Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Gift of Narcissistic injury

"Narcissists suffer from what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines as narcissistic injury: “vulnerability in self-esteem which makes narcissistic people very sensitive to ‘injury’ from criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow and empty. They react with disdain, rage, or defiant counterattack.”" (from:

In dealing with a narcissist, you will certainly experience the full force of their narcissistic injury. The  unspoken goal of the narcissist is control, and underneath the control is a deep-seated fear. They stay stuck in limbic impulses.
How does it feel to be the object of someone's control, fear, and aggressive impulses to dominate? How does it feel to be around someone who always feels that they have to manage, direct, and dictate to you what you should be doing? Who places themselves in a worse than parental position and actively seeks to undermine your agency and humanity?
Outside of being fearful that someone whose reasoning is off-line will actually hurt you in body, there is the very real aspect of psychological wounding. Recently I discovered the work of H. Stephen Glenn (Developing Capable Young People) and in his categorization of behaviors as barriers, I find the descriptions are enlightening for someone who has been the target of narcissistic abuse. Because in actuality, when you actively seek to take away the humanity of another person, and through narcissistic injury defend, deny, project, and otherwise excuse yourself from your nastiness, you are abusing that person. In a narcissist, these controlling behaviors are immovable, extreme, and chronic. In other words, they can't change those behaviors, because they lack metacognition, and it is important to understand this.

Here are Glenn's barrier behaviors and notes from his recorded lecture:

Barrier behaviors
1. Being quick to assume. 
            -when you assume, the message you give another person is, "I have no faith in your ability to be more than you are, or more than I think you are."

2. Rescuing from chances to gain from one's own experience 
            -when you try to prevent someone from experiencing natural consequences, you take away their basic right to direct their lives. This happens with the more subtly controlling behavior, and also in narcissistic families where members are routinely incapacitated through enmeshment. This keeps someone right where you want them, which is always adoring you and never leaving you. It encourages dependency on your thinking for them.

3. Directing
            -the underlying message for someone directing is, "I see you as no more capable than a dog but much less obedient." It is probably the most dehumanizing aspect of a narcissist's control/ego injury prevention. Directing establishes them as the expert on their life and everyone else's so they can continue to support their fragile ego. It's the most self-centered and obviously controlling of these behaviors. When you have someone whose demonstrated belief about you is that you are an idiot, you become angry, passive-aggressive, and dependent (if you are their child.) I would say you also feel continually defeated. This is where the post-divorce narcissist who recruits family court to carry out their directing (controlling) really does their damage. 
              It's a demeaning message to give to a capable adult: "I'm in control and you must do what I say." "If I tell you what to do, lecture you, punish you, and criticize you, this is the best way to get you to comply with my ideas of how you should be and do better (as defined by me.)" It only breeds resentment, anger, and unwillingness in the target of such flawed thinking.

4. Unreasonable expectations
             -Glenn describes this as "using potential as a standard and discounting people for not being there already." Because of a narcissist's compulsion to define reality for everyone, you will never meet their expectations. Not only do their expectations keep moving and changing, but expectations like automatic compliance with their wishes, obedience, and total agreement with them are disempowering and do not promote values of equality, cooperation, mutual respect, and collaboration. It's an aggressive, forceful stance. It makes you feel helpless and unable to influence your environment. 
Glenn says, "when you go about judging people for what they're not, you defeat them."  Narcissists judge you for not being them.

5. Adultisms
            -This is any kind of -ism: racism, sexism, etc. It is an intolerance of differences at its root. Narcissists personalize this in their target and make them the "other." They create an enemy by focusing on, or even manufacturing, differences that they can never tolerate or accept. Similar to a person being mistreated for the color of their skin, a narcissist will make up some reason to mistreat you, an the reason is that you are always that you are deficient in some way. Again, the goal is to demonstrate their superiority and their specialness. They forget that we are all deficient in some way, and no one on this planet gets to be someone's personal Jesus or Santa Claus, and certainly can't do it by ostracizing and criticizing them. Their message to you is, "since you don't see things the same way I see them, you are deficient."
And of course, the target of the narcissist's behavior feels completely helpless, starts to doubt their abilities and their reality, and is impotent in key areas of their life.

