Yesterday, August 1, 2020, I saw a tweet asking about narcissism and how it relates to trauma. I do believe narcissists are people who carry deep pain, and we do need a better understanding of their mind, but there are a lot of people traumatized who do not become narcissists. But they (the narcissists) get the attention because they are the ones wreaking havoc.
I responded to the tweet and gave other possible reasons people become narcissists: we created a narcissistic God; we tie our dignity to our work and winning, and not for just being us as Mr. Rogers taught so many of us; and the list could keep going. The response I received was kind, but also sort of called me out for the “not all” statement, which is fair. So I responded more in-depth to make my argument more clear and less dismissive of something that is real and needs to be studied.
I shared with the people on the thread why this subject is important to me. I have been at the mercy of narcissists my whole life. I have been traumatized by them, and it happened in childhood. They are human to me, and I love them, but I can’t be around them. They have fooled me so many times, and I am done. I was a gymnast and shamed in ways I don’t want to write any more about at this time. It was really bad, and it is something I haven’t overcome when I receive encouragement or criticism. The encouragement I always question because there has always been a “but”. My very first meet with an outstanding 8.5 on floor, my coach saw that score as a gift I should not get used to, but my 6.5 on beam totally deserved; no way to explain it away with poor judging. It taught me that my accomplishments are not safe, but my failures are real. This is just one example of many. Also, at home if I messed up, even if there were natural consequences already, that wasn’t enough. I was taught to feel even worse about it to make sure I was really learning. It crushed me. But I am not a narcissist. It has made me a fierce advocate for those who are beat down too.
The friends on the thread heard me, and cared deeply about my story. Our personal experience explains a lot in how we respond to situations. We need to keep this in mind when we talk to each other, especially when we don’t understand. I’m Telling myself this. We need to also study the affects of childhood trauma from dealing with narcissists too. In some ways, I think the trauma to the brain is similar, but comes out differently. We never believe we matter. I believe this is why, as a 4 on the enneagram, I’m so upset when my motives are questioned. When I was fighting so hard for children in soccer, and the response back to me was I only cared about the club-that’s devastating. And as a 4, who already struggles with self-worth, that’s more trauma to the brain. That’s what you think of me? I still can’t get over it. We are going to do a lot more EMDR therapy because I keep going back to soccer and gymnastics.
I wrote my blog post, A closer look at the story of Judas, to address abuser and abused relationship. The victim get overlooked. I am sure the abuser is a victim too, but I think shifting our focus could help them too. The attention feeds their narcissism, and victims are always waiting for their day to feel like their experience matters too. Judas is an example of letting a known abuser in, and Jesus was killed. This does not mean Judas or narcissists do not need help. I am raising awareness for the ones who are assaulted by their pain, and our experience is either ignored or glorified. We need to say Jesus was killed instead of he gave his life away. Let us not glorify abuse. I think salvation came from learning what happened was wrong, and changing our ways. We are killing the people (including innocent people) to worship mammon and the way of life as we know it.
There are certain aspects of a narcissist I can relate to: one is the constant need for validation. But we need the validation for different reasons. My world has never been safe in regards to receiving love and trusting it is there no matter what: living through divorce, gymnastics, ex-boyfriend, college friends that abused me, working in the oil and gas industry, soccer-world, and our politics have traumatized my brain in ways that is requiring the need to rewire my brain. EMDR therapy is changing my life. I am telling myself the truth about myself all throughout my life now. I am a pretty great human being who has always cared deeply and wanted to do the right thing.
Also helping heal my brain and heart are the people in my life now really love me, and have let me hang on tightly to them while I learn to trust they aren’t going anywhere. Not by choice, at least. They will validate me as much as I need to help me learn to believe in myself. Their validation is real, and their critique is never mean-spirited. We have had the best laugh at one of my mistakes, and now I know they are the real deal. They are helping me serve my talent-not a master like I have been doing my whole life. Serving a master is never enough. I am not serving their agenda. This is a huge shift in my thinking. I need to hear my professors this way too, because they are doing the same thing.
I was talking to one of my mentors about grading. We believe we should also grade the faithfulness of the work, not just outstanding talent. There are some people who can whip out amazing work with little effort because they are super creative, and we are grateful. Their work is needed and inspiring. But there is also work that doesn’t come easy. I am good at school because I work really hard. It is one place that I know I am pretty good, but it did not, and does not, come easy. I have to study my ass off. I put hours into all of my homework assignments; I always have. Things do not come easily or naturally to me. I have to reflect on it for a really long time. This may be my fear doing this too, though. I am afraid to look foolish or uninformed, and that may stem from my trauma. When I worked in oil and gas, it was a beating. There are things I look back on now that I knew instinctively, and they dismissed me. Then I was blamed later for not finding it sooner. I thought I wasn’t enough because I wasn’t working hard enough to please them. We were even shamed for wanting to leave at 5 PM to go home. I had my limits, and 5 PM was one of them. I would stay later to close the books, but I wasn’t staying just to prove I was worthy when work was done. There is a whole book that I could write about this. I wish I would have known what Michael Tubbs said below when I was in my twenties:
I am grateful for this opportunity to learn about trauma and heal. It is not just American history we need to go back and revisit. We need to do our own history too. I highly recommend a therapist. But a good one. I have several names I can share that I trust with my whole heart if anyone is interested. Healing is brave work. We are a traumatized nation. When we know we are loved just because of who we are, we won’t feel the need to hang on so tightly anymore-approval or mammon. We trust love will hold us. God (love) is here, and she isn’t going anywhere.
I have had to let go because I had no choice, and while it hurt like hell, it freed me when I finally let go. I found my people and seminary now; I would not have otherwise. Now I am not having to let people go, but I can cling a little less tightly because they aren’t going anywhere. This is truly life-changing, and the best gift I have ever received.