How Our Stories Keep Us Stuck

One of the most common questions victims of narcissistic abuse ask me is “how do I stop thinking about it?”  There are a lot of reasons we get stuck in ruminating about the narcissist and what he or she has done.  Often the behavior you have witnessed is atrocious, even unforgivable as you might see it.  So we are not talking about the behavior here.  We are talking about YOU. What can you do to stop this ruminating cycle of obsession and hyper-focus on the abuser and the abuse?

We don’t often think about how our stories keep us stuck, but this is exactly what happens.  Everybody has a story.  The story might go like this.  “He was having an affair with another woman for the past three years we were together and every time I felt suspicious and ask him questions he told me I was crazy and got really upset with me.  I ended up feeling I was the problem and believed I was just needy and insecure.”

Okay, so this story is a painful one, no doubt.  You are likely feeling betrayed, used, deeply hurt and conned.  Your feelings are real.  I acknowledge them and you need to give yourself permission to feel the pain of this deep betrayal.  Feeling the feelings is an important part of your recovery.  But there is more.

When we experience a traumatic event, our tendency is to tell people about it.  We talk about what happened to us. It is both a way to process the trauma and get other’s opinions on how they see the event.  This is what we call validation.   You might tell yourself, “If you also believe that what he did to me was absolutely horrible, then it proves I’m not really going crazy.”

Often when with narcissists, they pull the “crazy” card, as a way of denying responsibility and controlling your reactions to their behavior.  It is also their way of controlling how other people see their behavior.  If a narcissist can get others to believe “you are crazy,” then they don’t look so bad.

The tendency is to want to defend yourself to all those “others” who have heard the “you are crazy” story.  But this doesn’t help.  People will always believe exactly what they want to.  People will believe what serves them the most.

What is important is not what others believe, but what YOU believe.  A minister once told me “It is done unto you as you believe, so don’t you believe it.”  We actually can choose what we believe.

Are you going to believe your “victim” story to the point where it continues to drive the dagger deeper into your heart every time you tell it to yourself or others?

The best way to shift the story is to learn to catch yourself while you are telling it, and also look for the lesson.  We can learn something very valuable from every life experience; even the most traumatic and painful.  So what did you learn from the experience?

The story I told earlier about the woman whose significant other had been cheating on her for the past three years and made her feel like she was crazy when she communicated her concerns with him, has an excellent lesson.  The woman did not trust herself.  She allowed the man she was with to make her feel she was crazy rather than align with her own intuitive knowing.  She felt in her heart that something wasn’t right.  She was suspicious of him and her suspicions proved to be true.  What she can learn is to trust her intuition.  She can learn that the part of her that knows something is not right is trying to communicate with her and she needs to listen and follow through, rather than go deeper into denial.

This woman’s responsibility in this situation is her own lack of trust in herself.  Her trust in herself was trumped by her significant other’s accusations of her.  Of course, once she found out the truth, she realized her partner had been lying to her and manipulating her and she feels very angry about this.  But at some point, she has to take responsibility for her part by acknowledging that she knew the truth but was unwilling to own it.  It was easier for her to stay in denial.

Her story can now change from “my partner was cheating on me for three years and everytime I said something to him about my suspicions, he made me feel like I was going crazy,” to “I knew something was going on but refused to trust myself.”  The first story makes her feel like a victim, but the second story gives her power.  Why?  Because she can do something about it.  She can’t do anything about who her partner turned out to be.  She is powerless to change him and his behavior.  But she does have power to change herself, to begin to build trust in herself and listen to her intuition.

Changing the story to one that empowers you, takes the “emotional charge” off the situation.  It can be difficult to admit the deeper truth to yourself, but the truth is what sets you free.  This is not about blaming yourself in any way.  There is a huge difference between self-blame and self -responsibility. With self-blame you are saying “it is my fault he had the affair because I wasn’t enough.”  Or you might say “it is my fault because I didn’t trust myself.”  When you are self-responsible, you are saying “what he did was terrible and I can’t change who he is, but I do have the power to change me, to listen to my “inner voice” and trust myself.”  We can’t go back and change the past, but we can surely change how we do things in the future.

One thing that needs to be understood is that each time we reinforce the version of the story that leaves us feeling powerless, we are ripping the scab off the wound and experiencing the pain over and over again.  There is a difference between fully experiencing one’s pain and releasing it and continuing to activate the pain body over and over again with the stories we tell ourselves.  When we do this, we are re-living the painful event over and over and re-traumatizing ourselves as a result.

Our stories are powerful!  So we need to be very selective about the stories we are telling ourselves.  Are they victim stories, or empowerment stories?  Choosing to upgrade your stories from victim to empowerment will make the difference between staying stuck in your pain and moving out of pain.

Forgiving the Unforgivable

We’ve all heard that to forgive is divine, but what about those situations that feel nearly impossible to forgive?  What about those people who have treated you in such a way that it feels unforgivable?