So what is the gift of being with someone whose goal is to aggrandize themselves by using tools to consistently demean you?
There are indeed forces in this world that echo the goals of the narcissist, and we see that wars, politics, and social systems are based on principles of criticism, judgment, disempowerment, disconnection, and arrogance. It IS abuse. The work of our hearts, when we have been singled out to bear the brunt of someone else's dysfunction, is to deal with pain.
It is just painful to be treated as if you don't matter, as if you are insignificant, incapable, and to have agency over your life be systemically reduced or taken away. When you are in a situation where you have an active bully in your life (i.e., a narcissist who can't let you go and is still angry years after your divorce, and who uses family court to carry out his aggression towards you), you are, in a sense, in a constant war you honestly can't escape. What is the gift of THAT? Shouldn't you just do what the dog in Seligman's studies did and learn that you are helpless?
Of course you are helpless to change the narcissist. You might be able to change the system with a devoted group but it's not going anywhere right now! The only thing you can change is yourself.
And the wrestling becomes one with SHAME as a force in your life. Every single one of those behaviors is a shaming behavior. It is designed to MAKE you feel bad about yourself, and narcissists are notorious for intuiting your tender spots and poking them. 
The antidotes to shame are truth, grief, self-validation, and self-empowerment. It doesn't mean you don't make mistakes, or don't stumble, or don't see the path clearly. It means you free yourself from the lies of the narcissist. All of those barriers are lies. You ARE capable, significant, and powerful to change.
And as a changing, growing person who is not locked into a disorder, you can turn your heart towards Builder behaviors and work on establishing health within yourself and relationships. 
Identifying the lies/barrier behaviors of the narcissist helps you in the moment realize it's not you. You do not have to put on the shaming messages of the narcissist and can curate self-messages, behaviors, and people that allow you to have dignity and respect. It also helps to know that you have the capacity to not match their bad behaviors with bad behaviors of your own. You do have to protect yourself and hold to the truth, but you cannot expect them to have other tools in their toolbox other than tools to beat you over the head with their control and superiority. 
But you do. You have the ability to rise above and become kinder, more compassionate, more free, and stronger than you ever thought possible. All thanks to a narcissist's deep dysfunction. You can thank them for that!
"Thank you, narcissist, for showing me the way out of shame is to be so completely immersed in it I can't stand the pain. Because I so loved you and wanted to please you, I allowed myself to be enveloped by your darkness. This became unbearable at some point, and I had to leave the confining sheath of that pain to find I was living a lie. I didn't know the truth until I lived the lie. I bow in humble gratitude to you for showing me my strength through experiencing the depth of your fear and desire to inflict pain. I am so sorry you remain stuck and I pray you find the same freedom I have. I love you and feel only gratitude to you. You are, in every way, my tor-MENTOR."

And, a song of hope for you:


