The second part of my friend’s comment that caused me to think we need better communication about narcissism is this comment which we often hear at church or family holiday dinners where people want everyone to act happy and look good:
“It has worked well for me to focus on the good!”
Yes, focusing on the good is always a virtue. The Bible even tells us to focus on the good in Philippians 4:8, but it also tells us a number of other things like confessing our faults to one another and that pesky verse in Matthew 18 where Jesus says if your brother has something against you to not even bring Him an offering until you go and make it right with your brother. This is why we want to read widely and take a balanced approach to biblical advice.
Most of my family and friends will tell you that I am an optimistic person, but after focusing on the good for 45 years, I realized I was in denial and more than a hundred pounds overweight from stuffing all my feelings for decades so I could be happy and not worry. If you talk to any number of ACONs you will hear a similar story. They will tell you it took them decades to wake up and sometimes even more to speak up. Most ACONs were not encouraged to seek the truth or speak the truth in our families.
Whenever a victim or survivor of narcissism speaks out, their pain often seems ignored when well-wishers tell them to focus on the good, but many of us focused on the good because we were in denial. Focusing on the good was an escape to ignore reality and some of us are still paying for it.
This could also be an ASSumption on the part of the well-wisher because not all who speak out are ungrateful—as a matter of fact many ACONs are more grateful than the average person because they have escaped slavery and both emotional and physical abuse. Most likely focusing on the good is how they survived to this point, but sometimes we need to go back and clean out the wounds before we can have our healing.
In the past, we’ve paid for focusing on the good through our addictions, weight gain and poor health due to CPTSD. That was in our survival mode, but in order to thrive we now can focus on a different set of good—good empathetic friends, good honest truths and the goodness of letting our stories be heard.
While it might seem like a nice Christian thing to say, telling someone to focus on the good is to not only ignore the rest of the advice in the Bible, but it seems apathetic to the pain of injured and hurting people. If you still think this is what should be said, you have fallen into the lack of empathy trap and it might help you to read the Empathy Trap book. It helps to describe the way narcissistic people use those who are empathetic to meet their needs.
This is a part of a series I am posting in response to a friend’s comment on my blog about Mother’s Day being painful. I know my friend’s mother is NOT a narcissist. From what I know of her mom, she is very loving and interested in her children’s lives. One reason why some people seem apathetic to the pain of ACONs* could be they have either not experienced narcissistic abuse or they are still in denial about their own wounds. I hope this series will help people like my friend to better understand narcissism.
*ACON—Adult Children of Narcissists