By Eliane Sainte-Marie, founder Parenting for Wholeness
I’ve been doing lots of healing and research in the past month, to try to understand and work through what, for the bulk of my adult life, has been my most important and precious relationship.
My background is that I was raised by an emotionally immature mom who, though a good person (I've actually realized since writing this article that she's like actually also on the narcissistic scale or at the very least pretty toxic,) was unable to meet our emotional needs and honor and validate our feelings, and created a narcissistic family environment.
When I was 5, she divorced my toxic father (who I no longer talk to as of about 5 years ago) and a year later moved in with who eventually became my stepfather, a narcissistic man (who I no longer talk to as of 12 years ago,) with whom she stayed for over 35 years.
Given the parents I had, once I reached early adulthood and realized that I couldn’t turn to them for any of the emotional support I needed nor to learn to healthfully maneuver life and relationships, I banded with and clung to my sister, who up until a few years ago I thought, unlike any of them, shared my values and my life trajectory.
But after having a complete breakdown in early 2016 and working through all the negative beliefs about myself that caused me to hit rock bottom, in order to re-find the will to live, I realized how many of those beliefs either came from her or were kept in place, alive and well, through my relationship with my sister.
This happened because I valued her opinion above my own (as I adopted her as my parental figure) when it came to my character, personality, sense of worth and even of reality in general. And also because of a bizarre sense of competition and comparison she has with me, which causes her uncontrollable impulses to put me down, shame me or make me feel wrong when she perceives me as superior to her.
After distancing myself from her in order to create the space to heal myself and prevent me from ending my life (and leaving my beloved daughters to cope with that trauma), I was able to heal myself of childhood trauma, CPTSD, attachment disorder, lifelong history of depression and anxiety, etc.
I then set about reconnecting with her, having always believed that once I’d clear my side of the relationship, we would find our way back to each other, into the arms of our beloved sister and bff, and finally build a healthy relationship.
But my exchanges with her have just been crazy making. Or my expression of my feelings about the relationship completely ignored.
This led me to start doing intensive relationship research.
Interestingly, shockingly, and heartbreakingly, what always most resonated, even though she doesn’t check all the boxes for it, is the experience of interactions with narcissists (covert narcissists, to be precise, who are much harder to identify than classic narcissists,) and the guidance in how to engage with them.
I’ve spent dozens of hours of research on this topic in the past week (hundreds by the time of this update,) to try to understand what the hell is going on as well as in the hope of getting some guidance as to how to connect with her in terms of her taking seriously our relationship issues and to work together toward a healthy relationship.
In the past few days, I came across three YouTube channels on that subject that I recommend, if you too are interested in this topic (updated on 10/16 to provide you with the ones I've found most helpful since:)
Though I got a ton out of many of the videos I watched, something finally fully clicked for me when watching this video, after taking a quiz to analyze whether or not I was in a relationship with a narcissist.
My number, doing it relative to my sister, was right down the middle of the middle section, which means that you might or might not be in relationship with a narcissist, but either way you’re in a seriously unhealthy relationship.
In the video, Michele provided an analogy that deeply resonated with me:
She compared identifying narcissists to identifying fake from real money, in that experts in it don't study counterfeiting money, but become experts in exactly what real money looks and feels like, so they can spot the fake one instantly.
She recommended doing the same with relationships.
This resonated deeply with me because it's essentially what I've been doing in the past 5 years as I have formed many new healthy relationships and transformed the ones that weren't quite there yet.
And the bottom line with my sister as well as another person who's led to me to dive into this research as well, is that the relationships and exchanges with them DON'T feel clean and healthy. They feel noticeably different from what happens in the healthy relationships I'm in, even the ones that are far from perfect, still have unresolved conflict and that I know require work.
Something feels off and even crazy making, and it's not my job to identify what specific condition they have nor to convince them that something's off.
It's my job to trust myself and my feelings and to not engage with them in ways that aren't healthy for me.
And one very helpful thing to understand and gain from the learning I've been doing in the past days is that it's fruitless to engage in conversations with them with the purpose of convincing them of anything or getting them to understand us.
And that giving up that intention is key to maintaining our sanity, our dignity, our center and our sense of sovereignty over who we are.
