Personality Precedence

I’ve had a conundrum of sorts invading my brain for the last several weeks.  It’s not something I think about every day, but it’s often enough that I felt the need to write about it.

The issue is this:  When two people have differing views on something that affects them both, whose side wins out?  I’m not talking about grand-scale things like people being allowed to sit at a restaurant counter regardless of their skin color, because that’s a no-brainer in my opinion; discrimination is bad.  Period!

No, I’m talking more about smaller, everyday differences that usually only affect the two people involved.  Let me explain . . .

Let’s say that someone is a hugger.  Their natural instinct is to go around hugging everybody because they love spreading their joy.  Now, let’s say said hugger comes across someone who doesn’t like to be hugged, or even touched.  Whose personality gets to win?  It seems like a logical answer–the person who doesn’t like to be hugged shouldn’t be accosted if s/he doesn’t want to be–but the hugger is now denied being true to him-/herself.

Here’s another scenario . . .

My brother told me he’d seen something that made him think of me, and he bought it for me.  When he described the item to me (a leather necklace with leather dog-tags that said “Gemini” on them), it didn’t sound like anything I’d be interested in.  I don’t wear much jewelry, I’m not into leather, and I’m CERTAINLY not into dog-tag type things.  So when he asked if I wanted him to send it to me, I said “Thank you for thinking of me, but it doesn’t seem like something I’d get much use out of.”

I’ve mentioned that situation to a few people since it happened, and nearly everyone thinks I should’ve let him send it to me and then discard it without him knowing.  But my conundrum is: Why?  If I’ve acknowledged and thanked him for thinking of me (which I did several times in that conversation), why should I accept something that I’ll likely throw out, or at best will collect dust in my house?  Just so his feelings don’t get hurt?  What about my feelings?  And what about when/if he finds out later that I tossed said gift away?  Then his feelings will DEFINITELY be hurt.

Since that incident, other things have come up that make me ponder which side is more “right” than the other, or which personality should take precedence.  For example:

  • Should someone with a dietary restriction accept personally harmful food from another person just to make the giver feel good about their gift?  And then do what, just throw it away after the giver is gone?
  • Same question for someone who’s trying to lose weight . . . Should they accept food from a “food pusher” (who likely equates food with love), just so the pusher’s feelings aren’t hurt?
  • Should a teenage girl have to walk around school all day with her grandparents, just because it’s happened in the past?  What if the girl would feel crappy all day, because she’d have to put on a facade just to please the grandparents?

One of the first times this question arose in me was when I learned about customs when traveling to several Asian countries.  I learned that–if you dine with a Chinese family–it’s expected that you eat everything that’s offered to you.  And if you refuse something, it’s considered very rude.  Well, I’m a picky eater.  Always have been.  So why are the cook’s feelings more important than my comfort?  Why should I have to eat food that I might find disgusting just to appease someone else’s feelings?

I don’t really have an answer to this, but it seems to me that most people think you should just “suck it up” and not make the other person feel bad.  But the problem is, in every one of those scenarios, SOMEONE will likely end up feeling badly.  So, again, who’s feelings take more precedence?

And, more importantly, WHY should people just “suck it up?”  Why isn’t it enough to just acknowledge and appreciate someone’s efforts or good thoughts?  To basically say “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I’d honestly like to hear your opinions on this, dear readers.  I’m not interested in Miss Manners’ take on this (I’ll tell you why I can’t STAND that person in another blog), but I’d like to hear real people’s thoughts on the subject.

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Doing Better

Ms. Angelou has lots of wonderful words of inspiration, but this quote has been swimming around in my head a lot lately.  Always interested in being the best human being I can be, I’ve read a lot of self-help books.  In nearly every case, I’ve grown because of them, and learned to “do better” in my life.

I’m going to share some of the ones that have led to the biggest improvements.

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

This was the first self-help book I remember reading.  It might not technically be considered a self-help book, but so much of what was said in there spoke to me in profound ways.  Through this book, I learned about many Zen teachings, and how to accept that the body that is Alyx Morgan is completely separate from the energy (or soul, or whatever ethereal word you want to use) that’s currently living in it.  That helped me to not fear death or to become too attached to things in this life . . . it’s been SO freeing!

Shortly after a major breakup in my late 20s, I read a series of relationship-based self-help books that also helped me learn things about myself:

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, Ph.D.

I found so much of what Dr. Gray says in this book helped me to understand the reasons for my emotional needs, but also to not expect my future mate to know exactly what I wanted or needed from him . . . I needed to be able to speak up and make my needs known.  Before this book, I used to think that if someone “really loved me” they would automatically read my mind and give me what I needed . . . how wrong I was.

