This isn’t going to be one of those easy-to-read blog posts. Honestly, most of my writing is difficult to read. But today I am going to focus on our selfishness. It is easy to talk about the selfishness of others, but I would not be doing my job if I did not encourage you to take responsibility for your behavior. Most of the time, we are taught there are victims and perpetrators. There are co-dependents and narcissists. But in reality, it doesn’t work like that. Nothing is black and white, even if our inner parts want us to believe it is.
I share many articles on my Facebook page about narcissists and how they treat others. I do this because I want to raise awareness about relational trauma and how it plays out. I don’t share it because I like labels. As a matter of a fact, I hate labels. Defining ourselves based on societal labels is dangerous. Once we accept them, it can be incredibly painful to let them go. And they are rarely true anyway.
I used to subscribe to the belief that I was a victim and a codependent. I was attached to the notion that I was a giver who was always taken advantage of by selfish people. It certainly made sense in childhood. When I was a child, this was clearly the scenario. But in adulthood, it wasn’t true. I remember when I came to understand things differently. Not surprisingly, it was in my therapist’s office. I was explaining a particular situation in my marriage. I was touting my efforts to give my husband whatever he wanted and complaining about how he was never happy about it. She said something that might have seemed fairly innocuous in other circumstances, but it rocked my world
“It sounds like your motivation was to get your needs met.”
I have to admit, in that moment, I was angry. How dare she insinuate that I was manipulating this relationship for the purposes of meeting my needs? How dare she suggest such a thing? But after several days of writhing in pain over this new version of my reality, I had to admit she was right. I spent my adult life operating from one major need. I didn’t want to be abandoned. And every ounce of my relational behavior was based on meeting that need. I would create “unleavable” scenario after “unleavable” scenario. And inevitably they would all leave.
I tried everything. I made sure I was a substantial breadwinner. The less money the other made, the better. I wanted them to need me and my money. I made sure I was as perfect (on the outside) as I could be. I covered up all of my mistakes and blamed anything that went wrong on the other (using well-honed manipulative skills). I married people I had no business marrying. I had babies with people I had no business having babies with. (Let me be clear, I LOVE my babies.) I pushed myself to reach levels of perfection which are not even close to possible while in human form. But they always left.
Don’t get me wrong, I was taken advantage of by others. This behavior attracts people who are not healthy. They sat on the couch all day while I worked to make the money. They allowed me to take care of the children, clean the house, do the yard work while working full time. Hey, I was willing to do it in the name of perfection. I was willing to exhaust myself to avoid yet another abandonment. Why not? I taught them that they could be lazy and useless in relationship with me. But I also taught them they were lazy and useless. Let’s face it. Who in the world would stay in a relationship where they felt lazy and useless? I wouldn’t.
So I have come to understand narcissism in a different way. There is not one definition. There are a hundred ways to be narcissistic. But one thing is certain. Our selfish behaviors (even those disguised as selfless) are designed to meet our unmet needs. Every single person on this planet is trying to have their childhood needs met. And there is a huge problem with that. It isn’t possible. Nobody in our adult life is going to meet our childhood needs. Sure, maybe our original abusers could suddenly become enlightened and crawl back begging our forgiveness. It could happen. But I’m not holding my breath.
Does this mean every relationship after trauma is doomed to failure? No. I wouldn’t write this blog if I thought that. I don’t like doomsday writing. We must have a sliver of hope to do this work. And that sliver of hope comes with awareness. We must buck up and admit the cold, hard facts. No matter how selfless and giving we believe ourselves to be, there is an ulterior motive. And when we can uncover those needs from our inner parts by building a relationship with them, we can stop asking for others to do the impossible. We can meet our own needs. How empowering is that?
In my own life, I have spent several years working with my sweet inner child who was convinced that perfection was the only chance for someone to love her. I have taught her abandonment and loss are no longer a life or death situation. I have worked to teach her that we are much better off being our true self because we don’t NEED anyone else. And my relationships are starting to show signs of my work. I am thrilled with the progress I have made.
And it comes in the nick of time because I was tired. I was tired of feeling like I needed to serve others for them to love me back. I was tired of the threat of abandonment hovering over me all the time. I was tired of wearing a mask to make the world happy with me. And I was tired of the abandonment when it all failed. I don’t have to live that way anymore. None of us have to live that way anymore.