I want to talk about the subject of feeling invisible which was not only an issue with me personally but is an issue with most people in this situation.
Since a narcissist views those in their lives as extensions of themselves rather than separate, unique individuals, we are often left feeling unseen and unheard. This is because we are! A narcissist can’t really see you for who you are but rather sees you as a projection of his/her own shadow. The shadow is that part of the self one cannot really see. It is where all our repressed emotions, feelings, and beliefs lie. It is the parts of ourselves cast into darkness.
The more one cuts off from his/her shadow the more one lives a lie. When we are cut off from what lies beneath the surface of our awareness we live our life only on the surface. It is the people in our lives who reflect what is hidden within us. This is why we often refer to those who come into our lives in any way, shape or form as mirrors. It is not that people necessarily mirror what you see about yourself, but rather they mirror what you don’t see. A narcissist, for example, will mirror to you your deepest fears and insecurities. Why? Because he himself is cut off from those parts within his own being and needs to project those parts outward in order to avoid taking responsibility for them.
The result for those involved with a narcissist is the experience of feeling unseen and unheard. Whatever you express is taken into the narcissistic filter and spit back out to you from a distorted perspective. This is the perspective of someone who can only process information according to what he himself sees the world. The narcissist doesn’t have the ability to put himself in your shoes, for example. He only sees things from where he stands, which can often be very biased. If you tell him that you are feeling tired and wish to take a nap, for example, he might think “I’m not tired, why should you take a nap?” and then go about making you feel wrong, bad or guilty for your desire to take a nap.
Feeling wrong, bad or guilty is common for people involved with a narcissist, because we cannot be seen or accepted for who we really are. Instead we are viewed through the narcissistic filter which makes us bad for having any needs at all. We find ourselves questioning our basic needs like eating, sleeping and having money in our pocket. We can easily be conditioned to believe we shouldn’t have needs. Only the narcissist has needs and it is your job to take care of them. After the honeymoon phase is over you will likely find that he views your needs as a nuisance and any request made of the narcissist is met with hostility, either overt or covert.
When we finally leave the relationship we find ourselves left with thoughts like “he never really knew me, he doesn’t know me, he can’t hear what I am trying to say to him. He never loved me or really cared about me at all.”
These thoughts are really valid because the narcissist really couldn’t see you. Nor can he see anyone else, so don’t be concerned about the new source of supply getting something you didn’t. The new source will get the same projections and invalidation.
Coming out of the relationship leaves most of us hungry for validation that we are something other than what the narcissist has projected onto us. We hunger to be seen, to be heard and to be validated as a loving, caring being. Often it isn’t enough to have others in our circle or support group validate us however. We seem to need it from the narcissist himself (or herself.)
Often this desire to be seen, heard and validated goes way back to our childhood when we didn’t feel seen or heard by a parent or both parents. But as a child, what do we know about the pain of being invalidated “You don’t want that!” “I don’t? But I thought I did want that ice cream!”
If we grow up having our wants and needs invalidated we find ourselves constantly looking for validation from the outside world because we really aren’t sure we want what we want or need what we need. A narcissistic parent may have that same drive to project his/her unconscious onto their children and also their own reality. “I’m on a diet so you have to stop eating ice cream!”
One of my ex’s used to stop for a coffee drink at a stand every day and when his son was with him he would ask if he could get something from the stand. There were things besides coffee that could have been offered, like a hot chocolate, a fruit smoothie or any number of things, but my ex would always say “no you don’t need anything.” Meanwhile he would get his coffee and go. The son learned that his needs were not important, or worse yet, that he didn’t have any needs.
When we go through narcissistic abuse or that subtle break-down that comes from being exposed to a narcissistic personality over time, we begin to experience this same kind of invalidation. In fact our guilt, shame and sense of inadequacy is triggered. “I am selfish for wanting that, after all he has done for me. I should be happy with what I have.” Because of earlier conditioning we take on the narcissistic projections and on some deeper level believe that we are not worthy of having our wants or needs validated let alone met.
Our wants and needs are seen as weaknesses by the narcissist and so we feel weak for having them. We feel weak because our sense of inadequacy is triggered and because we are owning his projection of his own weaknesses. The narcissist despises what he perceives to be weakness within himself so instead of owning those weaknesses he projects them onto those closest to him. Another example “I am afraid of snakes so I am going to cleverly provoke your fear of snakes so you can be the one acting out that fear.”
