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.

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