Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
April 2014 - Volume 14, No. 4
Responding to the Narcissists’ Women
It was three years ago this month, April 2011, that I wrote my Newsletter entitled “The Narcissist and His Woman.” Since that time the letters continue to arrive - at the moment there are 43 comments registered, and the pace does not decrease with time. Six already in the first quarter of this year. And there have been at least half that number sent to me directly.
So I write this newsletter to a specific audience - of narcissist-abused women - and by extension, to all abused women. For many of you, my broader fellowship of readers, my words may make little or no sense. But still say a little prayer for those whom I address. This alone can be a gift to them.
Each woman who writes here, validates each of the others, even when the common experience itself is of such deep level invalidation. How can a (seemingly everyday, often publicly esteemed) man be so cruel? How can a woman be held in bondage for so long, often by her own insistence that there must be something she can do better to please.
And often in the letters there’s a request for further advice. We need the support of each other. But advice also means there must be something I can tell you to do. And so often I have so little to say in the face of so much suffering.
But upon reflection, and for what it’s worth, these are the words I’ll now speak:
I’ll call it - Honoring the little shadow of what you once were.
Deep inside you there’s a shadow - sometimes only a small shadow left of the woman you once were. The soul you once had. So many of you speak of what you “once were.” It was love, it was shared happiness, life was working. So many of you tell me “I still love him deeply. I can’t stop!” This even while he strips away every shred of value, of the dream of relationship, of hope. Earlier he’s projected all the fault onto you, and you accepted it. Still would. That at least makes sense. If it can be my fault, it can make sense. Then he even takes that away from you as well - your precious fault now becomes more reason for him to despise and reject you. You are doubly broken and left with nothing but a shadow of your former self. That’s the little shadow I’m speaking of.
[For those of you who ponder the mystery of the woman and the serpent in the Book of Genesis, this is the best clue area I know. And I would apologize for just leaving you hanging with no further comment - except to draw the same parallel to the experience of these abused women.]
You would give that shadow away as well, but you can’t give that which has no public substance.Yet you can ‘water’ it, perhaps with tears of your battered heart, keeping it moist perchance like a single thornless rose growing in the desert. No-one else can even see it. Even the ever-present vampires of the world cannot see it, to desire and destroy it.
We often love where we are blind.
They say we fall in love in our blind spots. I know that to be true. Maybe that’s the best explanation of how all this works. We can never fully see, especially in the face of that rush of “love.” Whenever we worship something too deeply, it can destroy us. That’s why the First Commandment is the first commandment - the lethal danger of idolatry. It’s so hard to see in our blind spots - all we see is what we want to see. Like cocaine.
Go back to that little shadow - all that’s really left. Listen, perhaps with some mustered kindness, to those who would try to encourage you. So often they’re only looking into a mirror and soothing their own anxiety, even though they really do want to help. No, you are alone, you and that little shadow. Such a strange inner camaraderie. Perhaps that’s all that’s left of hope.
You may come upon someone who also knows that little shadow - the shadow of all-that’s-left-of-what-you-once-were; and there may be only a precious few such folks. It’s when my shadow speaks to your shadow, that healing can begin. Perhaps this sounds a bit like a fellowship of the living dead - and maybe that’s exactly what I’m saying. But no, where there’s a small seed, and some moist soil, there’s hope. Read the textbook of Nature. Know the seasons.
There’s a danger in telling a woman that fault is a two-way street - like almost 100% of the women who talk to me, saying “now I know I’m not perfect either” - one of the dangers of telling her she may also be “at fault’ is that she’ll take that as hope, and self-persecute more. When her abuser projects fault onto her, she’s strangely hopeful. She doesn’t even need the narcissistic abuser anymore. One of the hallmarks of good mental health is taking responsibility for your life. But again, doing what is “right” here can still kill you. That’s why the first healing words spoken in women’s shelters are often “it’s not your fault.”
I might be tempted to tell you that there’s gold in that little shadow - which is true. But once I would say that, there’ll be a false partner or comrade come along to steal it (again).
So my advice is (this is where I started about 700 words back) find that little shadow of your former self, and hold onto it, as if it is all you have left (because it often is all you have left).Decide to trust it (because it’s the only thing left that’s trustworthy).Begin to love it (not like the love you had back when it was all real).Love it for its weakness and vulnerability, as if it will always be weak and vulnerable.
More and more live forward. Let nothing pull you back. That was part of the original abuse.Live your life as if you have no regrets. And then live your life because you have no regrets.
Where hope begins
This is where hope often begins, in the very tiny spaces that are solely your own. Where nobody else seems to notice. Hope always seems to grow best in this world in the small places where it can feed us silently.
Don’t give it away to anybody. Be very careful with whom you would share it. Let it become your soulmate, your inner beloved, the one with whom you can trust your very life. If you ever (re)marry, make sure it’s not there at the altar with you - as tempted as you may be to give it away to “love.”
Guard it well, set your own boundaries
What I am saying is begin to set boundaries for her, for this new self. Let them become strong and firm, and your own. This may need to be a constant task, so let it be a constant task. As parts and bits of your soul begin to return, and begin to fill out this little shadow-of-your-former-self, that may mean you are becoming strong enough to love and trust and give - if you so choose. You may, as they say, get all your power back, and more. You may become a great healer, or champion for the weak and abused of the world. You may become a great leader of the people. You may be able to redirect the powers of the world, from within your own knowledge of suffering. There will be many who will want a part of it, a part of you. But I warn you, never give away to anybody this little shadow which becomes your rich new soul center.
Only with your dying breath will you ever release it.
That’s my “advice” for those of you who have asked. I give you this with respect and love - and a hope it can make your struggles a bit easier.