It’s Narcissist Friday!
One of the marks of a true victim (rather than a person who uses the designation of victim to manipulate) is great difficulty in connecting with others. As has been mentioned here many times in the comments, it is challenging to trust after you have been abused. This is even more true when the abuser was someone trusted. You see this as a wall or thick skin around the person. They have difficulty initiating conversation, accepting praise or thanks, and believing that anyone could be genuinely (and kindly) interested in them. So they maintain a shell of protection.
At the same time, I have come to understand that we were made to need people. Relationship, no matter how risky, is vital for our health in almost every respect. We were not made to be alone. Victims of narcissistic abuse often find themselves to be alone no matter how many people are around them. Part of that is the direct result of the abuse. Narcissists often make their victims feel unacceptable, unworthy. Their opinions and desires are meaningless, even offensive, to the people around them, the narcissist says. That way the victims learn to keep to themselves, to “shut-up.” And, of course, part of it is an indirect result, the feeling of being unacceptable that comes almost naturally from being manipulated and used. The need for people is pushed aside because of the fear of people.
But healthy people need other people. It is not unhealthy to feel lonely. Loneliness is the soul’s push toward relationship. It is unhealthy, however, to push everyone away because of fear.
So a move toward health is also a move toward others. Many who have lived in relationships with narcissists have found themselves separated from those who would be supportive or affirming. That isolation is part of the control narcissists exert. Apart from normal support relationships, narcissistic victims become weakened and malleable. If there is only the narcissist’s voice, the psychological and emotional manipulation becomes easier.
What does this move toward health look like? It looks like a smile or a friendly nod. It sounds like a simple conversation with an acquaintance. It may be the discovery of a common activity or the pleasure of a common interest. In other words, it doesn’t have to start big. Perhaps it shouldn’t start big. Few people welcome those who lay their needs out in front of them in the beginning of a relationship. Victims often wonder if others would be accepting “if they knew,” but others don’t need to know all about your struggle. Instead, allowing the simple relationship of friendly acquaintance is a wonderful step toward health.
Yes, there is risk. Always. But the risk is lessened if a gentle and shallow relationship is allowed. There are many others who need someone and are afraid. The old story of the two people who sit alone at a party and pass the time talking with each other is a great lesson in simple relationships. Don’t expect a great deal. Be willing to enjoy an acquaintance.
Narcissists push fast and hard into a relationship. Users and abusers attach themselves with velcro-like strength. But walking away from an acquaintance who smiles and is kind, without expectation of more, is a powerful statement of health. If more comes later, that’s great. If not, there will be someone else. Many people long for the kind word or simple affirmation.
Support structures that have been broken may be repaired. A phone call just to say that you have missed the relationship and see how the person is doing can open a door. Those who may have felt betrayed or left behind when you slipped into your cave might just welcome the contact. If they do not, that’s okay. It may not be rejection, but surprise. They might not know how to respond.
Healthy people understand that others are real people. Most of them can barely handle their own burdens, let alone yours. Instead, they might need to lean on you as you lean on them. They can’t carry your load, but they might be able to help you stand. Friends come with weaknesses and struggles of their own.
The book of Proverbs says that two are better than one. That is not a reference to marriage, although that is one example of what should be a supportive relationship. A friend, a familiar face, a helping hand: these are also examples of that great truth.
Let me summarize this by saying that you don’t need a champion, you need a companion. Get your counseling from a professional and your security from the Lord. You need a friend, or many friends. Smile, be kind, help someone in a little way. Friends are out there. They need you as much as you need them.