“All those years drifting in space
I have known you well, yet I’ve never seen your face
You turn around, looking at me, laughter in your eyes
And now I can see”
Hayley Westenra, ‘Across the Universe of Time’
Some people grow up believing they’re dumb or ugly. I grew up believing I was a rapist. When I was five, I was accused of sexually assaulting my friend. The story, woven by my friend and her mother like venomous spiders, spread through the principal’s office, the classroom and the school yard, and I was no longer allowed to see my friend. The story did not end at the school gate too. It spread into the houses of mutual friends, into the neighbourhood which I unfortunately shared with my friend, and other schools we both found ourselves at years later. I had a number of friends taken away from me due to the story. I was watched in the yard by teachers and when I went to play with them I was told I had to play somewhere else. I had my enrolment declined at one school due to the story. I had my reputation stained. My friend and I both went to the same high school- the local, Catholic college for girls. Here the story was used as a reason to bully and exclude me, and a couple of my friend’s friends- her assassins- threatened to hurt me if I were to come near her or if she were to get expelled for her slander. As a child I often had dreams that none of this ever happened and we were still friends. But then I would wake up to this reality again. I was told that I was as good as a criminal, a message drilled into me every single day. My friend’s mother did not drive and walked everywhere with her children. Whenever they’d approach our house, her mother would lead them onto the grassy terra strip on the opposite side of the road where they would pass our house as far away as they could possibly get without trespassing on our opposing neighbour’s property. Her mother continued this routine for the rest of her life.
It has been hard to bring closure to the whole event, especially as I have no memory of what even happened with my friend, if anything at all. All I can remember is that we would stuff around in the toilets together, as kids often do, and there was one time she had her pants down showing me her private bits. I remember being kind of grossed out by the white stuff I saw there, so I doubt I would have wanted to touch her. My friend and her mother managed to turn everyone against me, including myself. I had completely forgotten incidents with this friend which pointed to her controlling nature, incidents that only my mother remembered. I have a clearer perspective now that I am an adult and have spent many years in therapy, understand about displaced blame / scapegoating, have received new information about my friend (a post for another time), have felt kindness, can think more logically and am starting to rekindle my relationship with my higher, soul self. However I suspect the deep psychological scars of what happened will take a long time to heal from. It has only been the last few years that I have discovered the term narcissistic abuse and learnt about smear campaigns, gaslighting, stonewalling and manipulation tactics. I’m left wondering if I’ve been grieving a closeness I never actually had with my friend. A closeness I couldn’t possibly have. A distant lullaby. I remember, with great sadness, the time she approached me in college art class shortly before she turned her friends against me, telling them she was scared to be around me. It was the first time she had approached me in nine years. Her heart seemed to have softened and she was smiling. For a whimsical minute I thought she wanted to be friends again. She only wanted the jar of beads I was using.
Narcissistic abuse is a particularly isolating experience as the narcissist presents a “false self” to the world (including us, when we first meet them). They seem charming and “nice”, not the kind of people who would abuse at all. Like they take their own negative qualities and project them onto you, they take your positive qualities or position as victim and reverse it onto them. They are the good guy, and somehow, you are left feeling like you are the villain or something is wrong with you. Narcissistic abuse has been described as “soul rape”, a cumulative trauma which reduces victims to a shell of their former selves. It has a way of making people go into hiding. It is a silent crime; the perpetrators are rarely held responsible, and even when the abuse is recognised, their mind games often slip through the cracks of the law. Disconcertingly, many people in positions of power are also narcissists. Narcissists can leave an imprint on anyone, no matter what your relationship is with them. Narcissists are usually deeply wounded people themselves.
I realise now the damage done to me was far greater than anything I could have possibly done to my friend. On top of losing my reputation and friends, I have been left with a crippling sense of self-consciousness, as though I have internalised the teachers who watched and monitored me in the yard. It is difficult for me to show physical affection; in fact it doesn’t seem fair that some people in this world can touch another’s body so easily and mindlessly (especially sexually), while I, on the other hand, feel bad even when I unintentionally brush against someone else. I am always questioning myself and have lost touch with my instincts. I have an exaggerated sense of responsibility, and a psychotic sense of guilt. I find myself apologising way too much, even when I was not the one who made the mistake. I have become shame-based, a term used by John Bradshaw. I have even, at times, felt I do not deserve to live and have tried to kill myself when something has triggered my feelings of shame. Shame can cause me to dissociate, to feel separate from my body in order to escape the uneasiness I feel in my own skin. Understandably I am not always consciously aware of the shame, but it is there in my subconscious and, like gravity, I experience its effects on my behaviour. Being shame-based, I can never truly relax and be myself around people. I also suspect the severe pain I often get with my cycle is related to my shame and experiences growing up. In her book “Heal Your Body”, Louise Hay proposes dysmenorrhea is to do with anger at the self and hatred of the body or of women, as though it is punishment for the crimes we believe we’ve committed. I have become a magnet for narcissists, encountering many others throughout my life, in all their shades and colours, like a person draws in one alcoholic after another. It has eroded my trust in both others and my own judgement as sometimes narcissists have completely eluded my radar and it has only been a year or two later, after I have fully invested in the relationship, that I see their face.
I am learning to celebrate the “small” victories / steps forward I manage to take, such as today when I was able to write a text to a friend clarifying my boundaries and what I do not want in the relationship. For a long time it has been difficult for me to tell people what I need or feel (or even know this, myself), and it has been even more difficult to say what I want without feeling like I have to come up with some excuse. It has taken me a long time to realise it’s ok to simply want or not want things.
Narcissists prey on empaths and highly sensitive people. I will finish this post with a link to a great page about “Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome”. From the minute I saw the cover photo I knew this was where I belonged. I also didn’t realise, until today, that “the smirk” is actually a thing. It was during high school, when her chief assassin had me down on the ground in tears, that I caught a glimpse of my childhood friend in the background and the look of satisfaction on her face. Though as soon as I say that, another part of me jumps in to her defence and suggests that maybe I misinterpreted the look on her face, that she just felt bad and was thinking of intervening. This is exactly what narcissistic abuse does to you: you lose all faith in yourself. The warzone with the narcissist in command becomes a warzone inside your own head. While it is refreshing to have a name that summarises my experiences growing up, there is, similarly, still a part of me who rebels against it…. who believes I have no right to use the term “abuse”… who tells me there are people out there who have been abused physically or sexually, who have been in a real warzone, so what have I got to complain about?
Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome: http://narcissisticvictimsyndrome.com/