My feltings to illustrate an accompanying resource for a life-changing course
Two years ago, in a very dark place, I started a course, after weeks of researching and reading many books and articles and ultimately finding out more about Narcissism, and not the everyday ‘oh they love themselves’ breezy definition but full-blown NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), an illness which has shattering effects on others - it is insidious, destructive, suffocating, controlling and manipulative. Throughout my research, things started to fit together, so much resonated with my own experiences - then I came across these articles and videos… and soon after, I signed up to ‘The No to Narcissist Programme for HSPs’. This was not a course which focused on the Narcissist, a blessed relief after so many years, or which looked at ‘blaming’, but on liberating myself from a lifetime of (mostly) unconscious patterns and in understanding how these entrenched patterns of my own behaviour meant - and there was struggle with this at first - I had to recognise my own responsibility in the types of personal relationship I’d had as an adult. Most importantly, with growing knowledge and understanding, things slotted into place, made sense; I woke up and felt the strength I had, in that I had the capacity to change this, and so started the intense inner work and stopped participating in the nightmarish ‘key and lock’ dance. Rather than trying to heal/ sacrifice yourself to the Narcissist (impossible black hole) you can heal yourself.
Patterns of codependency, in the form of wanting to please, fix, help, care for, show infinite compassion for, along with having a gentle and sensitive nature, can attract/draw us towards those intensely needy of attention and care, to those who lack empathy, who can never get enough, who are takers, ‘you’ are never enough, to those who can be demanding, controlling, easily enraged, with a sense of entitlement... Over years, for the codependent, this leads to a debilitating lack of self-compassion, self-respect, self-care, feelings of inadequacy, never being ‘good enough’ and feeling completely disassociated from who you are – even your emotions are not your own; you are, in effect, written by the other and then erased, repeatedly. ‘Love’ is utterly conditional on pleasing them.
The patterns reach back to childhood and a subtle, often unconscious 'training' by the parent. A certain level of influence happens with all parenting to some extent, of course, but with a narcissistic parent who allows for no boundaries between them and you (you are, in their world, an extension of themselves, a little like an ‘object’ they own) it can take such a damaging/all-embracing form that patterns can be set up for a life-time. Many who have grown up with this will go on to have relationships with narcissists, who have similar behavioural traits to the parent, thereby continuing the abusive dynamic with which they are so familiar.
This often means the caring, giving partner easily dismisses the abuse (oh, they’re wonderful really, they don’t mean it, if only you really knew them like I do, it’s my job to ensure they are happy, it was my fault, they need me’ etc etc) taking on board and internalising, over and over again, the subtle insults (which grow less and less subtle over time), the dishonestly, hurtfulness, blatant lying, rage attacks, shaming, blaming, dumping of their own black crap onto you, violence, tantrums, gas-lighting, disrespect of any boundaries, projection and telling you ‘you’re ill’, stonewalling, use of ‘double-binds’ (conflicting messages creating a ‘no win’ situation, causing confusion and anxiety), using children as emotional pawns and crutches, claiming their alcoholism, addictions, issues, their rage etc etc as ‘Your’ fault…and ‘Can’t you Fucking SEE that!!!!??’ and this can lead to the response, ‘Oh I’m so sorry that I’ve upset you, I’ll make amends… I know you love me really... you do...don’t you?’, on the floor, desperately searching for crumbs of affection.
Quite often the ‘charm’ – a manipulative tool – and show of adoration in the beginning sweeps you off your feet and is as false as the tears they shed when they sob ‘no-one understands me’ which makes you feel empathy and sympathise… and keeps you stuck….and so the dance continues… Others wonder why you don’t leave, change, but you are blinded by this limited lens, cut off, manipulated so well in this painful drama, which often isn’t seen on the outside by others, and is so hard to explain.