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

This book was such a HUGE eye opener for me.  I’d never before considered that people spoke different “languages” of love, but he spelled it out in such a way that I could easily see which love languages I speak.  This added on to Dr. Gray’s book so that I knew how best to phrase my needs to my potential mate.

The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz

Aahhhhh, this lovely little book.  While this book is technically a relationship-based book, it’s SO much more.  It’s not just about our relationship with other people, it’s more about the relationship we have with ourselves, and how to love yourself enough that you don’t feel the desperate need for love from others (something I’d done most of my life).

There’s one self-help book that I haven’t read all the way through yet:

The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford

I’ve started reading this book several times, but have never finished it, so maybe I’m still not ready for all of the lessons in its pages.  But the biggest takeaway I’ve gotten from this book is to embrace my “bad” traits as well as my “good” ones.  That there are times it’s perfectly okay to be a “bitch,” or “needy,” or “angry.”  Every human being is made up of multiple facets, and as long as we don’t judge them, we can see where they are useful.  For instance, if I feel someone is trying to take advantage of me, that’s the perfect opportunity for me to let out my anger and/or inner bitch, to let whoever know that I won’t be taken advantage of.  Yes, eventually I’ll learn how to do that without the aggression, but there’s still nothing wrong with said aggression.  Accepting all facets of myself has been extremely helpful in not beating myself up.

As for the last book I’ll discuss in today’s blog . . .

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie

I’m currently reading this book and it’s answering SO many of the remaining questions I’ve had as to many of my behavioral characteristics.  I had suspected that my relationship with my mother was codependent to some extent, but reading this book I can see just how pervasive my codependency is.  In the book, I’ve found several keys for releasing myself from the chains that have held me for such a long time, and I feel like I’ll be able to work through most of the rest of my issues with the lessons I’m learning here.  I’ve been noticing the places where I’m acting in a codependent manner, and have already begun making different choices in my actions and reactions to situations and people.  I had originally checked this book out of our local library, but it will be owned and sitting on our bookshelf very soon.

These books have helped me grow over the years, and I’m forever grateful to them.  Are there any books you’ve read that have taught you things, or helped you to “know better,” and subsequently “do better?”  Please let me know, and maybe I can add them to my bookshelf, too.  😉

The Sins of the Parents

When I was researching the phrase “The sins of the father are the sins of the sons” for this blog, I found two possible origins: the Bible, or William Shakespeare (depending on whether or not you believe in either).  Regardless of where it stemmed from, I’ve never liked the phrase.  When I first heard it, I interpreted it to mean that whatever “wrongs” a parent does, the child will have to pay for.  And later in life, I found that it could also mean the habits and idiosyncrasies of a parent will likely pass down to the child.  Neither interpretation is happy: with the former, the offspring would have to “pay” for their parents’ choices . . . and with the latter the offspring doesn’t have the free will to be his/her own person.

But some things have come up in my life recently that tell me the second meaning is probably more true than I wanted to believe . . .

In doing the research on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I learned that quite often children from parents with NPD can develop NPD traits as well.  This happens because those children grow up feeling neglected and insecure and those two things often transform into narcissism.  It’s a vicious cycle that began with some ancestor several generations back and keeps moving forward until someone breaks the cycle.

Ever since this discovery, I’ve been on the lookout for narcissistic behavior in myself and have been trying to change my reactions to people or circumstances accordingly.  But I’ve recently discovered that I exhibit one of my mother’s behaviors more than I was aware of . . . jumping to the wrong (often bad) conclusions.  This happens especially in conjunction with trying to be in contact with certain people, namely my brother and Athena (my step-daughter).  Both of them tend to be not as responsive as I would like.  If I text or call one of them, I might not hear back from them for hours or even a day or two.  This then feeds into an insecurity that maybe I’ve done or said something recently that upset them and they’re “punishing” me for it.

This sort of a reaction is bad on a couple of counts.  First, it implies that these people have nothing better to do than wait around for a call or text from me.  Second, it’s my ego inserting itself saying that I’m somehow important enough to said person that they would take time out of their day to be so bothered by some random thing I might say or do that they would deliberately ignore me.

My own life is incredibly busy right now and I don’t have time to speak with my own friends as often as I would like to.  So, I’m probably not as communicative as they might like right now either.  But hopefully they don’t jump to a conclusion that I’m upset with them.  And I need to remind myself of the same thing with regards to other people who don’t get back to me right away.

Another trait from my mother that I apparently (unfortunately) picked up is correcting people’s thoughts or words.  This one bothers me the most right now, because I used to HATE when she did it to me when I was younger . . .

