(115) Thriving after narcistic abuse

A narcissistic parent is the perfect parent for the outside world. The reality is that when no one is there, there is only criticism … of who you are, what you do or don’t do. No opportunity is wasted to belittle you, humiliate you and make you feel guilty.

I grew up in a situation where one parent was not there since I was six (after my parents’ divorce) and that parent died when I was sixteen. The other parent is what they call narcissistic. I think the consequences of this are enormously underestimated.

To the outside world a narcissistic parent is the perfect parent. You will always be well dressed, well cared for, nice family outings and in company you will always be treated “lovingly”.

Narcissists are master of hiding the other side. The reality is that when no one is there, there is only criticism. On whom you are, what you do (or don’t do). They leave no opportunity to degrade you, humiliate you and make you feel guilty (because it is always up to you). To the point where your self-confidence and self-image are still a shadow of the person you really are. And this has serious consequences for the following years. After all, you are used to seeing it as ‘normal’ that you are treated that way, so that you also attract partners in your life who exhibit the same behaviour.

You have been taught that you are worthless, so that you unconsciously attract the people in your life who confirm this. In my life it has resulted in relationships full of abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse, physical abuse, etc. These are relationships in which you are completely isolated, because the moment people in your environment counterbalance, they lose control over you and that is of course not the intention …

Narcissists want control over your thinking, your feeling and being complete. They want to determine how you live and have the gift to achieve this very gradually. Because the moment you resist, you immediately bear the consequences, so you are adjusting more and more to the wishes of the narcissist, after all you really want to keep the peace. You get further and further away from yourself, until a moment comes when you literally hit the bottom.

In my case apparently, that was necessary. Because it wasn’t until that moment only that I realized that I no longer knew who I was, what I liked. All I knew was that I wanted to break through the negative spiral of agony, sadness and continuously being hurt. But how do you do so after so many years of living in pain and always walking on your toes? I got a burnout and afterwards that’s probably the best thing that happened to me.

I chose to withdraw completely, to break the contact and to unwind. My starting point during that period was my work, because business contacts went well for me … these didn’t affect me on a personal level. It’s been quite a process, slowly building energy again from the pleasure in my work and, there was opportunity to remember who I am, what I like and what makes me happy. And from that peace, that basic point in which I found a hold, I very slowly re-discovered myself again.

To the outside world a narcissistic parent is the perfect parent.  The reality is that they leave no opportunity to degrade or humiliate you.

And then finally growth starts. Because you slowly start to feel better, you’re also willing to go on a personal level to gently admit people who do see you for who you are and what you are worth.

It is the first step upward, to rebuilding your confidence and restoring your self-image. And when you see who you are again, you break the circle. Because that’s the moment when you’re going to choose relationships in your life (in all areas) that positively contribute to your well-being and happiness.

(114) I want to be like I used to be …

Mila had set a goal for learning how to cope with her grief; she wanted to be the woman she used to be. In my experience, that goal is subjective. How could you measure that? How could that goal be met in a for her acceptable way?

I want to be like I used to be …

I met both, busy talking to each other, in a cafe somewhere in a village along the Belgian coast. Mila, a fictitious name, was about to burst into tears, her friend had put an arm around her comfortingly. Mila’s friend turned out to have left her, after for her happy years, for another, a younger and wealthier woman. It just wasn’t fair. It turned out she had accepted that he wouldn’t return. Her grief was no less about it. She was deeply unhappy and that was obvious when you looked at her. It seemed like the light had disappeared from her eyes. She wanted to be that woman again she used to be, happy, with a rich smile, sparkling and enjoying everything that life gave her.

I want to be like I used to be
It seemed like the light had disappeared from her eyes
It’s about more than just accepting the loss

Mila had in fact set a goal for learning how to deal with her grief; she wanted to be that that woman again she used to be. In my opinion that is a subjective goal. Because how could you measure that? What if she only achieved a little of the desired result. Is that acceptable to her or not? To what extent should that goal be met for her to be acceptable at all?

Mila made her mourning unnecessarily complex by setting that goal. Why not start processing your grief and see where you end up? And then, depending on the course of the process itself, adjust here and there somewhat. Maybe she even discovers life paths and results that are much more attractive afterwards than what she had initially conceived.

It’s about making choices

To move forward in life and at the same time achieve her goal, Mila will have to make choices. Which choices? That’s not for me to decide, that’s up to Mila! If she does not make a choice however, she literally stands still and does get any further in her life. And you know, you never get absolute certainty for making your choices. After all, once you have taken the first steps after a choice, everything changes because things that were previously hidden from you now become visible. In short, it makes no sense to consider in detail which choice you should make. Mainly focus on your feelings.

