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Conversational Narcissism

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I finally have a word for it.

Conversational Narcissism.

This word defines a phenomena that I’ve experienced in my husband’s family pretty much 100% of the time I’ve known them, dominating each and every conversation I’ve had with them.  Something that I’ve come home with, shaking my head, trying to figure out why these holidays, vacations and gatherings seem so hollow and confusing.

I’ve been angry, dismayed, disappointed at the endless spinning of conversation designed around anything and everything THEM.  For years, I sat dutifully as my in-laws laughed and told tales of their vacations, their careers, their homes, the decor in each of these homes, details of friends I’d never met as well as stories of their children, their jobs, where they live.  While I thought I was being polite to my elders by listening albeit feigning interest often, it began to occur to me that they knew NOTHING about me.  It hit me hard one day when one of the in-laws or one of my sisters-in-law (can’t remember which), were listing all the professions represented in the family as a sort of parlor game.  The list comprised of a doctor, several teachers, an engineer, a technical theatre designer, a business owner.  One of the sisters said it sure would be great to have a nurse in the family to round out this list.

I was dumbfounded….I probably even shook my head in disbelief…. I’m sitting right there as a nurse with 20+ years in the field and they didn’t even know that? It would be less embarrassing to say that I’d only been in their family for several weeks or months….and I cringe when I say this, that I’d been married to my husband for over 5 years.  How did they not know anything about me or more importantly, how did they never stop talking about themselves long enough to ask?

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Needless to say, I seized the opportunity to enlighten them that they did indeed have a nurse in the family, my background and education. I continued and went on to tell them about my daughter, their new granddaughter and niece, and all of her interests and accomplishments.  But it left the most bizarre taste in my mouth because I’d never, ever met a family that operated like this.  After this awkward informational session, I figured  we had struck new territory, that they indeed had a bit of background now and from then on we’d have healthier, more give-and-take kind of conversations.

I was so wrong.  The dynamics of this family were so well entrenched that nothing changed.  There were no probing questions or interested inquiries.  I continued to find myself listening as a bystander becoming more invisible through each of their never ceasing conversations of self.  His parents would continue to invite us over for a “visit” which meant come over and sit and listen to us talk about ourselves.  Even during tragic moments, suicide of a grandson’s friend, my own heart attack and hospitalization, or the mental breakdown of a cousin, would ANY subject besides themselves be approached.  The invalidation that I and my daughter felt was so palpable that we stopped going to functions and holidays because even though our bodies were there, we simply didn’t exist to this family.

Fast forward to today.

When I found this article featured in Oprah‘s magazine entitled, “The Mistake I Made with my Grieving Friend” by Celeste Headlee, I literally yelled WOW.

I finally have a word for this disrespectful and disproportional soapbox that I witnessed. Conversational Narcissism.

In this article, the author admittedly realizes that she is using the “shift” to make a conversation about her during a moment when her friend is grief stricken by the loss of her father.

Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency to insert oneself into a conversation as “conversational narcissism.” It’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. It is often subtle and unconscious. Derber writes that conversational narcissism “is the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America. It occurs in informal conversations among friends, family and co-workers. The profusion of popular literature about listening and the etiquette of managing those who talk constantly about themselves suggests its pervasiveness in everyday life.” Derber describes two kinds of responses in conversations: a shift response and a support response. The first shifts attention back to yourself, and the second supports the other person’s comment.

 

Here’s what it looks like taken from actual conversations with my husband’s family.

Shift Response:

Laurel: Did you hear that your grandson Ben lost a friend to suicide?

In Laws:  No, I didn’t.  A lady from church just lost her grandson recently in a car accident, it was awful. She’s having a really hard time.

Support Response: 

Laurel:  Did you hear that your grandson Ben lost a friend to suicide?

In Laws:  No, I didn’t!  What happened?  Have you spoken with Ben or his friend’s family?  We need to reach out to him and give him some support during this rough time.

Shift Response: 

Laurel: I’m unable to attend Thanksgiving this year because I just got out of the hospital and don’t feel well enough.

In Laws:  Okay, I’ll just ask my daughters to bring the food that you would have normally brought. We always have so much food at our gatherings.

Support Response:  

Laurel: I’m unable to attend Thanksgiving this year because I just got out of the hospital and don’t feel well enough.

In Laws:  I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were in the hospital again.  We’d love to have you come and don’t worry about bringing food.  If you can’t make it, I’d love to send some food over to you later.  How are you feeling?

You get the idea.

The excitement that I feel when meeting a new person or even getting to know more about an old friend is based on the healthiest of a give and take conversation.  I love to talk but I also love to listen.  And ask questions and probe into the depths of a person’s stories and soul.  You know, meat and potatoes stuff. I can’t imagine it any other way. I want a dialogue, not a monologue.

But for the “conversational narcissist”, the goal is to get their needs met, not to get to know a person.  It is an ego feeding maneuver which is entirely one sided and executed to keep the attention on them.

