Monday, January 2, 2017

Changing the Narcissistic Narrative

I reference this article

I have to watch it with my son. Anytime a sentence is started in my head with "real men are.." I have to stop and question it. My son, although he is a typical boy, he IS still a little boy, he loves his stuffed animals and can tell me what he feels and needs and loves to cuddle with his mama. He knits and is artistic and theatrical. He loves to "invent" with his Legos.
I think about what it means to raise him to be a man, about what it means to be a man. I know what I've experienced from men: domination and abuse. I would never put that on my little boy and I will have to be the one to teach him a different way.  My own man-friend and I talk about the confusing messages men have to grow up hearing...messages about their worth. What exactly is a man supposed to be? What exactly is a "real man"? The prescribed life trajectory of our fathers and grandfathers is not even available any more. It's confusing as hell for men and women.
I'd say in my head, "real men do this, real men do that" "real men pay child support" but underneath those messages are the relational violations that bother me. In reality, the rub was my expectation that real people uphold their personal agreements. Real people don't abusively stonewall another. Real people don't act like toddlers to get what they want, or expect that everyone comply with what they want, or even expect that what they want is the right thing for everyone. It has nothing to do with being a man or woman and everything to do with just being a respectful human being.
Expectations for a man to abuse, to me, are the more extreme and toxic manifestations of the "man box." The linchpin of narcissism is exploitation. Exploitation is also the linchpin of neoliberalism and patriarchy. The "man box" works through exploitation as well:

"One of the central tenants (sic) of the Man Box is the subjugation of women, and by extension, the devaluing of all things deemed feminine." This hurts men by limiting their choices, and hurts women by keeping them the "weaker" sex. "

"Underneath the deadening blanket of conformity lurks explosive violence, bigotry, racism, sexism and a damaging model of manhood that is, in fact, a killer for men." (From the article)

