Sixth sense, intuition, a gut feeling. I’ve heard and often repeated “trust your gut”.
But I didn’t do it until the manipulative, narcissistic interactions with an immediate family member had me looking for a way out.
I was co-dependent (still working on that). I learned how to appease and give in, rather than listen to the niggling, uncomfortable warning that something’s not right.
Gut Feelings – For Real?
Thousands of years ago we did it: instinctively reacted to danger. It meant life, survival.
We trusted what our bodies told us.
These instincts, honed over millions of years of evolution, are alive and well within us: we dodge or swat something away in a fraction of a second before it registers in our brain what the danger was.
A marauder from an enemy tribe might not be creeping into our cave to club us over the head, but the toxic people in our lives attack in different ways and we still feel the signs:
- generalized anxiety
- nervous flutters in the stomach
- shaky hands or legs
- tightness across the solar plexus
- dry throat
- confused thinking
Our bodies talk to us, but we are so far removed from our ancestral fears of physical danger that we brush off the warning signs, tell ourselves not to make mountains out of mole hills.
Why We Don’t Always Listen to Our Bodies
What our intuition tells us a manipulator is really like challenges everything we’ve been taught to believe about human nature. We’ve been inundated with a psychology that has us viewing people with problems, at least to some degree, as afraid, insecure or “hung-up”. So, while our gut tells us we’re dealing with a ruthless conniver, our head tells us they must be really frightened, wounded, or self-doubting “underneath” … We’re more apt to doubt and blame ourselves for daring to believe what our gut tells us about our manipulator’s character. – In Sheep’s Clothing, Dr. George Simon (emphasis mine)
When abuse and manipulation are covert, it’s difficult to see it for what it really is. If someone hits you and leaves a mark, it’s proof, right? But the insidious eating away at your self-esteem and self-worth, even your intelligence, doesn’t show the deeply-rooted scars of verbal and emotional abuse.
Feel what’s happening in your body when you’re with someone who makes you uncomfortable – are there any symptoms described above?
Call it what you will: gut instinct, intuition, sixth sense, whatever: your body knows what’s going on.
I was determined to ignore the warnings and tried to justify:
- why I could never feel at peace around this family member
- why any topic I broached would end up with me being somehow “wrong”
- why I felt I had just suffered whiplash as conversations took crazy turns and veered off into rants about totally unrelated subjects
- why I’d end up defending myself about things I never brought up
- the gratuitous put-downs, sneers or fits of anger
- the minimizing of my hurt feelings
- the refusal to take responsibility or apologize for inappropriate behavior
During our last few visits, I just shut down and didn’t initiate any sort of conversation since it seemed that I was putting myself in the line of attack no matter what.
I knew something was wrong. I was slowly being worn down, on edge and wary. In the rare event of a normal conversation, I’d actually note it in my journal, like some pivotal moment in history.
Have you ever been deflated after a conversation with someone you think has narcissistic tendencies? Their verbal gymnastics and mind games are quite impressive. If you ever object (as I tried to do) or can’t keep up (who can? They will veer off course and keep you unbalanced, rather than engage in a fruitful, meaningful discussion), you’ll be sneered or laughed at, or subtly put down for your tastes and opinions.
My body tried to get my attention: tense muscles, bouts of insomnia, frazzled nerves. I was exhausted from the constant thoughts clanging around in my brain trying to explain away what was happening.
How could I possibly be related to someone like that? Can’t they see what they’re doing?
In fact, they don’t want to and don’t feel they have to.
Do you try to convince yourself you’re not really living a one-sided relationship with your family/friend/partner/work colleague? Are you afraid of being judgmental? Do you feel you have to be more understanding, more patient, more everything, while the other person takes and takes and uses you as a doormat, verbal punching bag, rescuer and emotional prop?
Don’t wrestle with a pig. You’ll get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.
(attributed to George Bernard Shaw)
I thought I had to hang on to people. You know the myths: “blood is thicker than water”, “till death do us part”, “friends forever”.
Our brains remember all the garbage we’ve been told, stuff that’s been passed down generation after generation: “be nice”, “forgive and forget”, “don’t think about things like that”, “you’re too sensitive”. If we play those old worn out sayings too often in our minds, we can wobble in our determination to help ourselves.
Only what you feel counts.
Too much unhappiness and abuse have been endured by people unnaturally trying to stick together because of generational myths. It’s time for a divorce: family, friends, partners: whoever puts you down, shatters your soul, uses you in any way. Get rid of them.
Know what? You’re not judgmental. You’re perceptive and discerning.
One day it seemed that Dr. George Simon had been spying on my life:
“So, even when our gut tells us that somebody is attacking us and for no good reason, or merely trying to overpower us, we don’t readily accept the notions. We usually start to wonder what’s bothering the person so badly “underneath it all” that’s making them act in such a disturbing way. We may even wonder what we may have said or done that “threatened” them. We may try to analyze the situation to death instead of simply responding to the attack. We almost never think that the person is simply fighting to get something they want, to have their way with us, or gain the upper hand. And, when we view them as primarily hurting in some way, we strive to understand as opposed to taking care of ourselves. (emphasis mine)” (from In Sheep’s Clothing)
Manipulators and narcissists all act the same way, despite their grandiose beliefs of being unique and special.
It was a revelation to me: every tactic, every behavior, every self-serving and cruel thing said or done: they all do it. That’s the way they are and they’re not going to change.
It felt like the blood was flowing in my veins again and oxygen pumping into my lungs, opening up space in my body to relax. I wasn’t going crazy, there was nothing “wrong” with me.
I had to let go.
I needed to trust those ancestral, deep-rooted survival instincts.
If it feels wrong, icky, scary – anything that makes you uncomfortable – trust it. You are right. Those feelings are there to protect you.
Get out of the way first, whether it’s the sabre-toothed tiger or a narcissist trying to demean and diminish you.
The tiger won’t turn into a cuddly panda just ’cause you want it to.
Neither will the manipulator or narcissist.
You may feel guilty. That’s your conditioning. It’s also a tactic the narcissist uses to get their way. They are not motivated by concern for you.
I stopped contact with my family member after I tried to explain how I felt (legs literally shaking while I did it).
They justified their, blamed me, played the victim, minimized their actions, the usual manipulative tactics.
Nothing changed, nothing would change.
It’s scary at first, trusting your own authority rather than looking to others for validation.
But the result is you will reap so much expansion and energy you’ll feel that you can tackle anything. It will seem was as though the universe was waiting for you to finally get it.
Go for it. You’re worth it.