Why People Stay in Unhealthy Relationships – You Do Deserve to Be Happy!

Why do people stay in unhealthy relationships? Many don’t believe they are deserving of happiness. Tony tackles this topic using “When You Don’t Feel You Deserve to Be Happy” by Robert Taibbi as his muse and a post from his women’s private Facebook group. The article can be found at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fixing-families/201901/when-you-feel-you-dont-deserve-be-happy Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony’s newsletter, and more at https://linktr.ee/virtualcouch

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63 Transcript

Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 63 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and host of the Virtual Couch podcast, as well as the Waking Up to Narcissism premium edition question and answer podcast, which I am somewhat confident by the time you hear this episode 63, whether it is when it is released somewhere around the weekend of March 4th or fifth of the year, 2023, or if you’re hearing this in the distant future, that you can find the Waking Up to Narcissism premium podcast online. It’s an Apple podcast and I just highly encourage you to go check that out. It’s a subscription-based podcast. It is $5 a month and you will have access to weekly question and answer episodes as well as there’s going to be some bonus content there and all proceeds go to an incredibly good cause. And go find the link tree in the show notes, and that is link tree slash virtual couch. And that will then tell you all the things that you need to know about the various episodes and newsletters you can sign up for and online programs and courses. My marriage workshop is still there which is a $19 money back guarantee telling you all the things you didn’t know that you didn’t know about what a healthy relationship looks like. And I think that’s very important. 

And that is leading up to an updated version of my Magnetic Marriage course, which will be coming very, very soon. And I just encourage you to sign up for the newsletter no matter what, because that’s where you’re going to find out a lot of information and free therapy, in essence, I guess that is probably not very responsible of me. There is advice given on the internet and that is through Tony Overbay underscore LMFT I’m doing more reels there and then virtual couch on Tik Tok and putting out a lot of content there, maybe one or two things a day that are all mental health or therapy related. 

Okay. So let’s get to today’s episode and whether you are the pathologically kind, whether you are the emotionally immature, whether you are the person with the higher amount of narcissistic traits or tendencies, you may even be the narcissist that all of a sudden discovered this foreign podcast on your wife or husband’s phone. And you’re thinking, oh, really, waking up to narcissism. What does this guy know? And if you’re here, welcome. I am a friend. I feel your pain. Waking Up to Narcissism was a very intentional name of this podcast. As I woke up to my own narcissistic traits and tendencies and emotional immaturity. So before you decide to trash me for my nasally tone or heaven forbid you look me up and see that I am incredibly bald, hang on here for a minute, because this is literally for everyone that is listening to my voice right now that I want to say in a very, very dramatic, low tone that you are absolutely okay. You are enough. You are lovable. And you should not have to, and I don’t normally should on people, but you should not have to beg someone to love you. You should not have to feel like what is wrong with you because someone is not loving you. And you are absolutely okay. But most likely you didn’t have the upbringing that taught you the things that you needed to know about a secure attachment or what it feels like to actually be loved. And not to be controlled. 

So today we’re going to go into some detail about where that really resides, where that comes from and why it can be so difficult to feel like you deserve love, because so often, when people are in these emotionally immature or narcissistic relationships, and they are part of this trauma bond, I realize some 17 years and 13 or 1400 couples in therapy later, that when I am trying to preach my four pillars of a connected conversation or here’s what a secure attached relationship looks like, or here’s the dangerous dance between the avoidant and the anxious attached couple. That I am just saying words, if you remember the peanuts characters and any adult just said, wah wah wah wah wah. And I feel like that is what I am saying. And then when I am done with my words, then they say, so do we, are we in agreement that she’s crazy? Can you agree with me? And that is absolutely not the point, because if you are still trying to find a way to convince your partner that you are not crazy, so if you are that pathologically kind person thinking I can get through, I can cause him or her to have that aha moment. They must just misunderstand me. You are wasting emotional calories and energy if that has been the experience of your entire relationship. And you are absolutely okay and within your right to know that you are lovable just as you are. 

I have two muses, I guess we’ll say today. One is from a post in the women’s Facebook group, the private women’s Facebook group for women in relationships with narcissistic people, fill in the blank. And the person says, “In tears today after my therapy appointment, realizing that the main reasons I’ve stayed in this relationship so long are a deep sense of shame for mistakes I’ve made and the belief that not only is there nothing better out there. But that I don’t deserve any better. Like he’s treated me badly, but I should still be grateful to have him at all.” And she said, “I am starting to not believe that anymore, but it’s really hard.” And she said, she knows this is a lot, but she really does feel pretty alone. And this is one of those posts where the power of a group is just incredible. 

