Creating Your Right Life

inspiration & tools for empowered living

1007
2012

The New Normal…Insight from Martha

Disclaimer: CAUTION! You will either like this post, or comment to yourself that I have truly climbed off the crazy station and onto the crazy train. So if crazy doesn’t work for you, just stop now.
 
So I just got back from yet another delicious and astonishing experience, this one at a ranch in Montana owned by a dear friend. This is the same place where I experienced the original Pronghorn event. This year, because I now know that Pronghorns frequent the area, I decided to up the ante: “Wolves!” I thought to myself. It’s WAY harder to attract a wolf than a Pronghorn. Then I realized this was a ridiculous thought, since calling a wild wolf requires exactly the same amount of effort as calling a Pronghorn—in other words, practically nothing.
 
When I got to the ranch, I asked if there were any wolves living in the area. My friend said she thought a few had been seen 18 months prior. I invited everyone in the group to call in some wolves…and at 9 o’clock that night, guess who started howling outside the cabin? Oh yes they did! Some people heard them all night long. I, like an idiot, got too attached and did not hear them myself. Damn you, tenacious ego! Still, it was one hell of a “coincidence.”
 
Oh, and by the way, the day the whales came (see last “Insight from Martha”), it was covered INTERNATIONALLY. My friends in Africa saw it and called to tell me they figured I was on that beach.
 
This is all so normal.
 
But enough with my obsessive animal stories! The point is that I am experiencing what many of you are, too: an increasingly powerful conviction that what we once thought of as the world “out there” is in fact as intimately connected to each of us as our own heart. On one hand, my own physical body feels more and more like an animal that happily lives its life without obeying any of my conscious intentions; on the other hand, my consciousness feels capable of creating physical events that seem distant and impossible.
 
In Expecting Adam, I wrote about a moment when, exhausted, sick, and heartbroken, I sent out the thought “I just can’t do this. Maybe you should drive.” I didn’t know what I was talking to, and I still don’t. But whatever it was, it surrounded me with an inexplicable sweetness. It picked up my heart and held it like a baby. Ever since, there have been moments when I have climbed out of the driver’s seat, only to grab for control again when my inner lizard raised its fearful, scaly head.
 
These days, I simply don’t feel like driving. The passenger seat is much more fun. I watch my own body and mind playing ecstatically with the illusion of form.
 
Have I lost you yet? If so, I respectfully and lovingly do not care.
 
Recently, several clients have told me that they have an odd sense of being disconnected from their bodies. They still feel sensations, but find themselves acting strangely in their own eyes. They have stopped driving. The journey has been taken over by what we, in our coaching system, call their essential self. Some people seem to be able to stop this from happening deliberately, others invite and enjoy it, and others, weirdly, are observing it as it happens to them without any conscious decisions on their part. I’m sure this has always been possible, but I’m just warning you: these days, our essential selves are growing more and more powerful. The blissful game of consciousness clothed in matter is getting faster and more delicious. So if this is happening to you, and it’s freaking you out, relax. Let the wolves drive.

0923
2012

Good Friend, Bad Friend? Make Your Friendships Blossom

When my friend Riley and I met for coffee, I was feeling somewhat gloomy, looking forward to a little emotional support. As I sat down, however, Riley recounted a harrowing tale. Only hours before, as she was chomping happily on some caramel corn, one of her front teeth had snapped off, right at the gum line! Her dentist glued it back in, but I mean… The horror! The horror!

My bad mood disappeared as I grilled Riley about every detail, told her it was perfectly normal that the incident upset her more than global warming, and affirmed that her teeth looked great (they did). After a while, Riley drew a deep breath, exhaled, and relaxed.

“Now,” she said, “what’s going on with you?”

Immediately, my previous unhappiness resurfaced. Riley did some heavy therapy on my private psychological issues, which was no doubt recorded and posted on YouTube by the bored baristas. No matter—I felt worlds better by the time we parted. So, she said through her totally normal-looking teeth, did Riley.