Often, when I would say a word that my mother didn’t like, she would “correct” the word when she responded to me.  For instance, if I talked about how “weird” it was that someone didn’t like mushrooms, she would correct me and say “It’s certainly ‘different.'”  She did this because she thought the word “weird” meant “bad.”  To me, it was simply another way to say “different,” but because it made her uncomfortable, she wouldn’t say the word.  She has lots of euphemisms that she did this with, and each time she did it, I felt like I was getting a subtle message that the words I used were “wrong,” or “bad,” or that there was something wrong with me for using them.

Well unfortunately I’ve apparently started that myself (grrr).  In trying to better my life, I follow things like The Secret that talk about how your outlook on things will change your perception.  It’s like the proverbial glass . . . some people see it as half-full, while others see it as half-empty.  And the thought is that those who see the positive in a situation will continue to see positive things in their lives.

Anyway, Craig will sometimes say things that sound more like a negative spin than a positive one, and I’ve apparently started correcting him to put a positive spin on it.  He recently brought it to my attention and–knowing how badly it made me feel when my mom did it to me–I apologized profusely to him.  Analyzing myself, I understand that I was doing so because I want to make sure I continue to see things in a positive light, but it doesn’t excuse my behavior.  He’s not wrong for phrasing things the way he does, and I need to stop doing things that make him feel like he is wrong (inadvertent though they might be).

I suppose seeing these things in myself can help me to understand my own mother’s behavior a little better, and not be so mad about it, but right now I’m still in the “I can’t believe I’m turning into my mother” phase of acceptance.

Speak (Up) for Yourself

It’s time for me to rant again about something that I’ve found irksome for years, but has grown into a full-on annoyance for me lately . . . People not speaking up for themselves.

Let me set a scene for you . . .

I’m walking through the grocery store, and stop in the produce aisle looking to get some green beans (this kind of thing can happen in any aisle, but I’m trying to eat healthier, so there you go).  I get my bag and start sorting through the legumes to weed out any old ones, when I get this sensation that someone’s hovering nearby.  Using my peripheral vision I notice that, sure enough, there’s another shopper standing next to (or behind) me, apparently interested in the same veggies that I’m currently picking through.  Or maybe they want to pick up a yellow squash off of the display right above the green beans.  Doesn’t matter . . . they just want to be in the same general area that I’m in.

All they need to do is say “Excuse me, can I squeeze in there for . . .” and I’d happily move aside to let them get the squash, or rifle through the beans with me.  But no.  More often than not, people will just stand there, as if they’re waiting for you to get some sort of hint and move aside for them on your own, so they don’t have to speak to a stranger.  (I’m sure it’s not nearly as obnoxious as I’m describing right now, but I did warn you it would be a rant.)

I’ve actually witnessed one woman get pissed off and yell at another shopper for not using the eyes in the back of said shopper’s head to realize there was a woman standing behind, wanting something that the shopper was blocking.  I can’t remember the exact words used, but she basically accused the other shopper of taking their “sweet ass” time with no regard for people around.  I finally piped up and said “Well, how was [the shopper] supposed to know you wanted something they’re blocking?”  The lady was, of course, belligerent and told me to “mind my own business,” but I’ve often found that people say things like that when they don’t like being called out on their own crappy behavior, so I ignored her and moved on.

But this behavior can happen anywhere . . . even just walking down the street.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped to take a picture of something and there are people who will try to squirm and squeeze their way around me, rather than say “Excuse me.” or “Can I get by you?”  Now, true, I shouldn’t be blocking the walkway (and I try not to, as that’s another HUGE pet-peeve of mine), but that doesn’t preclude someone stating that I’m in the way of something they need, or someplace they’re trying to be.

This is true in EVERY relationship you have, not just with strangers in the store or on the street.  Relationships are SO much easier when you say to your mate/sibling/co-worker “This is what I need from you,” rather than saying nothing, and then getting cheesed off when they don’t do what you never even told them you need!  Nobody but YOU is responsible for getting your needs/wants met.  Period.

It seems to me that this pervasive form of passive-aggressiveness has flooded our culture lately.  I don’t know if it’s because there are just so many of us now, that practically every place you go is crowded, or if people have become so afraid of strangers, or if we’re just so disconnected that we’ve forgotten how to talk to one another.  Or, maybe it’s some fear that the other person will get pissed off at you for . . . I don’t know . . . existing?

I know that children are often taught not to be in “the way”–whether it’s your parents, your teachers, or other adults–so maybe this is left over from that kind of mental abuse.  And I’m not exactly sure how to change it, but it definitely NEEDS to change, in my opinion.