People saying that they could have written this they’re in the thick of these realizations too, that their particular sessions of therapy have been good but really difficult. This one person said, almost a year out of their marriage and that you’re not alone. Another person commented and said that they felt the pain too. It’s hard. “We stay for so many reasons and I spent a long time believing that my husband’s breadcrumbs were all I deserved. And it took me months to realize that that was his belief, not mine.” And she said, “All of the shame and the guilt, the blame, the worthlessness was handed to me by others who wanted me to carry their pain. First it was my parents. Then it was my husband.” And she said, “I’m really sorry that today was hard, but if you can find a little something to do for yourself to show your kindness, you deserve all the good things, the peace, the joy, the compassion. You deserve all the qualities that you’ve poured into your marriage returned to you tenfold.” And more people jumped in there and said, you’re not alone. I feel the same way. Another person said they brainwash you to feel that way so you don’t leave. Glad you’re starting to see things differently. And people are just jumping in and saying, I’ve been where you’re at. It’s so hard. Grieve the past, mourn in the loss. Look forward with hope. And someone else saying, though, I’m glad you had this breakthrough. My heart breaks for you. But now you can get to the healing. And she said, I can’t believe how many of us there are out there. So you may feel alone, but everybody is here for you. And that is the story of the pathologically kind, who has been continually thinking what’s wrong with me? And I don’t deserve more. 

So I also want to go to muse number two, and this is an article that I found in “Psychology Today” that I really feel I’ll provide a bit of a backdrop for the way that I think that we can address this the best way. It’s by a licensed clinical social worker named Bob, I think it’s Taibbi. And I’ll put a link to his website in the show notes, but it’s an article he did back in 2019. It’s on “Psychology Today”. And it says, “When you feel you don’t deserve to be happy,” and he said, “consciously or unconsciously, our past can undermine our present happiness.” So I appreciate Bob’s articles so much. And what I want to do is he has a bit of an introduction and he just talks about some of the things that, you know, life, he says life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that we know these words from the declaration of independence, but many folks gave up the pursuit a long time ago, and some can even mark the day and the time when their view of life and themselves changed. He said, think of that poor secret service agent who 40 years later said when interviewed that he could never forgive himself because he believed that if he had only acted more quickly, he could have prevented the assassination of John Kennedy. Or first responders who feel like if only they’d acted more quickly, they could have saved someone’s life. 

But he says, “For many others, the moments are less defined. And instead the belief that they are not worthy of happiness goes underground and actively yes, subtly sabotages any attempt to be happy. So then they struggle with low level, but chronic depression, or they never go beyond a first date or talk about their passions. And they never fully pursue them. Or they live in a constant state of anxiety, even though they can’t pinpoint the source. So whether their beliefs about themselves are conscious or not, the end product is the same”. And this is the phrase. I think he nailed so well: there’s an erosion of their lives. So he goes over a lot of the common sources of the self-sabotage and that’s where I really want to jump in and just throw my own 2 cents. So I really appreciate that setting the table because you can see that there are those traumatic moments where we feel like our life has changed, but this is part of the challenge, the problem of being in a relationship with an emotionally immature, narcissistic person. And I think it really goes back to that concept of implicit memory from the book, the Buddha Brain by Rick Hanson where he talks about your body being built from the food you eat. But your mind is from the experiences that you have and that concept around implicit memory or what it feels like to be you is from this flow of experience. And that flow of experience includes expectations, models of relationships, emotional tendencies, and this overall outlook of your life. And so that implicit memory establishes the interior landscape of your mind or what it feels like to be, you. And it is based on slow accumulation of lived experience. And then he goes on to say, here’s the problem that your brain preferentially scans for registers stores recalls and reacts to unpleasant experiences. 

And he says that your brain is like Velcro for the negative experiences, that it hangs onto those negative experiences. But Teflon for the positive ones that they just roll right off. So consequently, even when positive experiences do start to outnumber the negative ones. And I would imagine if you’re listening to this podcast, that hasn’t probably been the case for maybe a long time. That the pile of negative implicit memories grows faster. So then that overall, that background feeling of what it feels like to be, you can start to be undeservedly glum and pessimistic. And I think one of the biggest challenges when people are in unhealthy relationships is as Rick Hanson goes on to say, the remedy is not to suppress negative experiences when they happen, they happen. But it’s to foster the positive experiences in particular to take them in. So they become a permanent part of you. Now that is ideal when you are not in an emotionally abusive or manipulative relationship. As a couples therapist, and I mentioned this often, that still the majority, even though I put out podcasts that talk about narcissism and emotional immaturity, that the majority of couples that I am working with are people that can gain a new skill or tool. And their relationship has grown incredibly flat, or they’ve been waiting. I’ll be happy when my kids are out of the house and then their kids are out of the house, and all of a sudden they realize they really don’t know who each other is. 

