As a child our ability to express our Self and develop healthy boundaries depends upon the healthy of the mirroring and attunement from those around us. If a parent does not have a connection to their own feelings and inner world they will be only guessing at those of their baby or young child. If we are a temperamentally different ‘fit’ too it can be very difficult to be truly seen, affirmed and encouraged by a parent who has his or her own unique make up and characteristics and defences. It is some thing I have been trying to write about in earlier posts this week on narcissism.
Healthy narcissism means in a nutshell that believe and feel we have worth and a sense of value AS THE PERSON WHO WE TRULY ARE NOT THE MASK WE MAY HAVE HAD TO PUT ON OR THE BEHAVIOURS WE HAD TO ADOPT TO PLEASE A PARENT, PEERS OR SOCIETY AT LARGE!
Unhealthy narcissism means the adoption of a false self or mask behind which lurks shame, that toxic feeling of being not good enough (or alternatively, exceptional or special or set apart), an alien in the crowd, ‘terminally unique’, a misfit or needing to hide behind ‘status’ symbols, cars, appearances, degrees, professional status or qualifications. Those of us with narcissistic wounds may have had to adopt all kinds of mask and defences often in a quest to hide vulnerability or as a defence against not really knowing how to live or relate, vulnerably and authentically in the world.
One of the refreshing things when I first started to heal and address my addiction and found help in Alcoholics Anonymous was that people there were committed to removing their masks and coming clean about what was REALLY going on. There was an awareness of the part so called ‘self centred’ fear played but not a heap of understanding about feelings and defences at first. The other thing I loved about the fellowship was that it didn’t matter how much money you earned or how many letters you had behind your name in the end you were considered just as vulnerable, human and flawed as anyone else. It is also recognised that healing rest on embracing humility, a willingness to be unmasked and real, a human amongst other humans struggling with all the same challenges and emotions and inner conflicts as everyone else.
It does occurs to me as I write this post too, that this sense of not ‘fitting in’ to a society that is so out of step on so many levels may actually be a GOOD rather than a BAD thing. This is an issue that writer Anne Wilson Schaef addresses in one of her books in which she claims that the Native and indigenous cultures see those who suffer from addictions as more healthy than the rest of mainstream modern society that can cheerfully engage in destruction of the planet and other people or wildlife without being touched on any level. Addicts and alcoholics (as empaths and sensitives) may feel the need to anaethetise themselves more in the course of living as a kind of protective method of soothing or numbing past pain of trauma and abuse to the deep feminine and feeling self, many of those in recovery credit their addictions for actually keeping them alive until they were ready to face deeper truths about inner realities they had to run from in a damaged and traumatising society where ego is often considered king and softness, rawness or vulnerability is disparaged or discounted.
I had to leave AA for a time to pursue therapy and do a lot of reading to understand how so often alcoholics or addicts can be the family or group scapegoat (or a scapegoat identified individual) who carries the collective shadow and cannot live under the weight or burden of inherited ancestral pain much longer and so must seek freedom and healing. Its not surprise that AA began in the early 1950s as two men struggling to stay sober Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob looked for a curing of their malady. They were helped in this by another friend Roland H who in talking to Carl Jung was told that no therapy could truly help the alcoholic as much as a spiritual conversion experience. Thus AA was born from one recovering alcoholic reaching out a hand of support to another. And this taps into the deeper wound in addiction that is hidden, that of early attachment trauma and loss of the True Self in early life.
Addictions can often also be about a flight from true intimacy with the deeper self as well as others. In my own case I never felt very safe with others, I did carry a lot of insecurity growing up (as well as hidden wounds over abandonment and attachment traumas or ‘tears’) and I watched how my parents used a bit of alcohol to numb out or get free of repression and took my cues from that. As a young child in a much older family I was also not able to play with children of my own age at least until we moved next to a family that had a son and daughter my age, but after only a few short years we left them behind as my Dad pursued upward mobility. I learned to close in on myself. Not reach out. Hide my feelings and try to help my parents by being as ‘good’ as I could while getting up to mischief when they were not around. These I now know after 23 years of sobriety are all indications of beneign neglect or emotional neglect.