To me, this was friendship at its best. Riley and I spontaneously and easily switched roles, taking care and being taken care of. But not all relationships (certainly not all of mine) flow this smoothly. Many friends have unspoken but ironclad rules about which person will do what share of the emotional and logistical work.

Right now, scan your mental files for friendships where the roles never change: She’s the talker, you’re the listener; she’s the star, you’re the screwup; she never calls you, you always call her. Imagine what this friend’s response would be if you stopped playing your part or stepped into hers. Would she be shocked or angry? Would she ice you, scold you, drop off your social calendar? If so, I’m afraid that particular connection isn’t exactly a friendship. Rigid roles enforced by social pressure add up to something else—something I call a naiad dyad.

What the Hell’s a Naiad Dyad?

Naiads are mythological nymphs who ruled the rivers and springs of ancient Greece. One of these watery demigoddesses had a famously handsome son named Narcissus, who attracted many admirers, none more admiring than himself. He fell so madly in love with his own reflection that he did nothing but stare at it. Narcissus’s friends found this daunting—all, that is, except for another nymph named Echo, whose curse (naiads were highly curse-prone) was that she couldn’t voice her own thoughts, only repeat words spoken by others.

In their twisted way, Narcissus and Echo were ideal companions. Both were obsessed with the same person (him), and both expressed the same thoughts, ideas, and opinions (his). I’m sure the next-door satyrs thought their relationship was perfect. Not so much. In one version of the story, Narcissus, unable to work out the logistics of being in love with himself, plunged a dagger into his heart and was transformed into a flower. Echo, devastated, wandered off to haunt canyons and glens, repeating random sentiments shouted by strangers.

Question: Do you see any similarities between your rigid-role “friendships” and the Narcissus-Echo relationship, or do I have to bash you over the head with them? Answer: Too late. Brace yourself.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, unhappy friendships are all different, but those inflexible relationships almost universally signal the psychological dynamics of narcissists and their echoes. On the surface, these friendships look idyllic—as Jennifer Coolidge’s dim character says of such a relationship in the film A Mighty Wind, “It’s almost as like we have one brain that we share between us.” Since no two individuals are identical, such unanimity is always an illusion; the “one brain,” or at least the dominant will, belongs to the person both friends implicitly agree is more important. The echo voluntarily surrenders personal needs, ideas, and even rights in exchange for the narcissist’s “love,” which is actually directed at her own reflection. “Enough about me; let’s talk about you,” she says with words and actions. “What do you think about me?”

Such relationships exist because narcissism is a basic factor of human consciousness, beginning in infancy. Tiny babies literally can’t focus on anyone but themselves. As children grow, however, they realize that others have feelings, needs, and rights. They learn to share and care.

Usually.

There are some individuals who never outgrow infantile self-obsession. Throughout life, they take without giving and expect others to give without taking. Even when they have their own children, they can’t focus on anyone but themselves. One woman told me quite seriously that her 3-day-old son was “a selfish brat” because “he cries when he knows I’m trying to sleep.” Extremely narcissistic parents often have echo spouses, who limply accept unfair treatment from everyone, including their children. “Don’t mind me, sweetheart,” sighs the echo parent. “Here’s money for cocaine—I’ll stay here, knitting you a sweater from my hair.”

Children raised by such parents grow up unconsciously assuming there are only two possible relationship modes: Some become thoroughgoing narcissists, others eternal echoes. (Some bounce between these two states, acting oppressively in some of their relationships but groveling in others, like the middle manager who trashes subordinates but toadies up to the boss.)

When two people who fall into this kind of dyad meet, they bond instantly, like Krazy Glue. “I feel as if I’ve known you all my life,” they say, basking in the familiar narcissist-echo energy. There are no arguments, no awkward uncertainty about who should do what, because the echo immediately begins reflecting the narcissist. She stops listening to rap, catching her new friend’s polka fever.