You can hand those people a tool and that tool is going to help them build a beautiful relationship. But for people that have been in this emotionally abusive relationship, there is such a net negative effect that it is causing them to feel like they are less than they have lost their sense of self. So it’s not just a matter of feeling a little bit flat. It’s a matter of not feeling safe and that body keeps the score is on high alert that your cortisol level is so high that a couple of things happen again. Number one, complex post-traumatic stress disorder. The longer that you are in this constant fight or flight response, the more your brain says, okay well, we don’t need access to certain parts of our brain, especially our short-term memory. That hippocampus is adorable, but it’s not really necessary when everything I’m being told is I’m being told that I’m wrong. So let’s send a little more blood flow to the amygdala because that sure seems to be used on a constant basis. And then over time, the neurons that fire together, wire together. So if you are constantly in a state of distress, then that background feeling or implicit memory or what it feels like to be you is continually feeling this sense of stress or doom. And then you can’t access, not only your short-term memory, but you can’t even access the logical part of your brain half the time, because there are so many triggers around you that cause you to go back into this fight or flight mode, and now at that point, add the gaslighting and you really do lose your sense of self and feel like what is wrong with me? I must be crazy. And you’re not, and you have to be able to get away from that emotional abuse. Even if just for brief periods of time, to be very intentional about it, to breathe in the fresh air, to get some exercise, to get the blood flow going, meditate, mindfulness, stretch, do yoga, read a book, dream, watch something that you like. 

And all of those things now matter because they are starting to gradually shape that residue, that background, of what it feels like to be you. So that can be really difficult though to suppress these negative experiences, when you are in a situation where your body now is just queued and ready for those negative experiences, and then you go into that protective mode, especially if I have to protect my kids. Or if I’m trying to protect my sanity. Then that becomes just what it feels like to be you. So back to this article by Bob, because I cannot, I don’t want to continue to butcher his last name. He says, here are the common sources for this self-sabotage or why then we really feel like we don’t deserve to be happy. The first thing, he talks about his past and he says, sins. And I want to, and this is, this is me to talk about sins. And then I was going to give the old, the gospel, according to me line, maybe see kind of the humor there. But I do a lot of helping people navigate faith journeys, formerly known as faith crisis. That’s one of the things that I honestly appreciate and enjoy doing the most, because I know from firsthand experience that when somebody can feel lost, that they can turn to a faith community and it can be just a life preserver. It can be a raft in a giant sea. But then there are times where that raft may get them to dry land. And then people are still saying, hey, get back on the raft because we need you on the raft. And then they can start to feel disenchanted with their faith community. And over on the Virtual Couch, I’ve done a number of episodes where I talk about a concept of James Fowler’s stages of faith, which is just a phenomenal concept. So if you are starting to challenge your relationship with the divine, you know, with God, with your faith community, and that has been something that’s been really important to you, then I would highly encourage you to find, there was an episode I did a couple of months ago about navigating a faith journey. 

But for right now, can you do me a huge favor? And let’s just put aside that concept of sin. Lets talk about behavior. I spoke one time to a group of religious leaders and one of them, and I really know this person means so incredibly well, but I was talking about my four pillars of a connected conversation. I was talking about Fowler’s stages of faith. And the leader meant so well. And he had just mentioned that, he said, you know, if I’m going to do these four pillars and assume the good intentions and not tell the person they’re wrong and say, tell me more. He had put it in a way of, would that in essence, be condoning the sin or the behavior? And, I will admit my immaturity in that moment, I think I probably did a dramatic pause and sigh. And then I just said, boy, you know, I appreciate the question. And from where I’m coming from, I’m not looking at that as this person is coming to you to confess a sin, but this person is coming to you to share an experience because this is the first time that they’ve gone through life as them. And then check it out, in that moment, this is how they reacted. This is how they were showing up. And there is so much that can be happening behind the scenes that leads someone to the behavior that they do. I work with plenty of people that will feel bad that they’re in unhealthy marital relationships, and we’re not even talking about infidelity, but they will find a connection with someone of the opposite sex that is not their spouse. And they will start that typically with the, I know I shouldn’t, what’s wrong with me. I need to not do that. 

And I like to come at it from a place of, okay. So check this out. I’m noticing I have a connection with this other person. Because if we’re looking at it from a man, check this out, when I have felt unsafe or unheard in my relationship, here’s someone that I feel like, here’s me. And that can really give quite a dopamine dump. It can be, there can be a rush there to feel heard and understood. So as you are starting to move away from the what’s wrong with me and I don’t deserve happiness concept or thought process. Then, can you also suspend the concepts around this past sin? Because he talks about, Bob says, here folks look back on their lives and only see what they’ve done wrong. And the people that they’ve hurt and their lives are a chronicle of destruction and sadness, guilt and regret are their primary emotions. And their unhappiness is then they feel like this penance that they forever play. And so when you can really start acknowledging the fact that I did what I did, period. Or this is what happened, period. Then we can look at that with curiosity and say, why did that happen? And that’s where we can start to trace back it’s because I didn’t feel safe in my relationship or it can even, I mean, you can, we can all go all the way back to, I saw that behavior modeled in my childhood. That’s the only way that I know that I can get attention because that’s the way I saw my mom behave. 

