There’s a story about a mother who always cut the loaf off at both ends every time she made it for dinner. Her daughter kept up the tradition and eventually her granddaughter did it too. Then one day the granddaughter asked her grandmother why she cut off the ends of the loaf. The grandmother laughed when she realized the family had made a tradition out of it because she had only done it because her serving plate was too short for the whole loaf. This is what it’s like sometimes when we keep doing the things our parents did without thinking about it.
It’s hard to know ourselves when we were told how to act and what to like and how to be. How can we let go of the prejudices and abuses of the last generations so we can have a freer start in our own lives? It starts with a deconstruction of what we were told. One way of finding our true selves is to clear the table of all of the old patterns we were forced to submit to during our time with narcissistic people. Even in healthy families children grow up and discard their parents habits and grudges because they don’t fit, but it’s hard to know what doesn’t fit unless we know ourselves first.
If you grew up in a home or church that taught you that it’s selfish to take care of yourself, you might feel a little guilty when it comes to self-growth and care, but this is how we thrive. Many Christians were taught to give whatever they had to others–even before taking care of their own needs. So here are five ways to promote healing from narcissistic abuse.
1. Practice Mindfulness
Many of us who have dealt with pain and trauma in the past have learned to numb out on food or shopping or sex (or insert your favorite guilty pleasure here). It’s hard to be present to the people and environment around us when we are absorbed in a show or cramming our stomach with peanut butter cups. There is nothing wrong with a treat or a good show, but often we think this is what life is about because it’s too painful to go outside and live our lives in the real world. Donald Miller once said when we die, we will realize our lives are about loving people and we spent way too much time watching TV.
To practice mindfulness is to become present to our bodies and life as it is happening around us. Did we already eat a 450 calorie dessert for lunch? Then maybe we can skip dessert for supper and go for a walk instead. Or perhaps your spouse keep asking when you can go to a movie or hike or to dinner with them, but you feel compelled to work late every night.
Mindfulness teaches us to become more aware of not only our own bodies, but of our relationship to the earth and the other people on it. When we are awake and aware, we can better nurture ourselves so we can share with others out of our abundance of time, energy and other resources. Without mindfulness, we can become compulsive in our habits and lose track of the things and people that really matter to us.
2. Create Hygge
The Danish word Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is hard to translate into other languages, but it is about embracing a sort of coziness and homespun comforts that call you home on a cold winter’s night. It usually requires fairy lights and a warm mug of your favorite drink in your hands, but it’s also as simple as homemade oatmeal with all your favorite toppings.
Hygge requires a sense of mindfulness with yourself and others. It’s been said you can try hygge alone with your dog, but it’s always better shared with the people you love. Hygge requires planning ahead to make things special. There are cookbooks filled with hygge comfort foods and interior design books to help you create a hygge ambiance for your home or next dinner party.
Even though hygge seems like a warm shelter from the cold, it can also be a whimsical or soft, comforting place to fall year round. It reminds me of a gem of a book I read once called Living a Charmed Life by Victoria Moran. We don’t accidentally fall into a good life, we choose to make one and in the process we can undo some of the damage done by the narcissist.
3. Know Yourself Better
Gaslighting and scapegoating erode our sense of self. If you grew up with a narcissistic parent–especially one who used you as their mirror, it might be hard to figure out where they end and you begin. Some of us never got to know ourselves because we were busy being whatever we were told to be. This adds another layer of spiritual abuse to the physical and emotional attacks many of us have suffered.
The only way to survive such chaos is to know yourself. It can be a wonderful experience to discover who God has created us to be. In a universe where every planet and flower are distinct, it’s important to remember we too, are each one-of-a-kind in the universe and unique. Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram can help us know ourselves better.
The Enneagram is my personal favorite. It’s said to be an ancient personality profile that has been utilized in almost every corner of society from the business world to relationship counseling to spiritual practices. So how can this one little test actually improve all these areas of your life? For starters, It’s more than one little test. Taking the test is just the beginning. It’s not like a social media personality quiz where you feel self-confirmed because it has you pegged into a box. Discovering your number on the Enneagram is a tool to help you modify yourself and your relationships to live a better life.
The value of the Enneagram is that it’s a tool for greater understanding of yourself and others. The Enneagram offers you examples of what your personality might behave like as you react to the world around you in healthy and unhealthy ways. This self-awareness not only improves relationships, but it gives you more power in your own life. It allows you to see yourself in new ways and with new vision comes healthier changes.
