Recently, I’ve had to “cut off” or go “no contact” with two of the most important people in my life — my twin sister and my mother. It hasn’t been easy by any means, but I know for me it was necessary.
In fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and what I’ve experienced with making this decision, in the simplest yet most complex way of describing it, is grief.
Many people recognize grief when it comes to someone close to them dying, but at 26 years old, I have yet to experience that sort of thing. I have never lost anyone close to me to death yet, which is why I can’t even imagine what that kind of loss is like.
Regretfully, I admit it’s difficult for me to conceptualize something I haven’t been through myself, so comparing the grief I’m currently experiencing to that of the permanent loss of a being in human form “forever” would be ignorant of me. This decision was mine to make and is a temporary one, and no matter how long this break or pause goes on for, I know that when I am ready, they will still be there in the flesh.
Related: The Limitations of Meditation
However, that doesn’t mean I’m not experiencing a deep sense of loss or pain. And in recognizing that, I also recognize this is what my sister must be feeling when she says she doesn’t know who I am anymore. I know it hurts — deep grief when someone you think you know so well changes. But this awareness shows me I am further along on my recovery than I give myself credit for.
I get my sister’s pain — it’s a lack of acceptance of what is and nostalgia for what was or what you thought it was — because I too have felt that. I was feeling lost myself when I first “lost” myself, and sometimes I miss the life I used to have or the person I used to be. I was someone who was the literal definition of “ignorance is bliss” — living in such a way that I appeared super confident and even convinced myself I was for so long in order to hide the pain I was experiencing and to appear “normal” before the recognition of my trauma.
It took me a while to get to here — to the acceptance part of grieving my old self and what I had once considered my “best” and “normal” life. But in this acceptance, I have also come to recognize what was not OK growing up and what is still being done that’s unhealthy. Although I still have work to do when it comes to accepting my reality for what it was and is when it comes to my family, I have finally come to the realization too that I can’t change my mother no matter how much information I try to give her about what’s going on. The narcissistic tendencies I recognize are so familiar to me because I myself experienced them and learned about them vigorously.
I am now aware of my selfishness and how much damage it has caused to others. That doesn’t mean I am perfect now or that I still don’t have work to do because l am still actively working on cultivating things like empathy, but in part of my healing process I recognize that admittance alone is progress, and I for the first time, am proud of myself in a non-egoic way.
And now I am able to call it as I see it. I am now speaking up where I once remained quiet when injustices would occur. I am now talking about my trauma/pain when, before, I did everything I could to hide it and appear OK. I am now setting healthy boundaries when it comes to people violating them — including my family, who are so used to the dysfunctional way of being that my self-love is being negatively taken as disrespect or disloyalty.
What my family so evidently doesn’t understand, except only when it’s convenient for them, is that pain, especially traumatic pain, does change you as a person, but not always for the worst. It also changes you for the best. It breaks you open and lets more of your authentic self out because the only other choice is to remain the same and stay stuck. And what was keeping me stuck was putting their feelings and desires above my own in order to soothe their pain while worsening my own.
In regards to the five stages of grief, I understand that my family is experiencing the bargaining, depression, denial and anger stages all at once, yet they are not realizing that I, too, was experiencing the very same pain simultaneously in coming to terms with me not being “well.” We all have felt the same about who I’ve become as a result of my pain, yet instead of it bringing us together, it is tearing us apart. While I’m actually taking the time to “get to know” myself for the first time in my life, instead of allowing my conditioning and trauma to keep me on automatic or autopilot any longer, my family has not reached the acceptance stage of my transformation yet as they resist getting to know the “new” me or who I am becoming.
I have gained strength in no longer craving their acceptance, approval or validation. I am no longer pining for the life that once was, and I am coming more into my own with loving the life I have now. I am no longer wearing a mask — I am becoming the more authentic version of the me that my sister and my mother are not used to. I am no longer defining myself by post-traumatic stress but rather from a place of post-traumatic growth. I’ve learned that my change means change for their lives too, and for some people, change can be scary when you’re so used to living in your comfort zone. For that, I feel for them.
But coming out of my pain shouldn’t be met with more of the same from them. And I am not allowing the work they need to do on themselves to hinder my progress. Grief can make you do some irrational things, and in all of the messiness, I am proud of myself for the awareness I have gained. I now know I no longer feel safe being vulnerable with my family. They have used my deepest wounds as ammunition in arguments, fights, disagreements and misunderstandings in order to soothe themselves and their cognitive dissonance.
What’s ironic is that my sister and my mother preach about vulnerability while they refuse to get help themselves. They have used the very phrase: “hurt people, hurt people,” to get me to see the pain that my changes have caused them, yet are unable to see the good that has come out of those very same changes. Despite their confirmation bias, I am grateful for the psychoeducation I have received when it comes to narcissism as I am now able to not only recognize it in myself but in them as well, and make changes accordingly. That has been my greatest gift that this grief has given me thus far — greater clarity and awareness than I ever had before.
For so long, I wore a mask under the guise of narcissism that kept me protected and always on defense. One where I appeared confident (overly so as many would say) and it seemed like I had everything. But behind that facade and the seemingly self-conceited person I had become was a very wounded, traumatized person — one I refused to show to the world.
But my self-deceiving had deceived those around me, and for that I am sorry for the unintentional pain I caused when I was hurting. I had played this role for so long that so many people thought this was who Desirée was, and I can see how that could feel like a betrayal to my sister.