So when we can look at that, as the things that you have done, if we can suspend this concept of your sins and say, these are the things that happened. And these are the consequences that may have come from that. And then, look at that with curiosity and acceptance and just say, okay, now that that happened now, what can I take away? How can I look at that? Maybe do a little bit of self confrontation, sit with a little bit of uncomfortable feeling because that’s going to come into play in a very big way. As we talk more about ways to recognize that I am okay. I’m getting to learn to sit with some discomfort. But then that unhappiness that you may feel because of the actions you have done in the past, which were the first time you had gone through life in that very moment as you, then your unhappiness is not a penance that you must pay. Because that penance, there will never be enough emotional coins paid where you then feel like you can get out of that emotional prison. He then mentioned survivor’s guilt and there’s a special brand or type of survivor’s guilt that can happen here. And that can be, I think it’s a little bit more rare, but when somebody has maybe lost a loved one in their life, and then for some reason, their brain wants to attach meaning to that if they could have, if the person, the pathologically kind person could have only done something more than maybe that person would be, would be happier. I’ve run into this on occasion when maybe there has been the death or suicide of a loved one and where someone can feel this survivor’s guilt, and then they almost take that into their relationship. 

And then feel like, okay, this must be again, it almost goes back to that penance that I must pay, because I could have done more to help this person that is close to me, and that is, if you look through those stages of grief and loss, Elizabeth Kubler Ross data, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That bargaining is an interesting one because bargaining, when somebody is on their deathbed, that’s the proverbial eighties sit-com where then you combat that if you can make it out of this situation in the live or view, if your person close to you will pull through, you will become a priest and then that person pulls through and then you say, oh, I had my fingers crossed. And then the laugh track ensues. But in reality, bargaining is often something where you feel like, oh, I could have done more. I should have done more. Had I done more, then that person would be alive. And so that can sometimes manifest a survivor’s guilt in a relationship. But trauma is the one that really starts to resonate, he said he’s met with women who were sexually abused as children who came away from that trauma, thinking that they were dirty. And because they believed they were, they felt that they were not worthy to have children on their own. And he said, childhood trauma not only leaves emotional scars, but it leaves somebody with a distorted view of themselves. They live with self-blame with the fear of replicating these wounds with a view of a world forever unsafe. Clouding any feelings of unhappiness. And I think that’s the part that just resonates is that if you did not, again, feel safe as a child and if there was physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse. Then you won’t feel safe as a child because no child deserves any of those. They really don’t. It breaks my heart how often that is a part of somebody’s growing up. 

And so that is then if it’s this unresolved guilt or the shame where they feel like, well, I was a pretty bad kid and I remember how I remember just so clearly working with someone many years ago through some marital things and then they came back and they said they needed to process some trauma from childhood. And this was someone that I think just if you looked at their gruff exterior nature, that you would not anticipate that they were number one, going to talk about their emotions in this way. But number two, you couldn’t even picture this person going through this trauma, but then they opened up about some severe neglect and physical abuse and childhood, and there was a moment where he was talking about his own kids and he was talking about how they can be frustrating. And he said, So, you know, I know my parents were doing their best and he said I probably was a pretty bad kid. And man, we let that one sit for a second. And then I just said, is there ever a time where you feel like that would be justified? The things that you had been through with your own children? And he said, no, not at all. And that just shows you the depth of where, when you are a kid, you are ego centered because you’re a kid. You only know the world through your lens. And you don’t really understand what’s going on with people around you. So the fact that mom or dad are going through something, or somebody is now abusing me. Which again is not okay. It’s not an okay excuse to take that out on a helpless child. But to that child, all they know is that life comes at them through their lens period. So then if that is happening, man, they must have really made mom or dad mad. 

Or they must have done something to make this person do what they’re doing. And so that is really, that is something that we carry forward with us into adulthood. And that can really have somebody feel this trauma reaction whenever they feel unsafe. Or when someone gets mad, then they immediately resort to this is my fault. And I need to calm that person’s emotions and anxiety down. I will do whatever it takes. And that can really be a difficult place to operate from. And especially when you’re in a relationship with someone who is emotionally immature. Because let’s take a step back again and look at what a healthy or an emotionally mature relationship, what the goal is because we go into relationships, emotionally immature and a little bit codependent and enmeshed. Because that’s in essence, the way that we evolve from childhood, it’s the way that we feel like we need to go into a relationship. 