You change yourself through the choices you make in your life. Similarly, you change because of the choices loved ones make in your life. All those choices changed the person you were to the person you are today! Some choices leave scars. The scars that you feel or see in the beginning eventually become less tangible or visible, but they never disappear.

Conclusion

Mila may want to become she used to be again, and maybe come a long way, but what is today will never be the way it used to be. And just as Mila had accepted that her ex-partner would not return to her, she also could accept that she had changed by learning to cope with that loss.

Can Mila then never the one she used to be, happy, with a bright smile, sparkling and enjoying everything that life gives? Paradoxical as it sounds, and especially when she is open to it, of course you can. But then different. Different because emotions go deeper through the experiences she has gained; more understanding has emerged; experiences that have made her emotionally richer; perhaps even a warmer personality; and maybe even doing things that she had never thought possible in her wildest dreams. And maybe, just maybe, she does thank her ex-partner at some point in time in the future because she ended up on a path of life that feels she should have walked on from the beginning. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

(113) Let your sun, shine again

There will always be a small black edge visible, but if you can shine your sun again, even with help from others, yellow will dominate again in your life. A golden yellow sun brings beautiful new sparkles in your life.

Divorcing twice from the same man, didn’t I learn my lesson? Was going through that deep valley full of tears once with intense pain and hellish conflicts to divide our possessions not enough?

No, apparently, I wasn’t ready after my first divorce and I had to give our family another chance. At the time I put a line through our past, and bravely stepped into our relationship again with a clean slate. After all, wouldn’t it be great if we were to grow old together. I had to do it for our family, for our relatives and for our surroundings who always saw us as the perfect family. I myself wanted to give my dream of growing old together with our little family another chance and bring it back to life.

To my sense I fought and fought for our marriage until I almost collapsed. My head told me every day … come on you can do it, and you belong together, right? But more and more my body started to protest, and again I had health problems. My body had been telling me for quite some time that daily stress, tensions and quarrels weren’t good for me. After all, your brain, body and soul work together and they send signals. When I realized where my health problems came from, and that I pulled our children into our daily tensions and disagreements, this awakened me from my dream, and I had to choose for myself. It was the hardest choice in my life. A sense of having failed as a mother, and as a partner, but also having to deal with fears and uncertainties, and how to proceed on my own.  Because the financial de-entanglement was very complex, the separation process took a long time and that made my grieving process even more raw. Living in uncertainty, high costs hanging over your head, and not knowing what to expect in the divorce process, means that you will hardly be able to process your grief, because after I made my choice I ended up in a mourning process.

Awareness that you are in a mourning process is very important for processing your grief. Awareness ensures that you dare to admit your grief and pain, and that you don’t run away from it. The fears and uncertainties that look around the corner, create doubts that make you falter to run back to the old familiar life. This is because your brains are so used to your old life and have been programmed in such a way that they think that that old life suits you best. Don’t sit in resentment and anger either, because that can also hinder you and prevent you from seeing anymore the beautiful things in your life. In order to proceed, to persevere and to stay with your choice, it is good to regularly ask yourself the following question in your grieving process:

What positive points have emerged from my divorce so far? My answers to this question show me that I am not only concerned with what I have lost. Insight into the positive developments strengthens you to see your future in a sunny way.

I am still sad sometimes and I still must deal with uncertainties, and fears, but I also notice that I have grown enormously as a person after the breakup of our family. The entire divorce process has made me stronger as a person, and the development process has made me grow. Dealing with setbacks in your life will strengthen you if you can give it a positive twist. It helps you to move on.

Grief may be there, but don’t let grief be the predominant factor for the rest of your life. Seek help if you find yourself getting stuck. As a Mental Coach myself, I have not walked this path alone. I too have enlisted help from others to vent and organize my thoughts. It is so important not to get stuck in your own processes and to allow yourself to be broken by your grieving process.

There will always be a small black edge visible, but if you can shine your sunshine again with any help from others, yellow will dominate again in your life. Yellow stands for optimism, growth and energy. Being able to see joy again and zest for life. And a golden yellow sun in your life even brings beautiful new sparkles in your life.

(112) Her world stopped turning

No matter how great your loss and sadness are, how you react to it, no matter how long ago it was, what one thinks of it, there is usually a way to get out that deep valley, the valley if that great loss and sorrow. Of course, you don’t have to find the way out alone. You can get support, that is, if you allow it.

Her world stopped turning

Her world stopped turning. One of Monica’s breasts was removed because of breast cancer. For clarity, Monica is a fictitious name. About a year later she also lost her son to cancer, just before his 8th birthday. How harsh life can be. It’s so unfair.

How harsh can life be!