It’s interesting though, because a friend recently told me she was talking to another friend of hers about how she doesn’t really know me despite us being sorority sisters for almost 10 years. The difference is that when I allowed her to really see me, it brought us closer with more understanding on what was going on, and now we are actually getting to know each other on a level that we never have in the almost decade that we’ve known each other.
So what’s the difference between my friend and my family? Well, it has shown me that people respond to things differently, and that includes trauma. Not everyone can just move on and leave things in the past, especially when those things are still happening in the present, and although I wish my mom and my sister could see this perspective when it comes to how I’ve responded to trauma and learned to cope in the best way I knew how, I am now aware that people with narcissistic tendencies don’t always have the capacity or capabilities to even see things from your point of view and a lot of projection occurs. That awareness has brought me into the acceptance stage of my grief.
An odd concept for me to work through was how you can be “close” to someone for nearly a decade and not know who they really are. Well, when relationships are built on nothing but superficiality and surface level interactions and conversations, this concept is the result, and when it comes to narcissistic groups, going any deeper than the superficial and surface levels is impossible until there is a shattering of the ego.
And that’s what happened to me. My comfort zone at college had been taken away from me when I graduated; it was my escape from my highly dysfunctional and toxic family. However, my unhealthy coping mechanisms like partying hard were no longer socially acceptable outside of a university setting, and my identity as a sorority girl and college student could no longer be my identity when I was no longer an undergraduate. It was then, during the grief I experienced after college graduation, that the little safe bubble I was living in burst.
I am no longer ashamed to admit I am now a narcissist in recovery birthed from a narcissistic upbringing. I’ve come to the conclusion that narcissists were once codependents who gave too much of themselves, got hurt and as a result turned into narcissists as a defense mechanism. However, this is not an excuse to be a shitty person. Yes “hurt people, hurt people,” but once you know better, do better, and that’s the difference — I’m actually doing the work necessary to do better. I’m getting the help I need because I know I can’t do this on my own.
So should you have compassion for someone you’ve cut off? You can, but only after you get the help you need to develop compassion for yourself first and foremost. As my therapist once told me: “Changing is a choice — whether you change or not, you have made the decision to do whichever one you choose.”
But at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to ask yourself, what is my part in all of this? and actively do your own work to show up better for those around you — as your true self, and what that looks like is different for everyone. There is no right way to heal from trauma.
It takes awareness to know that root-cause wounds ultimately stem from childhood, and when you’re a kid, it’s not your fault that damage was inflicted on you, but as an adult I do think it becomes your responsibility to heal once you’re aware of it because you are no longer a kid and can actually do something about it now.
I believe you have the ability to take back your power while also taking mature responsibility to own your pain/hurt and do what is necessary to heal those wounds in order to be a better person, not only for yourself, but for those around you that you have inflicted damage on, and in turn, become the example that healing from narcissism is possible.
Educate yourself on codependence, narcissism, covert narcissism, overt narcissism, sadistic narcissism, narcissistic abuse and narcissistic personality disorder before you negate the notions or dismiss them as invalid.
Codependents turned narcissists turned selfless human beings? Sound impossible, but take it from first hand experience, it can happen, but only with the suspension and shattering of the ego, awareness, self-reflection, humble admittance and, despite what those very people say, it is not weak to seek assistance.
I realize the people I have had to cut off/go no contact with are going through the same thing I once did and are not there yet, but I’ve had to become discerning with how much patience I am willing to give and who I show my true self to because my authenticity is not selective — once you become real, you can’t become unreal as they say, even to those who don’t deserve it.
I never allowed anyone to see the real me, and when I have, it has been used against me. My family in particular doesn’t understand what trauma can do to a person or what it even is. How trauma, especially persistent and pervasive, has devastating effects on your mind including your emotionality and your mental stability. It is all encompassing. It literally changes you — your entire biology/physical being — your brain and your body. Despite all my exhaustive efforts of trying to make them see why they don’t “recognize me,” I have learned that doing the same thing over and over is the actual definition of insanity.
Them taking my commitment to my growth and healing and ability to embrace change as a personal attack is the work I know they need to do that will heal not only our relationships, but themselves. I guess you can say I grieve over the fact they aren’t able to do that right now.
This is why I am still in need of healing because the source of my pain has come full circle to my family — where it all stems from, not to be confused with blame, just recognition of where your deepest wounds begin, and if not worked on, perpetuate (multigenerational transmission process).
So how do I translate that same concept over to my family when they constantly violate the boundaries I set up? How do I give them the benefit of the doubt when I am the only one truly changing and not just saying so to soothe my ego? Why is it they abuse the very thing they claim they need and want from me (my vulnerability)? It’s because they are unaware of what they are doing, but it doesn’t make it any less damaging. In fact, it makes having compassion for them extremely difficult and exhausting when they can’t extend the same courtesy to you. True vulnerability is a necessity if there’s to be any type of meaningful connection.
At the end of the day, we are souls basically saying the same thing, souls just wanting to be heard and seen. I am no longer apologizing for needing a break to do just that nor should I be made to feel guilty for doing what I have had to do for me.
And although I haven’t allowed many people to get close to me out of fear of being hurt and violated to my core, I am no longer afraid to be vulnerable as I once was in the past thanks to my significant other helping me open up and accepting me for me — the entirety of my being — flaws and all, which is up there on the list of hardest things I’ve ever had to do (be vulnerable). It’s made me realize that the cure is love.
What I know for sure is that I am no longer lost. I am finding myself and becoming closer to who I am meant to be every day I choose healing.