An ongoing survival guide.
Lay your burdens down
This entry is brought to you by this year’s closing ceremony of the London Olympics in general, and Annie Lennox specifically. So go watch this video. I will wait. If you don’t like Annie Lennox, that isn’t my fault. And you will have to wait until next week’s entry.
I like the video because Annie Lennox slyly shows us the struggle to overcome our own destructive narcissistic tendencies (internal) and the actual narcissists (external) in our lives in a deceptively simple, lighthearted way.
The entire song is about survival and adaptability. The song can be interpreted as having the strength to let go of all the demands that narcissism/the narcissist in your life is requiring of you. Because narcissists are cunning and skilled, we believe at first that we should help them, to hold their burdens, but the joke is on us. The real burden is the narcissist themselves.
It is not uncommon for the adult child of a narcissist to feel like a different person when in the company of the narcissist in their lives. We behave differently around them. I often describe this as suiting up. We put on psychic armor before we encounter the narcissist. Not because we want to. But because we have to. The video shows all of Annie’s old suits, the people she used to be, the roles she adapted for herself. The Annie that is singing the song is even a persona, whose time has since come and gone.
When dealing with most external challenges, adult children of narcissists can be just as adaptable and creative in problem solving as anyone else. But when we encounter an actual narcissist, we get stuck in our armor because we are in a sense letting them decide who we are in relation to them. That’s the suit we have to learn to take off. That’s the suit that weighs more and is heavier than you realize. It’s the best metaphor I can think of that describes the dilemma adult children of narcissists are faced with.
The lovely use of all Lennox’s previous personas in the video is not just delightful visually, but it takes the lyrics deeper into her own acceptance of what those various personas did for her. The fact that they try to rush the stage and end up arguing with themselves is a lovely bit of psychodrama—all the individual voices in our heads want to be the loudest and the most in control, the primary persona if you will. The pregnant, present day (at the time) version of Annie realizes the ridiculousness of the other younger of versions of herself.
So, using this video as a warm up, what can you do? I have many suggestions. But to start: Call people on their bullshit. Everyday. Be relentless.
Last week I included a suggestion to be more like Oscar Wilde. He was a man—living in an age as ridiculous as ours—who understood the power of honesty in a culture devoted almost solely to the surface of things. Superficial surface relationships equates to narcissists playing to their strengths. If you want to affect change in your relationships, you have to start doing different things. I didn’t say it would be easy.
If you want to play it softer and be less in your face about it, I want to introduce you to a phrase that will help tremendously. The phrase is: I don’t have the same experience as you of (that/whatever it is that you experienced with them).
Last week I included a question that you could ask yourself if you still thought you might be narcissist yourself. The statement this week is a great tool that you can use with others who you think may be a narcissist. Let me explain.The consequences of using this statement with a narcissist can be profound. One would expect someone who actually cares about what you do or not experience to be of some importance. This is what a friend would do. A coworker. Even your favorite barista or bank teller. A narcissist really doesn’t know what to do with your experience, so they probably won’t say much, if anything, when you use the statement. Or they will get all defensive and pissy about it, blaming you for the misunderstanding.
The statement is a simple test. It’s not foolproof or ironclad, but I do believe it is worth trying out. It is a test to see if the recipient wants to know what your experience of something is. Because, people being so different, the chances are high that your experience is not going to perfectly mirror their own. And that’s what narcissists cannot tolerate. Their heads are too full of their own deficiencies and projected perfections to deal with someone who doesn’t experience life (and most importantly themselves) exactly the way they do.
It also can help you flush out bad apples in a first date sort of situation.
Next week: more talk about these damn suits.