It’s Narcissist Friday!
Oh my. In a month it will be 58 years. January 1963. That’s when a group called, “Peter, Paul, and Mary” released the recording of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” (And, yes, Peter Yarrow still gets royalty payments when the song is played.)
From almost the beginning, the song came under fire. They said it was glorifying drugs. “Puff,” they said, was a reference to smoking marijuana. “Jackie Paper” was a reference to the papers people used to roll their joints. “Honalee” was supposed to be a stand-in for hash. And even “dragon” was thought to be “dragging” or inhaling smoke. These ideas were widely accepted, even though the group always denied them.
Now, I don’t know whether the words were about drugs or not. I suspect that the group would have denied the allegations even if they were true. The mid-60s were wild, but not politically correct.
It does serve our purposes, though, to use this as an illustration. Dragons have always been terrible and frightening, but not Puff. Dragons have always hated humans, but not Puff. Dragons use and leave people behind, but not Puff. Puff is fluffy and fun, soft and friendly. Puff is the one that is used and left behind by the boy. Puff waits hopefully for the boy to return because he loves the boy. Puff is good.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to change how you see the dragon? No, you can’t change the dragon. You can only change how you see the dragon. In other words, the cruelty would not seem as bad. The daily life would be bearable. The trouble would fade away. The change would be in you.
I have often said that the narcissist superpower is the ability to manipulate what others think of them. They seem so nice and attentive and kind in the beginning or from a distance. Only later do you learn the truth. But what if you are fully aware of the dragon’s cruel nature? Won’t you be more on guard, more careful? So the dragon must use another tactic.
The dragon still exists in the new land. The manipulations and abuses can still happen. But you are more aware. You have experience, and you have learned some things. So the dragon has to offer something new. Some kind of bait that will soften your resolve and entrap you in a different way.
The bait is an escape, a dulling of the pain, a forgetfulness. It might be a drug or alcohol or gambling or eating or whatever makes you feel better. Whenever you think about the dragon, you move toward your coping mechanism, the dragon bait that is luring you into a trap. The dragon is patient, waiting for you to soften enough to become useful again.
Frankly, when I see FB posts about how stressed “mommies” need vodka or wine, I worry. I am not a prude nor a teetotaler. I don’t mind if someone has a drink. I really don’t judge. I might even have behaviors that come close to addiction myself. But I do know how these things work. In fact, they are false. They only seem to work. They reduce the pain for a while, but increase the shame and inability for longer. And the dragon wins again.
The trap may be more subtle. It might even make you feel stronger. But it is still a trap. When a substance or a behavior becomes the thing that makes your life livable, beware. When you find yourself thinking about the escape, longing for the time when you can let it soothe your soul, beware.
The Bible has a wise view of wine that applies to other addictive substances and behaviors. It acknowledges that wine brings gladness to the heart and doesn’t tell people to stay away from it. But it also acknowledges that wine can bring the dragon’s bite to us.
Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.
Interesting that the reference here is to the serpent, the old name for the dragon. The same serpent bite is there for those who indulge in over-eating or gambling or buying stuff. The substance or behavior lures you, like a good bait will, and then brings consequences you don’t want, like the dragon.
So, my plea is that you be careful. Don’t excuse harmful behavior because it makes you feel better in the moment. Don’t let the dragon win again.