Even more important, the echo assumes all the subtle work of friendship: initiating contact, arranging activities, offering compliments and other forms of nurturing. She doesn’t mind things being one-sided; she’s just grateful—ecstatic—that she’s being adored by a replica of the parent who couldn’t love her. And the narcissistic friend really is adoring—not of the echo, as they both mistakenly believe, but of her reflection in her new friend’s eyes. It’s all fun and games, right up until someone gets stabbed.

The Bitter End

I’m devastated,” whispered my echoey client Naomi. “My best friend just…dumped me. I don’t understand; we’re so close. We went to each other’s weddings. We talked every day. Then out of the blue, she tells me I’ve changed, I’m getting selfish, she’s done with me. I don’t think she’ll ever speak to me again.” Baffling as it may seem if you don’t understand narcissism, Naomi is probably right. Her long-standing friendship is likely over.

This is how naiad dyads often end. For instance, when Naomi the echo finally became so unhappy she hired a coach, she began to see herself as worthy of reciprocal friendship. She started drawing boundaries and making small, gentle requests. Her supposed friend, a true narcissist, saw this as a selfish betrayal of their implicit arrangement.

Even if Naomi had kept echoing like an empty cistern, this naiad dyad would probably have ended. Because narcissists don’t give love, which is half the equation of a genuine emotional connection, they always become increasingly unhappy over time (remember Narcissus’s suicide). Many blame their echoes: “You’re not making me happy anymore!” Whether the echo gets better or the narcissist gets worse, the relationship may suddenly and completely fracture, the Krazy Glue bond breaking as quickly and completely as it formed.

Real friendship never does this because it’s extremely flexible. Friends take turns performing and receiving “friendship maintenance” tasks, from making phone calls to buying presents. When Riley’s tooth broke, she got my immediate attention: I “echoed” her. Then we switched roles, and we discussed my problems. This simple turn-taking is what naiad dyads lack, and it leads to catastrophic failure. If you suspect that one of your friendships is actually a naiad dyad, try one of the following fixes.

Let’s say you’re in a rigid friendship where you call all the shots and do none of the work. You might be a narcissist, which probably means you don’t care and won’t change. My only advice? Avoid daggers.

On the other hand, if you’re disturbed by receiving one-sided VIP treatment, you might want to talk to her and explain that her excessive selflessness is troubling, that you need to give as well as receive to feel like her friend. I’m haunted by the fact that I never had this conversation with a college buddy who years later committed suicide. Maybe I could have helped by insisting she learn to receive as well as give. You can’t force a confirmed echo out of her role, but it’s worth trying.

And what if you’re playing the echo role? You could ask your friend to do something that’s usually “your” job: “You know, I’d love it if you’d drive over to my place today, since I always drive over to yours.” A normal friend may be surprised, but she’ll comply. A narcissist will go cold, angry, or passive aggressive. This won’t immediately end your inner child’s adulation for her, but it will horrify you enough to begin seeing reality and disengaging.

If you can’t just end a naiad dyad—say your friend is also a co-worker—there’s another option. You can train her like a sea mammal, as author Amy Sutherland reported in her New York Times article “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage.” Narcissists hate being ignored—and crave praise. A combination of indifference and adulation can powerfully shape their behavior. When your co-worker shouts that the coffee you made is too hot, don’t react at all. Later, when she’s calm, spontaneously exclaim, “You’re projecting so much authority!” or “You look great!” The narcissist will react like a junkie inhaling opium and probably increase the behavior you’re rewarding. Is this healthy? God, no. But it’s better than helpless echoism.

Making Friendship Blossom

These methods can get you out of truly sick naiad dyads and improve marginal cases, moving them away from strict role division toward reciprocity and flexibility. The more fluid and balanced your relationships become, the more you’ll see that friendship, unlike Narcissus, can flower without anyone’s getting hurt. As someone who’s been blessed with marvelous friends, I can assure you this is worth the effort. But enough about me. What do you think about…you?

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