Walking Away from Narcissism

May those that love us, love us.
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts,
If He can’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles
So we’ll know them by their limping.
-An Old Irish Curse

Many of us started on this journey of understanding narcissism when we noticed something wrong in our family.  For some it was family secrets covered up by lies or the scapegoating of another family member. Others suffered anxiety and PTSD and wondered why we always felt alone until a therapist pointed out the physical and emotional beatings and control. Whatever it was, one day we woke up and knew it was time to walk away.

Ursula Le Guin wrote a description about the first day of summer in Omelas, “a shimmering city of unbelievable happiness and beauty where children race on horseback and everything seems to be a delight every day.” This utopian land has no kings, soldiers, priests, or slaves, but there is one dirty little secret– hidden away in a dark basement lives a child whose happiness and well-being are sacrificed for the good of all the rest.

By the time the citizens grow old enough to realize this atrocity, many are shocked or sickened, but eventually they turn a blind eye because for them and the rest of Omelas, the end justifies the means.

This reminds me of a saying from another work of fiction–The Handmaid’s Tale:

Better, never means better for everyone.
It always means worse for some.
-Margaret Atwood

Some people believe as long as they stay on the inside of the dysfunctional circle, they’ll be safe. While those who stay in Omelas rely on the scapegoat for their happiness, they really aren’t any safer than the scapegoat–they just imagine they are. In their quest to stay secure, some flying monkeys might even go out of their way to separate themselves from the scapegoat and in the process become abusers themselves.

The so-called fair city of Omelas could easily represent Religious Narcia or the narcissistic family because both rely on scapegoating to maintain the hierarchy of abuse. It’s only a matter of time before the Narcissist picks the next scapegoat. Thus most churches and families see a progression of scapegoats over time with several members playing the roles.

You know it’s a sad situation in a society or group when what unites them is their hate for another. The good news is not everyone enjoys this evil behavior. Occasionally there is a rare individual of good character who feels sick when they look in the mirror and remember how the person they’ve all just trashed is a sibling or friend who actually loves them and has only wished them well.

It wasn’t easy to walk. We didn’t leave because we didn’t love those we left behind, we left because we finally realized it was impossible to change anyone else, so we left to change ourselves.

One of the surest ways to become a scapegoat is to walk away. In the walking, we were shamed, attacked and lied about because we not only began to see the truth, but we began to speak the truth and no one else wanted to hear it.

Much like the king in the Little Prince who can’t force anyone to stay, but wishes to have the illusion of control, the narcissist commands us to go. He/She does this through verbal abuse, lies and gossip. And often religion is used as a weapon. We are accused of breaking up a family or not showing honor to our abusers when they have failed to dishonor to God himself.

Even Jesus warned us about this:

Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?
No, I tell you, but division.

From now on there will be five in one family
divided against each other,
three against two and two against three.

They will be divided,
father against son and son against father,
mother against daughter and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and
daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. 

So where are you? Are you enjoying the family festival at the expense of someone else? Are you the scapegoat locked away and feeling powerless? Or are you one of the rare breed of people who sense injustice and at the expense of personal loss become willing to walk away?

“The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

Perhaps Le Guin didn’t give us enough of the story. I believe there is more. I think we are not only walking away from narcissism, but we are walking toward something much better. Something brighter than Omelas, because there has to be more than this. I’d like to explore this in the future, but for today, whether you walked away years ago, are contemplating walking away or even afraid to walk away,  you are not alone. There will be guides and friends along the journey so keep your eyes wide open.

Here’s to those willing to walk away.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried

But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
-Mary Oliver