Understanding Narcissism 2—Understanding the Gratefully Grateful

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

2 thoughts on “Understanding Narcissism 2—Understanding the Gratefully Grateful”

  1. Cherilyn, it’s so true what you said about focusing on the good… people’s well-meaninged intentions are likely good, but they just have absolutely no idea; the depth of the pain, trauma, and abuse that a child of narcissistic parents has endured. It is to deny the fact that living this kind of life was a bad life; a terrible life. It was not at all a good life; there was no good in it, EXCEPT for the mercy, grace, and blessings given by God. If it was good food, money, church, vacations; what have you; any good was all and only from God and perhaps some came from the non-narcissistic parent, but not likely, for the other parent was being victimized too, and used to scapegoat the child! So though my childhood was not good; there were things about my childhood that brought me joy IN SPITE of living in a narcissistic home; NOT because of it. For example; because I was brought to church, I learned about Jesus and learned that God loved me. I suppose I could thank my parents for taking me to church, but the truth is they weren’t living a godly life at home, and were not teaching Christianity in the home and things like unconditional love and forgiveness. In fact, my mother used it as a cover for hiding her real self. So instead I choose to thank GOD for providing the opportunity for churches and Sunday School teachers and friends who gave me joy and taught me truth. I thank him for the memories of having a sister, someone who I belonged to, who belonged to me; my only belonging to anyone or anything it all, until I got married. Honestly when people have told me to focus on the good things, I have cringed inside. Partly because I wasn’t asking for their help or counsel; I was just sharing, and partly because I knew they couldn’t possibly understand the deepest, unbearable pain imaginable; being raised for a lifetime by one or two parents with no capacity to love you, empathize with you, and meet you deepest needs. To be raised by narcissists is to be raised an orphan, where you do not belong to a family anywhere. A better thing to say to an adult who has lived through a childhood where he or she was victimized by narcissism, is “I will be praying for your healing, and I’m here to listen, and I care.” It’s simply perfect! 💙

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