“Change your story from that of a victim to a more heroic story.”
~ Dr. Frederick Luskin
The Stanford Forgiveness Project
No, I’m not far enough along in recovery from a narcissistic relationship to forgive my narcissist. Actually, I haven’t even acknowledged that I have a grudge there because I’m still too busy running away and rebuilding my life, LOL. But I do have a possibly narcissism-related family grudge that I’ve been needing to let go of for a long time. This article provided the first steps on how to do it:
Lighten Your Stress Load by Letting Go of Your Grudges
by Tim Herrera
NY Times 5/20/2019
My Empathy Grudge
My therapist recently suggested that some of my family members have no real empathy for others’ problems (mine or anyone else’s). That was really depressing to hear. Because when I thought about it, I realized that she was right.
A number of times, I’ve heard family members berate or belittle someone who was, from what they’d told me, really having problems. Once, they were being overly critical of a friend going through a divorce. Another time, they were criticizing the life choices of a friend who is facing a lifetime of recovery from debilitating strokes.
And when I left my relationship with my husband, they never really wanted to talk about why I left, the affect the relationship had on me, etc. Sure, they asked a couple of questions but after that, made it clear they didn’t want to talk about it at all. All of these examples are instances where they demonstrated no real, sustained empathy.
Empathy, Boundaries and Plain Old Gossip
While I used to think they just had good boundaries, it turns out that my family just doesn’t do empathy. For some reason – maybe because I was abused as a child and silently dealt with the fallout from that for decades – I have a great deal of empathy for others. Even when their choices are different from the ones I might make, even when they react differently than I might to a difficult situation.
A related grudge that I hold regarding my family is that they’d rather talk or gossip about someone they disagree with, instead of asking the person directly why they’re doing something, why they made a particular decision, etc. Which puts them in the position of being judge and jury without much firsthand information or current facts. It’s a very powerful position, to judge others without giving them the benefit of the doubt via a chance to talk about their situation. You’ll always win in that scenario.
All of this is to say that I don’t like my family when they do this. And they do it often. They’ve done it against me, on issues both small and large. They’ve done it against other family members. They’ve done it to their own friends. I hold this grudge about it, but holding the grudge is pointless. Pointing out to my family that they should get some more facts from the person they’re judging is equally pointless. I’ve tried that, it didn’t work.
Rewriting My Story
So I’ve decided to tell a different story. Instead of complaining about my family’s lack of empathy, why not just be proud of the empathy I’ve developed through my life experiences? I’ve become more empathic than my family model. Because I’m more open to empathy, I’m living a life that’s rich in the depth of my relationships. My friends say they love that they can talk with me about anything and know they won’t be judged. When coworkers experience a conflict with someone at work, they often come to me because I won’t judge them or gossip about their situation.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not Switzerland. It’s impossible to be neutral and empathic in all situations. Sometimes you see someone do something and all you can say is, “WTF?” But overall, I’m proud of the times I was tempted to think I could read someone’s mind and make a lot of assumptions, but instead I just asked them what was up. Or just gave the situation time to sort itself out, without immediately casting aspersion. When I asked them about something directly, I was always, always surprised by their answer.
Toxic Mindreading Disguised as Concern
Growing up in my family, I remember that the dinner table talk, when it turned to what the neighbors or church friends were doing or saying, often involved a lot of mind reading. My parents almost never directly asked neighbors why they were doing something they found strange, bothersome or worrisome. They just assumed they knew the potential reasons why and talked about it to us. They would banter back and forth on possible reasons, then settle on one without ever actually discussing this at all with the neighbor or church friend they were supposedly so worried about or irritated with.
I’m really glad I moved away from this model. Why spin your wheels talking about someone when you can just ask them directly and get the real answer, or something close? I’m proud that I’ve outgrown this tendency to mind read and judge from a distance.
Leading With an Open Heart and Changing My Story
Real empathy, and real conversations – even if they are a little uncomfortable – lead to more honest, loving relationships. I’m proud that I’m always working to be more empathic, while maintaining good boundaries. Speaking of boundaries, time to stop typing and get dinner.
Fellow empaths, you’re not alone. Keep on being your empathic selves. Keep on giving a shit about other people, even when it feels like others aren’t doing the same for you.
Your open mind is your friend, not your enemy as our hyper-judgey world would like us to believe. Lead with your open heart. Keep on asking questions, and listening to the answers.