That we are going to try to present ourselves in a way that the other person will find attractive or will like us. We laugh at their jokes a little bit more. We agree with things that maybe we don’t necessarily really agree with because we feel like man, with this connection, I’m sure we’re going to figure things out. Or if it’s something that I really don’t know about, instead of me saying, yeah, I don’t really know. We’re afraid that that person may leave us if we don’t know. So we say, well, yeah, I do kind of like that too. Or tell me what you think about it. And so we go into those relationships absolutely not knowing what we don’t know. But where this veers off or takes a fork in the road is that if you get in a relationship and you’re both just, I want to say a standard amount of emotionally immature and you at least saw decently modeled relationships growing up, then as you start to go through life, you start to have life experiences, you graduate college, or you move, or you get new jobs or you have kids, or you go through financial struggles. And at that point, now it unpacks what that feels like for you based on the experiences of you growing up. 

And now you’re communicating with another person. We’re designed to deal with emotion in concert with another human being. And so we’re starting to say, well, what’s this like for you? Because this is what that’s like for me. And then you mature together. So when you are struggling and you are feeling safe and then you can do a little bit of introspection and say, man, you know, when we are struggling financially, here’s where I go with that, because this is what that was like for me growing up. And if that person then says, I can’t believe you just said that. And it sounds to me like you don’t think I’m a provider. Then I’m going to start to withdraw what I said and say, well, no, I mean, I guess I don’t really think that. And now I’m going to feel like I got to figure things out on my own because this doesn’t feel safe. But if you express that, when we’re struggling financially, I go back to this place where it was really hard growing up and we really had to scrimp and save. And then if your partner says, man, I appreciate you sharing that because my family, maybe my dad was a commissioned salesman our whole life. And so I guess I really don’t see it as scary as maybe you do, because it seems like everything always worked out. Now we both feel heard and we both feel understood, and we’re not trying to tell the other person they’re wrong. And so then we can start to work together and we can start coming up with solutions. And we can grow. 

And when we can become better people, because now we’re taking in more of life’s experience as we hit these new things that are happening to us in our lives. So, what is so hard about that is if you have been trying, because it’s part of the human condition, to share thoughts and feelings and emotions, but then you’re met by that emotionally immature or narcissistic person who is constantly viewing every interaction as an opportunity to get their supply, it’s like, okay well, how do I control the situation? I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong. I’m going to tell you that I can’t believe you said that I’m going to tell you that I know better than you because then that gives that emotionally immature person, in essence, the fuel they need, because they don’t have a sense of self without external validation. And this is not the good kind of external validation. This is the kind of validation that is a deep childhood abandonment wound that says, I just need interaction and I never saw healthy interactions modeled. So as long as I can keep this person in my life, even if it’s through control and primarily through control, then I’m going to be okay. And that is without a lot of regard toward the non narcissistic partner. So now is when it really does start to look like a form of betrayal, betrayal trauma, as a matter of fact, because now if the nice, pathologically kind person is saying, here’s how I feel, here are my emotions. I need to process them. I’m putting out this emotional bit. I’m handing you my heart. And then you take it and you throw it on the ground. 

Then this whole part of why we couple, why we get in serious relationships, so that we can grow together as people is being taken and it’s being devalued and it’s actually being broken and it’s being thrown back in my face. And so I had someone recently say that they realized that they were looking for the person who had done the damage as to be the person to help them heal. So every time they went back in and tried to say, here’s how I’m feeling and can we process this and can we talk about it? Can we work this out? That person would then take that as new buttons to push. And that is what can be so difficult when people are in these narcissistic or emotionally unhealthy and abusive relationships. So when they’re continually even being told by the person that says, no, I do, I do. I, you know, I want you to tell me how you feel. And then as soon as you tell them how you feel, and then they say, well, that’s actually wrong. I mean, that’s not how it happened, and so then it’s not safe. We can’t open up. So I feel like the trauma response just is there in spades. And I feel like that is part of what keeps people in this cycle of feeling like they must not deserve to be happy because they must be the problem. Because of this trauma and then here they are trying to open up to somebody and then that person is routinely telling them that it’s your fault. It’s actually not my fault. You’re actually the one that doesn’t really understand. And if I have to say, sorry, then. Okay, fine. Sorry. But I, I really don’t think I did it. And if I did, you’re the one that made me do it. And now I really can’t believe that we’re even having this conversation. And so that’s, that is messed up that now you just brought that to me. So you feel crazy. So that is that trauma. 