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Enduring Love

Life has a way of stretching and breaking and hiding and opening your heart in frantic waves and cycles. This year has been one such ocean of heart renderings. Young people taking their lives, older people threatening to take their lives, being faced with my own mortality at age 50, stepping into the difficulties of love after trauma. Therapy feels like dreaming into the ancestral hunting grounds of wounds, of remembering child-war, of learning to curate people who tend such wounds and are good at walking through those ancestral hunting grounds with you. The dreamscape of child-war is a haunted place, full of roots. These roots must be found...where did this shame first begin? Where is this trigger learned? Where are you, Fear, and what are you attached to?
This summer, I burned an 82-page motion, one of hundreds I've received over the years since my divorce. Oh, you didn't know that could happen? That someone could hold on to so much bitterness and compulsion to control?
I am sure there is some unwritten rule that I'm supposed to hold on to these, even though my attorney and the courthouse have copies. Like I need to house "The Annals of Interpersonal Torture," or, "Record of Abuse and Trauma Triggers," "Files of Extreme Patriarchy in Action," or, more accurately, "How to Break Your Own Family,  Betray People You Said You Loved, Blame it on Your Ex, and Kick 'Em While They're Down." Why would I want to keep those reminders around? It felt good to watch it go into the fire.
A few weeks ago, my googling resulted in being accidentally led to several quotes about passion. I learned the word "passion" comes from the Latin "pati", which means "to endure" or "to suffer." Earlier in the summer, I had gone to the peach truck with my boyfriend. I took some of those peaches to my friend's house, and we ate dinner together. After dinner, she put on Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald's "Porgy and Bess" album. As those incredible songs washed over me, I stood over her kitchen sink and bit into the flesh of that peach. Juice dripped everywhere and I stood over the sink thoroughly enjoying my peach, so much that I sucked and licked the remnants off of the pit. To see something through to its end like that surely meant I was having a moment of passion. But to learn that passion originates not from exuberant pleasure, or the driven interlocking of purpose and will, but from suffering, from endurance.
So it is with love. To find love, we must wander through our suffering states, we must endure following what has flowered in our life back to its sordid roots, and determine if what we are growing is indeed healthier than what those around us seeded in us as children. The literal etymology of the word "passion" implies dissatisfaction. If one suffers, one feels deeply the magnitude of change that needs to happen, the touching of one's own suffering to that of others, one will certainly be driven to put those feelings into making changes in the world. It's not a resting into pleasure. It's a recognition of your power to hurt or help.
I thought I was being passionate when I devoured that peach, and passion does indeed carry the connotation of full immersion in something, whether that be pleasure or work or relationship.
Yet passion is suffering, and that suffering is a catalyst for transformation and growth. When you place that within the context of love for our fellow human beings, and how we care for them, it makes sense that we patiently (there's "pati" again!) bear one another's burdens. We manage our own disappointments and grief. Passion is also associated with those who feel so deeply for a human cause that they suffer for it, and this is love. 
We love individuals, and to me, this is where passion is heightened. Tolerating abuse is not passion, is not love. It is ok to be dissatisfied with another, and to bring to light their abuses of you or others. As James Baldwin writes, "If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see." People are not peaches. I believe love with passion is an active cycle of dissatisfaction moving into joy and back again, and always engaged, without judgment. Dissatisfaction is a sort of pruning; enduring is the fertile soil. This allows love to die and be reborn many times; a passionate constant.
So I will traverse my dead dreamscapes, looking for the roots that still live, nurturing what was deadened back to life in the light of love. 
This enduring is hard work. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Three-fold Narcissism

In our culture, we have had a view of the brain as "right brain-left brain" which we know now is an outdated model of the brain since different parts of the brain are in communication with each other all the time. Another approach to explaining our brain has been the "triune brain."
I've found this helpful in the context of narcissism. Briefly, the triune brain model states that our brains can be divided into three parts. We have a primitive brain that is responsible for base processes such as breathing and heart rate. It is largely out of our control. The next part houses our amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus...our limbic system. The third part, our neocortex, is home to our prefrontal cortex. Our prefrontal cortex is what gives us our capacities to reason, think in abstraction, and accurately assess threats.
NPD is categorized based on the following criteria in a person:
"Narcissistic personality disorder is indicated by five or more of the following symptoms:
Exaggerates own importance
Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance
Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions
Requires constant attention and admiration from others
Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals
Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy
Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her
Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes"
(these attributes are from the DSM and can be found anywhere on the net)
If you look at the list of attributes, a theme arises. A person adapts this way to maintain control-control of their environment, including other people and other people's perception of them. But the kicker is lack of empathy. Having no empathy arises from the limbic system. In order to selflessly consider the feelings of others, you need your prefrontal cortex.

From the triune brain article: The amygdala is like an early-warning system, with the motto “safety first”—put that safety plan into effect before consulting the executive brain (the new cortex). Picture yourself jumping out of the way of a snake-like object before closer examination reveals it to be just a hose in the grass.

