Eating Poop

Who eats the shit pile?

That’s a more profane form (of course, I will pick that route) of that childhood game of hot potato. Who’s going to be left holding the hot potato? “Not I!” screams the excited child. And he or she casts the steaming vegetable quickly across the circle to an innocent unexpected soul.

This game is not so fun when the recipient, the holder of the shit, is a child and the thrower is the parent or the supposed adult in the situation. The parent casts all his or her unwanted feelings – particularly shame and self-loathing – and dumps them into their powerless, guiltless offspring. The resulting tragedy is that the child has no choice but to internalize the shit pile and carry it for the parent. 

Pretty fucked up deal, if you ask me. And such is the unlucky lot of a child of a narcissist. That child then moves into adulthood and blindly usually takes one of two forms. Either he or she willingly volunteers to carry the world’s shit and becomes life’s victim. Or he or she defiantly carries none of it and becomes like the parent, a victimizer. Either way, the child-turn-adult is screwed.

But, back to the narcissistic parent. A narcissist is an empty and fragile human being. He or she cannot afford self-blame – even when it is due and fair – because he or she must maintain a squeaky-clean self-image. “I am a good person” goes the mandated self-mantra. Anything other than that is intolerable. In so protecting and defending his or her ego in this manner, empathy is nonexistent. The narcissist cannot leave the fort of the self undefended long enough to put him or herself in some else’s shoes. Especially if that means hearing how another person feels injured by the narcissist.

Thus, because a narcissist cannot eat the shit pile, not even his or her portion when it is accurate and accountable for him or her to do so, being in relationship with a narcissist is near impossible. (Unless you are willing to eat the shit pile 24/7, 365 which I would not recommend.) For, a healthy relationship requires that we share the shit pile. I am a human being that has good parts and not-so-good parts and so are you. Both of us can have strong enough egos that we can own our part, without falling into a toxic pit of shame. We each can also own our part without a reactive feeling, leftover from childhood, that one of us is going to be trapped carrying the whole shit pile.

Because it’s a divided deal. No one is totally shit-faced and no one is squeaky clean. And, no one should swallow the whole thing. We are adults here, sharing life’s ugly side. I can own mine without collapsing. And if our relationship has any depth or possibility, you can and will do the same.

Flying High

One of my favorite acts at the circus is the trapeze. High-fliers doing the impossible. Defying gravity as they flip and fly gracefully across space in ways that humans are not meant to do. And they never seem to fall. (I’m not even sure why they have nets. They seem to be never needed as perfection sparkles and floats under the lights of the big top.)

I often tell my patients that growing up psychologically is like doing a trapeze act. We must leave our comfort zone of the stand (is that even the technical name for it?). We swing through the air, white-knuckling the bar we know – our well-worn adaptations that have worked well thus far, but have reached their limit. And then, as if by magic, the next bar appears, the one coming at us that will take us to the other side. 

However, even that difficult act is not all there is to it. For, if we dare fly off our old perch, at some point we must let go and leave the safety and security of the known behind. Once we release the bar, for a split second (which feels like an eternity), we are literally suspended in air. We are holding onto absolutely nothing. Our hands are stretched out. Our partner was supposed to time the act to make sure the new bar was exactly where it was supposed to be when it was supposed to be there. But, we still must let go, exist momentarily in thin air and hope that the new bar is coming, ready for us to nab it – our ticket to safety and progress on the other side.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad when I do have that safety net. For unlike the trained professionals with their dazzling smiles and outfits to match, I fall. Often. Either that, or I never leave the stand to begin with. I’m atop the pole waiting for my popcorn and the clown show to start – much more my speed.

Yet, the other side looks appealing. And believe it or not, horses running in circles can become sleepily boring.

So, maybe, it’s my turn. I want those lights on me too. Cause I’m still in the circus. Yes, it’s my chance to jump from the known, to let go of my worn trusty bar, to risk the empty space in between and hope mightily that I can get to the other side. New and improved. A better version of me.

And if I fall, there is the net to catch my ego. Phew. I can then pull her from the webbing. Wipe her off. And climb to my stand once again. For, there’s a new bar to catch and damn it, last I checked, I am still a part of life’s circus.