It’s Narcissist Friday!
I recently wrote an overview of the damage the flood from a year ago did to our little church building. It surprised me to look at the simple facts. We had to strip everything from the building, down to the studs in the walls and the concrete under the flooring. Everything was lost: all furnishings, wall coverings, fixtures, appliances, and nearly every small item. Our final costs, with a great deal of volunteer help, will be well over $50,000.
So, if the water only came up to three or four feet in the building and didn’t actually reach the rear of the building at all, why so much loss? Simple answer: mold. Invasive, destructive, smelly mold. Within a week or so, it had climbed to the top of the A-frame and penetrated almost everything in the building. Books sitting on the shelves, far above any water, were destroyed by the moisture and mold. All wood surfaces had to be sanded, treated, and painted. That meant removing all the drywall in the whole building. It took a crew of four two weeks and cost us nearly $19,000 just to stop the mold.
And our beautiful wood interior chapel will never look the same. Instead of wood grain, there is paint on all the beams. Instead of simple pews, we have steel chairs. It’s brighter and everything is new, but it is not the same.
Mold was the monster that changed everything.
I have a couple I talk with who have battled narcissism for many years in their extended family. We call narcissism “the Monster.” Just like the mold in our little church building, the narcissism monster has invaded nearly every part of their lives. It took years to identify it and more to understand the best ways to deal with it. And then there’s the monster’s legacy.
When the mold mitigation was finished, after so much damage and so high an expense, we still had all the work of rebuilding. When the monster has done its damage, the damage remains even after the monster is gone. Many people have written to tell me of the continuing struggles they faced after the narcissist left. Even when the problem is “solved,” and the monster is gone, the damage still affects us. In spite of the desire to move on, to start a new life, there is a lot of work to do.
Narcissism was the monster that changed everything.
Inability to make decisions, fear in personal relationships, nagging false guilt and shame, broken connections with others, depression, anxiety, and loneliness. These are some of the normal internal struggles. Then there are the external struggles. Financial stresses, custody and visitation issues, the need to find a job or the loss of a job, the physical consequences of stress, and so much more. When you look back at the end of a narcissistic relationship, you usually see a wide path of destruction.
And, again just like a physical disaster, there is fatigue. People sometimes have energy in the midst of battle, but find themselves drained and weary after the end. Not only did they spend precious personal resources to make the decisions and survive the conflict, but they borrowed energy and assets from their future. Now they simply have little to give to their own renovation and recuperation. The excitement that might come with starting new does not compensate for the drain caused by the battle.
I feel a special concern for newly single parents who have to minister to their children in the midst of their own grief and fatigue. Some of those who read this have been through that situation and are, in my estimation, heroes of a special order. Long after they should have been free to rest, they spent from their own hearts to care for children who needed stability and love. I have been so impressed by some of the stories I have read.
It is very important that we acknowledge the reality of the continuing struggle of those who have left narcissistic relationships of any kind. You feel drained, angry, discouraged, and lonely. You want to hurt someone and you want to crawl into a hole in the ground and what you really need is a good hug. You look around at the damage and wonder how you will ever continue.
No, things will not be the same. To be honest, some things will never be as good as they were once. But you will survive. Find support, someone to talk with, whatever agencies or ministries or good people will help. Take the help. Give yourself permission to screw things up, to go through the whole day with no measurable accomplishments, and to hide from the world once in a while. Don’t be ashamed of your occasional weakness or sadness or fear or even anger.
All of this is normal when the monster has swept through.
Is it wise for us to renovate our Chapel? It is worth all the work and expense? Some would wonder, given that another flood could happen. But it is important that we have a presence in that community. It is who we are. In another location, we would be different and we would lose even more. So we are a little wiser now. Paint will not be as susceptible to the ravages of mold. The flooring will be easier to replace. Our landscaping will, perhaps, be a little stronger.
Is it safe for you to trust again, to open your heart to others? Maybe not, but you are wiser and will be more careful. You know more of what to watch out for. And you are a person who needs relationship. Your kindness and patience and giving heart may have given the abuser the opening, but to change those things is to change who you are. There are other monsters out there, but you still have to be who you truly are. Be more careful, but don’t close your heart.
Rebuilding is hard work. The monster is terrible. But we do get through these things and there is life, better life, on the other side.