It’s not only passive-aggressive, but it’s also an unfair expectation that someone else should know that they’re blocking your way.  I don’t expect ANYBODY to know anything about me, unless I tell them.  We’re all dealing with our own stuff, people.  From jobs, to families, to daily tasks, to emotional baggage . . .  It takes MUCH less energy for me to tell someone what I need/want from them than for them to put all of their stuff aside to try to guess what I need/want from them at any given moment.

And you don’t have to be rude about it.  Honestly, a simple “Excuse me, I need [blank]” takes all of 3 seconds, the other person will likely move aside quickly, and you can be on your merry way.

Unreal Expectations

I used to love romance novels when I was younger.  Fairy tales, too.  Really, anything with a big ol’ Hollywood “And they lived happily ever after” ending.  I just loved the idea of two people meeting and overcoming whatever personality conflicts they had to realize they loved each other.  But as I got older, I realized how potentially damaging those kinds of stories are.  In fact, I just finished reading one and found it so hokey and unrealistic, that it was very hard to finish.

First off, unlike what those kinds of stories would have you believe, very few lasting relationships derive from the hero saving the heroine from whatever catastrophe threw them together in the first place.  After the endorphin from that scenario wears off, most people realize they have nothing in common.  And secondly, making love is NOT the same as being in love.  I now truly despise any movie where the romantic duo have sex and then “realize” they’re in love with each other (I’m looking at you Failure to Launch!).  Real, loving relationships take time, perseverance, and a willingness to be vulnerable to the person you’re partnering with.  You can’t have REAL love unless you’re willing to get real yourself.

One of the other “lies” that heterosexual romance novels perpetuate is that the guy somehow knows exactly how to drive the woman crazy, sexually.  He knows just the right places to touch her in just the right ways; in many cases, even better than she knows how to herself.  And these sex fests always end in a mind-blowing orgasm for her, and oftentimes he climaxes at exactly the same moment she does.  You read too many of those kinds of stories and it can truly distort your expectations of what love and sex is, or should be.

Like with Craig . . . we have what I feel is a truly loving, honest relationship.  I know he loves me, and I think he knows how much I love him.  And our sex life is amazing . . . when we can actually get it in (no pun intended).  But I’ve still got a TON of emotional and sexual baggage that we’re sorting out, some of which was caused by my years of reading these books that are truly nothing more than fantasy.  While reading this recent romance novel, I actually found myself thinking that my marriage was somehow lacking because we weren’t having sex every time we saw each other (like in the book).  I quickly realized there was nothing wrong with Craig and I, and it was shortly thereafter that I started thinking the book hokey and unrealistic.

And it’s just as bad for the “fantasy” books and movies that cater to men.  Porn usually depicts completely unrealistic situations that–if viewed too often–can make someone believe that the hot pizza delivery guy will get laid by every sorority girl when he delivers their pizzas for the pillow fight in their baby doll nighties that ALL college girls have.  *insert eye roll here*  Or what about the girl who is a virgin, but magically likes to do every nasty little sexual thing some sweaty pudgy guy wants to do to her?  *second eye roll*  Then there’s the one about the lesbian lovers who are so turned on by some random guy that they want to have a menage a trois with him.  *violent eye roll that makes my eyes stick that way*

Anyway, these kinds of stories are fine and dandy when they’re treated as the mere fantasies that they are.  But I think there are too many impressionable young men and women who come to view these as real possibilities, which then causes extreme disappointment when they’re faced with the reality of life and love.  I’d like to see more movies and books that discuss a realistic and healthy outlook on love and sex, but sadly, I don’t think they would be as successful.

Maybe if we as a country were more willing to discuss things like that–had better sex education in schools and didn’t consider the topic of sex to be so taboo (as well as discuss emotional health)–we’d be able to raise a new generation of people who didn’t look to their significant other to solve all their problems.

I don’t know, I’m just spouting here.  But I can tell you one thing . . . I won’t be picking up any Harlequin Romances anytime soon.

Taking Care of Mother

I’m going to discuss the last few points from the survey “Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?” by Dr. Karyl McBride that most affected me in relation to my mother.

The first one I’m going to talk about is one of my mother’s defining traits:

30.  Is your mother controlling, acting like a victim or martyr?

While I’ve never thought of it as “controlling,” my mother has acted like a victim or martyr for as long as I can remember.  When she was going through her alcoholic phase, if I ever mentioned my displeasure at not knowing where she was (when she was 4 hours late for picking me up from my dad’s house), I heard one of three different responses:

  • I had a difficult childhood.
  • Sometimes I just need to forget about my responsibilities.
  • I only do this occasionally (said in a whiny “poor me” voice).

