Developing and enforcing healthy boundaries is paramount to our daily emotional well being, and especially when it comes to dealing with a Narcissistic parent. Even the most experienced survivor, who’s been healing for decades, must always be vigilant when it comes to those who seek to invalidate us.
I thought I would share an experience that happened to me, where my guard was down and in an instant I found myself in a situation that I had worked so hard to avoid for a very long time. First, let’s set the stage of how the events unfolded…
On a seemingly normal Sunday morning, I was getting ready for my weekly Periscope video. I muted my phone, cleared myself of distractions and went on with the broadcast. Everything went well and the healing that was shared was amazing. However, immediately after that I noticed a missed call and about a half-dozen texts. As it turns out my dad was being taken to the hospital for trouble breathing.
I dropped everything and headed over to the urgent care where he was being evaluated. By the time I got there, an ambulance was on the way to take him to the emergency room. My dad seemed relatively calm and relaxed when I arrived (my brother was already there with my mother), but I could tell he was just wasn’t himself. As it turns out, the shortness of breath started before he and my mother left for church that morning.
Arriving at ER, he was taken back to a room where, unknown to us at the time, he would be for the next 7 hours with very little interaction from the staff. Needless to say I don’t have many positive things to say for the local emergency room team at the hospital that day, but that’s a story for another time.
Finally later that evening he was seen by some doctors, given something else to eat, and was moved to a room of his own. The following morning I headed back in, meeting my brother there, as dad was headed in for some heart scans and to see a cardiologist. Fortunately his heart was looking good and there no signs of the stents being damaged, and after some other blood tests coming back negative, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
His dementia is progressing more rapidly here of late, and the stress that comes along with not knowing where you are, why are you there, or what’s going on, is taking its toll in the form of anxiety attacks and shortness of breath. So while we were glad to hear his heart was okay, I was saddened to realize how quickly this disease can progress in later stages.
Enter….the encounter. I was feeling pretty vulnerable, standing there in the room; my brother was there, my mother, and me. I’m always careful to keep a buffer when I’m around her, because I know what can happen when I don’t. Unfortunately, before I knew it I found myself alone as my brother went to check on dad. My guard was down, as I was concentrating on him and remembering some of the fond times we shared when I was a child.
With the opportunity available, the vulnerable door opened just enough, she swooped in:
- “I’ve been thinking a lot lately and praying about what happened to you, and wondering how you are doing.”
- “So I hear you have a blog that helps people.”
- “Do you know where you get that compassion from; and why you have such amazing empathy for others?”
- “I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to thank God that he allowed you endure that abuse so that you can help others.”
- “You need to also thank God that he allowed you be abused so that you could help others.”
Notice how many times she used the word “I”? How her statements were trying to twist me into me thinking that what happened was a good thing, that I should be grateful that I was sexually abused and bullied as a child.
Now, I’m not going to get into a religious debate because that’s not the point of this post. The point is, suddenly a situation that was supposed to be about my dad and the family pulling together to help and support him, turned into why I should include her in my life more, embrace that what happened to me was a good thing, and that I should be thankful to her that she raised me the way that she did.
During that 12 minute conversation, I found myself frozen, dissociated, and under the spell of someone who I had not allowed to gain control over me in such a long time. That old programming that was instilled in me for so long had immediately been resurrected from it’s somewhat dormant state and fired back up, right on cue. Make no mistake, friends, Narcissistic Abuse is brainwashing, and even after working through healing, those programs can still be reactivated in a moments notice.
Through hard work and advocating for ourselves, we learn to what happened and why, and how we can move forward without living in the conditioned state that we were groomed with. (Check out my podcast with Lisa Romano on narcissistic Abuse and Brainwashing).
My enforced healthy boundaries, gray rock strategy, and always having buffers around during family gatherings, had kept me safe and out of invalidations’ grasp for the most part. Those self enforced policies were doing their job, but in this situation, I was reminded that I need to always be vigilant.
I had to resist the urge to shame myself for letting my guard down in that situation. After all, it was a very emotional time, and blaming myself wouldn’t do any good; if anything it could potentially take back down a dark road that I’ve worked so hard to overcome.
Moving on,…a nurse came in and asked if she could call the parking valet for my mother. Thank goodness, a welcome distraction and a way out! Just the break that I needed! After the valet came to get her, the ordeal had passed and I began to analyze what happened and work through it. I reached out to a trusted friend for support so I could talk through the situation and get a grasp of what happened and what I could learn from it.
After doing so, I was able to put it into respective and take some time to recoup, and write out this post. You see, the hard work of healing pays off! Previously, a situation like this would have set me back for days or weeks; feeling depressed, anxious, alone, and going down a very invalidating path that would have me question my faith, my choices in life, and my very existence, everything about who I am.
Thankfully, I’m here to share with you that I was able to sit with those feelings, learn from them, and use this experience to help me in the future. I was reminded of the importance of always being vigilant in enforcing our boundaries when it comes to a narcissistic person. Here are some tips that I’ve learned a long my healing journey, while working some incredible mentors, that have served me well:
- Always look for a safe place to retreat to if you find yourself alone in a compromising situation with a narcissistic person: find a restroom, or go for a cup of coffee, anything to remove yourself from what’s coming and try to do it before any dialogue even begins, if possible.
