In session with Art T this week, there was more stuff about J. It seems like a lot of my therapy is about my therapy with J. I was telling Art T about the pattern J and I had in sessions:
10 minutes to say my stuff
20 minute Q&A interacting
J talks for 15 minutes, gives lots of examples
How the normalizing technique was one he was particularly fond of, but I often found it invalidating. Like “everyone feels that way, it’s no big deal”, which left me thinking “oh, well then, sorry I brought it up, I must just be a drama queen.”
Art T thought there might be a step missing in between saying whatever it is I am feeling, and J normalizing it. Like maybe validation, saying something like “that must be really hard.” I told her that J didn’t believe in validation, and I could kind of understand that, especially for me, since I get all of my self worth from outside of myself. I can’t really validate myself, and maybe he was trying to get me to do that, instead of him doing it. Art T said that understanding is important, and maybe I didn’t feel that part of the process from J.
Back to words and how they seem to have too much power for me (ie; the word “relationship”) this came up again with the words “dysfunctional” and “narcissistic”. I told Art T that years ago my sister mentioned growing up in our dysfunctional family, and I couldn’t believe she said that, our family wasn’t dysfunctional. Art T said maybe it was dysfunctional, and I said that if I say that my family was dysfunctional that is minimizing everyone who grew up with an actual real blatant dysfunctional family. Art T reminded me of the study done on people who grew up in actual real blatant dysfunctional families, and those who grew up in families that were overtly dysfunctional. She said it was found that the people from the overtly dysfunctional families had more severe problems than the ones from blatantly dysfunctional families, because when the problems are hidden it is harder to place blame on the people who are causing the dysfunction.
I asked Art T if she had ever read the book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough” by Karyl McBride. It is a typical self help book, in that the first section describes the symptoms of a person suffering from “not good enough” syndrome. In this book it is daughters of narcissistic mothers. The second part of the book describes how to fix it, and this is where I have a problem. Step One is to understand the problem, diagnose it, and get the background information that defines it.
Step Two processes the feelings related to the problem.
Step Three is about reframing, meaning looking at the problem through another set of lenses, or in a new way.
I told Art T that I see myself in the first part of the book where the author describes these daughters of narcissistic mothers, that I can totally relate to how she describes them. But when I get to the solution, I am stuck at step one, because I am not the daughter of a narcissistic mother. Art T asked how I could relate so much to the first part of the book, which is about daughters of narcissistic mothers, if I am not one myself? Hmmm. She is tricky, that Art T.
Narcissistic is a strong word. According to the DSM my mother is not narcissistic. Close, but not enough for the diagnosis. Art T asked if we could say she is self centered. I said, sure, a little self centered is fine.
I think I am also hesitant to label her narcissistic because I am afraid I am like her in some ways, and that would make me narcissistic. I told Art T that J said if I am worried that I am narcissistic, that means I am probably not. She agreed. She asked me if my mother has ever recognized that she has a problem and gotten help for it, and she has not done either of those things. Art T said that means I am not like her, because I am getting help.
I told Art T that people think my mother is amazing. She said “Just like people think you are amazing!” That didn’t make me feel good.
I described ways that my mother is self centered, but I didn’t want it to be a “bash my mother session” because the last time that happened, with J, my mother called later in the day to say she was at a store and saw something I would like, but wanted to know if I wanted it in black or brown. A narcissistic mother wouldn’t do that.
So some things my mother does are to use things I do to make herself look good, change her viewpoint depending on what others think of her, needs a lot of attention so if something happens she will call 10 people are repeat the same story over and over. She does however come through when someone is in need, and she does great when there is a problem. I was telling Art T one particular story and as I told it I realized that my mom was totally manipulating me. I never realized that is what she was doing. I think my mother didn’t know that is what she was doing, at least not consciously.
I had mentioned to Art T before that I never went to my mother with any problems and I didn’t tell her about anything personal. For example, when I first got my period I didn’t tell my mother for about three days. I tried every day, but the words got stuck in my throat.
To this day, I would not go to my mother with a problem, unless it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes things “slip out”, and I wonder if that is just an unconscious way to try to connect with her. It doesn’t usually work however.
Art T talked about “stories” again, the stories we develop as children to explain our circumstances. We carry these stories through adulthood, when we should figure out that they aren’t true and we should discard them. If we don’t do that, we frequently hold the wrong ideas about ourselves and are unhappy.
During this last year I have been in school and we had a speaker named Debbie Ford, who wrote some books about this topic. Sadly, she died this week. I did read one of her books, and did not get much out of it, but I just downloaded another one to my kindle called “The Secret of the Shadow: The Power of Owning Your Story” and here is the description:
The past is more than prologue, says bestselling author and Chopra Center for Well Being counselor Debbie Ford. The Secret of the Shadow urges readers to create a fresh meaning about their formative experiences, especially the painful ones, and use them to plan a more purposeful and authentic life. Ford believes that each person is born with unique gifts and a divine purpose, which are lost when we create a “story”–a collection of beliefs–that manufactures a false self and casts a shadow to hide our uniqueness and prevent us from success in work and love. As she explains, “the key is to stop chasing the feel-good moments and make peace with our stories so we can understand, accept and embrace everything in the past that has caused us pain.” Once we stop trying to change the painful parts of our story, we will discover the divine plan for our lives. Writing in the voice of the wounded healer, Ford tells her own story of embracing the wisdom and direction she found in facing family and addiction problems. She skillfully offers examples from participants in her workshops at the Chopra center who have leveraged the lessons of a painful past into a purposeful life. She invites readers to “own their whole story” by asking: What is the secret [about you] that your story conceals? What wisdom can you contribute to the world that you couldn’t if the events in your life hadn’t happened?”
While I was reading this, I had one of those moments of insight, you know those moments that unfortunately only last for an instant and when you try to grab onto it, it is gone. I am trying to get it back.
Because what if everything I believe about myself isn’t true? Then where am I? First of all I would have wasted decades believing a myth, and living as though this myth was true. That is a devastating feeling. Secondly, if this story is not true, what is my real story? And how do I know my real story is any better than my false one? If I abandon the false story I might uncover a story that is equally, or even worse, than the myth. I think that would be even more devastating.