I think Robert’s next example definitely applies and he’s talking about parental worry, but he frames it from a place of a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child. And many parents feel this because parenting doesn’t get switched off at age 18. Their worries at times, their guilt, and their feelings of helplessness can become a drag on everyday life. But if we frame this in the context of trying to buffer for the kids and this almost this parental worry of, am I doing the right thing by staying in an abusive relationship? Which to me, the answer is no. Because in that scenario, you are modeling unhealthy behavior to the kids. And I think where I see this start to show up the most is that if someone, if I’m working with a client, let’s just say a 25 year old female who has been in two or three different relationships and is playing the familiar song of what is wrong with me? I must be broken. And then when we really start to break down the game film, if they grew up with the narcissistic dad, for example, then they are afraid to introduce tension or to set boundaries in the relationship because that is not what they saw modeled growing up. And as a matter of fact, everybody just had to keep dad happy. So if dad started to raise his voice or just become agitated or emotionally unavailable, then it was a you problem. You had to figure out how to show up to make sure that you didn’t get in trouble or you didn’t get the brunt of his emotions or his emotional outbursts or even physical outbursts. So then you show up in your relationships and you’re more drawn toward someone that is more of this unavailable person or this person who is really good with the love bombing, but, you know that one well, but then they can also absolutely withdraw. And then you are now coming into the caretaker role. 

And then I guess this might be a slight plug for the premium episode of Waking Up to Narcissism, the paid premium podcast on apple podcasts. Because I talked a lot about this, there was a question that was asked about validating our kid’s experience versus not throwing dad under the bus. And so I did talk about the importance of being able to not tell them to not worry about it and dads going through something, and it’s not a big deal because we’re in essence teaching you to not be in touch with your emotions and your feelings and you’re wrong. And then I’m not modeling the right behavior. So next up, we have a critical self image. So he says those who are constantly critical of themselves, those who are perfectionistic, hard driven, who come from critical or abusive childhoods are essentially stuck at the bottom of a well with few or no ways to get out. And if happiness is based on who you are and who you are is based on what you do. And if everything has to be perfect, then your successes are rare. And while you may try for a time to hit the mark over time, you might begin to realize that you can’t. All you’re left with is this angry voice in your head reminding you how you always screw up, how you are a loser, how you’ll never be good enough. And he says that is a recipe for chronic unhappiness. So that critical self image is I believe part of that, just internal shame, this shame compass that we operate from, and that does come from this childhood abandonment wound, where if we are seeing people not show up for us consistently, we don’t have that secure attachment as a kid. 

And again, we have no idea what that looks like. We are just being a kid. So this is something that is happening to us. And we don’t have much say in the matter, but if people are not showing up for us, then we have this lens that we are looking through, that is, it has to be me. I don’t understand what the world of adult problems are. So it’s me, it’s a me thing, but we can’t even articulate that. So it just becomes more of a feeling. And that feeling is going to feel like shame. It’s going to feel bad. And so that feeling is going to come around. If you are not, if you’re not really feeling good, or if things aren’t necessarily going your way, or if people aren’t even reading your cues, because you may not even know what that’s like to ask for the things that you need in your life. And then if people don’t meet your needs, and this is in a situation where there are needs that you can meet on your own, then you feel like, something is wrong with me. And therefore we try to make up for that. The only way that in essence, a child knows how is to perform and to, and that’s where that perfectionism can really come in. And I think I talked about this a couple of weeks ago, but when you look at this, a concept called internal family systems, it’s a type of therapy that looks at your family as a variety of sub personalities. And so if you grew up and you were being told that you are not enough literally, or that you’re dumb, or you’re being abused, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, there’s a belief that you may splinter off this emotion of just absolute fear or pain, or just self-loathing. And then you’re going to have a protector, almost like a protector sub personality, that’s going to come in there and it is going to drive this perfectionism because if you can be perfect and not get anything wrong, then you will never have to even come remotely close to being called stupid again. 

Because that feeling just feels like such a core loading or lack of self worth that you really do want to do whatever you can to stay away from it. But the problem is that that perfectionist quality is just, it is always on. And so then you grow to beat yourself up because then you feel like it will, if I am not perfect, then this is not going to go well. So I have to try harder and try harder. And that is a lot of pressure to put on somebody. It really is because like Robert says, that you will never actually feel like you’re good enough. And that will be a recipe for chronic unhappiness. A couple more and then we’ll wrap this one up today. One of them is feeling guilty if you’re happy. And I see this one so often, and I believe that this one is part of, if someone is in an emotionally abusive or narcissistic relationship, then if they are feeling good, it’s almost like the narcissist has to now be feeling bad because the narcissist needs to control the environment. So if I’m feeling good, it says to the narcissist, yeah. Then we’re all doing well, but if I’m not feeling good, how on earth are you guys feeling good? So I’m going to regulate everybody’s mood and emotion. So there are times where someone, if they are noticing that they’re feeling happy and they’re even out and about or on their own, all of a sudden that trauma response kicks in and they almost feel like, oh my gosh, where is he? I better not be happy. 

