Johnson’s little book. The book doesn’t address narcissism per see but healthy narcissism is something that can live in our shadows. As Johnson points out a lot of us have a lot of gold and good in our shadow, strong qualities and characteristics that we don’t own or develop but need to. Healthy narcissism is about things like positive self esteem, good boundaries, knowing one’s intrinsic worth and self care. These are the shadow qualities we as empaths need to develop in ourselves after we come out of the devalue and discard by the narcissist.
I am often asked if it is possible to refuse a shadow projection from another person. But this works only if one has one’s own shadow reasonably well in hand. Usually when you receive a shadow projection, your own shadow erupts and warfare is inevitable. When your shadow is like a gasoline can waiting for a match to fall into it, you are fair game for anyone who wants to irritate you. To refuse another’s shadow, you don’t fight back, but like a good matador, you just let the bull go by. I remember a woman who consulted me long ago; her husband had made it his retirement sport to put his shadow on her. She was reduced to tears sometime each day and neither seemed to be able to stop the destruction. I trained the woman to refuse his shadow – neither to fight nor to withdraw into icy solitude but simply to stay grounded in herself. Since she didn’t take the bait, the house shook with shadow power for many days. Finally the man saw what he was doing and a conversation of fine quality was possible between them The shadow returned to its original source and became highly constructive.
In this case I wonder if the husband in question was truly narcissistic as he was able to take shadow material on board. Many narcissists will not. We can still exercise the same discipline though, we can let the stormy angry bull go by. We can refuse to take the projection on board. We can own our own power to accept and love ourselves unconditionally by not rising to the narcissists bait by standing on the solid ground of our self. But for many of us wounded in childhood with porous egos we have some work to do to develop this solid sense of self, so in many ways our relationship with the narcissist is god given. It points out to us where our own shadow is rejected, were we need to gain solid ground and strength. It is a wake up call, divinely designed to help us become whole.