For myself and my daughter, we simply had enough of these experiences and now are a no-show to family functions which interestingly, aren’t even really noticed.  As long as enough of the audience shows up, this family can conduct their usual lopsided interplays and never be the wiser to the fact that we’ve ditched them. Actually, they still haven’t stopped talking about themselves long enough to notice.

 

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Maybe Tomorrow, I’m Triggered Today

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*this post is gently re-blogged from Jennifer Kindera*, Trauma Recovery Coach

I can’t look in the mirror today. I’ve done it before, looked at me when I’m triggered and I know what I will see. Vacant eyes telling a thousand stories that I can’t face yet again. I don’t want to face it yet again. When I’m like this, it’s all I can do to get out of bed. Function normally? Yeah, not so much. My brain knows that it’s because of the PTSD, the funk of being triggered, marinating in the past, reliving pain that I put to bed over and over again, through therapy, EMDR and mindfulness. I recognize the signs, my signs. I’ve been doing this thing for a while, walking through triggered, the chaos of heart rate, the anxiety anvil which sits on my chest, over-reacting to the little things, bottling up, stuffing down all the emotional warfare going on inside me, the chaos waiting to swallow me whole.

My Littles have been tearful and enraged by turns for a few days. It’s not my new normal, just my normal. Holidays, I trantrum. We put the Christmas tree up yesterday and that always seems to send me into the darkness. The abyss that is so real, where other people have twinkly lights and nice families and happily-ever-afters and I just blindly can’t see in the pitch-black pit of silent gore. But it’s not the tree or the holidays or <fill in the blank.> It’s my trauma rearing it’s head again. It’s wading in the desolate mire that says, oh you didn’t think I wouldn’t visit again, did you? My Inner Critic delights in the coming, it’s like a four year old the day before their birthday party, jumping up and down telling me everything I’ve done to heal isn’t enough, I better get busier, be better, let go more, or my old frenimie Shame will come a-knocking.

 

How long does it last? The awful apathy, nothing is good enough, leave me the fuck alone backasswards like I’m Sissypus and just one more time I’m gonna push that boulder up the mountain and it’s going to slide right back down.

Maybe tomorrow it will fade. I took my herbs today, made sure I ate, tried to work, used my tools. The lethargy is all-consuming though. I do know that once what took me three weeks to work through now might take three days. That’s great, wait what day am I on? How many layers are there anyway to this trauma recovery?

A friend said today, don’t give up. Don’t give in, whatever that looks like. If it means my socks don’t match and I stay in my pajamas all day, then that’s a win because I’m upright. If I hold my tongue when the nasty words want to spill out and rip across another person to project my pain, then that’s a win. The broken pieces of me are like shards of glass and as I keep on keeping on, shining light into the dark places it feels like infection spreading. There was a time when I thought I was the infection. I know in my head, if not in my heart that if I am struggling it’s okay.

It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s my mantra today. It’s.Okay.

It’s okay if you are struggling too. It’s okay because our healing isn’t linear or logical, it’s messy and ugly sometimes. It’s okay because some days it’s all we can do to breathe in and breathe out. It’s okay because no matter how dark it gets, the dawn will come. It’s okay because I may not be able to see the dawn for a few days, but at some point this panic weight will lift and I will settle again. It’s okay because I get to lean into the feelings, and peel back another layer of my painful past. It’s okay when it sucks and I don’t want to do just one more thing. Longer perhaps in between now and the next time, maybe. The Roman philosipher Seneca said, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” I agree.

And, it’s okay.

 

 


What If REcovery Is Not What You Need To Survive? The Role of DIScovery and UNcovering in Trauma and Abuse Healing

 

This re-blogged nugget of wisdom is from the awesome YA author-advocate G. Donald Cribbs. I take no credit for any of the following words or thoughts but do align with many of the thought provoking points he makes.  We have both had the opportunity to join forces with Bobbi L. Parish to be part of her first-ever Trauma Recovery Coaching Certification class. And oh yeah, check out his books and buy a few for someone you love!

 