If you have a relationship that you’re also curious about, you can take the test I took here.
But whether or not you take the test, and whether or not you are in a relationship with a narcissist, here are some questions I’d encourage you to ask yourself, which I’ve compiled as a result of my interactions with three people (two of them who I don't think are full narcissists while one undeniably is,) and watching videos from the authors recommended above:
If you get the negative response to most of those questions, like me, you might give up on trying to figure out whether or not the person is a narcissist, which can be crazy making in and of itself, especially if they do have lots of great qualities.
Focus instead on trusting your own perception and getting clear on what you need in order to be in relationship with someone.
One thing which also helped me a ton, and I've since recommended to numerous people, was watching the video I've embedded below, Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: 20 Signs You Have This.
I found that I had 19 of those signs!!!
So though my 'abuser' is not a classic narcissist, and that few people have ever even believed me when I talked of the abuse I experienced with her (which added to feeling of craziness!) the results of that test made it very clear to me that something was seriously wrong in our relationship.
Down to the complete breakdown I had 3 years ago, which is a variation of something that happens once we can no longer live with the internalized beliefs we've developed about ourselves as a result of their treatment of us and we just crack.
What I've learned after writing the bulk of this article two days ago, is that finding ourselves in relationships like the one I described happens to people who were raised in narcissistic families and/or where their own needs weren't met and their healthy sense of self was not allowed to develop.
Because of this, we don't know what healthy relationships feel like and we don't value or trust our feelings. And are therefore very susceptible to the abuse of toxic people. We don't know to stop it because, in many ways, it just feels normal and familiar to us.
So the work for us is to learn to trust our inner guidance, our gut feelings, our perception of reality and to learn to value ourselves, feel deserving of honoring our feelings and having our needs be met.
In my case, and from my research it seems to be the case for most people raised in similar environments, I needed the support of someone I could truly trust to reflect back to me true reality instead of the twisted one in my mind and the messages I was receiving from my sister, in order to be able to do this tough work.
I am blessed to have a friend who could play this important role for me.
In fact I told her just a few minutes ago, crying, that one of the greatest acts of self-love I took toward myself, two years ago (after a crazy making exchange with my sister in which she helped me identify truth and repeatedly guided me back to my center,) was to ask her to be my conscience, my compass, to replace the voice of my sister in my head, for when I could not trust my own feelings and version of reality, until I built up my own strength and center and trust in myself.
I want to share with you one of my two favorite songs, which I always play and dance to when I want to be uplifted or feel celebratory. I now see it as speaking to the lifelong yearning in me to feel sovereignty in my being, to be free of all the crap described in this article.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten in my clarity on this topic, but I’ll likely be writing a lot more on this in the future.
Because I'm now feeling passionate about this shit getting identified so women like me can get help in it much earlier!!
I consider myself an aware, conscious, sensitive, strong and pretty wise person, yet it took almost 40 years (this has been going on since we were teens) to finally see what was going on!!
It makes me sick to think of how differently my life would have been had I spotted and stopped this pattern in my 20's or even 30's.
But now I can at least help others see and work through this and hopefully prevent them from entering their 50's or even 40's with it still active.
I do believe that a lot of my clients have suffered this as well, because it's what often leads moms, especially, to commit themselves to a style of parenting that they trust will insure that their children don't grow up with the same baggage they've been dealing with their whole lives.
And now I can help them free themselves from it so that they can trust their instincts so much more as well as take their needs and feelings seriously, which is what is needed to achieve family homeostasis, my goal for all families who work with me. ♥
I hope all this information helps you too if you also were raised in an emotionally destructive environment and/or have also suffered narcissistic abuse!
With so much love and compassion for you if you've been through this as well! And I cannot recommend enough for you to get some help, whether with me, one of the persons from the videos I've linked above, or a therapist or other type of professional you FULLY trust and resonate with, who makes your heart feel good.
You too deserve to be able to say and feel, as I was finally able to state and fully feel in an email today:
"I value myself now. I know my worth, I know that I have the right to be who I am, that I deserve to be happy and treated with respect, to feel dignity in who I am."
Every human deserves this, not just our children.
Lots of love,
PS: I did the free course offered by Inner Integration and am now working through the 12 week SANA one. I highly recommend them!