What happens when you become self-aware? For one, you start questioning your own sanity.
I look back and I cringe at things I’ve done in the past. At the time, my behavior made perfect sense to me. I was totally justified.
But as a healthier person seeing it through another lens, it’s embarrassing. I can’t believe I walked around acting the way I did – I overshared to the point of embarrassment, I showed no empathy for others, I (unknowingly) used people, I had no control over my temper, I was condescending and rude. Finally, I was easily manipulated because all it took was a little flattery, ego stroking, or approval and I was putty in a manipulator’s hands.
The anger is what I remember the most. I was always angry – or always looking for a reason to be. I wore all my insecurities on my sleeve. I was a caricature of a person.
Knowing that, today if I feel offended or manipulated – even if the manipulation is resulting in a good feeling—I find myself wondering, what part of this is real and what part is my disorder?
I wonder, is this person doing this on purpose? Do they mean to hurt or offend me? Are they pretending to like me to get something from me? Are they manipulating me? My rational mind tells me, probably not. This is your disorder talking, it is probably not even about you. Stop making everything about you!
But there’s always the possibility that I am actually being manipulated or mistreated. What then?
Because I now recognize I’ve been so completely detached from reality for so long, I have trouble separating fact from the fiction I have a habit of creating in my head. Not being able to tell real from fake is disorienting. My inner compass is broken. I can’t trust myself.
Recently, I’ve been trying to break the cycle. Yesterday, after dealing with a highly manipulative person, I found myself questioning the interaction. I went over the conversation in my head again and again, picking apart what they said, what they were trying to get from me, how they were trying to make me feel, how it did make me feel.
That last one is the key: How did it make me feel? In the end, it doesn’t matter if the other person is trying to manipulate me, because with strong boundaries I can protect myself. What matters is why I feel manipulated and what the root cause of that insecurity is.
The answer was what it almost always is for me—approval. This person was offering me approval and I soaked it right up. Despite my self-awareness. Despite working so hard on changing my behaviors and addressing my triggers. Despite that they have shown me little respect in the past.
Did they do it on purpose? Maybe. Does it matter? It shouldn’t. I’m working on not letting it.
Step one: Mindfulness. Stop letting my mind wander back to the interaction (obsessing). Every time it does, gently bring my focus back to the present.
Step two: Awareness of my feelings. Acknowledging, valuing and respecting my own feelings. Whether the person is actively trying to manipulate me or not, I know I don’t like how I feel. Being aware also helps me to be more vigilant in monitoring my own responses and protecting my boundaries.
Step three: Self-compassion. Not beating myself up for failing to have the perfect response, for soaking up the supply like a crack addict. I’m not a total failure. All hope is not lost. I’ve come a long way and I’m still working on it. Look at the positives: At least I realized what I was doing, albeit a little late. After all, before I wouldn’t have realized it at all. Next time I will do even better.
Step four: Self introspection. What are the root causes of my need for approval? How can I get those needs met in a healthy way?
Step five: Planning. How will I respond to situations like this in the future? Do I need to adjust my boundaries? How can I better recognize this stuff before acting next time?
What upsets me most about my need for supply is how vulnerable it makes me feel. Not to people like my husband, who loves me, but to others who haven’t earned that vulnerability from me. Brene Brown says, “You share with people who’ve earned the right to hear your story…It’s an honor to hold space for me when I’m in shame.”
But my need for approval, which stems from my childhood shame, is written all over me from my body language to my reactions. It’s as though I’m broadcasting my shame for the world to see. Until I can get it under control, I feel raw and exposed, out of control.
They say narcissists have addictive tendencies. My need for approval is my biggest addiction and I sometimes feel like a slave to it. Will I always have this addiction? Will I always be a narcissist, the way people in AA are always alcoholics even if they haven’t had a drink in 20 years? Will I have to fight against this for the rest of my life?
What a sad and terrifying thought.
I want to kick my habits now. But I know it takes time. And practice.
I want to be normal.