The narcissistic mother who criticizes and hides behind a veneer of martyrdom when her child needs her support is another common manifestation of a narcissistic parent.
(excerpt from The Narcissistic Parent)

Sometimes the words would vary a little, and sometimes she’d combine a couple of them into one, but I heard those excuses from her so often that I can recite them verbatim at will.  Even when I wasn’t complaining about her drinking, she still would mention the rough childhood she had on a regular basis.  The story was always the same; bad childhood, her father beat her, her brother treated her awfully, nobody understood her.

I’m not saying that she was making it up–I’m sure she didn’t have a fabulous childhood–but the sheer frequency of hearing those stories began to wear on my patience, especially because this woman–who claimed to have such a bad relationship with her family–kept trying to be in contact with them!  If I’d been treated the way she was, I’d have walked away from them a LONG time ago.  As it is, I have very little contact with my maternal grandmother and any of the family on that side.  My relationship with them wasn’t as bad as hers, but it was bad enough that I know I don’t want or need most of them in my life on a regular basis.

But her childhood aside, I’ve noticed my mother walks around as though she has the word “VICTIM” stamped on her forehead.  For example, when I first moved to New York, she and her then boyfriend came with to help me move out there and to see the city.  We were walking down the street together when her boyfriend and I noticed she wasn’t behind us anymore.  She’d actually stopped off at one of those sidewalk 3-Card-Monty vendors.  By the time we got back to her, she’d lost $100 betting on that game.  Afterwards, she couldn’t actually explain why she’d stopped, when she KNEW those things are rigged, but she had done it anyway.

Another time, she came to visit me when I was living in Prague.  Now, Prague is a relatively safe place, but it is known for pickpockets.  There, they do what’s called “crowding” where groups of people surround you on public transit, and try to steal from you.  By the time she came to visit me, I’d lived there 7 months without incident, but the very first day she was there her purse had been cut and her passport stolen.  She’s also fallen for several email schemes and at least one get-rich-quick scheme.

Her response to each of those events is usually to blame the perpetrators for their dishonesty, which brings me to another point on the survey:

12.  Does your mother blame things on you or others rather than own responsibility for her feelings or actions?

Rather than try to understand why she falls for each of these schemes, she blames “dishonest people” for taking advantage of her.  Now, I’m not condoning the actions of those who prey on others, but they can only prey on those who allow themselves to be preyed upon.  I’ve also heard her blame clothing stores for having mirrors in the fitting rooms; her reason being that she’s so overweight, she doesn’t want to have to look at herself in the mirror.  That was her response, rather than accepting responsibility for her food choices, or lack of exercise.

Points 14 and 16 are things I only felt a little bit while growing up:

14.  Do you feel you were a slave to your mother?

I wouldn’t say that I was a slave, but from the time I was about 8 years old, I had to babysit my brother whenever my she went out for the evening (which was pretty often).  She also seemed to stop doing chores around the house.  I totally believe that children should do chores in the house, as it builds character and teaches responsibility, but when my brother and I were old enough to do them, I honestly don’t remember her chipping in to do any herself, unless we had company coming over.  This might have been a byproduct of her being a single mother, but when paired with #16, it felt like something more:

16.  Did you have to take care of your mother’s physical needs as a child?

Again, this one needs to be tweaked a little bit.  Aside from babysitting (at my young age) and the chores, there weren’t too many of her physical needs that I had to attend to (except for once or twice when she came home so drunk that I had to help her into bed).  But her emotional needs . . . now THAT was another story.  I DEFINITELY felt like I had to take care of those for her.  In fact, it often felt like I was the adult in the relationship, not her, which is what’s known as “parentification,” one of the many tactics that a person with NPD might use on his/her child.  As I got older, I felt this more and more.

As Michelle Piper explains it:

“. . . The narcissistic mother expects her daughter to take care of her when it should be the other way around.  The daughter is made to feel responsible for the mother’s physical and emotional needs.  These needs can range from an unfair share of cooking and cleaning to playing therapist while her mother talks about her relationships, sex life, and other issues.  These are much bigger roles than any child should have to take on . . .”

Another great site, dedicated to daughters of narcissistic mothers, has this to add:

“. . . parentification is very abusive as the daughter–correctly judging this as the price of her mother’s approval, and not knowing any better–tries to take on the burden of meeting those needs . . .”

This expectation that my mother placed on me (whether intentional or not) meant I had to grow up VERY fast.  In some ways it was a good thing, but in many, it wasn’t, as I’ll describe in better detail next month when I wrap this series up.

Stay tuned . . .