*****Trigger Warning*****
What if recovery is the wrong word, the wrong approach, the wrong lens to view the treatment and healing process? This question brought me to at least attempt to process this thought all the way through and blog about it so you have the opportunity to join the conversation, which I hope you’ll do in the comment section below. Let’s begin.
First, let’s start with the question, what is recovery anyway?
The definition gives us a few inroads and insights to begin from, but it doesn’t really get at what recovery is, or hopes, or attempts to be for a person in the treatment and healing process. The first definition, “a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength,” implies that there is a right state of health or wellness, and there is a wrong state. This sounds very much like a victim of abuse must choose whether they are on one side or the other. Thus, a person who is in “recovery,” carries with himself or herself a stigma that they are not well, and further, that they are in fact in a wrong state of wellness. Victim blaming, anyone? Ouch. That one stings a bit.
The second definition, “the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost,” suggests that a trauma that has occurred has somehow robbed the victim of his or her innocence, and he or she should strive to “get back,” what is rightfully his or hers to own. The heart or intent of this sentiment is at first a nice thought: surely, every child has a right to retain his or her innocence, right?
We have a right to be a child when we are children, and not be thrust into the very adult world of child sexual abuse, where our childhoods are essentially robbed from us, right? Every survivor of child sexual abuse knows this just isn’t true. We know what that horror feels like every day that follows from the moment our sexual abuse first began. But the truth is: the world isn’t a safe place where children retain their right to be innocent and free from the weight of being thrust forward into adulthood. We don’t all chase butterflies, or toss copious amounts of glitter on things, or frolic with unicorns. So the idea of regaining something I never had seems ludicrous to me. I never had that fantasy or fairytale childhood. It didn’t exist for me. Instead, I found myself forced to make the very adult choice to take the bullet and comply with my abuser’s sexual demands in order to spare my siblings from this horror, not realizing the world isn’t fair, and my abuser had no intention of holding up his end of the bargain. I cannot regain what I never had. Sure, I was robbed. So for me, that happened when I was only four years old. As I approach my own treatment and healing from child sexual abuse, I am no longer certain recovery is the right approach. Another way to state this is recovery may not be the right word.

So where does that leave us? It’s such a common feeling for a survivor to not fit in with “normal” people. We are outsiders. We don’t belong. We are the quintessential square peg trying to fit into a round hole. We just don’t. Fit, that is.

For a survivor of child sexual abuse, recovery just isn’t a good fit. For us, we need something that meets our unique healing and treatment needs. This led me to the following thought:

What if REcovery was more like DIScovery and UNcovering our TRUE SELVES?

Give that a minute to soak in. Feeling okay? Are you ready to move forward? It might take a few moments for you to fully absorb what I’m saying here. Let me try another way: I’m going to break each of these down a bit further to help clarify:

REcovery is supposed to equal getting back what was taken from you. This seems legitimate as long as you had something prior to your abuse that was taken, apart from your right to live an abuse-free life, that you can “RE,” or RE-COVER, or get back.

 
What if you could, instead, DIScover, or not focus on getting something that was lost or stolen back in the first place? What if, instead, you could choose to do what YOU want to do with the cover. For me, “cover” represents the aspect of abuse that is hidden or covered up.
 
When you work to regain yourself, you pull the covers off, and reveal the secret. This step can be very triggering, and should not be attempted without the help and support necessary to fully go through this process. If you are considering this step, don’t do it alone. Make sure you are ready, and you have professional support with a licensed professional, preferably one who is trauma-informed, and can attend to your unique therapeutic needs.
 
Before I can get to the final step in the “cover” process, I need to veer off from the main topic for a bit. You see, our abuser took all his or her responsibility for the abuse they inflicted on us, and placed the blame entirely on our shoulders. We tried to resist this, but over time, they wore us down. Eventually, we succumbed to their repeated statements (gas lighting) and treatment. They told us we were nothing, we were worthless, it was our fault. Then, they treated us as if we were nothing, as if we were worthless, and as if it was actually our fault.
 
To truly understand the process that took me from REcovery to DIScovery to UNcovering the TRUE SELF, check out “The Lying Triad and it’s Dark Guard,” by Bobbi L. Parish, MA on YouTube:

 

This brings me to the UNcover part: that the true task is to 1: Uncover the secret of the abuse, rip the cover off of the secret, and expose it for what it is. By taking the lie off of ourselves, we reveal what has been hidden all along: the lie our abuser gave to us, (that you are broken, deserving of your abuse, and essentially the Lying Triad and the Dark Guard Bobbi was talking about,) in order to avoid facing any consequences for abusing us, is finally given back to our abuser, and our TRUE SELF is seen for the first time. 2: The second task is to seek to fully know and embrace the TRUE SELF and allow the TRUE SELF to regain his or her power back.
 
If we as survivors are ever to regain anything, it is the truth of our TRUE SELVES. And this very important part of our healing journey can only be achieved if we move from REcovery to DIScovery and eventually arrive at UNcovering what has been hidden by our abuse: our TRUE SELVES.
 
If you’ve read this entire blog post, from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my toes and the top of my head, I thank you. I appreciate you hearing me out. You may not agree with anything I’ve said here. You might agree with some parts of it, or all of it. I invite you to join the conversation. Sound off in the comments below and let me know what this brought up for you, how you connect or disconnect from this concept about the recovery process. Healing from trauma and abuse have unique aspects that are not the same as other treatment and healing processes.
 
It is my hope that this can be the beginning of a conversation about those needs for true recovery and healing to happen in the survivor community. If you have an idea for a blog post in response to this one, I hope you’ll post a link in the comments below and I look forward to reading your reactions, comments, and posts.
 
I will close with a checklist for recovery, “Guiding Principles of Recovery”:

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