Do you have questions about creating intimacy or developing mindful relationships?
Confusing questions? Awkward ones? Deep, dark scary ones?
I want them. Email your questions to: [email protected].
All authors remain anonymous. No judgments, just soulful answers.
Q. Over the past decade and a half, I had been in an “on again, off again” relationship with a narcissist. He forgot to tell me he had a girlfriend.
Because his girlfriend was paralyzed, they couldn’t have sex. I couldn’t hurt her, so I cut ties with him. I felt like I was enabling him if I continued to see him.
Since then, I have dated awful men who have hurt me verbally and physically. But there were two wonderful men who taught me better lessons. Today one of the lovely men—the one who was the first to tell me I deserved good things—told me, “when we were together, you never asked for what you needed. Learn your needs and ask for them.”
Because I was never allowed to ask the narcissist for what I wanted, I really don’t even understand what that means. What does it mean to ask for what you need? A kind word, someone’s company, a warm hug, coffee, food, a gentle touch? I ask for those things freely now and asked those things of the lovely man as well. I don’t think I understand what he means.
A. Speaking your truth is one of the hardest skills to learn in relationships, especially if you are a compassionate nurturer, as it seems you are.
Sometimes it feels as though asking for what we need will be a burden on others; it’s our job to care for, not be cared for. This is a huge mistake.
Setting the Stage.
Most of us agree that the only relationship worth being in is egalitarian, where each partner supports the other in equal measure. That looks lovely on paper and feels wonderful in our hearts, but living that way can be challenging, particularly when we are used to placing our own needs second to others’.
Act I: The Big Why.
Why do we do this? Likely, it’s a pattern begun in childhood. A parent or both parents—or whoever was the primary caregiver(s)—required much attention or placating due to their own narcissistic childhood wounds. Because we as children have few defenses, we accommodated our parents’ neediness in order to survive our daily lives. We learned early on to tap dance for our supper, give kisses, follow orders, check in on everyone and make sure all was copacetic in the household.
This thoughtful behavior likely won us praise and the title of “Good Child.” Once that drug gets pumping in our system, it’s hard to stop seeking a fix. We feel good when we make others feel good. Seems like a win-win situation, right?
Act II: Returning to the Scene of the Crime.
The only problem is that we can’t stop seeking situations that validate our existence. In other words, we get ourselves involved with narcissists in order to “return to the scene of the crime,” as a therapist I know likes to say. We relive the situations that gained us praise in the past, only the older we get, the smarter we get, and we begin to realize that there are severely diminishing returns on the high we get from praise and acceptance. As you discovered, after a certain point there isn’t even any praise anymore—in fact, it’s turned to abuse. (That’s because the narcissist has lost respect for you for not calling him out on his bullsh*t. But that’s another article.)
Act III: Speaking Your Truth.
So what to do? First, remember that egalitarian relationship idea. Get it firmly in your head that two partners must work in tandem to make the relationship progress smoothly. Imagine a synchronized swimming routine where only one partner did the fancy moves. It would look kind of silly, wouldn’t it?
At the core of any healthy romantic partnership is communication. Each of you needs to be able to speak your mind, even if those words might upset your partner. That’s a key point: You must be free to speak without worry that your partner will reject you for your words. In a real partnership, one partner can hear the other and not react defensively, but rather ask for more clarification in order to better understand his or her beloved. A wild concept.
Asking for what you need may indeed involve requests for physical closeness, a coffee date or some other practical request. More likely, what your “lovely man” was saying was that you need to stand up for your deeper needs. In other words, finally call your partner out on his bullsh*t.
When he is not pulling his weight as an equal—by taking you for granted, hurting your feelings or even verbally abusing you—you owe it to your relationship and to your self to speak up.
The Big Picture.
It’s not just your current self that needs you to express your strength; it’s your child self. You’re the grown up now. While the child you were did what she needed to in order to survive (she got you this far!), you have more resources now. Be the bigger woman.
Claim your life. Claim the love that you deserve. In turn, you will finally attract a partner who is your true equal. Then the real work can begin.
Author: Rachel Astarte
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Petras Gagilas/Flickr