Part 1. Understanding and acceptance.
I first understood that I had suffered abuse when I did a RISE course for an engagement and inclusion job I used to do for a local charity. Prior to that, I’d thought of abuse as something only physical in nature. I knew mental abuse was a thing, but when I saw examples of how it could play out during the training, my eyes opened to the fact that since childhood, that was exactly what had happened to me.
I left the training quite upset, but I soon forgot about it as I was about to become a full time stepmum.
But last summer, a close friend of mine opened up about how she had been abused and manipulated by her own mother which brought everything back to me. I was shocked as I’d known this girl from childhood and I’d also known her mother whom I’d thought to be such a nice woman. The most chilling part of her account, was that I could recognise a lot of my father when she talked about the things her mother had said and done to distort her reality and vision of who she was.
In a way, it wasn’t strange that this particular can of worms had opened up when it had. The world was a strange place because of the pandemic. And the way we interacted with our friends, often threw friendships into new lights which weren’t always flattering.
When you take activities out of interactions, you’re only left with talking. And the more someone talks, the more they reveal their character. This particular friend had opened up to me about her experiences on a day I called following an upsetting experience with someone in my friendship circle.
She had already worked on her healing for a long time and sent me numerous blog posts and YouTube videos explaining how narcissistic abuse and manipulation works. Each post I read and each video I watched made me understand a little bit more until I was getting a fuller mental picture of what had been going on for years.
It started in childhood with my father. Loving, supportive and charismatic one minute and then turning around mocking me and telling me I shouldn’t have too great expectations for myself even though I should. One day he’d praise one of my singing performances, only to tell me it wasn’t good enough the next minute. I felt like I could never get anything quite right. And I never understood how to get the praise I craved.
Children growing up with parents displaying these characteristics, are often drawn to people like that later in life. Not in a conscious way, but I know from myself and from others who have experienced similar childhoods that we gravitate towards those people because it’s what we know.
It’s a new challenge to be cracked, almost like an addiction. Maybe this time we can change them. But no. We can never change them.
They can only change themselves! And that is rare, though some get softer towards the end of their life.
Normal relationships can seem a bit dull to us due to the absence of drama. I know I rejected some good relationships in my 20s when I was most at war with myself and my past without being really conscious as to why.
I did fall for a few narcissists and manipulators romantically, but I very quickly disentangled myself from those relationships when I felt the power balance shifting far too much over to their side.
I didn’t want to experience my father all over. But a type of relationships where I did end up struggling quite a lot with manipulative people were in my friendships which I’ll discuss further in part 2.
As much as the process of picking apart the lies I had been told about myself was infuriating and at times upsetting, it was also extremely empowering to discover that I was more than I had been told. And it was also empowering to be on this journey with such a close friend of mine.
Like me, she’s also completely blind, something which has made our experiences quite similar. As far as narcissists and other manipulators go, blind people are a dream to work with, because we can always be persuaded that something isn’t how we think because we can’t see it with our eyes.
Growing up never believing good things and people were never really meant for me, I often made some horrible decisions, one of which cost me a lot financially. For each bad decision I made, I hated myself a little bit more.
When I started to watch videos of other people with similar life stories to mine, I slowly developed a lot of compassion for the person I was when I took that financial risk and blocked perfectly good people from my life in order to make more space for the toxic ones.
Today I know I am so much better and so much more worth than I’ve spent most of my life thinking. I am in a good healthy marriage and I have developed strategies to cope with situations where I feel I’m dealing with manipulative people.
I am not saying there’s a narcissist on every corner, or in every zoom call if we shall go with the current times and restrictions.
But what I have learned in order to cope with the really bad ones also work when dealing with people I need to be assertive with.
My good days are far outnumbering my bad days. But I still have the bad days and that’s fine too. Because we all have them and I now have people to support me through them.