A person with NPD will manipulate out of their amygdala: safety first, since their world is basically threatening...they must have an enemy. If you are artificially manufacturing an enemy, your prefrontal cortex is offline and nowhere to be seen.
Survivors of a relationship with a person with NPD heal by overcoming their limbic triggers, which are there for ACTUAL safety. The NPD person creates a fake "safety first" system, and stays stuck in their limbic impulses to protect themselves from fake threats. That's why they appear delusional and why gaslighting is as natural as breathing to them. By contrast, survivors are experiencing the narcissist's attacks on their physical, emotional, and financial safety. These blows are real.
If narcissists were able to access their prefrontal cortexes, they would be able to assess information about another person with accuracy and not through the lens of their primal protection. They would be able to forgive, apologize, make amends, see the viewpoint of the other, FEEL remorse for pain they cause another, accurately assess their own weaknesses and work on those, be authentic and honest, and otherwise enter into the human struggle to make sense of our pain. Making sense of our pain is a higher-level, prefrontal cortex activity. It involves developing morality out of an awareness of the pain of others, and commits to addressing that pain without adding to it. It is where our feelings are accepted and processed in a healthful way.
Grown ups are able to admit their mistakes. Grown ups do not see the need to abuse. But someone stuck in their limbic system is a highly protected creature, and will abuse out of that skewed perception of the world. They will make an enemy, literally make up an enemy.
This is why family court is so bad for families. The black and white milieu of the courts is geared towards keeping limbic cycles and amygdala hijacking going. Where there is conflict, there is most certainly an amygdala hijacking going on. Grownups can settle their differences for the sake of their children. Grownups can care when they've hurt someone else. Grownups can come to the middle of any conflict. Grownups can guide their own spiritual growth and apologize. Grownups don't control others with coercion.
This is an important thing for survivors to consider. If you are stuck in trying to reason with someone whose capacity for reasoning is offline in their very brains, you are wasting your time and have to use your own prefrontal cortex to energize and contextualize your healing. Being around people who cannot scare up even the teeniest bit of empathy in order to have a rational conversation makes you crazy. Their whole being is reactive, and because their prefrontal cortex is offline, they cannot perceive themselves or care about the long term effects of their behavior. Metacognition is not a capacity they can actually have, since they are stuck in limbic reactivity. Let that sink in. Their whole existence is reactive and geared towards control of others in order to protect a fake persona. WHY they protect themselves is due to adaptations to dysfunction and it is not your job to fix that.
This will help, too, because in dealing with narcissists, trauma triggers that reside in the limbic system will have to be dealt with. Doing therapy, healing, and making sense of your own pain due to these reactive narcissists is just the path you have to take up. Taking the high road does not mean you support a narcissist's lack of growth, it means you support your own growth and healing. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


My love,
I thought of you today when I read Mary Oliver. She wrote, "LISTEN, ARE YOU BREATHING JUST A LITTLE, AND CALLING IT A LIFE? "
I immediately remember gasping as I woke in someone's arms. I had to be two years old. I don't know if I told you all about this, and with time, all of the horrors of my child-war have emerged, leaving me feeling hopeless, helpless to change the stains that remain, ashamed of who I am. I held my breath at the ages of two, three, probably four, just with the quiet wish that I'd go away. I wanted to be out of there and had no other method to escape but my mind and my mind wanted me to cease to exist, to stop breathing. I'd inevitably wake up in someone's arms, surely a fish washed up on a foreign beach, completely disoriented and void of memory. Memory has been an unreliable source of information as to why...what would make a small child want to go away from leave. Somehow I chose purgatory, neither staying nor going but dissociating throughout my life, living as a numb observer. I tried to wake up by going back to the hurt, to see if I could re-know what I knew once by associating with hurtful people, with people who actually enjoyed my pain. I didn't consciously choose to do this.
At some point I came to understand deep within that it didn't matter what had happened, but it mattered that I was so threatened and unsafe that I wanted to go away from life. And I was continually going away from Life by putting myself in same situations, different life eras.
My grief today is strong and welcome. I have been breathing just a little, making myself small again. I live as a rivulet but my heart bears a flood. I place gentle words on my anger but it has no tolerance for that kind of self betrayal. I make myself the smallest whisper but my mind constantly screams. My hands grasp the concept of rhythm but my dance is frenetic and uncoordinated. I am worried  and uncertain of my future. I am disappointed and not angry, just so very sad. I am told my mind is sharp and fast but it works against me. I find myself attracted to the places where I am not loved, or the purgatory places where I float in numbness. My childhood echoes down every hall I tread and I have to listen. No choice in the matter.  I feel utterly alone in those rooms and halls. Not many people in my life have sought to understand, to withhold judgement, to witness my pain.
But you have.
Who else could know these things but you? Who else could I tell it to?
When the world says to me, "you're too intense. You're intimidating. Your words are too quick. You think too much. You feel too much. Why are you with THAT guy? Why don't you do this do that change now?", it is trying to fix something it doesn't understand. It is trying to use its biases and platitudes to change something it is completely ignorant of.
The world-the world of "they"- doesn't know how many times I have died and gasped for breath only to return to a half-assed life, or worse, a harmful one. They don't know anything about that so they should let me stumble my way across the unknown geographies of my grief, they should let me try to wake up and have my lovers who won't love me and my feelings and my love for my children and my heart of compassion and my anger at injustice and my frustration with forced poverty and good Lord, some sense of agency over my own life.  They should let me leave behind all the times I've died and they should not, under any circumstances, ask me to willingly die again. They should let me have the flesh of my own life, and allow me to hungrily devour it and suck the pit and let the sweet juice drip down my chin.
To know such depths of love and pain, sometimes at the same time...I wonder, do others feel this too? Am I the only one? To search for a solid landing place only to become a fly on someone's coldhearted others see that, too? The parts of me that scream out that I'm not good enough, that believe I'm empty and can't be valuable...I hold my breath...then, I am seen, heard, and welcomed into life....I sigh. You love. You, love. You: Love.
I remember waking up in this way in your arms, feeling so alive I could be a pitcher and pour myself on to the floor and walls if I so willed myself. Or I could be the stars come down to light the room. I fall apart easily in your arms, soft and malleable, utterly safe. I can be the most vulnerable, sad, broken version of myself and you will take me in and love all that pain and hurt and brokenness until I am just me, beloved of you, and you are you, beloved of me.
I wake up again, and again I will gasp for breath, for you to fill my lungs.
for all the homecomings, I thank you, me