In the meantime, again a year has passed in Monica’s life.  She is still struggling with that great loss and sorrow. Yeah, who doesn’t? She’s still getting tired quickly and still can’t concentrate. Everything in life seems totally insignificant to her … especially when you compare that to that huge loss.

“Yes,” she says, “I can’t get anything out of my hands. I would really like to continue my life … but … I just can’t get it done. “

Panic

Panic strikes when the company doctor thinks Monica should be able to work again. Doesn’t he understand I’m getting tired quickly, that I can’t concentrate?

Panic strikes when people around her have an opinion about just everything. The death of her son is almost a year ago … the removal of her breast even longer. Why would you still have such an immense sadness? Shouldn’t you have processed your grief by now, right?

Panic strikes when Monica wonders how to respond to all those reactions. To her it seems that there are two worlds … the world in which she lives … and … the world in which everyone else is living. At times she can feel so lonely.

Lonelyness

It has been a while that managers and colleagues from the company she works for, regularly contacted her or stopped by. It seems as if Monica no longer exists for them. Apart from the occasional contacts with the company doctor and human resources, nobody contacts her anymore. She must find out everything by herself and even resolve it.

Why don’t they see me?

“Don’t they understand what’s going on with me?” says Monica. “Can no one give me a helping hand? Is that so much to ask? Is there no one who even understands how gruelling times are now for me? The question ‘how I’m doing,’ they ask out of social courtesy rather then they really do want to know the answer. Can no one even produce any empathy? “

“I’m struggling more than enough in coping with my loss and sorrow. Why do I have to consider someone else? Why don’t they have any consideration for me? Is that too much to ask?” Monica asks herself. “There’s no one who hears me. No one who really listens to me. Help! “

Cry for help

On the one hand, everything in Monica’s life seems utterly insignificant when you compare that to her huge loss. But on the other hand, she’s too proud to ask for help.

And yet … Monica wants, as she said before, to continue her life … but … she just can’t get it done. Her cry for help is loud and clear! A cry that should never be ignored! By nobody!

Monica’s cry is finally heard, and people have gone along with her step by step. Her world that stopped turning, got into motion again slowly but surely. The way things look now, Monica will be fine in some point in time. However, the “scars” of her loss and sorrow will never go away, with as result that Monica will look at the world differently than before. It’s just the way it is.

Conclusion
Hope glimmers on the horizon!

No matter how big your loss and grief is … no matter how harsh and emotional you respond to this … no matter how long ago it happened … whatever people in your area think about it or their opinions are … and how you respond to this (complex) entirely … there is usually a way to get out of that deep valley … the valley of that great loss and sorrow.

Of course, you don’t have to find that road alone. There are countless people who can help you with this. People like family members, dear friends, experiential experts, professional caregivers or people from your immediate environment. Central to this is that you are willing to ask for and accept their help. It is also central that they can and want to give you that help … and continue to give that to you if you indicate you need it.

However, before that happens, it must be clear that help is needed. That could be because your world is starting slowly to move again and you, the grieving person, eventually start to realize that you can’t handle your loss or grieving on your own. That it is also possible for all of us to assure that we do not leave the grieving, you, alone in processing the loss or grief.

In a nutshell, no matter what happens or how long it takes, all of us should, without exception, stay in touch with each other … if only to help each other when one of us needs help.

(111) Becoming aware of mourning

Becoming aware of mourning is important because in the literature it is described how grief represents a change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the grieving needs time to restore the psychological balance.

Becoming aware of mourning

Becoming aware of mourning is important since it is described in the literature how sadness represents a change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the griever needs time to restore the psychological balance.

In an earlier blog I wrote about an overwhelming loss immediately after a loved one or dear one had died. This blog is about the run-up to becoming aware of grief as a result of that overwhelming loss.

A few terms

The following terms are used in this blog:

Grief indicates the experience of someone whose loved one or dear one has died. Grief consists of a collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological changes that can vary in combination and intensity over time.

Bereavement defines the loss to which the person is trying to adjust and the experience of having lost a loved one or dear one.

Mourning is the term that is applied to the process that people go through to adapt to the death of their loved one or dear one. The finality and consequences of the loss are understood and integrated into the life of the griever.

As you would expect, notions such as grief, bereavement and mourning are not limited solely to aspects related to the death of the loved one or a dear one. It can be drawn much wider. For example, in relation to a terminal illness, a divorce, the loss of work, the loss of physical functions, etc.

Why should grief be dealt with after a big loss?

Research has shown that within normal mourning, also referred to as uncomplicated mourning, much of the behaviour can resemble that of depression. However, the cause is different and so does the approach to address its behaviour. The current understanding is that while most of the depressions during mourning are transient and do not require special attention, the idea is nevertheless emerging that a persistent depression during the first year of mourning does indeed require professional or clinical attention. Seen from this perspective, it is believed mourning after the loss of a loved one or a dear one is important.