C’mon People Now

One of the best things my mother did when raising me is to teach me that everyone . . . EVERYONE is equal.  Regardless of skin tone, religious beliefs, country of origin, sexual orientation, etc., each and every person on this planet is just as important and vital as the next, and should all be treated equally and fairly.  She had LGBT friends, black friends, Hispanic, Catholic, Wiccan, Jewish . . . you name it.  My childhood was as diverse as it could have possibly been in the middle of Michigan in the 70s.

It wasn’t until I left Michigan and moved out into the world that I learned not everyone felt that same way.  I mean, I had heard of segregation, but to my young, inexperienced self, that was something that had only happened WAY in America’s past, rather than a mere 5-10 years before I was born.  I remember my first encounter with someone using the “n” word and meaning it . . . I was actually shocked and did one of those head-shakes you see in cartoons all the time, where I thought “Did I just hear that right?”

I couldn’t then (and I still can’t, today) understand why people would speak of, or treat another person so cruelly just because they were born with a different skin color, have a different religious belief, sexual orientation, or any number of things that makes us unique.  And it continues to shock me when I hear of people having such prejudiced, narrow-minded beliefs IN THE 21ST CENTURY!  The sheer amount of malicious slurs that are being spoken by certain politicians this year–not to mention the hordes of people who are cheering that crap on–makes me cringe for the enlightenment that I’d hoped we as a nation were moving towards.  So, I’ve decided to help give that enlightenment a little help by posting some music videos that talk about equality and acceptance, and hopefully this will make its way around the internet to offset some of the nasty energy these politicians and their followers are generating.

. . . If you want to listen to these songs, just click on each image and you’ll be taken to the video on YouTube . . .

The first song that resonated with me about this topic is Depeche Mode’s People Are People.  I was more into Pop Music as a teenager, and had never even heard of Depeche Mode before.  It wasn’t until I was living in Florida that I heard this powerful song.  To this day, it’s one of my favorite anthems for equality.

DepecheModePeopleArePeople

The next is a classic from the late 60s.  In Everyday People, Sly & the Family Stone sang about how one person didn’t like another for superficial reasons, and then how that person didn’t like still another person for a different superficial reason (how’s THAT for irony?).  It’s really a great song and if you (like me) enjoy learning the lyrics, you can find them here.

Everyday People

This next song combines SO many of my favorite musical things: an awesome beat (which takes center stage about 3/4 of the way through the song), GORGEOUS harmonies, and powerful lyrics that embody truth and (hopefully) open people’s eyes.

Free Your Mind

But one of my favorite pieces that talks about equality isn’t actually a song . . . though it is on an album.  In Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation: 1814, she has a few Interludes scattered between songs.  The very last one–Interlude: In Complete Darkness–is my favorite:

In complete darkness we are all the same
It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us
Don’t let your eyes deceive you

So What

In the search to evolve as a person, you never know where your next growth spurt will come from.  I had one such moment today.

I was washing my hands in the bathroom at work and someone came out of another stall to do the same.  I said “Hi” to her, but she didn’t respond–and this is someone with whom I normally exchange pleasantries in the office hallways.  Suddenly, my mind began to spiral into the “Why is she mad at me?” neuroses that I struggled so much with as a kid.  I worried about it for all of 15 seconds–complete with possible scenarios to explain her aloofness–before I thought “so what?”

This was a HUGE breakthrough for me, because I used to stew over this sort of thing for hours (sometimes days, depending on the person).  I’m not sure if it was due to being raised by a mother who was into psychology so much that she encouraged us to break apart our psyches and uncover reasons for everything we said or did, or if I was born this neurotic . . . probably a little of both.  But over the last few years I’ve been unlearning that debilitating habit.  Self-reflection is good to a point, but when you start thinking that your actions cause other people’s reactions, that’s dangerous and unhealthy.

Everyone is responsible for his/her reaction to events.  Even if someone says/does something on purpose to hurt you, you don’t have to respond in that way.  It’s my belief that 90% of the time, their comments/moods aren’t even ABOUT you . . . but more about where they are in their life at that moment.  I know it’s that way for me, anyway.  You never know what’s going on in a person’s life, to make them act the way they do in any given moment, but chances are you’re merely seeing the residue of some other recent ordeal in his/her life.

That understanding is what helped get me out of the recent neurotic spiral; that I had no idea what was going on with her.  My mind still wanted to come up with a scenario (old habits are hard to break, you know), and when it rested on one, I thought “so what?”  Because that’s the other part of this equation.  Even if someone’s reaction is in direct response to something you said or did, sometimes it’s because they decided to get offended.