This is the lie of patriarchy...that men do not already have this freedom and in order to gain their own freedom, they have to exploit or subjugate someone. There is no expectation of collaboration, or cooperation. No wonder men feel lonely and isolated and completely confused. There is so much emphasis on the outcome of any given situation, on traditional male values such as domination and conquering, that HOW an outcome is achieved is not valued, only THAT it is achieved. And don't look back on any destruction or clean up any mess you make. That's not being a man, either. Never admit weakness or defeat. Only women are defeated.
The narcissistic narrative that happens right now goes like this: narcissist captures a woman,  narcissist takes from her what he can based on his perception of her as a tool, toy, or obstacle, After 2 months or 20 years, she is left in a fog of devastation, which he will certainly take advantage of to either attack her in court, or to suck her back into the dysfunction with promises to change, which never happens. Then he happily trots off to the next victim, based on her looks, or money, or social status, and most certainly her willingness to put out.
Then first woman is left completely stonewalled and scapegoated and wondering what to do with herself in the wake of this abuse and chaos.
Changing this narrative involves changing the stories of both players: the narcissist and his target.
The narcissist's behavior is often toddler-like: obsessive, tit-for-tat, mocking, imitative. When  toddler's brand of justice is carried out, s/he is happy. "You grabbed my toys, ALL the toys are mine, therefore, I have to hit you and take back ALL the toys to make it even." In a man's body, when this is carried out, it also has adult undertones of manipulation, rage, going to great lengths to appear to BE a victim, and enjoyment of harm brought to others.
It is easier to use others when they pity you.
The woman in this narrative is left truthfully victimized. She will then enter a culture that will blame her, will berate her poor choices in men while at the same time excusing the behavior of this "poor choice", will tell her she should have done a million things, that she played her expected role all wrong, will tell her just to let go, and myriad others useless platitudes that show how little our culture really understands the bigger issues of abuse and trauma. She is forced to change her own story to fit this cultural dictate that she must not be a victim. After all, we "take care" of our victims by telling them not to be victims any more. We abandon victims on altars of our self-righteousness, superiority, condescension, and subtle criticism. We love to make a good martyr, and then love to turn around and tell her how wrong it is to be a martyr.
See? Patriarchy creates confusion for everyone. It's a sickness.
A victim who takes up this healing journey enters into the most glorious fight of her life, one she didn't ask for, but that is a moot point. In order to heal, she must find her strength, and summons Goddess-queen-woman warrior archetypes for this journey. She fights not just the one person who betrayed her, but cultural assumptions and attitudes. She comes to a larger awareness that our culture does not understand her, either, and people will seek to suppress that which they do not understand.
My own such journey has led me to take to heart the principles of non-violence and taking up the willingness to make sacrifices and be willing to lose everything in pursuit of justice and what is right. That's a different stance than the position of letting my selfhood be chipped away by abuse and out of love for a man, giving up my perception and right to be human. Staking my human ground is a conscious choice to be awake to what is happening and finally standing up for myself, and calling out lies and injustice.
One other thing I've heard people say to a victimized woman is, "oh, he's just being a man." That is the "man box" right there. Brushing off abuse by saying, "oh, he's just a man" places men in that tiny box that says they are largely offensive, angry, and abusive, an that this is ok as long as they aren't beating someone up. They are not "allowed" to leave the box to be compassionate, congruent, and expressive, to fully contribute, to be wholeheartedly supportive, and to be more than they are.
Changing the narrative around narcissism involves changing the boxes. The most extreme, rigid manifestation of the "man box" is narcissism. Allowing more men to feel that exercising compassion is to their advantage will also change the victim narrative. When culture tells a victim that her pain is her fault, and the abuse she experienced is her fault, it is upholding the man box and taking away the choices of victim and narcissist. If victims proudly proclaimed the truth of their victimization, it would force some people to look deeper into their assumptions yet it would also inspire others to staunchly use the strength of her truth to dismiss it even more completely. The narrative needs to be changed in our culture to one where we allow men more freedom, which takes away the benefits of being a narcissist, and give our attention and support to victims, so they can heal. Throw away those platitudes and give that woman a hug. Give that narcissist none of your pity. Or money. Or attention.
I don't want my son to be placed in the man box. I think often about what kind of man I am raising him to be, and the challenges he will face in this world. I think about how this is foreign to me as a woman and I cannot fully understand the struggles he will face as a man. As a woman who has experienced the violence of men in her body, psyche, and personal economy, I wonder what kind of culture venerates and tolerates this kind of behavior towards another human being. Will my son be told by his culture that being an asshole is the superior way to go? Will he join his brothers in a rally cry of "get that bitch"? Where will he learn that men and women can be mutually supportive and that health is not exploitation? Where will he learn that being a strong person does not involve creating fictional enemies to subjugate and bring down? Can I teach him forgiveness and grace and the softness of his heart without putting him in cultural danger?
I know the research: that relationships based on feminism are more successful. Think: cooperation and mutuality. I know all of Gottman's research and other psychological research that shoots down the perceived benefits of dominance and grandiosity. But our culture doesn't listen to research...our legal system doesn't listen to research and narcissists certainly don't listen to any research that defies their exploitative logic. I get so tired of watching and hearing people spout off how great this research is and how much they agree with it, then go home to their families and relationships and completely ignore the practice of applying what they know. Hypocrisy is maddening. Therefore, appealing to logic and intellect is not effective for change. There are plenty of people who know in their heads what is right but in their hearts and deeds they cling to what is sick and dysfunctional.
What it takes is for hearts to change, to lift the level of cultural empathy, to shift our mindset from one of venerating exploitation, dominance, and competition,  to one of seeing and taking care of the other;to one of caring about another's suffering. Shifting an oppressive mindset, and ridding ourselves of oppressive, rigid boxes, begins in our homes, both by people removing the boxes and people stepping out of the boxes.
Love is a freedom we don't even know how to enjoy yet. My prayer is that more people come together in love.

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