I haven’t always been an avoider. There was a time when I used my voice without shame or apology. It was a small window of time, before I really felt the impact of the unhealthy adults in my life. As I got older and tried to grow into my skin, I heard clear and loud messages that using my voice was not okay. I learned to be quiet and stay small; don’t make ripples, don’t rock the boat, these people can’t be trusted so don’t bother.
Part of being small meant avoiding conflict at all costs. I would placate and take responsibility for things that weren’t mine. I would apologize for the expansion and contraction of my lungs, and mean it. I would stuff… and stuff and stuff and stuff until I exploded on someone I knew wouldn’t throw me away. Then the shame would take hold again.
That is, until a couple months ago. Through a conflict with my sister, I realized that I have grown in ways I am only beginning to understand. When I set the boundary I did with her, in the most loving way possible, I wasn’t avoiding. I knew it might upset her, I didn’t want that, but I knew the potential was there.
I did it because what I needed, and what my children needed, was more important to me than what she needed. As a person who struggles with co-narcissism this was HUGE.
I expected more from her, honestly. I expected her to at least attempt to see where I was coming from, see that my intentions were not to judge or shame her for her choices, see that my one and only goal was to keep my children safe. I expected her to respect me.
But she didn’t. Instead she stomped and yelled and tried to shame me for standing up for myself. She threw up a perception of me that was entirely innacurate in order to feed her narrative that I was the ‘bad guy’ in this situation, a role I have always been more than happy to agree to even when I wasn’t really to blame. She accused me of doing the very things she was doing.
When I re-read the Co-Narcissism article yesterday something became very clear: I have always been in that Narcissist/Co-Narcissist dynamic with her, too. I have long groveled at her feet to be one of the chosen ones allowed into her circle.
The first line of her response to me after I set the boundary was “You have earned yourself never having a relationship with me ever again.” She said this because she believed she had control, she believed this would hurt me deeply, she believed that I was still playing the game by her rules.
It was a punch to my gut, and of course it hurt, at first. But just as quickly, a light bulb went off. It hit me that I have never, and would never, have a true relationship with her in which I mattered, too. She requires control, requires me to exist by her rules, and when I did so, she granted me a ‘sister’ relationship. For a long time I saw it as a precious and fragile gift. The very fact that it was so fragile meant it was not real. I was always a puppet in our ‘relationship’. When I stopped letting her be my puppetier, she cut the strings hoping I would crumble to the ground.
I fell at first, confused and disoriented. Then I did something I never thought I would be able to do. I stood up and, to my surprise, my legs held me strong and tall. I got a pair of scissors and snipped the loose strings so I wouldn’t get tangled in them. And I walked off the stage.
I won’t engage in this narcissist/co-narcissist dynamic with her anymore. I won’t do the dance with her, or my father. If they want to see me and embrace me for who I am, wonderful. But as long as they expect me to live my life by their scripts, I don’t need or want them in my life.
Stepping out on my own is scary and invigorating. The realization I may never have a true, honest, loving relationship with either of them is sad, but the absence of their weight makes simply living my own life feel a little like flying.