(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.

(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.

(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.

(110) Don’t leave me alone

Two people who each have their own point of view, their own opinion and no matter how you look at it, both are right. That is allowed and there is nothing wrong with that. But when with one of the two violent emotions play a major role, like sadness, fear or pain, then it’s important that both are willing to understand the other’s point of view. Understanding, so that the bond between the two is not severed but strengthened!

Introduction

The current blog, “don’t leave me alone,” is about two people with the fictitious names Kathy and Tanya. Both have a different even opposite view of the same situation. That is possible and should be okay. But when intense emotions play a major role at Kathy … then it is important that both can talk to each other … and … can understand each other’s opinion. “And then what,” you may think. “Can’t you have a difference of opinion?” Yes, you can. But it becomes a different story when intense grief or a serious illness play a role with Kathy. Relationships can sever or even end; as with Kathy who is afraid of being left alone. Whatever you think, it happens in daily life and it “hurts people.” Nobody wants that, right?

Kathy

Kathy has no shortage of friends and, just like my daughter Anne Birgit, she’s a beautiful young woman. However, on the outside, you can’t see she’s seriously ill. And Kathy too had to cope with the necessary blows in her life with the result that the brilliant light she really is, rarely comes out.

Kathy has undergone a whole range of chemo treatments and radiation treatments. During the last consultation with the specialist, he indicated that the treatments will continue to work in her body for months before something can be said about the result.

It is already the second time for Kathy in her life that she has undergone such a series of treatments. She can still clearly remember the first series. How relieved and happy she was after she was told that she was free of tumours … that she could celebrate life again.

The results of the second series will take months to come. Until then, Kathy is not really in a party mood, let alone to celebrate life because the treatments have been completed. She can still remember the enormous disappointment and especially her anger when the tumours returned for the second time. Until then, Kathy is full of hope that the treatments have achieved the intended effect. On the other hand, she is so afraid of being disappointed again because she realizes what that will mean for her sooner rather than later.

Tanya

Like Kathy, Tanya is a beautiful young woman who is full of energy and who is always ready to throw a party as soon as there is anything to celebrate.

Tanya also had the necessary setbacks in her life … yes, who didn’t. But when you don’t know it or don’t look deep into her eyes, everything indicates that life seems to be one big party for Tanya, and she enjoys it to the fullest.

Tanya and Kathy are close friends. The treatments Kathy had to undergo for almost a year took a great toll. She was more often in bed than not and too tired to do anything. Tanya made sure that at least Kathy was eating … that is if she could keep in that little bit, she was able to eat … and … take care of herself.

When Kathy returned after all those intense treatments from the last consultation, it was just natural for Tanya that this should be celebrated. That’s what you do … it makes sense … you have completed a phase … you can go on with life, right?

Don’t leave me alone

Kathy had a different opinion. She still remembered the conversation with the specialist, the uncertainties expressed in it and Kathy also remembered the result of that first series of treatments. The enormous relief and joy she felt at the time when they told her that she was free of cancer, and a few years later the intense sadness, the anger and the fear that the tumours had returned. Now Kathy is afraid, so afraid of being disappointed again.

“What do you mean, party? There’s nothing to celebrate” Kathy says to Tanya who doesn’t agree with her. For Tanya there definitely something is to celebrate. The treatments are completed, aren’t they? And with this difference in thinking … this difference in opinion … a difference in point of view that is so logical and obvious for each of them … that it’s impossible for them to understand each other’s point of view.

don't leave me alone, sad, afraid, disappointed
Don’t leave me alone!

And at this point the relationship between Tanya and Kathy starts to wane and Kathy’s cry for help, “don’t leave me alone,” becomes a reality eventually.

But on the other hand, maybe Kathy’s fear has made Tanya as frightened as she is. Or … there is something that Tanya has been touched by or afraid of … which dilutes the relationship. Or … maybe … yes, you can think of and accept anything, but it’s not something you can get along with it.

How to proceed from here

For me it is crystal clear that Kathy and Tanya should discuss this with each other … and … keep talking to each other so Kathy doesn’t feel left alone. Yes, it’s clear to me, but do they think so too?

In my opinion, it is necessary that Kathy and Tanya sit together at the table and each tells her story about … what is felt … missed … should be celebrated … or not … or what they might be even afraid of.

It would also be beneficial to do this together with a “mediator” so that, in addition to helping in expressing each other’s words to the other, at the same time he or she can foster the understanding that both look at the same situation in their own unique way.