But whatever you think about it …

The choice of whether to handle your grief after a major loss is entirely up to you. You are free to process your grief or not. You may not even consider it because sadness is part of life and many in your area die. You could choose to repress your sorrow (after a short time) into the background simply by continuing with your daily life “as usual.” You could even choose to replace it with someone else shortly after your partner’s death.

“Mourning? Do I mourn? No, not at all! Should I? Why would I want to do that?” These are questions and reactions from a young man from Nigeria whose family member had died. He explained that mourning does not matter to him because death is part of daily life. After all, many people are dying around us. A reformulation of the question could also be: if it is normal for (many) acquaintances to die or disappear in your environment every day … how do you look at your loss or mourning?

How do I become aware of my grief from that great loss?

Personally, I became aware of my grief after many years. After the death of my wife, Mary Anne, I returned to work quickly, maybe too quickly. My work was intense, the teams worked all over the world and as a result my working hours were quite bizarre. However, it was a fantastic job from which I could get a lot of energy. Until that moment when I retired a few years later. I got several of those indefinable ailments, felt gloomy, could not sleep, was tired, and reading a page of a book took me days and still I had no hunch what it was about. Ailments no physician could put a finger on. Occasionally there were days when all went fantastic … at least that added a bit of hope to the little that was left of it. It all simmered a bit until during a vacation with my son, Mervyn, we suddenly had to rush to the hospital, I could barely breathe anymore. They saw it happen in the hospital, but they couldn’t find the cause. Eventually everything returned to normal and we went on with our vacation. Once at home they could not find a cause in our hospital either. However, once I started writing my blogs about grief and mourning, those “ailments” started to disappear slowly. Gradually I became aware that I had finally started processing my grief.

But could you also become aware of your mourning … instead of by chance?

In general, mourning involves a collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and physiological changes that can vary over time in combination and intensity. To name just a few:

Bereavement and emotions

Sadness, anger, blame, guilt and self-blame, fear, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning for the deceased, emancipation or relief, numbness, hollowness in the stomach, chest tightness, tightness in the throat, hypersensitivity to noise, a feeling like you are no longer yourself, breathlessness, shortness of breath, weakness in the muscles, lack of energy, dry mouth, disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, hallucinations, sleep disorders, eating disorders, distracted and absent behaviour, withdrawn into oneself, dreams about the deceased, avoiding memories of the deceased, searching or calling for the deceased, sighing, restless, hyperactive, crying, visit places that remind of the deceased, collect or carry objects that belonged to the deceased.

Yes, there are quite a few and on top of that you must be able to be consciously involved with this matter for a while after that overwhelming loss. Maybe you suffer from absent behaviour or you have no energy to do anything. Maybe family members or friends can assist you when you are not able to do so yourself.

How to proceed

Personally, I was able to conclude that I had started processing my mourning much later. In retrospect, I would much rather have had direct help with the processing of my grief. It would have given me more peace and I could have enjoyed life more. Maybe even … it is what it is…

Anyway, you can become aware of mourning, after the death of your loved one or dear one, when you keep track of your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological changes from the above collection on say a monthly basis by indicating how these vary over time in combination and/or its intensity. You could draw the conclusion when:

• The combination and/or intensity diminishes: that you are processing your mourning and that you can handle the loss of your loved one or your dear one.

• The combination and/or intensity kind of persists: then it is wise to seek help for your mourning at a practice for grieving and loss guidance.

• The combination and/or intensity increases: then it is wise to seek help from your doctor as soon as possible for guiding you with your mourning. In the latter case, based on your feelings, you may have already considered the idea of ​​seeking help in an earlier stage.

Summary

This blog may be a bit on the boring side, but it is my intention to help you in becoming aware of your grief after the loss of a loved one or a dear one. From own experience, experience of others and from the literature it appears that processing of grief is important. In a nutshell, body and mind must be healed, must be brought back into balance. However, realize that that balance will no longer be the same as before. Mourning also means that you are “marked” by the loss … like in my previous blog with Kathy who rarely shows the brilliant light that she really is and with Tanja where you can see the necessary setbacks she has had when you look deep into her eyes.

It is my wish that this blog can help you with becoming aware of your grief. It is my experience that only then your mourning begins.

A final comment

There is a lot of literature available in the field of grief and mourning. The Dutch version of the Foundation’s website contains a literature overview that is regularly updated. The book that I find most rewarding to read and understand is “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy”, 5th edition, by J. William Worden (ISBN 9780826134745) published by Springer Publishing Company, LLC.