Many of my clients talk to me about forgiveness and the first thing I say is “don’t worry about forgiving right now, allow yourself the feelings that you have. Let yourself feel your rage, your anger, your sense of injustice and all those feelings that are flooding to the surface as a result of someone else’s actions or behavior.”

Getting to a state of forgiveness too early can be detrimental to your emotional health, because you are using forgiveness as a tool to suppress the underlying emotions that need to be felt and expressed in a healthy way.  If you don’t deal with your emotional pain, it will go underground and will cause a lot of problems from the subconscious state.

The most important step in forgiveness is to forgive yourself.  People can treat you badly, but the real pain comes in believing that perhaps you don’t deserve to be treated well, or that you are somehow flawed or unworthy.  You need to forgive yourself for any beliefs you hold about yourself that are less then loving.  You need to forgive yourself for any judgments or hostility that you are directing inward.

We get depressed when we “repress” our feelings.  Some people will tell you that depression is anger turned inward.  I find that when we turn any of our emotions in on ourselves we can enter a state of depression.  This is because we are not being honest with ourselves and we certainly aren’t being loving to ourselves.  When we can say “I am angry! I am sad!  I feel betrayed!  I feel hurt,” we are learning to be honest with our feelings and can find healthy ways to release them.  If we deny how we feel and we push our feelings down, they are still there, bubbling under the surface of our awareness.

Having love, compassion and care for yourself is the most important part of forgiveness, because you need to create a safe place (emotional safety) to feel and work through your painful emotions.  You have to learn how to extend love and compassion to the one who is hurting.  You need to tell this part of yourself that what he/she is feeling is okay.  You have to tell this precious “inner child” that it is not its fault that it was treated in this way.  You need to remind yourself that people, in their own unconsciousness, will project their unconscious wounds onto the most convenient target.

People who are deeply wounded or hurt inside, will hurt others, because this is how they unconsciously discharge the pain within themselves.  Disowned pain is projected outside of oneself onto the ones who trigger the pain.  Often, we are “triggers” for another person’s repressed pain simply through the act of being ourselves.  It doesn’t mean that who we are is wrong or bad.  You could be beautiful, or successful, or very loving and trigger someone’s fear that they somehow aren’t good enough, or beautiful enough, or successful enough.  They will take these fears and insecurities within themselves and project them onto you; blaming you for how they feel.  In truth, you have nothing to do with how they feel inside.  You are simply the mirror that reflects back to them their repressed feelings about themselves.

As we go deeper into forgiveness we develop an understanding of the psychology of the human mind.  We learn that people don’t treat us badly because of who we are.  People treat us badly because of who they are.  We need to learn not to take other people personally.  This is a hard lesson.  But in learning it we set ourselves free.

When we understand that people treat us badly because of their own repressed pain, we can develop compassion for them.  We can see that our trespassers are suffering in their own way.  When you consider how much pain you are feeling as a result of the trespass, you can gain understanding into the level of pain that person/persons must be feeling inside.  They may not be aware of their own pain, which is why they are always attacking and blaming others.  Nevertheless, they are sitting on a world of repressed pain.

I was told, when I decided to step out into the world with my voice and talk about my own experiences and my own pain, that I would be a target for others.  The more visible we are; the more we step into our true authentic selves; the more we shine our light in the world, the bigger target we become for those who are still denying their inner reality.

I have been accused of being in denial by one who was in denial.  I was accused of being heartless, by one who was heartless.  I was accused of being ignorant, by one who was ignorant.  I have been accused of being selfish, by one who was selfish. I have been accused of being narcissistic by one who was narcissistic. This is how projection works.  I could not be out in the world in the way I am if I didn’t understand projection.

When I first started writing and sharing, I experienced a lot of email attacks by readers who picked out one word or sentence from what I was writing and created their own story about what I was saying that had nothing to do with what I was actually saying.  Something I said triggered them, causing them to feel their own repressed pain and anger, and they projected their repressed feelings onto me, attacking me.  They blamed me for how they were feeling.  At first this was difficult for me.  I had to learn the hard way.  But as I stopped taking these people personally, stopped trying to defend myself and even stopped reading the emails all together, something interesting happened.  The emails stopped coming.  I stopped noticing them.   They no longer had power over me.  If I did get an attacking email every now and then I would say “wow, poor soul, he is really triggered by that article.”  I would delete the email and move on.

When you truly begin shining your light in the world, your light will illuminate the darkness in others.  Don’t allow this to dim you down.  Keep shining!  Forgive yourself for blaming yourself when others wrong you.  Forgive yourself for believing that how others treat you has anything to do with who you are.  Forgive yourself for all the times you failed to have compassion for the innocence inside of you.  Love yourself in your pain, your fear, and your own insecurity.  Find the courage to feel your feelings on a deep level so they may be released from your emotional pain body.  In taking these steps, you will find that forgiveness of others is a process that becomes automatic.  The more you work through your own feelings, the less others have an effect on you.

Forgiveness begins at home, inside of you!  Forgive yourself and all others are forgiven.  This frees you up to live from a state of love and compassion, which is truly the only place to live.