Both have a point, but it is important that they can understand each other’s point of view … so that the relationship between Kathy and Tanya does not gets diluted … but instead … becomes stronger.

Conclusion

It’s my experience that people start from their own opinion, or their own view they have of the another. That’s obvious, you might think, but in my opinion, it will be something completely different when that image is based on a series of assumptions. The reality regarding others is usually different and much more complex than we initially thought or assumed. That is why it is wise to keep talking to them in order to get a better understanding for each other. The same applies to people we think we know very well or for a long time.

You could also assume that everyone is correct. To illustrate this, imagine you are standing in a mountain landscape. The image that you see is determined from where you look at it. When you let everyone tell you what that landscape looks like, you will hear different stories depending on where these people were standing … in that same landscape.

In communicating with the other person, it is important that we are prepared to adjust our own opinions about the other person if that should prove so during the conversation. And there is often another bottleneck because not everyone can just do this or want to do this.

Epilogue

The core of the case used in “don’t leave me alone” is not unique. There are countless examples in which communication between people is the cause that they do not understand each other … with all possible consequences … like the one in “Farewell“.

Like in the used case of this blog in which two people each have their own point of view or their own opinion. No matter how you look at it, both are correct. That is allowed and there is nothing wrong with that. But when one of the two experiences violent emotions, such as sadness, fear or pain, then it is important that everyone can understand the other’s point of view, so that one of them doesn’t feel left alone in the end!

(106) The shadow side of mourning

The loss of a dear one

The shadow side of mourning? Is there a light one then? Everything is relative, you could see it as the difference between dusk with a brilliant sunset and the oncoming night as the shadow side.

The mourning process about the loss of a loved one can become complicated, without talking though about complex mourning. No, about a form where many things play a role in the periphery of mourning. That I call the shadow side of mourning. A form that can lead you to deferred mourning and everything in between.

Mourning, imaged as a sunset

When you consider a sunset as an image for a mourning process, then mourning is limited to the processing of the loss of a loved one by you and by you only.

The image of the sunset is not just about the (sometimes) difficult moments in your life … but also including those great moments that you shared together. It’s about a life, that when someone asks you if you would be willing to live that life all over again … including all those sad and great moments … your answer would be an immediate yes!

It maybe is a meagre consolation, but the deeper the grief the greater the love that existed between you. At the moment of realization, it doesn’t console you though … because the other one isn’t there anymore and you can’t give him or her a hug or a kiss.

The shadow side of mourning

The shadow side of mourning is about a loss that can become an even greater one by aspects that play a role in the periphery of the grieving person.

shutterstock_214458904

Besides the loss of your loved one, you will also have to deal with aspects that are the result of how others manage the same loss. A disagreement between family members during the preparations for the memorial service could cause this … or just after that. Or the handling of the inheritance became an issue … and consequently, family ties could be lost. The so-called “glass door” effect for mourners results to the loss of friends. After the memorial service of your dear one, almost everyone promises to invite you. Only a handful honour their promise though.

The loss of a dear one might even lead to anger. Anger because you are so sorry that your last words didn’t reflect not even close what you felt for the other. You may feel abandoned because you now must deal with all those things and issues your loved one always did. You may find out secrets about your dear one that were hidden from you all the time. It could be even that your anger turns into hatred.

You may feel compelled or even forced to take over the position in the company of your loved one. A position you never wanted to have because you don’t have the knowledge or skills. But now you should do so.

When the shadow side plays an important role in your loss, then mourning becomes convoluted. It’s clear though, like everyone else, that only you can process your mourning. But that is not to say that a helping hand can’t be offered … a helping hand in the form of support or guidance.

Finding support … but how?

Support and guidance should primarily be directed to raise awareness and the understanding of what is happening to you (in other words, to understand the parts of your puzzle) at that moment; and what parts are important to you; and what could be done to resolve those parts of your puzzle.

Secondly, you should find out what parts of your puzzle could be resolved by yourself or by somebody else. And, not to forget, why and for which items of your puzzle support or guidance would be required. As normally would be the case knowledge and experience are important factors, but with grief or bereavement trust is the most important factor. The rule of thumb that should be used is: “When in doubt, out!”

Personally, I find it important that the grieving person should become self supporting as soon as possible. That means that all assistance or guidance provided is only of (very) short term nature!

Afterword

Mourning is not just about the loss of a loved one. Parallels could also drawn for mourning as a result of a treatable but incurable disease up to and including a malignant terminal disease.