And not only that, but there’s the quashing and sometimes ridiculing of your natural light, your beauty, warmth, joy, positivity, empathy for others, curiosity, creativity and love as ‘idiotic’, ‘wrong’ and not important, or it can be ‘claimed’ by the other, so that it is not, and never was, your own (they just cannot seem to experience these things for themselves) to the point where you curl up and your light is hidden, unconsciously, and at times consciously, for gentle protection, nurtured, just a tiny free glimmer in its own space, behind years of layers of coping, traumatic experiences and events.
My relationships were like this and it finally took an abusive marriage to wake me up, for which, in the most heart-wrenching, painful, difficult – but understandable way now – I am hugely grateful…however strange that might sound.
I love this quote from the poet Mary Oliver:
‘Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.’ This isn’t to condone abuse, ever, but over the last few years, looking into this darkness has helped to shed so much light and has subsequently guided me so beautifully well in my life. I’ve learnt so much, felt so much, met many inspirational people and deeply cherished friends, and have spent time on practices brimming full of self-compassion and self-respect, focusing on love and consciousness, a celebration and unfolding of life, exploring, experimenting, letting go of old limiting beliefs and patterns, establishing new joyous, life-affirming healthy ones and becoming a positive and loving role-model for my son …and so ending the generational legacy of such abusive relationships. The 6 month course, ‘No to Narcissists’ by Caroline Van Kimmenade from The Happy Sensitive appeared, as a gift from grace at exactly the right time and I was hungry and ready for it. I couldn’t believe the perfect timing. And it was a delicious, nutritious, at times necessarily extremely chewy, bitter, sweet and sour, nutty :-), juicy, satisfying, comforting, reassuring, inspiring, surprising, energy restoring - and giving - packed full of wisdom and variety …healthy bar! (If it were a bar :-) I’m surprised at how that analogy began!) And not a snack (although you could focus on little pieces) but a full-to-bursting menu of the most wonderful restorative and insightful information, practices, processes and support that you can imagine.
It changed my life …and, more than anything, the Narcissism issue is secondary for me now, as the course opened up a million more important and fascinating things, on getting to know myself, building confidence, loving my sensitivity for the strength it is, working with vulnerability, Boundaries!! Boundaries, little and big!! (beautiful and wonderful and full of self-knowledge, self-compassion and respect), meeting wonderful friends from around the world, sharing, listening, speaking, learning… and now I also have a healthy Narcissist radar and can choose interactions from a wiser place.
Also, being introduced to many other thinkers, writers, practitioners has been invaluable – the course is thorough and intense and so much is generously shared that it becomes a springboard for other discoveries too. There are many articles, audios and videos that I still listen to regularly and I love that I have the course materials and access forever, as I enjoy returning to parts and reassessing, ever-learning and there is always relevance to different aspects in my life.
Due to this course, the wonderful support and the changes that occurred within me, I was also able to establish my new creative art business ‘Rowena Scotney Feltings’ which is going from strength to strength and which I could never have done before. At the time it was terrifying, being seen, coming out of hiding, putting my work ‘out there’ but now it is the source of so much pleasure and achievement, a space where I celebrate joy, colour, poetry, nature and life.
Whilst taking the course I wrote copious notes and 100s of desktop post-its, responses, thoughts, ideas, and it was fascinating to revisit these both throughout the duration of the course and over the last few years. I could clearly see how I’d changed, so very much, with growth and new understanding …and I gently care a great deal for the ‘me’ who wrote the first ones :-)
When Caroline Van Kimmenade asked if I’d like my artwork to illustrate a ‘Monthly Calendar and Notes’ booklet to accompany the course, for insights, mood tracking and reminders, I was overjoyed, thankful and honoured. I'm so happy to be associated with this programme, for the journey, the knowledge, the experiential learning and fundamentally for what it stands for, for me: a positive life force celebration, a refusal to be quashed, a wise-ing up and an honouring of the gift of sensitivity for the strength it is - all qualities that I celebrate in my life and creative work and will be exploring further and sharing in the future, with new projects and ideas.
If anything resonates with you here, I'd love to hear... and please do check out The Happy Sensitive for a wealth of wonderful resources.