In the last post, I talked about nourishment, of the soul/spirit variety. This is crucial for anyone, a basic fundamental need. However, it’s absolutely essential for anyone recovering from a narcissistic relationship (or those still in one, for any one of many legitimate reasons), to shift this concept into primary focus.
Most survivors of narcissistic abuse and relationships find ourselves utterly depleted. Sometimes this manifests as a physical fatigue, the desire to sleep. Other times it presents as more of an emotional and/or cognitive fatigue, particularly after a circular six-hour argument, or maybe once you’ve run out of options and reached the end of your rope.
This feeling shows up when there’s an imbalance in nourishment–when we’ve done all the nourishing and no one has nourished us. We operate in the red until we’re bankrupt.
Especially if narcissism is all we’ve known, either in adulthood or throughout our entire lives, we might not even know what nourishment looks like or how it feels.
What does nourishment look and feel like? I wouldn’t know firsthand, either, gorgeous ones, at least not from the men in my life (father, partners). But I have experienced nourishment from other sources, and I also have some theories based on what I’ve read, heard, and witnessed.
Here’s my best assessment…
As children, nourishment primarily comes from the parents, although nourishment can also come from friends, classmates, teachers, extended family, siblings, neighbors, developing hobbies and skills, and so on, of course.
Healthy parents nurture and guide their children. They protect them from the challenges and stresses of the adult world. They recognize their children’s talents and encourage them to keep going. They advocate that their children find their voice and speak up when called for. They show physical affection and give earned praise, as well as healthy constructive criticism and guidance.
They prepare them to meet the adult world upon reaching adulthood. They provide a stable and consistent environment, with clear boundaries and rules, and if punishment is needed, it is fair and non-abusive. Children are very clear on what lines not to cross. The children develop healthy and balanced self-concepts, and even-keeled emotional dispositions.
Narcissistic parents, on the other hand, may ignore their children, criticize them harshly, abuse them, belittle them, manipulate them. When the child has a problem or is the victim of bullying or abuse, the narcissistic parent’s first question is often “what did you do wrong?”, or something with a similar attitude. The narcissistic parent assumes their child was at fault, and looks for excuses with which to discipline them.
Narcissistic parents pit family members against one another. They stifle their children’s self-expression. They shatter their self-esteem. They may have moments of light, but this is usually based on the child meeting a certain standard, such as a clean room, a pimple-free face, good grades, or some other achievement, and lord knows that when the parent’s mood darkens again, meeting that same standard is not guaranteed to bring back that light.
As adults, our nourishment comes from many of the same sources, although parents are often replaced by partners as the primary source, and school is replaced by college and/or career. (Sources of nourishment should not, however, include our own children; it’s our job to nurture them; it’s not theirs to nurture us.) Supportive coworkers, fellow members of extracurricular groups, and perhaps in-laws, add to the mix.
A healthy partner (and this applies to healthy friends, supportive coworkers, and other close peers as well, but this especially applies to partners and close friends) wants to invite you into their inner circle (of their lives) (at a depth appropriate to the type of bond you have with them). They want to share their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and dreams with you. They want you to encourage them and they want to encourage you. They want to see you achieve and be content and happy. They empathize with you when you’re having a tough time, and they show happiness for and celebration of your achievements. They compliment you, and receive your compliments graciously. Depending on the type of relationship you have, physical affection is expressed freely, and all intimacy is equally consensual.
They want to share their lives with you and they’re interested in yours, wanting you to share it with them. They actually care. The bond is mutually respectful/beneficial, bi-directional, and egalitarian. You connect via your shared interests and other similarities, and you enjoy and celebrate your differences, because variety is the spice of life, and you’re richer for knowing and connecting with people who are different from you. You share some hobbies and interests in common, and you might introduce each other to differing ones, participating with an open mind.
The relationship should be safe such that issues can be brought up openly and easily, worked through logically and compassionately, settled and resolved, in a way that benefits both parties. Listening is even more important than talking. Both parties should care equally that the resolution is a win-win. Both people should also be willing to consider the matter satisfactorily resolved and let it go (i.e. drop the subject), trusting that both will uphold the agreed-upon solution going forward.
A healthy partner can weather a storm with you without calling the whole relationship into question, considering leaving you, or paranoid that you’re going to leave them. A healthy partner will still love you even if they’re angry with you at the moment. A healthy partner does not lose sight of the big picture of what you have together over one hiccup.
