Conversation is creepy. Sharing is scary. Transparency is terrifying. Intimacy’s nearly impossible. That’s the problem with attempting the dance called “having a relationship” after narcissistic abuse.

The Conundrum

Who doesn’t want close relationships? Who doesn’t want friends? Who doesn’t want a non-narcissistic romantic partner.

We all do!

But after years of narcissistic abuse, it’s both our dearest dream and worst nightmare.

We want to be close, but it scares us shitless.

We want to open up and share, but it’s not safe.

We want to share our pain, but we don’t want to make anyone else sad.

It really is an untenable position, attempting intimacy after narcissistic abuse. We want it more than anything, but it scares us more than anything.

We crave intimacy, but don’t know how to have it. So we play the only role we know how to play. The smiley, quiet, catatonic mouse-in-the-corner. In our own home. With our spouse. With our children. Even with our dogs.

It’s a role we perfected with the narcissist. It became second nature to such an extent we don’t even have to think about it. Just put on the record, put the needle in the groove and it runs on auto-pilot.

The “act” was safe. Oh, it didn’t completely keep us from being yelled at, shamed and verbally abused by the narcissists. But it helped. And we can’t stop now. It’s the only way of acting that we know. We don’t exist outside of it. It’s our faux personality.

Regardless of how we feel, we plaster on the fake smile. We wear it when we’re struggling with depression. We wear it when we’ve been wounded. We wear it when we’re mad. We even wear it when we’re alone. It becomes such a habit, that sickly sweet smile.

And we keep our mouths shut. The ol’ cliche, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is our mantra. We can codependently spin any situation to find the good. We always look on the bright side, stand on our heads to see the glass as half full and see the good in everything and everyone.

Even when bad things happen, we keep our mouths shut. We smile. We do our crying in the bathroom or the shower and say, “I’m fine!” in our cheeriest tones when our family asks, “Are you okay?”

They know we’re lying.

Just when we think we’re doing so well..crash! Something triggers us. Maybe we feel taken advantage of. Maybe we feel not heard.

Suddenly, we find ourselves screaming at the top of our lungs. We didn’t plan it. Didn’t intend to. Didn’t make a conscious choice. It…just…happened.

And, suddenly, all the pain comes pouring out. That “diss” you thought you’d gotten over. A stranger shaming you for who-knows-what. A friendship slipping away. The time your spouse shoved his foot down his esophagus. The payment the phone company refuses to acknowledge receiving.

A hundred-and-one small hurts, angers and frustrations. We thought we were okay. We brushed them under the carpet. We rose above them. After all, we smiled through it all.

But apparently, they did hurt. They did rankle.

As it all comes rushing out in a torrent of bitter words and sobs, we’re aware of that feeling we’ve been craving: intimacy. We’re being intimate. But it’s still scary.

How can we possibly tell our spouse that his or her foot-in-mouth syndrome hurts us? When we broached this situation with the narcissist we used to know, they tore us a new one.

How can we admit how much that strangers’ shaming wounded us? The narcissist would’ve told us to grow a backbone and the eloquent, vicious reply they would’ve said.

How can we show our pain at losing a dear friend? The narcissist would’ve told us to “screw ’em” and get out there to make new friends.

I guess that’s why narcissists are legendary for lacking empathy.

When narcissism and narcissists are all you’ve ever known, it doesn’t occur that not everyone behaves like them. That’s the main reason we’re terrified of the intimacy we also crave.

We just can’t believe that it might be safe to share our innermost feelings with a non-narcissist. We can’t believe we won’t be shamed. We can’t believe we won’t be lectured. We can’t believe we won’t be dismissed, put down, condescended to or, even worse, codependently rescued.

And we can’t believe that it’s okay to grieve, to be sad, to have negative emotions. Apparently, narcissists like to be surrounded by happy people they can then sadistically make miserable, then shame for being miserable.

Perhaps, like an arachnophobe conquering his fear of spiders by daring to pet a tarantula, we too need to gather our courage and dare to do what scares us.

Dare to verbalize the pain of being shamed and see how it goes. Are we validated? Listened to? Comforted?

Well, that went okay.

So let’s try talking about that lost friendship. Hm, that went okay to.

Maybe, just maybe, it is safe to share. It is safe to be sad. It is safe to cry. It’s even safe to be mad!

If we keep current with our emotions, if don’t bottle them all up, we can enjoy that intimacy we crave. And the dance of life will be so much sweeter than anything we’ve ever experienced before.

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