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Daughters of Misogyny


"One of the more telling aspects of the GOP’s ongoing implosion over Donald Trump’s “pussy tape” is the succession of men (mostly Republican, i.e. white) expressing their outrage solely as it relates to their daughters or wives.

Framing the matter this way treats a woman as a possession. She’s protected because she’s in a family AND because she’s owned by the man in that family.

This attitude implies that only to the extent that she happens to be a man’s wife or daughter does a woman deserve to not be sexually assaulted. Not because she’s, you know, a human being who doesn’t deserve to be sexually assaulted."


I sat at the dinner table, ten years old, and my newly-single father had made me breakfast. It was unclear in my memory if he was living with his new girlfriend, but I sat at the table with him and my brother. He had decided that I needed to lose weight and so had placed sliced tomato and onion on my breakfast plate. I cried at the coldness of this gesture, at wanting my father's love so desperately, and all he could offer was ways for me to change and improve myself. When I went back to my mother, I was literally starving and I was so happy I got to eat.

The key phrase in what I just wrote is, "He had decided."

My dad was a very vocal opponent of my grandfather, the pedophile. The women in my family protected the younger girls in this strange, intuitive choreography, so I was safe from my grandfather. My dad SHOULD have been outraged at my grandfather.

Yet my dad could never show me how to really be respected and loved by a man. And controlling what I ate so I could become model-thin and pleasing to him objectified me in keeping with the religion of misogyny.

As Danilo Alfaro wrote above, there can be a disconnect between a man posturing to protect his own family, which can include wives, yet have no clue about how to create health in the family. In other words, the absence of a thing, like sexual assault, does not equate to health, and is not synonymous with the absence of misogyny.

The sickness of misogyny is that HE decides. Whatever he happens to be in our lives, he decides for us. This gives the message that men will decide what is abusive to a woman, and which women deserve to be abused. A man is then never required to dig deeper into his own fears, insecurities, and considerable biases.

One other dimension of this thinking affects daughters through their mothers. My dad making the decisions for me was only a small part of what he modeled for me. It wasn't like my dad consistently liked or worshiped me like some misogynistic men do with their daughters. Even in that case, as "For Harriet" writes, "How he treated his daughter didn’t always transfer to how he treated women." And this is the aspect that hurt a lot. I never got to see my own mother being loved and respected by my father. He never modeled for me, by treating my mother well, that a woman deserves to be treated as a human being with equal rights and responsibilities to his. Instead, he modeled that some women were good enough for him and some were not, some women were to wait on him and voluntarily be exploited, and even within our relationship, sometimes I was good enough for him and sometimes I was not.