For instance, some people get offended by cigarette smoke.  Some get offended by people who drink.  Some get offended when they get cut off while driving down the road, or when someone fails to use a turn signal (those last examples are two of my peeves).  But that’s a personal issue.  I wholeheartedly accept that my ire over someone failing to signal a turn properly is my own issue, just as I accept that I blow it out of proportion sometimes.  I might still yell at them from the safety of my car, but I know that I don’t have to.  It’s not the other driver’s fault that I overreacted to the moment, so I refuse to blame them for my mood.  Unfortunately, many people out there don’t want to accept responsibility for their role in a situation, so they decide to say it’s the other person’s “fault” for “making” them feel whatever bad emotion they’re feeling.

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when we should be concerned with whether or not our actions/words have offended someone, because there are.  If you’ve deliberately said/done something to piss another person off, then it would be good to make amends at some point.  The same is true if you’ve inadvertently hurt someone . . . though, again, some of the responsibility falls on them for their reactions.

But back to my bathroom experience . . .

Of any of the scenarios that my mind could come up with over why this woman might have been upset at something I’d done (I can’t imagine saying “Hi” was the culprit), none of them were anything that I felt the need to apologize for.  So that helped me get to the “so what” moment.

And, clearly, I’m still thinking enough about it to write about it, but I’m glad I was able to dismiss it sooner this time.  Maybe next time I won’t even feel the need to mention it to anyone.

Unhealthy Bonds

There is a very strong bond between a mother and her child; and in many cases, it’s even stronger when the child is a daughter.  But unfortunately, when the mother has Narcissistic Personality Disorder that bond can become quite unhealthy.

Such was the case with my mother and me.  I thought of her as my best friend while I was growing up, and, as a little girl, I liked that.  As an adult, I can see so many other facets of that relationship, and recognize it for the co-dependency that it truly was.

I think part of the reason I initially put her in the “Best Friend” role as a child was because I was constantly picked on by other kids in school, and felt like no one understood me . . . except for my mom.  Another reason would probably be that I felt emotionally abandoned by my father at an early age.  My mom used to tell me how, at the age of three, I came up to her and said “Mommy, Daddy doesn’t love me anymore, and I don’t know why.”  She would then tell me how Dad acted like the sun rose and set with me when I was born, but when my brother came along a year later, it seemed to her like I became a secondary character . . . he now had a SON to carry on his name.

Something else that contributed to my thinking us so close was because she would often tell me how similar our lives were.  Looking back on it now, it’s kind of weird how often she’d say that.  Not that it wasn’t true–there are a lot of similarities in our lives–but I wonder how many there would be if she hadn’t pointed it out as often as she did; like maybe I was picking up on her desire for us to be so alike, and subconsciously made similar choices.  There was even one time, when I was about seven or eight years old, that the song You and Me Against the World by Helen Reddy came on, and she actually said that she felt like that song was our song.

As a child I was so happy that my mother felt the same way about me as I did about her, but as an adult all I can think is “How could you put THAT much pressure on a child!?!”  This behavior ties into points #23 and #27 on the Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother survey by Dr. Karyl McBride that I mentioned in my last post on NPD:

23.  Do you find it difficult to be a separate person from your mother?
27.  Did you feel you had to take care of your mother’s emotional needs as a child?

I had a very vivid dream when I was about five years old where I literally gave up my life to save hers (I woke up just before I slipped fully under the water).  And over the last decade or so, I’ve started feeling more and more pressure from her to continue the co-dependent relationship we’d had during my formative years.  To be fair to her, it’s hard to adjust to something different when you’ve had a certain dynamic for 20+ years, but as the parent, she should’ve been able to separate our lives in the first place . . . there IS a 24 year age difference, after all.  But that wasn’t going to happen, because–as this article outlines“. . . Narcissistic Parents are possessively close to their children when they are small – their children are a source of self-esteem . . .”

Thankfully I feel the opposite with Athena, my step-daughter . . . I enjoy spending time with her and we have a good time when we do things together, but I also realize that she needs to spend time with people her own age, and I encourage her to do so.  While I’m happy to be her friend, I don’t want to be her Best Friend.  I’ve got my own Best Friend, and so should she.

Anyway, as time went on and my mother lost more and more friends (or stopped wanting to be around them for one reason or another), she would often tell me how I was the only person who understood her.  I couldn’t help but feel an immense pressure from her about that.  Not only because it felt like she was making me responsible for her emotional security, but also because there were subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) reminders that–if I didn’t agree with one of her viewpoints or excuses for her behavior–then I didn’t “understand” or accept her anymore (a key behavior that is explained in this article that I found on Goop, author unknown).  As if the fact that I might disagree with her was an indication that I was somehow lacking in supporting her.

