I’m still deep in mourning…again. Only, it’s not over the death of a loved one.
I’m mourning the loss of yet another illusion of a longtime friendship with someone who supposedly loved me and wanted the best for me. In hindsight, I’m not sure I believe that was ever the case. This was not just anyone, but someone I have considered “family” for a long time, who let me know that sentiment was not mutual in no uncertain terms, despite claiming otherwise for years. Since the “final straw” incident, I have come to the harsh realization through dissecting and reflecting on the entirety of our relationship, that I have been confusing this person’s now evident disdain for me with love, because that’s what I was taught love is supposed to feel like. Now I know better.
This person masquerades as caring and optimistic, yet is quite critical and judgmental in actuality. There have been plenty of times throughout our decades-long friendship when their judgments have made me uneasy, but I was conditioned to believe being overly critical and judgmental were “normal” and that I was somehow “abnormal” for having a natural reaction to the toxicity it created around me. Those who are truly caring, positive, and optimistic are not critical and judgmental, nor do they invalidate other people’s feelings and experiences, because they are more interested in building others up than tearing them down. On the other hand, negative and toxic people must tear others down to build themselves up.
This is yet another person in my life who never genuinely knew me, and has refused to get to know me, because the real me doesn’t fit their narrative. They insist on telling me (and others) who I am. I suppose I’m guilty of the same in one way, though, as I kept buying their front when the truth was glaringly obvious. There is no need to “talk it out” with them, because they told me I was “overreacting” and to “lighten up” the last time I tried to express my feelings. I can’t allow my emotions to be mocked, minimized, or invalidated by this person again. The last time was the last time I will walk into that trap. From now on, I will protect my heart.
I’m angry. Not with them, but with myself for being so willfully blind to reality for so long. Looking back on the overall relationship, I now recognize all the same patterns I’ve excused and ignored for years, and this is just another person who seems to get a kick out of my inner turmoil… Yet another “friend” who has been using me to feel better about their own life for a very long time. I can’t express how much it hurts every time I realize someone has never cared for me the way I have cared for them. And it just keeps happening.
It’s been nearly two weeks since I authored the first post that was inspired by this agonizing reawakening. This one has been almost as devastating to accept as the death of my marriage was. Almost. I even had to take a mini-break from Facebook, because I couldn’t stand watching the facade crumble before my eyes, while everyone else is still lapping up the lies. I couldn’t take knowing what I know, but watching everything go on as usual. (Truth be told, if it weren’t for work and support groups, I’d take a permanent vacation from Facebook.)
I finally took an honest look at the whole relationship with fresh, educated eyes, and I cannot ignore the red flags any longer. (I’ve been doing that my entire life, and look where it’s gotten me.) I won’t be placing people who continue to inflict harm on me ahead of my own needs anymore. It doesn’t matter who they are, what our “relationship” is, how difficult their lives have been, or how long we’ve known each other. I’m no martyr.
There is legitimately only one person left from my past who has the power to wreck me like this, so there’s that bright side I’m always looking for, I suppose! Maybe soon I’ll be “unwreckable,” but only because there won’t be anyone left that I care enough about to trust? If I literally trust no one, I can’t be hurt anymore. Right? (Don’t worry. I’m only slightly serious.)
When you grow up with a narcissistic (or otherwise toxic and abusive) family dynamic, you are conditioned to distrust your own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. If you have even one parent who persistently engaged in gaslighting, you likely knew you couldn’t trust them either, which makes it impossible to trust anyone else. If your other parent was also an abuser or an enabler, where did that leave you? If you can’t trust yourself or your own parents, who can you trust? How do you even know what trust and honesty look like?
To contribute to the trust issues, growing up under the influence of prolonged familial toxicity leaves you vulnerable to further victimization throughout your life by other abusers. Unfortunately, narcissists and other abusive people are excellent at finding targets to victimize. They look for specific characteristics to exploit, like kindness, compassion, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, and generosity. People who possess these traits are likely to project them on to others, as well as be more prone to look for the best in everyone, and narcissists use this to their advantage. This, coupled with a history of abuse, makes for a perfect target. If you’ve already been groomed, it takes much less time and effort to convince you that you’re the problem. Besides, they can play the hero or healer to you…at first. But I digress. (This could be the potential start to another kind of post altogether.)
I think what I need most right now is a hard reset. I need to learn to actually trust myself before I can even think about trusting anyone else, including those from my past. (I’m finding I have a great deal more work to do in that respect.) If I have no faith in my perception, how will I know when someone is displaying signs of dishonesty, for instance? If I can’t trust my own instincts, how will I know if something about a person or a situation “feels” wrong? If I can’t trust what I feel, how can I keep myself safe? At this particular moment, my solution is to exercise extreme caution with everyone and trust no one. I know that’s not completely healthy, but it may be safest…at least for now. Once I’ve done enough healing to have confidence in myself, I will be able to trust my perceptions of other people. What’s more, I will begin to attract and be drawn to healthier, more positive people who will be worthy of my trust.
To read about how I decide when to go “no contact” with someone, check out my previous post.
To learn about gaslighting on a societal scale, please see my most recent HuffPost piece.