My own daughter has seen this dynamic as I've replayed the same situation in her life. The fact that she will never see her mother be treated as a human being by her father creates a loss for her, creates a confusion about her value and worth, for if he can turn his love off and on like that, surely she is next. It makes her distrust herself, for again, he decides who and what is worthy for everyone.

I know from experience that watching your mother be dehumanized by someone you love and look up to for modeling is devastating. It's disorganizing in the ripples of mixed messages it creates. It's utterly heartbreaking- watching someone you are deeply attached to be hurt by your other attachment figure. What about that part of daughters that identifies with their mothers? They are taught by their father that the parts of them that identifies with "mother" is less than, is unworthy, is contemptible, is hated by him, and therefore, must be subjugated and controlled. Or worse, snuffed out of his own daughter.

It sets you up for a sense of powerlessness in life, for an unstable sense of your worth and value-you just aren't ever sure that as long as your dad is playing by the rules of misogyny, that you have any value or worth as a woman in this world. It doesn't matter if he's all about supporting #metoo. He hasn't supported his own path out of misogyny and into treating a woman like a human being.

The pain misogyny causes is widespread. Anxiety in adolescent girls is at an all-time high. Fibromyalgia, certain cancers, and other autoimmune disorders have been linked to childhood trauma. Racism is a cause of miscarriages in African-American women.

There are many parts to the pain, one being that at some point, you give up on your loved one. They become hopeless in that they won't change, and they won't ever fully be able to see you as a human being as long as they select their personal elite to be treated as human beings. They will constantly follow the rules of misogyny, which is the same as the rules of traumatizing another: don't see that person, don't hear that person, don't take them into account. Allowing a daughter, especially, to bear constant witness to that is to add to the misogyny culture places on her through advertising, movies, music, and religion.

It literally goes deep into her bones.

My therapist told me that we are here to deal with pain. she said she doesn't know why, but that she trusts God and that there is certainly a higher purpose. When one of your loved ones has a part of him that will always hate and denigrate you for being a woman, and demonstrates that through how he treats your mother, that is painful. It requires a heroine's path to walk away from that toxic confusion and into the light of a woman's worth- your own worth.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

When other people support your abuser

Pro tip: Having your feelings hurt by those who disagree with you isn’t morally equivalent to having your life or livelihood threatened by people who hate you. -Derek Penwell