So, over time, I began to give my opinions less and less.  If she said something that I didn’t agree with, I would simply make some noncommittal sound; like I do with strangers or coworkers whose opinions I don’t share.  Then, about two years ago I received an unprovoked email from her where she laid out a major guilt trip  (which I’ll talk about in more depth next month, as it ties to different survey points).

And now, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I have no contact with my mother.  She went from being my best friend to being someone who drained my energy nearly every time I spoke with her.  I would have preferred it if she could’ve let go a little more and allowed me to be my own person–without constantly trying to keep me at her side (figuratively, of course)–because there were still some good times in my adult years.  Which is why I initially tried to set boundaries and just do “measured contact,” with my mother (as this article suggests near the end), but when I did that, she became more overtly abusive, and the good times came farther apart, and were instead replaced by blatant guilt trips, and unprovoked digs into my behavior.

It’s not all bad, though.  There is a wonderful freedom from not speaking with my mother right now.  For one, I don’t have to censor my true thoughts and feelings about things.  Craig and I are able to have discussions where we disagree on something, but don’t make the other person feel badly for having a different opinion.  It’s quite refreshing and something I never thought was possible in a relationship.  I also don’t have to worry about being held responsible for someone else’s happiness or sense of worth (a subject which gets discussed in this article by Bethany Webster [thanks to my friend Natalia for sharing this with me]).

But it is still a long healing process.  Thankfully writing it down here is helping (thank you, dear reader), and there are other articles that I’ll share later which offer more ideas on how to heal.

On Being a Butterfly

At the end of last month, Craig and I attended a self-help seminar put on by Kyle Cease.  I’d never attended one of these before, and found it to be a nice blend of humor and self-transformation.  One of the things he talked about that really resonated with me was about the different stages of awareness that people go through (a video of that bit is here). But it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, while I was at work, that the part about being a butterfly among caterpillars (it starts at about 1:03 in the video), really resonated with me.

I was doing some task that didn’t require a lot of focus, and overheard people’s conversation.  I don’t remember what the subject was, but it was the kind of small-talk chatter that co-workers in Corporate America share with one another.  Right then, I found myself thinking how inane it was and I wondered how they could possibly find the discussion interesting at all.  That’s when it hit me . . . I’m a butterfly among a bunch of caterpillars.

Now, as Kyle says, it’s not that being a butterfly is “better” than being a caterpillar, but I’ve been feeling like I’ve clipped my wings for quite some time, in order to “fit in” with the caterpillars.  Why I’ve been denying myself the chance to fly, I’m not quite sure.  Fear is probably a big factor.

But with that realization came a strong determination to change that.  I feel like I’m finally ready to say farewell to the caterpillars that I’ve been staying around, and to fly off in my own brilliance.  To see where the wind takes me, and what nectar I can find in neighboring flora.

This is all metaphoric, you understand.  I’m still very much in love with my husband, and I’ve got roots here in Alameda now, but it’s more like with my careers.  Craig and I have had some success with our art business, and I’ve been invited back to the Frank Bette Center for the Arts’ annual exhibit, Alameda on Camera (this will be my 6th year in a row, YAY!).  And I’ve finished one audio book, and am currently working on a second one.  I’m also sending out lots of auditions for other voice over work.

THESE are what I’m meant to do, not working in a cubicle, staring at a screen all day, working on stuff that means nothing to me.  I feel so alive whenever I’m working on my voice over stuff, or taking and editing photos.  THAT’S where this butterfly needs to be!  And the taste of these small successes has me hungering for more of them.

The hard part now is that I think I’m still in Stage 3 (in the video by Kyle).  There are things that I’m still holding on to (my “story,” as Kyle calls it).  I’m worried about paying rent, and how to market myself and make these careers successful.  So, I’m allowing the “reality” of these things in life to hold me back.  Again, probably because of fear.

But fear of what?  Many times we think the fear is a fear of failing (and I’m sure there’s some of that in the mix), but I also think it’s the fear of flying/succeeding.  When you’ve lived such a long time among the caterpillars, there can often be expectations that keep you with them.  Whether it’s friends and family thinking that you’re “too big for your britches,” because you want more out of life than you had growing up (which somehow, to them, means you think their lifestyle isn’t “good enough”), or outsiders who act jealous of your successes because they’re too afraid to go after their own dreams (so they don’t want anyone else to).  And, maybe nobody close to you actually feels that way, but there’s some pervasive belief/fear that they do.

Anyway, all of that junk is just my past story, and I don’t have to believe it anymore.  It’s time for me to step all the way out of that shell, spread my butterfly wings and take off!

Look out world . . . here I come.

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