Another result of understanding the Enneagram is it increases our empathy for people who are not like us, while helping us to maintain the balance of our own self-care. When we understand how the nine personality profiles interact with each other, we begin to see things from other people’s points of view. Instead of thinking of our partners or family members as rebels and villains, we can recognize where they are coming from. This is turn saves relationships–especially when politics and religion collide. If you understand why someone craves security or has to have fun or requires peace at all costs, you can find better ways to communicate with them and in turn if they understand your profile, they might do the same for you.
4. Embrace Wabi-Sabi
The Japanese art of wabi-sabi is a way to embrace the imperfections in life. It teaches us to appreciate the the beauty in the weathered barns of our world with respect. Wabi-sabi is appreciating antique furniture and loving the scratches and imperfections too. It is to see broken things mended in love and, like the Skin Horse in the Velveteen Rabbit, they are cherished all the more for their scars. Wabi-sabi reminds us that there is a value to endurance. As survivors we too, have endured. Every time we incorporate an old quilt or worn wooden bowl into our home décor, we are reminding ourselves that imperfections and age are valuable.
5. Know You Are the Beloved
While we have discussed knowing ourselves better, there is always someone will label us as selfish. When we practice mindfulness, someone is sure to think we are wasting our time. When we study the Enneagram, ignorant people will imagine some conspiracy theory or call us self-absorbed, when in fact those who study are often better able to love and understand others.
There will be people who discount hygge and wabi-sabi as fads despite their aged history in the countries they originated from. The bottom line is the way we choose to live our lives is between each of us and God, but God wants us to thrive. We are no longer the child of a narcissist–we are “the beloved.” The treasure and apple of God’s eye.
The hardest step for those who have been spiritually abused it to trust God after all that has happened. It’s hard to find a foothold in trust when you are threatened with God killing you, but I don’t think God threatens us. The Bible says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Surely not the critic, or the bully or even the narcissist.
Jesus says the first commandment is to “Love God with all your heart.” In order to love God we each have to know our own heart—otherwise how would we love God? And what would we love God with? What offering can we bring? It can’t be the offering of victimhood or compliance to someone else’s whims, it can only come from our own hearts.
And the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Ah, but did you see that hidden commandment in there? “Not more than yourself, but As yourself.
Maya Angelou once said, “I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: ‘Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
We can’t trust people who didn’t love themselves, because if they’re not in tune with their own needs, how can they possibly care for others? Knowing ourselves and knowing God, work hand in hand to bring us to a more awakened state where we can better serve each other.
Many Christians hand out rules and judgments to others because they forget that they too, are the beloved. We are all the beloved. I am the beloved of God and you are the beloved of God. Even if you don’t know or trust God, you are still beloved and you are being wooed and calmed and God will use hygee and wabi-sabi and personality tests and mindfulness to draw you deeper into who you are and who God is because God wants you to heal and know you are safe–and most of all to know that you are the beloved and the apple of God’s eye.
I will share a quote by the late Henri Nouwen who wrote a lot about each of us being the beloved:
“I have this image that God has been saying from all eternity, ‘You are my beloved’. From all eternity, before we were born, we existed in the mind of God. God loved us before our fathers and mothers loved us. This whole issue is important, because in the world, my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, and my teachers all love me, but they also wound me. No human being can only love us, they always wound us. We are wounded mostly by those who love us. We are wounded by the suffering of people in Somalia, but I am wounded by my mother who didn’t love me well enough, or by my father who was so authoritarian, or by my teacher, or by my church.
“The people who love me are always the ones who hurt me because they also have needs. God’s love is a love that isn’t wounding because it’s eternal. God loves me from all eternity to all eternity. Life, this little bit of life — thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty years, is not very long. It’s just one little chance for us to say ‘Yes’ to them, ‘We love you too’. That’s what life is about, and that chance to say ‘Yes’ is what time is about. Kairos, not chronos; kairos, the other Greek word for time, means opportunity to change your heart.”
Isn’t this beautiful truth? That God has called us his beloved! That God loves us more than our parents. That God wants us to know ourselves so we can better love ourselves and others. I’ll be honest this is still taking time for me to realize too, but this heart of a God who calls us “beloved,” is where we find our peace and freedom.