The Therapy is Dandy Guidebook to having a Narcissist for a Parent. Chapter 22.
An ongoing survival guide.
So what are my needs, anyway? (because there are no guarantees anybody else will tell you).
So here we are then: aware how we didn’t win any prizes in the parent lottery, mindful of how disconnected we may be about our own emotions and needs, hobbled by being used to tending to others in order to feel good, and people (and life) expects us to figure it all out and get going.
It’s fucking exhausting already, and now we have to do something about it?
I know. I didn’t even want to write this one.
But as an example of me being aware of my needs, I had to.
So what does that even mean?
It means becoming an amazingly adept and emotionally attuned ninja.
It means knowing what your vulnerabilities are and still going out into the world, and into relationships to get your needs—emotional or otherwise—met.
At least, today that is the best definition I can come up with. If you have a better one, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
It means not giving up on your self. It means not living in a cave like a hermit. It means not blaming others for your painful feelings and experiences, but owning them and your own actions. It means not walking around all day with 100 pounds of psychic armor on because you need it in order to survive. It means I get to quote Bruce Lee one more time and remind all of you to be like water. But it’s going to be hard. Most people are not very good at it. And I include myself in that assessment.
The best defense is a good offense. And this is where we take that literally.
The ways that hold you back from being in touch with your needs involve a little vocabulary lesson. Gestalt therapy identifies these phenomena as contact boundary disturbances. What that means for you and me is these are the things that keep us from being aware and honest about our needs and our selves.
1) INTROJECTS: these are the shoulds in your life. Men shouldn’t cry, women should stay in the kitchen, (adult) children should always obey their parents, I shouldn’t express emotions, I should be perfect, I shouldn’t be needy or ask for help, etc. These are the lies that someone told you about yourself that you believe. These are not your ideas, but they came from the environment, your parents, school, television, your ex girlfriend, etc. Admitting to introjects can bring up shame, embarrassment, and guilt. Shame, embarrassment, and guilt are what keeps those introjects in place. Your job is to identify them and dislodge them. They can cause a lot of hurt. Dislodging an introject can feel like losing a great big burden, often buried in our guts or our chest. We feel lighter, more independent. We are who we are—without their toxic presence.
2) RETROFLECTIONS: Every need you ever hold back from expressing. My clients in Portland know this word very well. I share the story about visiting my clinical supervisor and the dilemma of opening the window one morning or not. I had a need to not feel hot in the office, but I demurred when my supervisor asked if I wanted the window open, Why did I demure? Because I was retroflecting. What was this retroflection about? Me being embarrassed or ashamed that I was sweating in front of somebody. Everybody retroflects all the damn time. A retroflection is a self-protective measure. We do them because somehow, in some way, it makes us feel safer in that moment, but a need goes unmeet. Not that big of a deal if its just me in my supervisor’s humid office, but if it is about emotional or physical intimacy, you better believe you are missing out on a very important need! One of my following posts will be all about confronting retroflections and coming clean as often as possible.
3) CONFLUENCE: in essence, this is the subconscious desire to not rock the boat. We usually are unaware we are confluent with someone else about a joint or shared need. Confluence requires at least one other person, and amongst the two (or more) confluent people, a need is being unexpressed. This might happen out of compassion, or concern, or fear, or lack of awareness, or whatever. There can be positive or negative reasons for confluence to occur. This is the one that is really hard for anyone to notice, since it is usually going on stealth-like and sneaky. So, to prepare, maybe write out an inventory of things you might be avoiding in your life/relationship/situation. That at least is a place to start. What don’t you want to admit to yourself about X.
That’s it for this time, but I have a backlog of blogs to revise and post, including a specific request all the way from Edinburgh, Scotland. That’s right. Therapy is Dandy is international, yo.
For next time: more Bruce Lee inspired counseling suggestions, AND confront everyone and everything important in your life (or how to stop retroflecting!).