On Saturday, my world changed. It was a tiny shift, but an important one. I’d gotten together with my Amazing Bestie, and we went walking around outside. This has been an activity that has historically stimulated and brought forward my introspective side. Random thoughts pop into my head, and random dots connect, aligning seamlessly and solving issues that are sometimes long-standing.
If the name of the game is to heal from narcissistic relationships in my personal life, I actually held, in my metaphorical hands, a template that could help guide my recovery and healing.
I’ve been through this kind of thing before. And I successfully resolved it.
Without divulging too much information, I will say that I’m self-employed in a field where I work one-to-one with people in need of advice. For some (many?), the universal law that who and what we attract (and are attracted to) reflects where we’re at inside our core. So, if we attract friends, partners, coworkers, clientele, supervisors, etc, who are unhealthy, and they affect us emotionally, chances are that there’s something going on inside of us. And for many, that applies not only to personal life, but may also translate into professional life as well.
That’s old news, but for anybody joining this blog for the first time, there it is. The people, situations, and events in our lives are a mere reflection. So when there are flaws present, the key isn’t too look at them, but to look deep inside ourselves and be honest with ourselves about what we see, what is there.
It’s probably safe to say that everybody has various sensitive spots, hangups, triggers, trauma, pet causes, elements we feel intensely about or sensitive to. This probably holds even more true for those of us who end up entangled in narcissistic relationships.
And when we harbor these issues, and they become significant enough, they may not just affect our personal lives, but perhaps our professional lives, too. That certainly happened with me.
In my self-employment venture, the responsibility was on me to attract, serve, and retain my own clientele. When I first started out about a decade ago, I was insecure and desperate. I had constant visions of living on the street if I establish myself in my workplace, pronto. I would literally look at various drainage ditches and overpasses and gyms and say to myself “that would make a good shelter” or “that would be a good place to shower”. I knew which grocery stores gave out free samples on Saturdays, so at least one meal a week could be taken care of. I even had a plan for living in my vehicle if necessary, even with two cats.
On top of that, I also knew I was wet behind the ears in my field. I didn’t have any success stories under my belt yet, no testimonial material. And thus, no self-confidence. I had learned my material, but I had no confidence in myself to apply it when a real, live person was sitting across from me in need of it. Being on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s), I was also at quite a disadvantage when attempting to relate to people. When they say “socially awkward”, they’re not kidding – it’s a Thing, and one that never goes away, no matter how hard you work and try.
All of these factors added up to a professional who attracted everybody in town without a basis in reality (they were quite irrational) or with a mood disorder (they often became very hostile), an ungrateful entitlement complex, or some other such issue. And that was every person I dealt with. I even wondered “where are all the decent, normal people? Where is common sense, common courtesy, common decency??”
No joke, I’ve got war stories.
I made so many mistakes in those early days. Not in the advice I gave, but the way I gave it out. I did everything wrong. I tried to be too friendly and informal, severely undercharged for my time/services, undervalued my time, education, and credentials, let people walk all over me, gave the benefit of the doubt where it should not have been given.
Examples? I would meet with someone for an hour and 15 minutes and only charge for a half hour or 45 minutes. I would say “it’s okay, life happens” when someone canceled their appointment with me at the last minute. I undercharged for behind-the-scenes work done on someone’s behalf. I walked on eggshells but did not rock the boat when someone got rude with me.
I thought I was being nice, and that it would gain me more respect. Who can argue with or speak badly about someone who does favors for them? I was shocked when, not only did people not respect me, they actually disrespected me, and adopted an attitude of entitlement (my term – “entitletude”). They started expecting me to keep bending over backwards and smile and say nothing about it. And why not? I had inadvertently taught them that they could.
An internal battle ensued within me, which intensified quickly. Anytime I kowtowed to someone at work, I felt a bidirectional resentment – toward both them, and toward myself. I resented myself for giving in and undervaluing myself or letting something go that I shouldn’t, and I resented them for putting me in the position in which I felt I had no choice but to do so. I resented them for even asking for it or expecting it.
Yet, any time I tried to set a healthy boundary or enact an industry-standard procedure, I felt guilty, as though I were an ogre. I felt mean. I felt like a hard-ass. I didn’t like it; it was very uncomfortable to me.
This is actually what that which is healthy feels like to someone with no self-respect. I was afraid to stand up for myself, insist upon respect, communicate the value of the advice I had to offer, and so on. I oozed weakness and desperation from my pores, and they sensed it.
