I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
Why does narcissistic abuse hurt so much? At the heart of narcissism is a devaluing of humanity. These phrases from the song, This is Me* could easily be words from a narcissistic family who treats a survivor as their scapegoat.
Our first social task in life is to understand who we are in relation to other people, but how many survivors of narcissistic abuse feel comfortable in their own skin? How hard is it to say “I am beautiful,” when our family of origin calls us bad? The loss of realizing our own beauty and intrinsic worth comes from listening to lies.
No matter how old or young, no matter what color your skin or orientation, no matter how much money you make, no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, you are a miracle. You have a great capacity to love and be loved–but you won’t hear this from the narcissist.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Nowhere is this truer than when you’re dealing with a narcissist. Trying to get love and validation from a narcissist is like trying to get your favorite takeout from a Coke machine. It’s not possible. You can bang all you want and you can empty your wallet into the machine, but what you want is just not there. knowing this doesn’t change the value of the food you crave, but you’ll need to go somewhere else to get it.
The narcissist tries to isolate you from everyone you know by lying and destroying your relationships because he wants you to feel unworthy of love. In her amazing memoir Educated, Tara Westover describes what it’s like to be scapegoated:
There was little hope of overpowering the history
my father and sister were creating for me.
Their account would claim my brothers first,
then it would spread to my aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole valley.
I had lost an entire kinship, and for what?
The narcissist and flying monkeys turn the person they scapegoat into a caricature where they focus on any faults this person has and villainize them in their imagination by evil surmising and imagining the worst. The general message given by every narcissist and their flying monkeys to the scapegoat is, “We have decided that you’re not worthy of love and belonging so we’ve voted you out of the family.”
Because the narcissist can’t face the truth about himself, he usually projects his own issues onto the scapegoat. This is what a scapegoat was in Bible times—an innocent goat who paid for the sins of the entire camp by being shut out of society and sent out into the wilderness to die alone. Regardless of what the narcissist says and does, remember you are not a goat and you do not live in Bible times. You are a human being who bears the image of God.
The hardest part about healing from narcissistic abuse is to make the transition from seeing ourselves as our abusers treat us, to viewing ourselves as God sees us. If your father called you a tramp for wearing makeup or wearing short skirts or your mother called you a klutz, even when your logical mind disagrees, your emotional center might still believe it, this is why we must find new tapes to put into the mix which in time might erase the old ones. And while it might seem like cheating to have people stand in for God, I think sometimes that is what God wants us to do.
When your family of origin is incapable of appreciating you, it’s time to find a new family. I realize this might seem scary and awkward when you aren’t sure who to trust, but many survivors of narcissistic abuse have adopted moms and dads and brothers and sisters who have given them a new start in life. It’s not like you should shop for family on Craigslist though; I would recommend taking it slow and looking at the people already in your life to see who’s been showing up. And if you are still quite young and haven’t built up a group of trustworthy friends, don’t let yourself get discouraged, you’ve got lots of time.
You don’t have to ask people to fill in for your family. Just allow the relationship grow naturally. It’s not about the title as much as the relationship. An older couple in our church once reached out to my husband and I a few years ago and I have to admit I never saw it coming. Sam was a kind man who when I spoke, listened to what I had to say. He treated me like I had as much value as any man at the table. There was nothing sexual in our relationship. I was the same age as a daughter he had who died and I think this made him gravitate to me. I wasn’t looking for a father figure at the time. But now as I look back on it, that is what he offered. And this broken part of me that felt invalidated by my own father was filled by this man who took time to care.
A few years ago when my family went through the great divorce, my friend, Mary Lou from church stopped by and out of that discussion we discovered we had a wonderful friendship. We had known each other before, but somehow through her husband’s death and my family scapegoating me, we found a way to help each other and on a day with Mary Lou, I forgot I was missing my family. Mary Lou became an extra mother to me. Right before she died of cancer, she told me that she would have been proud to call me her daughter.
My friend Lisa has been more of a sister to me for the last ten years than either of my blood sisters. She is always in my corner. She cares about what is going on in my life and she doesn’t have the complication of trading any sort of family loyalties to be friends with me. She’s a true sister in every sense of the word and I don’t think anyone could come closer, but I have other chosen sisters who are in various stages of family depending on how long we have known each other.
What happened with these three wonderful people is I am able to remember them when I feel lonely for my family of origin. When my sisters trashed me on public media, I was able to recognize they weren’t even using their own words because my husband said, “Wait a minute, these are words your parents use.” And Lisa backed him up.
When I miss my sisters and wish I could have a sister-sister chat, I call Lisa and I don’t feel alone anymore. When I wish I had a loving father who cared about me, I remember Sam who treated me like I was of value whether I gave back to him or not. When I miss my mom, I have the memories of my friend Mary Lou, who was never critical or judgmental and went out of her way to befriend me.
These three people and many others have filled out my life and when it comes to surviving narcissistic tribal warfare. I don’t look back at my family of origin–not because I don’t love my parents or sisters, but they would have to contribute to the relationship which most of them haven’t done much for nearly ten years. I could die waiting for those relationships to happen, so I’ve found others. Even though Mary Lou and Sam have both passed on, they live in my heart. The validation they gave me changed my life forever.
I hope my sharing these stories will help you realize there is life after narcissistic abuse. You are beautiful and someday you will know it, but you won’t discover this by hanging out with narcissistic people or flying monkeys. You’ll need to keep your eye out for quality people who you have a connection with–people who will allow you to be your true, authentic, beautiful and glorious self.
Friends are the family we choose.
*This Is Me lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek