"You Are So Strong!" - Lessons From The Unicorns

This week, my therapist said it again. I guess I coudn't count on two hands, how often he'd called me strong. And always, my stomach dropped. Why, you might ask yourself... Well, because this is way too inconsistent with my self image.

Have you ever been called strong? If so, what did it feel like? Whenever someone said this phrase to me, I instantly felt so disconnected from the person and strangely enough, from myself, too. Because, I do not feel strong. I never have. Not in the slightest way possible. In reality, I am constantly feeling afraid. I exhibit an anxiety so intense that it is barely contained. All. The. Time. It got to a point (when these exact four words came out of the mouth of my therapist, too) where I literally swore to myself, that if someone ever said this to me again, I would scream.

Well, I didn't. My head sank and I smiled resignedly when closing my eyes thinking, here we are again...

My Mondays are intense, because on a Monday morning, I see my therapist and then every second Monday evening, I attend to the self help group for adult children of narcissistic parents I do participate in. I secretly call them the unicorns, because they are so special. In a world full of lies and false faces, they accept who their parents are. A rare gift, I am so grateful for. Furthermore, I felt like the last unicorn, before I met them, because whomever I turned to, I was not understood. Not listened to. Not believed even. Now that I found them, I am not the last of the unicorns anymore. I am one of a small group. And I absolutely adore them for their vulnerability and honesty. To them, I can talk about anything. I even told them this week, that I was absolutely terrified to come into this group and tell my story out loud in front of them around three months ago.

In fact, we talked about fear a lot during our last meeting. Afraid would descripe me as a person way better than strong. Why people always look puzzled when I tell them, that I am basically afraid all of the time and of everything, I don't know. Apparently I really do look strong.

Changing The Narrative

The group leader then asked me, why I don't feel strong. "Did you not listen to me?", I did ask him. Because I worry about everything all the time. I am afraid that I could fail in every exam, that my relationship could fall apart, that my best friend could just forget about me one day and that I could turn out to be a total failure. Not lovable. Unworthy. All this "just love yourself" or better yet "if you don't love yourself first, no one will" - crap never appealed to me. I never bought into it. Because I know that my parents were supposed to love me first, so I could then love myself, too. But they didn't. They coudn't for their own reasons. They failed me. And now I have to deal with all those symptoms. Thanks mom and dad.

But the leader of the unicorns is not dumb. Of course, did he listen to me. He proceeded to explain to all of us, that the anxiety I just talked about does not indicate a lack of strength. All of our childhoods were characterized by fear and terror. We never knew what kind of cruel insult or outburst we'd be up against next. Every single one of us had to grow up in psychological terror. Actually, our fear was essentiall to our very survival. I guess I was staring at him in disbelief in that moment. But when you think about it... It might seem blown out of proprtion first, however, children who fail to be afraid enough and act out their emotions, who do not obey the narcissistic parent, sometimes get hurt or even murdered. It sadly still happens every day. Our fear kept us safe. I never thought about it that way. All my emotions are a normal reaction to abnormal behaviour. Sadly, they are. The thing with fear is, though, that it won't know, when the terror is over and we finally are safe. Research actually shows, that living in terror shapes our brain circuits in a way to keep us safe. In other words, our brains learned, that we better be on alert of an attack constantly. This is the current problem. All of us still being afraid to get hurt. It is also something that needs to be worked through in therapy. But maybe we can stop seeing it as the enemy, but as a friend who actually saved our life, instead.

Coming back to my initial statement, that I wasn't strong. Given what the leader of the unicorns educated us on, I had to ask myself, if that belief was even true. Was I actually still protecting my parents by believing I was the opposite of strong? Because if I was weak, wouldn't they then be right about me in a way? Or maybe not, maybe they should have been kind and supporting either way. Maybe I should finally stop blaming myself for the pain they caused me.

The fact is that I survived my childhood. All the unicorns did. We survived psychological terror. And it was hell. We didn't get to grow up in a loving home. Yet, no one of us turned out to be narcissistic and heartless. We maintained (or regained in my case) our ability to connect to others and therefore to each other. We get it. And this is beyond any price tag.

The Gift Of Being Able To Instantly Tune Into The Emotions Of Others That Came With Your Trauma - Would You Sacrifice It In Favour Of Being Normal?

Our group leader also asked us if we would rather be normal. If we rather wouldn't understand each others pain of the betrayal and be just normal. To him, he said, not being normal was the greatest gift. This whole trauma thing made us think about our lives, crushed visions, lost innocence and broken hearts. But also did it inspire us to consider ourselves being more than just our trauma. It made us aware that life is a gift not to be wasted. There is pain in this world and yes it sucks. But there is also beauty. Pain sometimes creates the greatest beauty of them all. None of us will ever live their live just sleep walking without being fully alive. We know that life is fragile and precious, not to be wasted. We felt the pain and we still do, but this also enables us to look beyond what's right in front of us. In this very moment we used our pain to connect to each other on such a deep level we would have never been able to without our trauma.

In that moment I admired our group leader so much. He is so wise and gracious. He undoubtedly is very strong, confident - but also so intensely empathic and kind. I really admire him and I'm also very inspired by his words and I told him so in front of the group. Gracefully, he just said he was a little older than me (probably only around 30 years...) and therefore had a bit more time to think about the matter. How lucky I was, that I got the chance to meet him, and of course the other unicorns. I made a mental note in that moment, to one day, when I got to the mental place he is at today, to do the same for other people and be that wise and loving voice they need in order to heal. Maybe one day, when I managed to heal enough, I myself will lead a self help group for adult children of narcissistic parents. Maybe.

By the way, no I would not give up me gifts for being normal. Never.

Thank you so much for reading! Hugs to all of you.

xxx Josi

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