Big change doesn't happen suddenly, you know? It happens very slowly over a long period of time. The biggest changes will take years or even decades. To achieve them it takes consistency, patience, hard work and a little bit of courage as well. The hardest part of it all is that you don't notice any difference. Basically, you have to work your ass off and you get nothing in return. Or so it seems. Real change happens in such a subtly. Until one day, you wake up and you are not the same person anymore.
This is not supposed to be a sad post actually, so bear with me. The abuse I endured as a child, the abuse that came later in life perpetrated by ex partners and more recently by my in-laws accumulated over the years and caused me to develop complex post traumatic stress disorder accompanied by recurrent depressive disorder. Let me tell you, it was an awful place to be in. I was scared of the world. I was scared of people. I was scared that I would get hurt again. And I was convinced that I was worthless, stupid and unlovable. I felt helpless and hopeless. Of course none of this was true, but this is what I have been taught by the people who were supposed to love me the most. So I believed it. At the same time, every single day of my life, I tried to suppress all of it. Until my strategies broke down.
Until I Broke Down
You know, they say it gets worse before it gets better. So in that regard, breaking down was a blessing for me. If I would not have broken down, I would not have started digging. Discovering what had actually happened to me and how it had impacted me. I would still be living in this confused, numb and reactive state.
So I started reading books about narcissism (which is actually where I came across the topic), I started going to therapy, I went to my beloved unicorn meetings (a self help group for adult children of narcissistic parents) and I started writing this blog, to break the silence. I aquired a lot of knowledge. For there was a lot of work to do. To break out of old patterns. I am a firm believer that you first have to understand what happened to you and how it impacted you. Then you have to grief your losses (in my case a happy childhood, loving parents and also a supportive family of origin going forward). And by the way, there is no time frame for grieving. It takes as long as it takes. It feels like it is going to kill you. I know that. I have been there. It comes in waves. One day you think you're better and the next day, it hits you all over again. And that's okay. Grieving is crucial. And if you are deeply in it, know that it is okay. Know that it is normal. And most of all, know that it is going to get better. Even if you cannot imagine right now, that you will ever come out of this, you will. It will get better. I promise.
The Turning Point Will Come
There will be a point at which you will feel that you simply do not want to grief anymore. And this is when you get to the second stage of healing where you start doing the work on yourself. It is not easy to break out of old patterns. It is the slow and subtle change that I was talking about at the beginning of this article. There is fear to overcome, there are self destructive behavioral patterns to break, which once kept you safe. There is self compassion, self worth and setting boundaries to learn.
In my case, I had to learn to be in the world again. Believe it or not, even though I traveled over 50.000 kilometres around Australia and some more through New Zealand, I managed to keep a safe distance from people. So I learned letting people in again. And even more importantly not only to trust again, but also to distinguish between who can and who cannot be trusted. I found the courage to approach some fellow students. Now I am part of their group. They are very sweet and kind people. We work together every week, we share ideas and we help each other. We laugh and have fun together. It feels amazing. Astonishing to me was also that they told me how much I help them every week. Remember the part, where my parents made me believe I was stupid. Well, my grades certainly tell a different story, that is for sure. But being told that I, the person who always felt too dumb to get anything done, helps a group of people who I cherish and respect a lot really is a game changer. Always remember, trauma, that happened in interpersonal relationships has to be healed within interpersonal relationships. You cannot do it alone.
Self Efficacy - The Antidote To Feeling Hopeless And Helpless
Furthermore, I had to learn something that is called self efficacy. Self efficacy is in my opinion the antidote to depression. Depression is feeling hopeless and helpless. Everything is grey. You do not feel joy anymore. You lose interest in everything that once gave you pleasure. And you feel helpless to change anything about that. You simply don't know how. My narcissistic mother had taught me as a kid that no matter what I tried, I never was enough. So I gave up and felt hopeless. At the more severe end you do not see any sense in staying alive anymore. (I have been there. I know what it feels like to not be able to get out of bed.) Self efficacy is knowing that you are able to get stuff done. It is, again, build slowly. You are confronted with something hard. For example in my case I started studying psychology and I had to figure out how to get all that knowledge into my head and pass really difficult exams. I am also able to successfully work with a statistics program. Now I know that I can do hard stuff. That I can figure it out. This is self efficacy.
Well there was other stuff I had to work on, too. I had a disc prolapse in my cervical spine around 5 months ago. It turned out I must have had tense muscles in my back for years which now caused this injury. Guess what? I didn't even feel that until the prolapse. So I had to learn how to feel myself again, to figure out what I need and to better take care of myself. This incident finally gave me the courage to go no contact with my mom. It happened just a weak after I got another guilt trip message from her as usual with no insight into her own contribution to the problems of our relationship and without any accountability on her part. I don't know whether this triggered the prolapse or if it would have happend anyway. But what she put me through over the years definitely played a role in the injury. So I decided enough is enough. I had given her much more chances than she deserves. I am done. By now, I know she won't change anyway. Because narcissists are unable to change. Ever. By implementing this boundary I made sure there is no more abuse coming from her side. Also I learned to relax more. To take that walk. To listen to my body. To take some time for myself.
The Power Of Having Fun
So, last week, my doctor gave me permission to start working out again. In preparation for that moment I had bought a fitness trampoline several months ago. I remembered that as a kid I had one and I absolutely loved jumping on it. So when I finally started my workout sessions, listening to my favourite music while doing it, I felt tremendous joy. A deep joy that I haven't felt for quite some time. (Remember how depression robs you of joy?) I felt like the little girl I once was who was just present in the moment, having fun.
Just like that, I thought, here I am again. I feel like myself again. Except that it is not just like that. All the work I described above, that I did prior, ultimately led to me regaining joy. I learned to better distinguish what is good for me. I remembered what gave me joy as a kid and what is pretty healthy by the way. Then I gave myself permission to do it.
I want to be honest with you, so I have to tell you that this journey isn't over. I am free of depression right now, but I still have anxiety and self worth issues. As I said, big change happens slowly over long periods of time. So I will keep working on my issues. And one day, I will have my degree, even if I have no idea how to get there today. I will figure it out. And maybe one day, I will be free of anxiety.
So keep doing the work. The change will come. I promise.
I am sending you a big hug!