Narcissistic injury

We reach out to each other as far as we can, knowing our own good will, wanting to connect, yet we are already so far apart that our hands miss, and we continue drifting until we can no longer see each other. Where then? It’s my fault! It’s her fault! It is- random chance biting us. The world can be this cruel.

Dr McGrath reported to my GP that I had narcissistic personality traits. I told Dr Dalrymple this, and he said I did not have narcissistic personality disorder. I am keen to hunt out ways in which I am Wrong, so I may improve myself, as I find it hard to imagine I am good enough. I am open to the possibility. I have been reading Engleby by Sebastian Faulks, a book about a man with a personality disorder. There are comprehensive spoilers later in this post. I recommend the book, and it is the kind of reading experience that might be improved, knowing what is going to happen. Who is this first person narrator?

I noticed I was getting some views from Mumsnet, from a thread headed how to understand and respond to “you’re denying my existence” (narcissistic injury). It’s the compliment that gets to me: if she thought me merely a monster, I could think her merely an enemy. Mrs Tiggywinkle writes, I was minded of something odd in the otherwise thoughtful blog of a Quaker transwoman Clare Flourish. “It is my right to specify how I should be imagined, or how I should not be imagined. I am not a man. I am vulnerable, and suggestions that I am a man can cut to my heart.” It seems to me the exact opposite, that the one thing nobody can control is how others imagine (i.e. think of) them. You can police people’s speech (if politeness doesn’t get you the validation you crave) but the one thing you cannot police is their thoughts and imaginings.

Possibly, if I met Mrs Tiggywinkle face to face we could have a reasonable conversation and understand each other’s point of view- maybe, even, find some sort of way forward. Or possibly our hands would miss. We would simply dwell on our differences and drift further apart. She finds me thoughtful, and quotes the bit she finds narcissistic, and others join in to say how narcissistic trans women are, and how reasonable trans exclusion is.

I don’t know how common Richard Rohr’s ideal is: parents give their little ones containment, security, safety, specialness. Ideally, you first learn you are beloved by being mirrored in the loving gaze of your parents and those around you. You realize you are special and life is good- and thus you feel safe. My mother’s terror and need for control got in the way of that.

So I could have a narcissistic injury. I am lying on the floor, curled in the foetal position, weeping “I am not a man”. Perhaps I mean “Not a man in the way I have been taught a man must be.” Shortly after, I transition. There is an injury. I am not special. Life is horrible. I am not safe.

Spoilers. Select text to view. Engleby murders a woman by bashing her head in with a lump of concrete. Faulks manages to create distance and sympathy. The character has an appalling childhood, and does not understand other people or make any friends. He desires a woman, and gets her into his car to give her a very short lift home, only two minutes. But then she will get out of his car, and he wants to prolong his enjoyment of her company, so he drives on- but then she objects, then gets angry, and upset, and there is nothing he can do to make the situation good again, so he bashes her head in and buries her. He evades capture for around fifteen years, then he spends eighteen years in a secure psychiatric hospital, equally unable to understand the people there. Perhaps they intend to terrify him, when they take him out- two nurses sit him down in a coffee shop, and he can’t bear it. He fantasises that his victim asked him up to her room and let him stay over, and then she would not be dead. Appalling. Better that he could approach her in a more sane way, and not demand instant gratification- he had driven her home, let her out of his car, gone on his way, even tried to talk to her in other social situations.

In his fantasy, he poured out his heart to her about his home and family and experiences. He told the truth, told his distress, and she sympathised. Even when he does not kill her, he pressures and uses her.

Iain dropped a bombshell on Tuesday. Some women think me “dangerous”. He said this just as we were about to part and I spent the rest of the time protesting and arguing that I am not, that my anger is directed at myself. Perhaps he felt he had to say it- he also said reassuring things, that he has told various people how I have been treated and they have thought it appalling- but could not get to it until the end. Now I want to ask, Who? Why? Can we reconcile? I do not want to hurt anyone.

Engleby does not understand other people, or recognise reasonable rules for being in community with them.

I have managed to rid my life almost entirely of things that get to me, personally, at the cost of making it boring and unproductive. After leaving Iain I was momentarily made to wait in the queue at the supermarket, and I found this irritating. Then I did a spiritual exercise to consider a recent distress, not a serious one, locate it in my body, answer what shape it is, what colour, what texture. Er, um. This metaphor never has meaning for me. No distress is a sensation in my body, even if generalised stress might create tension between my shoulder blades. But I picked on my distress at being delayed in the supermarket, and felt an immediate rebuke in my mind, a definite voice saying “You’ve dealt with that!” Of course I must have. It was trivial and momentary, and besides I have consciously accepted the feeling.

The demand that I am all right gets in the way of becoming all right. I must pick myself up immediately. I made my life unstimulating after a long period when I could not recover from stressors before the next stressor hit. I have at the moment the luxury of considering, where am I with that particular interaction, how do I feel about it now, what is the movement of feelings, can I accept all the feelings, can I feel feelings at the time they are provoked? And still I pretend to myself that I have dealt with it, I am OK, because I have to be.

I am not special. Life is horrible. I am not safe.

There is an injury, and quite possibly transition was a way of dealing with it and the worst possible way to choose. I am badly hurt. I have at times been fortunate enough to fall in with people who like making hurt better with sympathy.

I am special enough. The woman Engleby murders writes in her diary, while living may have no meaning in any teleological sense, it does have practical purpose in the way that how we live can improve the experience of others alive and yet to be born; and thus, a bit more contentiously (because harder to define scale on which it’s measured) it also has value. This seems so obvious to me as to be almost axiomatic.

Healing my injury would have value. I do so much to manage my hurt, and even that, so that life is bearable day to day, has some value, but it seems it involves denying reality, and facing reality is the way of healing. I am going round in circles, and some of what I do to value myself may be healing.

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