I knew that the situation was completely unsustainable. Here I was, giving much more than I was receiving (a surefire expressway to burnout), and yet I couldn’t bring myself to change it.
A weekend away, cut off from All Things Work, revealed to me just how dysfunctional the situation was. I knew it was, on some level; I felt it. However, I didn’t know the extent and severity of the dysfunction. I had lost touch with what it felt like to be out from under pressure and obligation.
Upon returning, I slowly started to implement some boundaries. I started charging for a little more of the time actually spent (not quite the full time yet; that would be brought up to balance in stages). I created a cancellation policy, and gradually upheld it. I created other policies and procedures and gradually enforced those, too.
I wish I could say it was all roses by the end of the year, but it wasn’t. I still dealt with my share of boundary-pushing, entitlement, unreasonable expectations, and even people who claimed to want the advice I had to give but then refused to take it, to the point where I actually cared about them more than they cared about themselves.
It took me several years before I could bring myself to Let Go, Say No, and a host of other acquired skills. This is because to bring about external change requires internal transformation, and internal transformation does not occur overnight. True transformation is a long, slow process.
It began with boundaries. Simple things like appointment cancellation, and what constituted a necessary appointment versus a quick question answered for free by email. And yes, all of my existing clientele washed out, never to be seen again. I simply had to remind myself not to worry, that other people–healthier, more respectful and dedicated people–would seek my services soon enough.
(Top secret: they did!)
The process continued with giving myself permission to accept or reject an application to become a client of mine. The initial paperwork needed to be viewed as an application, not a given. In doing this, I gave myself permission to decide who I would and would not work with.
This was a hugely vital step! It gave me the freedom to say no.
Again, I reminded myself not to worry; for each person deemed not a proper fit/match, another did indeed fill their place who was.
You’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot of reassuring and soothing self-talk going on here, throughout the whole process. You’re right; there is. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t anxious as hell; I was. But I gritted my teeth and trusted in the universe (or whatever you want to call it), trusted in the process, trusted in myself.
Then I proceeded to shore up exactly how I dealt with people. No more getting personal or rambling on, trying to be their friend. No more informality. No more being casual. No more freebie time. No more spending more than a few minutes on what are indeed supposed to be “quick” emails. No more giving my personal cell to clientele so they can reach me anytime. Just…No More.
All of this took about two years. Years. And I still had some issues. Some people were still excessively demanding and straight-up unreasonable, with temperamental issues. Some were belligerent to myself or my staff. That is so not cool.
It was actually out of the desire to protect my staff that I put my foot down the hardest, and that was on how clientele conducted themselves in my office suite. If they were irrational, unreasonable, or…narcissistic (as I now realize many were), then they were GONE. OUT. Sayonara, ciao, thanks for the memories we’ll try hard to forget.
I gave myself–and my staff–permission to decide who we would and would not tolerate.
It’s one thing to set policies, procedures, boundaries, and standards; it’s another to enforce them, and to do that, there must be consequences. Cancellation fees and disciplinary actions leading up to and including “firing” clientele were etched into the business’s policy manual and handbook. Staff meetings were frequent, for a while, and we all grew as a result.
Whenever you level-up on your boundaries and standards, do be prepared for the backlash. Existing people who don’t respect these boundaries or meet these standards will become inflamed and maybe even enraged. They often don’t go quietly; they resist–hard, stamp their feet, pitch a fit, raise a stink, make a scene. It’s not pretty. It may even leave you feeling a sense of rejection and loss.
Remind yourself that you’re better off without them. Remind yourself that 10% of people cause 90% of problems and take up 90% of your time and energy. Letting those people go is a temporary loss at most. Telling the universe that you’re willing to let go of those problematic people or situations is like giving yourself a green light to peace. You will then encounter new people and situations, ones that are much healthier and more peaceful.
You’ve probably guessed that there is a (very) happy ending. Today, all of those workplace issues are resolved. I simply don’t have to deal with them anymore. I have firm, fair boundaries, policies, and standards in place, for both staff and clientele, and I feel very solid and secure about them. I have more professional experiences and countless successes, so that gives the ol’ self-esteem an extra shot in the arm, too. I don’t even have to reject very many client applications, because unhealthy people rarely enter my radar screen in the first place. I know who I am professionally, what I do, what it’s worth, and I stand by it. If someone isn’t a fit/match for it, then they’re not, and there’s no regret.
Now, for the whole point of this post: I get to apply a version of this exact process to my personal life as well. And that could be instrumental in my healing process.