I started to drink too from about the age of 12 or 13 because Dad thought it was best if he encouraged us to drink some alcohol at this age, his logic was that when we got exposed to alcohol later in life we would know how to ‘hold our liquor’ and not get over taken. Nothing could have been further from the truth as when I got alcohol in my system it had a strange effect and for a while it made me feel more confident or less driven by self centred fear but in truth the affect was false, it was only appearing to make me that way. Thus when alcohol went out the window in my early 30s it was very hard to know truly how to relate to others and I was arrested emotionally at the age I started drinking and was subject to near death trauma in my own and my older sister’s life.
In my early days in the fellowship I did find genuine relationships with those coming out from behind masks to some extent, exception could be some of the AA ‘personalities’ who adopted other kinds of mask to gain power in the rooms, I saw the destructive kind of power of that too and often witnessed it in my own recovery. It is one of the reasons why I sought personal in depth psychotherapy about 9 years into recovery and when I aborted that for a time due to fear and other family issues, started to attend Al Anon Adult Child meetings which focused on the damaging effect of the family disease of alcoholism which in essence is about a disordered self and carried familial trauma.
After my marriage ended in 2004 I eventually got into another relationship without doing therapy and came badly unstuck. My ex partner was also an adult child of a very violent alcoholic father. He never pursued recovery and in the end projected his own shadow and trauma onto me. Splitting with him was one of the most painful but best things that ever happened in my life.. That happened just over 8 years ago. In the aftermath I have learned so much about narcissism and the destructive but powerful bond between empaths and narcissists that forms when each rejects part of themselves to be connected and then projects it, not easy work. Its taken a lot of therapy.
Unravelling my own healthy and unhealthy narcissism has been a very long and involved process. I am so glad for what I learned in AA over those 11 years or more of active involvement and the later years in Al Anon before I fell fowl of some members of a group that were defended against the shadow. Al Anon meetings are harder for what are called ‘dual members’ as I have often been told I am not allowed to share about my alcohol story because it can ‘distress’ some members. I have been shut down in Al Anon meetings several times for stepping over this mark and I don’t agree with it because part of the toxic effects of being raised in a home where you don’t learn to understand your feeling is to self medicate so why can I not share about the part of the story that led me to Al Anon? I see it as just another way of trying to silence the so called ‘alcoholic’.
Rather than fall foul of such boundaries again I removed myself because of the struggle I was having to trust my self as good. Maybe one day I will be able to go back and respect those boundaries, maybe I am a ‘boundary violator’ who knows I just don’t cope well with forces of blindness and repression. I put it down to having Pluto in my first house which is the child who is the designated family myth buster, the one who has the temerity to say the emperor has no clothes and so we get shut down or exiled for speaking up. Its just something I have had to wear many times. But as I write this I do query why the True Self should have to have any boundaries around its self expression if that is not deliberately being done to harm others but in the service of human transparency and honesty.
For myself I will continue to live and grow as my True Self the more years I am alive. I will continue to write as honestly as I can about the process. I am so grateful for my understanding of narcissism. Some call it the wound of our current age. I agree. The need to defend the ego against unmasking can be dangerous. The killer in us and others doesn’t want its vulnerability and humanity exposed and will use what ever defensive weapon in its arsenal to protect it. But egoism (of the unhealthy kind) leads to separation and division and toxic violence and war. All those things we as a human species need to overcome if we are truly to love each other as vulnerable and imperfect. I love the concept from A A that we strive for progress rather than perfection.
Pefectionism (and perfectionistic idealism of the toxic variety that makes some wrong and others right) can be a disease that separates us from compassion, deeper insight, love, connection and human understanding. It can make us far too hard on ourselves and each other. I have a lot of lessons with my own perfectionism. I know that for sure, I am never out of the woods. But I am every grateful to be growing and learning and sharing each and every day. Some healthy narcissism I have learned is essential for me to have boundaries and to throw off projections from those who might want to take me down, in order to raise up themselves. Can’t we just both be equal?