We all know how the narcissistic relationship works, I’m sure. In the beginning, everything seems right, nothing is wrong, it seems to good to be true, like you’ve found your soulmate. They seem perfect for you, and that’s what gets injected into you, producing the peptides, gorgeous ones. It’s surreal, like a dream or a movie, likely because they’re mirroring your awesome self back to you, drunk and high on the supply they’re getting from you. It’s so intense that it’s almost eerie (as is their mirroring). They might seem even more into you than you are into them, if that’s even possible. It moves fast.
Eventually, that positive supply is not enough for them, so the attraction seems to drop off after about…typically 3 weeks to 6 months, maybe a year (it depends). They seem to go a little flatter, act a little less happier, not quite as bright and sunny as they were before. Petty arguments may crop up that seem to take way too long, or maybe you start noticing yellow, orange, or maybe even red flags. If you’re lucky, people might start to express their reservations about that person you’re with, and those might eventually turn into more ominous concerns. Over time, the person changes, morphing into someone you don’t recognize. You find yourself confused, because the person you thought you knew so well and was so perfect has become this distant, alien stranger.
You might look back and notice that, as into you as they had seemed to be early on, the compliments were few and far between. Maybe the physical affection or even the sexual intimacy was awesome, but you notice, in hindsight, that when you had achieved something substantial, they may not have fully celebrated it with you like a normal person would. Perhaps you never felt any real support from them. Maybe they start cutting you down, criticizing you or picking at you, and certainly, they start to diminish your spirit.
Arguments go around and around, and they start to cover the same topics you thought had been resolved many times. You’ve explained until you’re blue in the face, tried every strategy you can possibly think of, and a half-hour later, they’re back to square one. At the end of the night, they’re satisfied, so they can sleep now, and you’re whipped up into a frenzy, utterly confused, emotionally exhausted yet unable to sleep given the amount of stress hormones coursing through your bloodstream.
That’s not nourishing, my lovelies.
Nourishing is supportive, loving, affectionate, mutual, healthy, and consistent. Whether they’ve had a bad day at work or not. Whether traffic was heavy or light. Whether the meal at the new restaurant was delicious or a flop. Whether the dog peed in his shoes or not. Nourishment is dependable, reliable, rational, gentle, compassionate, and kind.
Nourishment is picking you up when you’re down, taking care of you when you’re sick, calming you when you’re stressed, comforting you when you’re grieving, celebrating your success, encouraging you to reach new heights, walking with you along a journey, being present with you in the moment, valuing and actually caring about you as a person. No matter if a coworker performed incompetently or not. No matter if the unfamiliar bottle of wine was a hit or not. No matter if you got the laundry done.
Nourishment is respecting your boundaries, staying on topic in a discussion, exerting mind/heart muscle toward reaching solutions, caring about your wellbeing, making efforts to change what legitimately needs changing…the first time it’s pointed out. Whether you look particularly cute today or not, or wore makeup or their favorite black shorts or not. Whether your plans for the evening went off without a hitch or fell flat through. Whether or not the chicken got a little overcooked.
Nourishment is absolutely essential, sweetness. A lack of nourishment is a killer, both for a relationship and for us personally. It doesn’t take long to start operating on a deficit if you’re the only one doing all the heavy lifting in the relationship. Watch out if you’re the only one coming up with all the solution ideas while they just sit there, knowing full well they have as much access to Google and YouTube as you do.
Often, a lack of nourishment will reveal itself, maybe in subtle ways, early on. This isn’t always the case, but it can be especially for Malignant narcissists. They can’t help themselves. Their place on the narcissistic spectrum is so severe that as warm and sunny as they might be, they can’t keep that mask in place for very long. It may be hard to spot at first. Maybe it’s the rarity of compliments mentioned earlier. Maybe it’s that they’re always interrupting you, or maybe something as seemingly insignificant as an anemic response when you say or do something good, smart, or funny.
It’s absolutely imperative that those of us recovering from (or experiencing) narcissistic abuse develop and recognize sources of nourishment and fulfillment. Ideally, this takes the shape of a combination of “one-player games” (my term for hobbies I engage in by myself) and a support group of friends (both in person and online).
It’s the only way to fly, gorgeous ones. Gotta put ourselves back in the black, after all. 🙂