Reflections on empathy, forgiveness and narcissism

I am prompted to write this after some comments on a post a wrote about forgiveness for our mothers.  I am aware that forgiving someone who doesn’t want to acknowledge hurtful things they do and has no interest in changing is the most unhealthy option for our own physical, emotional and spiritual health at certain points in our healing and recovery journey.  I think that when those who hurt us show no remorse or deliberately choose to remain unconscious its in our own health not to keep going back to have the rug pulled out from underneath us again and forgiving such behaviour is damaging for us.

When I attended AA and studied the Big Book which outlines a course of healing others have found and worked through via the 12 steps the way in which we were advised to handle this kind of thing was to be aware that the person concerned was spiritually and emotionally unwell themselves. We were advised to hand over our hurt so that it didn’t rebound on us and to pray for the person.  We were encouraged to recognise that we need not take on the hurt they were unconsciously enacting upon us.  That said it is not always an easy thing to do, brushing off hurt most particularly when that person may have been a parent, the very one that as a youngster we most needed to rely upon for empathy, guidance, validation and support.

Just think about that word validation for a moment.  It concerns the implicit idea that who we are and what we feel has value and meaning for us.  If we are repeatedly told that what we feel, say, think or do has no value, if we are acting purely out of our own sense of self that is authentic, that is a deep spiritual wound and it is damaging.  It can leave us with lasting scars that may or may not be conscious or unconscious.

But if you think about it more deeply, how people react to, treat and respond to us often has little to do with us but more do to with their own relationship to their inner world.  If a person was taught that feelings have no value, how are they going to honour yours?  If they haven an investment in you being, doing or acting in a different way, a way that doesn’t evoke their own wounds, black spots or scars how will they value what you do and who you really are when you are just trying to express yourself from an authentic place?

Can we forgive when we realise the other person is just a wounded, disconnected person who perhaps never had the benefit of inner sight or consciousness.  To my mind when we do this it shows we are showing empathy for them.   We are recognising that not everyone has access to all parts of themselves and not everyone is interested in self inquiry or self questioning.

As someone who never really got to develop a totally secure sense of self, it is also apparent to me that many of us, wounded in childhood go the other way.  Lacking a secure sense of self which involves being connected to feelings, needs and emotions in a healthy way we lack necessary spiritual muscles and an inner voice of self affirmation and so we tend to question, second guess or criticise ourselves all the time.

If someone acts badly towards us, instead of getting upset we may question if we did something to cause that hurt and if we look back to childhood we may have been accused of hurting others when really what we did had no malicious intent and was necessary for self care or self protection.

It is a common fact that people who suffer from an unhealthy narcissism never tend to look too deeply inside to question if what they did impacted on others in a hurtful way.  The narcissistically wounded would prefer to blame outside events, rather than look to any contributing cause that lies within themselves.  They may get easily offended if others question or criticise them in any way.  They find it hard to keep an open mind and also lack necessary empathic skills that would help them to know that other’s reality at times differs from their own.  They lack the capacity to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.

So often my own therapist reminds me when I go to her in a fit of remorse over some way I may have acted that lacked insight, saying “Oh God, I am just sure I am a narcissist”, she will remind me that we are all somewhere on that spectrum and that my own need to question my behaviour shows I don’t really have NPD.

Knowing that what we feel and need has value is important to our ongoing health as individuals.  Being able to stand up for these thing in a way that doesn’t ride roughshod over others is a huge part of becoming a mature adult who is able to live and relate in a world where opinions, feelings and needs of everyone vary widely.  Being able to hold onto our own reality when other’s reality varies is at times important.  Being able to open up to and encompass new points of view which take us beyond previously limited ones is important too.

At the outset of writing this particular post I actually titled it “If I had been allowed to feel and know and need what I really felt, knew and needed”, because having had my tooth out today has brought up so many previous experiences of feeling I was acted on by powerful others whose domination eclipsed my own view.  Perhaps due to the fact that the last time I the former dental bridge reconstruct I was emotionally abused by my ex for expressing the pain and so disturbing his sleep.  I had taken myself off into the toilet so as not to wake him up and had woke him up and so I got a ‘serve’.   I was not conscious that this memory was about but over the past few days abusive incidents I suffered at his hands are coming to consciousness.

In my life trying to play small so as to avoid abuse has not served me well.  Learning to swallow down or override what I truly feel, need and want has caused me so much pain.  Not being able to be with safe others who let me express my feelings has caused me so much damage and it made me SO ANGRY for a time, but then I was in trouble for being offensive for expressing that.  NO WONDER I WAS PISSED OFF.  Now I know that how I felt was real.  For a lot of my life I suffered invalidation abuse.  I was not allowed to feel and know what I felt and knew.  But the pain of that was what led me to here.  It formed the genesis of this blog in many ways.

Today I took a Panadol for the pain I am in.  I decided not to suffer more. Choosing to remove ourselves from harsh, unloving environments is similar.   Recovery means we recognise the damage that was done and call it damage.  But recovery also means we put a stop to further damage through self care, validating who we are, what we know and how we feel and showing wisdom as to who will and wont do the same.  Forgiveness for the abusers may not be necessary, but holding onto the pain can hurt.  Perhaps what I should be talking about in my blog is letting go, rather than forgiveness, letting go of the pain so that we can embrace peace, healing and recovery for ourselves.

 

4 thoughts on “Reflections on empathy, forgiveness and narcissism

  1. Such a great, detailed post Deb. Sorry you had a painful dentist’s appointment and that it brought up old wounds. Letting go of the pain caused by our abusers is exactly what I would say..Once we have grieved enough, this is easier to do. Having empathy for the narcissistically wounded I think is also ok as it shows that we have a deeper understanding of how they themselves became so ill. Protection and self-care though is definetely a must on our healing journey! ❤

    1. Yes I totally agree Athina.. its grief that helps us to let go and move on. I was thinking a lot about this last night and it occurred to me often anger recycled over and over is in a way a failure to accept a painful reality or realities that we need to accept through grieving, if that makes sense? ❤

  2. Excellent point. I have been toying lately with the ideas of “forgiveness” vs. “getting over it.” I think forgiveness gets you out from under another’s behavior, but “getting over” narcissism? That may not actually be a thing. I mean, you may move on and get healthier and become stronger, but I think the scars of NPD run deep and may be with us for life.

    Still, scars imply survival, so it’s not a bleak future. It’s just never going to look like the life we thought we’d have!

    1. Exactly…Narcissistic abuse leaves deep pain and wounds. In time I feel it loses its power over us to a degree but we always live with the memories and hurt. How we manage that is the most important thing. Forgiving too soon sets us up for more hurt.

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