As I wrote, it's hard enough to navigate the tricky waters of knowing your child has one parent who has decided that the person they made children with is somehow their enemy.  It's difficult for a child to understand the psychological concepts or disorders behind enemy-making. This kind of "divide and conquer" mindset by a parent can be awful for a child to experience, and is "normal" in a system of abuse.
It is undeniable that a woman finally being able to flee her abusive situation is of benefit. However, if narcissism is involved, she is faced not just with the fact that her children understandably lack the capacity to assess their disordered parent's character and ability to model psychological health. She is faced with a group of people who side against her and support her abuser.
It feels surreal. Didn't she just leave her therapist's office where she spent a whole hour healing from narcissistic abuse? Didn't her therapist and other professionals she consulted educate her about NPD, coercive control, passive-aggression, gaslighting, and emotional blackmail? Wasn't she armed with solid research and finally being able to validate her own perception? Yet here she was, facing a group of people who blamed her for his emotional abuse, for the stonewalling, for the manipulation, for his lies. This group treats her as if she is a liar, too stupid to see the "truth", and as an inherently flawed human being who deserves oppression and abuse.
She has been successfully scapegoated.
"Scapegoating" is too mild a word for what it really is: hatred. It's a mindset of hatred and a lifestyle of hatred; a modeling of other-ism. It doesn't matter if someone is not a racist, if they scapegoat a woman who's been abused, they are filled with hatred and become accessories to abuse. They actually enjoy seeing a contrived enemy suffer and refuse to dig deeper to see the base, primitive motivations for their behavior.
Why? I ask myself constantly, why would people who profess love, live hatred? On social media, I watch as Trump supporters defend his lies and dysfunction. I watch as they take the good things he might do and inflate those to overshadow the distorted thinking that underscores what he does, and his inability to accept the opinions of others, or see himself as anything less than perfect and epic.
It could be that people grow up with a certain mythology. Story is powerful. Story could also be called confirmation bias. If you are given a certain mythology growing up, you are likely to seek identical mythologies in adulthood that contextualize your life the same way. Unless you adopt a stance of critical thinking, you are going to be unable to leave your myth.
Abusers create powerful mythologies that certain people seem to really lob on to and wholeheartedly swallow as truth. They are skilled narrators of the story. In an abuser's mythologies, certain themes are stable. He is a victim. He is always the right one. It has to be his way because any other way is unfair. He has done nothing wrong, or even human. He has never made a mistake. He should never be questioned, brought to account, or be required to do the work of relationship. He is the hero who conquers the enemy without doing the deep journeying required to be a hero, and lacking the courage to tackle a real enemy of humanity. The truth is, an abuser is relatively mediocre in life. He might be irretrievably enmeshed in family. His whole existence is reactive. He has nothing to bring to the table and runs away when something real is required of him, and becomes abusive when you dare to bring up his mistakes or hurtful behavior. His enemy is fictional.  He lies, manipulates, and gaslights. He is completely unaware of himself and so constructs himself in the moment. He has no clue that living life as a victim who must control limits his choices and keeps him powerless in his own life.
He gets off on your pain and he will do everything he can to make sure you suffer, no matter how low he goes, and disregards how he affects family, friends, or his own children.
Again, this is hatred. Hatred you did not ask for. Hatred you do not deserve. Hatred that works through very successful shaming strategies. Hatred that other people naively support, because who doesn't love a good victim story? Doesn't matter that it ends up blaming the real victim...hatred is contagious.
When you lose a family, a friend group, a church, or children to someone dedicated to seeing you suffer, that makes you question your whole life. You can then relate to anyone who has been scapegoated because of their race, sex, accent, clothing,house, etc. We are told to believe the good in people, yet here are these people who are using their religion, their money, their social connections, and their time, to ensure your suffering. We are talking people who, when walking down the street, seem like good people. But they aren't, really. They have chosen a lifestyle of selective hatred to cause suffering in their fellow humans.
Nothing can sway them. They are literally unfeeling walls.

So what can you do when you are hated?

1. Consider the source.
People are hateful because you represent something to them. It could be truth, emotional expression, success, etc. We don't know. People trigger each other all the time. So if you are representing something to them that they are unwilling to see or work through within themselves, that already makes them very different from you. They may just be assholes and who cares if an asshole hates you. That's actually a compliment. The more they hate you and come after you, the more of an asshole that makes them. It means you care about truth and morality and they don't. Haters gonna hate. You aren't a hater.

2. Let them stay in their GroupThink.
Part of the reason it hurts to be rejected and attacked by a group of haters that support abuse is that you are still in abuser mindset and haven't shaken off the shame. Once you've gone through a lot of re-educating your perceptions and validating your perspective, you aren't as affected by the hate and realize they are harmful people who won't leave their dysfunction and you have to find healthful people.

3. Grieve
You still have to grieve. Even though they are hateful and want to hurt you, you still loved them and have a shared history of real, good human moments. Those moments do not excuse their hatred in any way, which means you have lost something that was important to you and you have to grieve it. There is no shame in grieving people who are hateful. You held a lot of hope for them and for you.

4. Rebuild your perspective
When you've lived in a system of shame, you have this unshakable feeling that something really is wrong with you. It is a valid struggle to come to terms with the value of your own perceptions and perspective. Where before, your personhood was negated through unmitigated shame and blame, your personhood can be validated through love and grace for yourself. This is going to take a lot of therapy with a therapist who deeply understands personality disorders, trauma, and systems of abuse.

5. Get all the help you can
Unfortunately, there are many different types of abuse, but only one type gets street cred in our culture and that is physical abuse. But an abuser can wreck your finances, your relationships, your career, your spirituality, your sexual health, etc. etc. They want to see you be very small and meaningless in life, which is a reflection of how they see themselves and their own self-hatred. Hating another person is an act of self-hatred, because you cannot build any integrity to respect yourself when you hate another human being. Even if your moral code gives permission to do this, or takes pleasure in seeing the pain of others, it is not in our human nature. We are built to cooperate, to empower each other.
So you have to get all the help you can get. Build your community of people who see your certain gifts and who will show you true love.

