It’s Narcissist Friday!
Through Your eyes–
Help me see my brother Lord
Through Your eyes–
May He never walk alone
Place in me a tender heart
That breaks in little pieces
When I learn to see my
Precious brother through Your eyes
Someone may be able to help me out here. I found only these lyrics to a relatively popular song from 30 or so years ago. I don’t remember who sang it, nor the rest of the words. In fact, I am not certain of the title. I want to call it “The Anti-Narcissism Song.”
Freeatlast8 suggested that I write about how to “reprogram from a narcissistic mindset.” The key to the answer is learning to see others as real people. Now, I don’t intend this to be a cure for narcissism. Instead, this is meant to help those who have been in narcissistic relationships and have found narcissistic characteristics in themselves.
When we were children, we cried when we were in physical pain. Some physical pain can still bring tears to our eyes. As adults, however, it is usually emotional pain that causes us to cry. The scientists tell us that tears caused by pain, either physical or emotional, contain endorphins to help us feel better. That’s nice, and I don’t doubt it, but it causes me to wonder about this odd way for our bodies to provide those endorphins. What does water filling our eyes have to do with helping us feel better?
I have a suggestion. It isn’t scientific. It isn’t Biblical. It’s just a suggestion. What if God gave us a way to stop focusing on others when we are in pain? When we have tears in our eyes, it’s much harder to see others. When we are in pain, it is much harder to think of others. What if God, in His love, gave us a physical message that says, “It’s okay to think about yourself”?
Narcissistic relationships hurt. They hurt a lot. There are lots of tears for those who have to deal with a narcissist. Tears of grief; tears of anger; tears of pain. And, in those times when tears cannot be helped, God may be saying that it’s okay for you to think of yourself.
Eventually, we are able to adjust to the things that cause us to cry. Most of us no longer cry about physical pain. Some no longer cry when people are mean. We may allow ourselves to cry at safe times, watching a movie or reading a story, but otherwise we have learned to be strong enough to shoulder through our suffering. We grit our teeth, say a bad word, or whatever else it takes to not cry. Crying makes us feel weak.
But we still withdraw into ourselves. In times of pain, it is hard to see other people. We have to take care of ourselves. The pain is demanding and makes us pay attention. Since the pain is internal, we focus internally to see it and try to fix it.
And when the pain lasts a long time, perhaps years, this focus on ourselves becomes habitual. Many have said that they used to be fun and caring and energetic, but the narcissistic relationship changed them into something else. Now it is hard to care. Now the one who used to be a good listener finds herself thinking about other things as her friend talks. Now the one who used to be the first to pray or reach out with help holds back. The generous person worries about the cost. The carefree person wonders what others will think. The fun person is quiet and withdrawn.
Living with a narcissist is like having a constant migraine, with occasional jabs of intense pain. It’s hard to think about anything else. Most of the time is spent worrying about the next sharp pain. And, like migraine sufferers, victims of narcissists are worn out, distracted, and given to despair.
But now it’s over. The source of pain is gone, but the memory of the pain lingers. And you are still withdrawn, still focused on yourself. In fact, as you begin to heal, you see that some of the behaviors that hurt you are present in your life. In other words, you are acting like the narcissist.
So what do you do? How can you stop this thing that you hate? It may not be as hard as you think.
The narcissist lacks empathy. He/she does not see other people as persons. You had empathy before. You hurt when others hurt. You joined in their joy. You connected with others. You saw them as real people. But life with the narcissist stole that empathy from you. It became dangerous, for one thing. When you tried to empathize with the narcissist, you became confused and experienced more pain. It was better just not to try. And, when you cared about other people, the narcissist punished you—or else you were already so weakened that any rejection from them felt like the pain that came from the narcissist. After a while, it began to seem like everyone was turning against you. No one understood. No one cared. You couldn’t trust anyone. The wall around you became strong and kept everyone out.
You rationalized this by putting people in categories. Some were on the narcissist’s side. Others were ignorant and unhelpful. Some were hard to understand, but you didn’t want to trust them. Any compromise, any weakness in their support, became a reason to push them away. You found it easier to reject everyone than to allow anyone in. Pretty soon, you stopped seeing others as real people with their own struggles. You also stopped seeing their love and support.
But that was never your true heart. That was your response to your pain. You didn’t have much choice but to focus on yourself, even if that meant pushing others away. Now you want that loving person you used to be to come back.
So, here’s one thing to pray about and to do. Just one thing. Not a seven-step program. Not a book to read. Just one thing.
Learn to see others as real people again. Stop categorizing and start seeing. Yes, they are full of compromise and struggle. Yes, they have needs. Yes, they do dumb and, sometimes, mean things. But they are struggling just like you.
When we were kids we were taught how to cross the street with three simple words: stop, look, and listen. That is my simple suggestion for getting rid of the remnants of narcissism that have stuck to you. Stop pushing people away by categorizing them. Look at their faces, their eyes, and see their struggle. Listen to their words and their hearts. You will be amazed at the compassion and connection that rises up in your heart.
If this is hard, then ask the Lord for help. This is His heart, for you and for others. He sees with compassion. He knows the struggles. He cares.