- If you are caught up in a compromising circumstance, use gray rock to help keep yourself from getting sucked into an invalidating situation.
- Don’t shame yourself for how you feel and what happened, it’s not your fault.
- As soon as you are able too, reach out to someone you trust, so you can talk through what happened. This should be someone who is familiar with your situation and will support you 100%.
- Allow yourself time to rest, give your mind, emotions, and body a break so you regroup.
- Take a step back, look at the events with an open, rational perspective and see what you can take from it to help you in the future.
- Practice self-care, I mean like big time self-care. Whatever you do that makes you feel good, and safe, and relaxed, go for it.
This situation reminded me that what I have been doing is working, but also that healing means being vigilant and prepared to take care of ourselves at all times. Even if it’s been years, an invalidating situation can hit when we least expect it. This doesn’t mean that we should be live our lives in fear of what could happen, because that’s no way to live. Rather, simply remember that your healing journey will have many twists and turns, and that it’s always important to put yourself first when it comes to dealing with a narcissist.
Feature images courtesy of Pixabay. Social Media images created by Matt Pappas with Canva.
I’m glad you were able to see your way through it Matt. You’ve made excellent progress in the time I’ve known you and I am so proud of you man. Hopefully this comes out right, but even if we’ve gone through horrible stuff in our life and we’ve gone on to help others, that’s not a welcome statement so much. It is and it isn’t. To me, it is a statement that feels like instead of someone stabbing me, they handed me the knife and asked me to do it. I don’t know – but that statement is always “eerie” to me. I realize what I’ve been through has helped me see things and be there for others in ways that not everyone can, but boy – some days… many days… I wish I didn’t have to go through all of what I did.
I was curious if you were able to say anything to her or that part was still difficult? Hope it is okay to ask that one.
You’re one of the good guys Matt and I’m so glad you are healing, surviving, thriving!
Thank you Don, I always appreciate your support and friendship man. At the time, I didn’t say much other than just my typical gray rock responses. I didn’t want to feed that monster and open up a situation that I wasn’t fully prepared to deal with since all the emotions of my dad were running wild in my head. I chose to diffuse it as best I could by limiting my responses and just finding a way to get the hell outta there. Then on the way home I made a call to a friend and talked it out..then sat with it and just allowed myself to feel whatever was going on, and then slowly began to pull myself out of it. I’ve often considered confronting her about the past, and this incident but knowing what I know, no matter how that talk unfolds, it won’t go as planned or benefit me in the end.
Dear Matt, Thank you so much for this post. It really brought home to me the reality that at times, the horrors we were subjected to in our early childhoods will occasionally rear their ugly heads, no matter how far along we are on our healing journey. I always wondered in exasperation whether I would ever be “cured” after a lifetime of working so hard in therapy and not allowing myself to become who i was always meant to be until that happened. I live in fear of what happened to you in this instance happening to me. It can be triggered by anyone who’s being mean. But it’s stories like the one you shared above that make me realize that even though these horrors can be triggered in inopportune circumstances, we have not only ourselves but each other to help us get through them. A friend recently recounted a story to me about how her husband unfortunately recently lost his job and she felt like she had to put all her issues aside and be “the supportive wife” despite having to deal with many health and other stressful issues herself. Sometimes I feel this way too, with my husband. When I said to my friend “So who are we supposed to get support from?” Her answer blew me away – an emphatic “EACH OTHER!”
In the words of a wise man I know 😉 – you ROCK!
Unfortunately we never know when something from our past will rear it’s ugly head and try to set us back; try to make us return to a path of invalidation. A few years ago this would have thrown me for a loop or I would have completely avoided it and just stuffed it aside, choosing not to deal with it. Thankfully I was able to see it for what it was, think it through, talk it out with a trusted friend, and put it into perspective. I did have to sit with it for awhile but I didn’t let it keep me down very long. If I didn’t have the support of that trusted friend, getting through this would have been much more difficult. You are so right, when we don’t feel like we have support, but we do have at least one person we can confide in, we get that support from each other. Well said!
Thanks for posting, Matt! I am beginning to recognize my boundaries with others and to address the issues and not stuff them deep inside to avoid confrontation. I’m learning to open up and talk about it with a trusted friend, one who won’t judge me. It almost feels as if a shackle or two has been removed! 🙂
That’s so great Lori! Indeed the chains that keep us bound to the past are being removed, little by little, each time enforce a healthy boundary, reach out for support, or do anything that our abusers wish we would never do. Go You!!! 🙂
Sounds so familiar. Some useful suggestions. My boundary-free relationship was with my father.We had all these sexual “games” we would play. Crazy-making. Many years of therapy, mental illness. Finally wrote a book about my battles with mental Illness I’ve Lost My Mind: How I found it Again.” Cathartic, Gave me some peace. Come visit me at my website tilliebright.com.
WOW TALK ABOUT VALIDATION WITHOUT YOU EVEN KNOWING IT MATT PAPPAS!!!!!!!!!?????????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!