Enjoy this guest post by Transformation Goddess, Reba Linker…
I’ve been working on re-writing my spiritual autobiography as part of my own healing, as part of my forthcoming book, Happiness is a Habit, and as part of what I offer as a coach. (No mountaintop guru here. I lead from the trenches – my journey of self-discovery and self-love is my life’s quest, and I only offer to others that which I have experienced firsthand.)
I understand and embrace the concept of ‘stories’: everything is ‘stories.’ We choose happy ones or sad ones, life-affirming ones or life-denying ones. I get that. Our stories create our lives.
But suddenly, the concept hit home in a pin-pointedly personal way.
I have struggled all my life with feeling somehow out of sync. My childhood home life was difficult, but, odder still, I felt alienated from my own feelings; like being tossed in an ocean wave, I seemed to have lost all sense of which way was up. I ascribed this to the insistence upon pretense, and the demand to suppress genuine emotion – especially pain and sorrow – that was required of me as a child.
This emotion stuffing experience was – as too many have experienced – very painful.
I needed to know: what had happened to me, really? There was no physical abuse. Everyone thought my parents were cool. So what had happened? Why was I in so much pain? Why was life so difficult? What exactly was the ‘crime’ that had been committed? Suddenly, the light bulb flashed on. My story had been robbed!
My parents were both narcissistic, each in their own way. I had heard narcissists described as ‘self-involved.’ Granted, living with someone self-involved can be lonely, frustrating and difficult. But, it seems to me, narcissism was much more aggressive than that description implied.
I realized: narcissists are story snatchers! What was so electrifying about my insight is it depicts the action of what the narcissist does, and this insight gave me the clearest answer so far to my question: what happened to me?
While a self-involved parent might not give a child the time and attention she needs, a story snatcher impacts and impinges on the child’s space. The child’s very selfhood gets usurped and redirected towards the narcissist. Those around narcissists exist only as secondary players in their drama. The roles they offer their offspring – failure or golden child – are less than fully individuated. Both must give up their authentic experience and instead ‘perform’ the parent’s script in order to try to ‘win’ the parent’s love.
As the child grows, she becomes an unwitting accomplice in her own disempowerment by continuing – as she was taught – to place inappropriate emphasis upon the drama of the parent: looking to the parent for approval, embracing or rebelling against the parent’s definition of her as failure or success, focusing upon her parent in therapy, forgiving them or blaming them, etc., etc. She will squeeze her experience to fit into the parent’s script for her, comfortably or not, for as long as she lives – unless she reclaims ownership of her story.
Beyond blame, beyond forgiveness, my past is mine, not theirs; my story is mine, not theirs. In this way I take back my power.
There are several techniques that can help us reclaim our stories. One of the most satisfying results is feeling one’s own power return, after a lifetime of giving one’s power away. Another deeply satisfying result is to newly understand (understand with the gut, not the mind) one’s own being as the central character in one’s drama.
While a narcissistic parent may position a child in a secondary role in his or her drama, and may siphon off the nourishment the child needs in order to develop her sense of self, we can re-write our spiritual auto-biographies and firmly place that same parent in a supporting role in our own personal story. I admit that I love this outcome, and I particularly adore the words ‘puts the parent in a supporting role,’ which is what parents should be in the first place. This is a vitally healthy repair of a torn social contract.
Without our story, life is but a play of shadows, inauthentic and unsatisfying. Narcissists are story-snatchers, and this is what makes living with them so devastating. It is a secret crime. No one outside the relationship will ever know or believe that a crime has taken place, but it has, at the deepest level. It is a crime that jails the victim, placing her within the confines of a narrative that does not fit her authentic self.
For our stories are about as close as we can get to the core of who we are. The story is NOT the self – there is another layer even beneath the stories – yet it is the closest thing to ourselves, closer than our skin, closer than any experience we could have.
Reclaiming ownership of our stories is like stepping out of the shadows and into the sunlight. Everything makes sense in a new way. Perhaps the most beautiful result of all is that the hurt and struggle of the past can be transmuted into a source of power, freedom and pride. Suddenly, what had been a pool of despair and bewilderment can become a source of beauty and purpose.
Now, on the ‘other side’ of this journey, I feel true gratitude for all the experiences that make me, me – harsh though they were, and as ongoing as the process of healing will be. The pain of living without my authentic story taught me its worth. As only a prisoner can know the value of freedom, I know the value of selfhood – a gift beyond measure. Each of us, in ways big and small, must reclaim our authentic story.
And on the flip side, we can all ask ourselves, even without being a full-fledged narcissist, am I story-snatching? When I judge someone, does my version of who they are take something from them? Am I re-writing their story, and, if I am, am I casting it in a positive or negative light? My beloved teacher, Shanta, always said: “Never judge, neither good, nor bad.” Perhaps this idea of story-snatching illuminates the inner reasoning behind Shanta’s words: to judge – positively or negatively – is, in some way, to lay claim to and perhaps even usurp someone else’s story.
The gifts of my aha moment continue to ripple outward. And I am truly grateful to finally make sense of the questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What happened to me?’
Adopting someone else’s version of the truth is like threading your way through a dark, unfriendly forest: no landmark is secure, no tree looks fully familiar, even the earth does not feel wholly stable. All is made strange by looking at life through the narcissist’s lens.
We can learn to peel off the strange lens that warped our view of our selves and our lives. Reclaiming our experience and taking back ownership of our stories offers a way out of the forest and into the sunlight, where all the landmarks feel true, the trees look benevolently familiar, and the ground we walk on feels, maybe for the first time, real.
Reba Linker is a coach and author specializing in inspirational books for women. In her books and coaching, Reba leads by example, writing from the trenches, sharing with clients her life lessons in healing from trauma, fulfilling your highest potential, and creating your best and happiest life. Reba is passionate about sharing her story and helping others discover their truth through inspirational writing, coaching, classes and workshops. Her gift to you is her free book, The Little Book of Manifesting BIG!, available at RebaLinker.com