6. Take care of yourself
Life as the hated one is taxing because it is so untruthful. There are going to be lots of triggers to work through...lots and lots of anger at the utter bullshit and injustice of it all, lots and lots of sadness and crying over what is lost, lots of disappointment, mounds of fear about finances and safety, and plenty of uncertainty. Abuse and scapegoating are designed to cause instability in their targets. It's like a hurricane keeps coming through your life. So you have to find a way to be an anchor while there is a war being waged against you. This involves keeping your life on track, even as someone and his supporters try to ram your life-engine off the tracks. Set your goals and live your life as a person of value. This situation caused you to question that, and now you are stronger and have a bigger heart for healing the world from the effects of racism and sexism. You know what it feels like to be ostracized for some made-up flaw. Narcissistic scapegoating is not as cut-and-dried as targeting your skin color or your sex, although narcissists are huge misogynists. Narcissists take something you revealed to them in a vulnerable moment and target you for that. Or they intuit a weakness in you and target that. They find things to criticize and create their mythology around it to get others on board. They will always paint you in a negative light. None of that is your fault, and you have to walk out of that story to be the epic heroine of your own myth, a myth based on truth.

7. Resist the urge to reason with them, or even have contact with them.
I've learned over the years that fact, education, and critical thinking are not tools one can use to influence others about abuse, ESPECIALLY when they are actively abusing and wholeheartedly supporting abuse. Either they have a moral compass that allows them to be aware of power-over dynamics or they don't. Either they are people who engage in hatred or they aren't. They are too locked in to their superiority they aren't going to hear what you say. You could be a doctor and they'd tell you and everyone else that you don't know about medicine. They'd draw upon examples of doctors who are fake or "quacks" to gain support for their case. They'll manipulate the perceptions of others and suddenly a doctor with a respected, thriving practice is an uneducated hack. Confirmation bias is catching and a huge tool abusers use, for themselves and with others. Survivors could use a bit of confirmation bias each time they are tempted to try and reason with unreasonable people. Why would you want to speak to a group of people who hate you and who unapologetically help a man be unproductive, hateful, and immoral in his life?
Speaking of apologies, that is something you will never get from an abuser. It's so hard to hear that over and over and acknowledge that, but it's true. Apologizing would mean he and his group have to accept you as a human being, and it means they would have to admit their flaws, which would cause THEM to suffer greatly. They avoid the suffering of their own humanity to the point of diminishing yours.

8. Find grace
Abusers live under the letter of the law. Grace comes when shame and blame are removed. Growth and healing happen in grace. Harm and hurt happen with law. You can never be wrong when you are under grace. Live your love. Find things that give you pleasure and joy. Connect with the spirit of life...experience people who are kind and warm. We heal through connected love.

It is a difficult situation, one that is senseless and wasteful. Using others' hatred of you to serve the greater good of the world helps redeem a horrible situation. It makes you a better person, even when filled with grief to the point of not walking on. We can do this.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Staying With

“to love is to stay with.”
This was told to me by a man who could not “stay with” to save his life.  Although he ended up as a contradiction, he gave me that phrase, and I thoughtfully mulled it over through many years. "To love is to be present" was a platitude-I wanted more. And in watching myself and others as we've moved about our lives in constant relationship with each other, I came to understand that “staying with” is quite simple. It is putting aside anger and hurt and things you don't understand to make a real effort to see, hear, and feel clear-hearted responsibility for the people you love. It is as much about staying with yourself, for when we neglect, blame, abandon, shame and hurt others, we ultimately betray ourselves.
My mom and I have done all of that with each other. Many times, because I'm almost fifty and that's a lot of history between a mother and a daughter.

Still, my mother and I found our way through exile, abuse, brokenness, and pain, to restitution and deepest love. She taught me that when life gives you a pile of utter bullshit, you use it for compost and grow your life. My intention in telling our story was to highlight what a kickass woman my mother is. Seriously. She is a truthful example of what it means to “stay with." There is hope in transformation and always a path to healing.

My mom is awesome, y'all. I hope our story inspires you to perform feats of courageous love, for yourself and others.