When we are slowly and methodically broken down and induced with the belief that our feelings, wants, needs and desires are stupid, silly, unobtainable, selfish or greedy, we stop expressing our needs. This is where we become invisible. We allow ourselves to be absorbed into the narcissistic reality and give up our own.
When we come out of the relationship we are still absorbed in the narcissistic reality and still own the narcissistic projection of ourselves, which by this time is usually pretty awful. We view ourselves as worthless, inadequate, ugly, stupid and a number of other things. It is not because this is who we are but because the narcissist has disowned these things within himself and projected them onto you. The narcissist has disowned his own feelings of being inadequate, worthless, stupid and ugly. His inflated view of himself does not allow for him to be any of these things so you must be.
The way we can recover and move beyond the narcissistic reality is first convince yourself that you are viewing yourself and the world from a narcissistic perspective. Second you must focus on reclaiming who you really are, sometimes for the first time in your life. This means finding your voice and allowing yourself to truly be seen. For me it was like walking out onto the stage in front of thousands of people. I fear they may not like me! They may throw stones at me! They might boo me off the stage! My sense of not being good enough consumes me and prevents me from actually taking the stage. When I could finally get to that place of “I don’t care what you think of me, I am good enough to step out there on the stage of life and sing my song” then I begin taking risks and being myself.
The way you feel when you come out of a narcissist relationship is not who you are! It is not the truth about you! It is the narcissistic projection you have been conditioned to own. So you can see that this is all really nothing more than a very elaborate illusion. Although healing takes time, the paradyme shift can happen almost instantaneously. This is the shift of realizing that you feel the way you do as a result of the program you are running and in order to feel differently you need to install a different program. Think of it like computer software. You are running the narcissistic projection software and you need to uninstall it and install the “I am a beautiful, worthy, desirable, talented individual, software.
With narcissistic conditioning there is usually a glitch in the system however that makes us continue to default to the old programming which overrides the new stuff you have just installed. But if you learn to catch the override and reinstall the new software over and over again it will finally stick. At this time you will view yourself with fresh eyes. You will see that you were not those things at all. You were really far from it. Those old programs were nothing more than the suit the narcissist gave to you to wear so he didn’t have to look at himself.
The narcissist will never see you, really! He only sees you as an extension of himself. If you seem to have something he needs in the moment he may respond to you. But if he is getting his needs met elsewhere he has no reason to respond. So it is safe to say if a narcissist contacts you it is because he has a need he thinks you can fill in the moment. It is always “in the moment!” Never for a lifetime or for the long run. But rather “right now I am hungry and you are the closest diner!”
Your work is to discover who YOU are! Your work is to find your voice and your own authentic expression. This means doing a complete inventory of yourself. Who am I? What do I like? What do I want? What do I need right now?” And also to validate your wants and needs and if you need help from a support group, you can get validation there.
Be careful with support groups with those recovering from narcissistic abuse however. I have realized after conducting one for years that there is a whole lot of dysfunction that shows up and a whole lot of narcissism. When we have been infiltrated with narcissism we often carry it forward and infiltrate others. Also since narcissists believe they are the victim, there are a lot of narcissists that join the free support forums. They usually won’t join paid ones because they are not that vested in their personal growth. In my many years of counseling I have had about three clients I felt could have been narcissistic but it is difficult to make that judgment since being with a narcissist can really mess someone up.
One woman was so angry with me that she kept saying with great frustration “you are not hearing what I am saying.” I found myself very agitated with this woman and not wanting to work with her. She was bringing up all my stuff about not being an effective counselor. And then I realized what was happening. She wasn’t hearing what I was saying!” She was projecting her unconscious onto me! She couldn’t hear me because it would have meant having to take responsibility for her own stuff! She needed to constantly blame the narcissist and wanted to tell the same story to me over and over and over so I could tell her “yup he sounds like a narcissist.” And although according to her story, he did sound very narcissistic, she wasn’t making any progress at all. She just couldn’t get that his behavior was about him not her. She kept trying to get me to explain why he did this and why he did that. “because that is what a narcissist will do” just wasn’t good enough! She wanted to know why he did that to her! Why was she so awful that he would do that to her!” She couldn’t get beyond that point! She had gone through four different therapists and told me none of them could help her; and although many therapist don’t understand narcissistic abuse, there has to be a willingness on the clients end to do the work. But she was completely unwilling to help herself.
I finally had to let this woman go, because she was becoming abusive towards me due to my complete failure to understand her. I realized that some people just can’t be helped. But in my experience as a holistic counselor, most people I work with are very willing to look within and do the work necessary to heal.