And so that’s where Robert says, I feel guilty if I laugh at something or unexpectedly feel like I’m in a good mood. He says I’ve been down and depressed for so long that I’m afraid that if I don’t seem that way, then I’ve been lying to myself and those close to me. And this is, I think this one is difficult at times to even recognize because if around the narcissist, especially, are they incredibly, emotionally mature? I see a lot of people that exhibit the typical, I talked about them, the narcissistic medical exits, or they have this grandiose things such as, pain and things like that that seemed to come at the most inopportune times and be gone when the narcissist is feeling fine. And in these areas, a lot of times the narcissist feels like they have to continually, just be either chronically down or something’s wrong, or this victim mentality, because that’s the way that they get their validation. So if you ever say, Hey, how are you feeling today? And if they say, no, I’m having a decent day and you say, well, good. Then like, I mean, no, it’s, I’m sure it’s going to disappear at any moment now, because their identity is that concept of being unhappier, being broken or being the victim. Then if heaven forbid, they feel like you are saying they are no longer the victim, then you may not care about them. And if you don’t care about them, then they may die in their mind. 

So they have to continually keep you in this kind of this emotionally disruptive state where they are when they are feeling bad, then they have all kinds of ailments. But then if they want to go to the beach, all of a sudden, I’m having an amazing day. How about that? He also then kind of, I think a close cousin to feeling guilty. If you’re happy then would you even feel like, do you deserve happiness? And he said, what keeps this way of looking at your life alive or the underlying wounds? From the past or present that continue to fester. And here’s the thing you absolutely deserve to be happy now: is happiness continually achievable all the time? No. And there’s a great book called The Road Less Traveled that I believe starts with, “Life is difficult. And once you accept the fact that life is difficult, then the fact that life is difficult no longer is what we’re debating. But then once you accept that it can be difficult. Now, what do I do with it?” Because when we aren’t accepting of that, yeah life is going to be hard. There are going to be ups and downs. Then when we run into a down, we go immediately to the what’s wrong with me? Where in reality, we’re all dealing with things that are difficult and they can be a challenge. And I’m not saying that you just say, well now what are you going to do? But in essence it is okay. Man. Why is this mountain in front of me? Must be me. I must be doing something wrong. Or okay, there is a mountain. What are we going to do? We’re going to climb over it. We’re going to go around it. We dig under it. And then that’s almost this acceptance. So that is that you do deserve happiness. But what we look at as far as how we obtain happiness can be a completely different story. 

The book, The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris gives two different meanings to happiness. And I think this is so applicable here. He says the word happiness has two very different meanings. The common meaning of the word is feeling good. In other words, feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness or gratification. We all enjoy these feelings. So it’s no surprise that we chase them. However, like all human emotion, feelings of happiness don’t last. No matter how hard we try to hold onto them. They slip away every time. And as we shall see a life spent in pursuit of those good feelings is in the long term deeply unsatisfying. In fact, the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. But he said the other far less common meaning of happiness is living a rich, full and meaningful life. So when we take action on the things that truly matter, deepen our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. And this is not a fleeting feeling. It’s a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings. It’ll also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness and fear and anger, but this is only to be expected because if we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotion. 

And what is so powerful about that second definition is that life will undoubtedly give us pleasurable feelings, but will also give us uncomfortable ones. And what do we do with that discomfort? Do we allow ourselves to feel sad or to feel fear or to feel anger? We need to, and if we can allow ourselves to sit with those uncomfortable emotions and then what are they telling us? What are the lessons we can learn? Then we can move on. We can turn toward things of value, value based activities, value based goals. And then that’s where we can start to live this more, this meaningful, this purpose driven value based life. And I just want to make the point that when we are so busy, trying to figure out what is wrong with us, do we deserve love? Why am I broken? How can I convince somebody that I’m okay? The more that we spend time doing that then that is absolutely the less time we’re spending on trying to find this sense of purpose or these values, these value based goals. And the more that we’re doing that, I feel like you can make the leap to say that in that process of trying to say, what’s wrong with me and how do I get this person to love me? And maybe things weren’t as bad as I think they are. And it must be me and I don’t deserve to be happy that all of those things run counterintuitive to this definition of what true happiness can be. Which is finding your purpose. So finding your purpose, finding what makes you tick, finding what matters to you. And I think the unfortunate part about people that are in these emotionally abusive or emotionally immature relationships, is that they don’t have the opportunity to find themselves in what matters to them because they’re so busy trying to manage their own discomfort and emotions. And buffer and try to caretake this emotionally immature person that is going to go off at any moment. And change the rules that have been in the family up until that point, because that’s a, it’s a moving target. So just wrapping things up. 

