I shared this quote a couple of weeks ago in this piece: On trauma, healing, and understanding our narcissistic mothers.
While I initially shared it because I wanted to provide context in regards to mothers who have narcissism, I knew I’d come back to it in regards to myself.
Because when I read it, I had an ah-ha: I have a shame-based fear of being ordinary (the “and” comes farther down).
This fear used to manifest itself in the form of me telling stories – sometimes based on the truth (but embellished) and other times outright lies. Some of these lies were funny and relatively benign – “I was born on an airplane” – but other times they were destructive, not at all funny – “I was raped.”
And everything in between.
I’m not sure when it started (probably when I went to college, where no one knew me) but I continued up until about 2005. I understand now why, now. I thought they would make me more attractive, funny, interesting, tragic, relatable, and dramatic. Worthy. Lovable.
Now, when I tell stories, I understand that what I am doing is telling my version of what happened. We all do that.
There’s what happened.
Then there’s the story we tell about what happened.
And finally there’s the story we tell about what it means that it happened, and how we feel about it.
I am not saying that the stories anyone tells about what happened, or about how they feel about what happened, are lies...but that they are perceptions and not complete, objective "reality."
It is worth exploring the stories we tell about what happened and what they mean, and to see if they weigh us down.
For example, there’s the story of my first marriage. I married a guy from Brazil…a guy I met in a bar just four months prior to marrying. He needed a Green Card. I had convinced myself that he really loved me even though, if I am really honest, I knew he didn’t. The marriage was sham on all levels. I felt forced to divorce him because he was not what I considered a willing participant in the marriage. I was very angry but I portrayed myself as a victim and told anyone who would listen that he took complete and total advantage of me, leaving me heartbroken, in debt…and feeling like an utter fool.
I declared bankruptcy a few years after my divorce and my story was that I was forced to because of the “tax burden” he left for me. That’s partially the truth, but the other part is that I spent more money than I was making.
Then there’s the story about why I was so desperate and lacking self-esteem that I would enter in to such a marriage in the first place. Was my story “because my parents got divorced when I was three”? Or how about, “I grew up in a dysfunctional family”? Or maybe just because? Maybe that’s just the way it was supposed to work out for me.
Another example: someone claimed to have slept with a former boyfriend of mine (after we had broken up), even though said former boyfriend said it never happened. The story I told after the fact was designed, not to elicit sympathy for me, but to elicit disgust for the someone...to “build my case” against that person.
And the rape story? That’s a doozy. I was sexually active, very briefly, when I was a freshman in high school. Afterwards I thought I might be pregnant, even though there had been no penetration, so I made up a rather unlikely story about being raped by a faceless, nameless, unrecognizable man at a high school dance, just in case.
What’s ironic is that I didn’t tell anyone the rape story until well after I knew that I wasn’t pregnant. I didn’t “need” the story, but I “used” it. And what's most destructive about the story is that I often concluded it by saying that it (the rape) didn't affect me or damage me in any way.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. These are the stories I’ve told myself and others…stories that made me feel better about myself, stories that helped me feel right, stories that helped me feel like I was getting revenge. I got off on these stories. They gave me an out and allowed me to abdicate responsibility.
Here’s the “and”…
I have a shame-based fear of being ordinary...and my awareness of my fear has helped me transform it from something destructive and burdensome into something that is a source of wisdom and creativity...and I have so much compassion for others* who have the same fear.
*Several years ago, a woman I know pulled me aside and apologized for lying to me. When she told me what she had lied about – because I had no clue that she had – I gave her a hug and I told her that I had done the very same thing at one point in my life. I told her about some of the lies I had told and why. Like me, she said the reason she lied was because she felt inadequate, unimpressive, and unimportant.
I feel compassion for the part of me that – even though I knew better than to lie – felt so inadequate, unimpressive, and unimportant that I lied to try and make myself feel better.
This is how I re-mother myself. And if there's something you feel ashamed, embarrassed, or guilty about, this is how you can re-mother yourself.
Take a deep breath.
Unlock your shoulders,
Soften your eyes,
Hands over heart.
Repeat after me: I have compassion for the part of me that feels ashamed, embarrassed, or guilty
Also? Read this: Why You Should Stop Being So Hard On Yourself