He does finish the article and I want to, again, I really appreciate him acting as my muse today. But he does finish the article saying how do you, how do you move forward? And how can you convince yourself that you deserve happiness? And I hope that we’ve made a fair enough point of why it can be hard to be happy and why we feel like we don’t deserve to be happy and knowing that you do. And if you still don’t believe that you do, I want you to lean on me right now. Trust me. Because you are most likely continuing to think those thoughts that I do not deserve. I’m not deserving of happiness. And when the what’s wrong with me and that is not suited you well up to this point. It’s time to try something new. It’s time to start carving out a new neuropathway. And just remember that your brain is a don’t get killed device, it’s an I’ll do it later device, it’s a that sounds really difficult device. That when you’re trying to carve out a new neuropathway, it’s going to take a little bit of effort and energy. And then when you let your foot off the gas of being intentional, then you’ll go right back to the path of least resistance, but he says one of the things he suggests is as you can make amends and I do feel like this is the one that I would, I would put a little bit of an asterisk by when we’re talking about working with people that do have personality disorders, because he’s saying here’s where you could send the letter to somebody that you feel hurt you, or you apologize for some wrong. 

And I know that the people that are listening to this podcast and especially somebody that’s already listed or that is still listening over 40 minutes in, that you most likely tried that a lot. Writing the text, the letter, the email apologizing. And if that’s the case you’ve probably experienced times where that hasn’t been met with a man. Thank you so much. You know, I wasn’t, I didn’t realize the impact that I was having. It’s more like it’s about time or then that’s used against you. He does also have a good idea, which is writing. If you need to write a letter to somebody and not send it. Then there’s real power in doing things like journaling and writing letters, because when the thoughts are all in your head and they’re, they’re acting in a jumbled way. Then when you write them out linearly, it does tend to help. Get those things in a more cohesive, I don’t know, understandable order. And then you can often move on from there. I like that he says, realize you did the very best you could at that time. This is the part where I love talking about. This is your very first go round on this merry-go-round of life, I guess, depending on your belief system, but as the time that is right now you know what you know right now. And you knew what you knew back then at that time. So you absolutely need to give yourself some grace and some compassion, because you really were just doing the best you could with the tools that you have. And as the pathologically kind person, if you just now thought of that very moment. Oh, okay. So he or she, well, got to give them credit too. They’re doing the best that they can. And that may be true, but that doesn’t mean that you have to put yourself in harm’s way, if that’s the case. 

So realize that you did the best you could, and it’s going to take time. It’s going to take work. Your, this is where real, real good therapy or, a true skill of being able to sit with the motion. Take up a mindfulness skill learned to notice that these are all just thoughts and feelings. And I noticed them and I feel them and they are things and I don’t have to stop them. And I don’t have to tell myself what’s wrong with them. And I can’t just magically change them. But the more I recognize that I can change the relationship that I have with my thoughts, he says, resolve your trauma and that can be a very powerful thing. And trauma often comes in layers. And so sometimes you will start to uncover things and feel a little bit better. And then here comes another layer of trauma. So just that, if you really have some deep trauma and wounds, I think that it might be best to get help from a professional. And he talks about working on your self criticism, directly treat your anxiety or depression that if there is if I do. Recommend seeing a medical professional, especially if you do feel anxious or if you feel like you have an elevated heart rate, or if you jump into fight or flight mode, all right away. We’ve had a couple of group calls on the women’s group, the Facebook group, and have a nurse that is very knowledgeable, who has given us a lot of information about even the things that can happen like the chronic fatigue or the adrenal fatigue or the higher blood pressure and these things can happen. 

And when the body keeps the score, as somebody is in an emotionally unhealthy relationship. And while I would love to say that, just go do all of these things starting today. The reality is you may start thinking about some new things to do. And your brain is still going to come up with the well, yeah, but I don’t have time or, yeah, but I don’t know where to start. And just know that you are on the path toward healing and enlightenment and over time, if you will start just looking at things this new way that you are deserving of love you are lovable as you are, and it is absolutely okay for you to have your own thoughts and feelings and opinions and emotions. And if somebody is trained to control those, that is absolutely not a form of love. And as you put these pieces together than what it feels like to be you is a, is a pretty good feeling. And you’re going to start to thrive and let that light so shine that you are just making a difference to yourself first and then that’s where you’re going to be able to be a lifeline to those around you as well. So thanks for joining me this week, and I hope you have an amazing week. I will see you next week on Waking Up to Narcissism

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