Ça va? Ça va.

The past few weeks I have been taking intensive language lessons.  One of the modules was a 2 week oral communication course with six students.  I only knew one of the students but the rest I met the first day of class.

During the first day I noticed one of the students didn’t look me in the eye.  She seemed not to notice I was there or when I spoke in class she seemed to not listen to what I had to say.  The lack of recognition of being was a repressed emotion that had recently surfaced for me and I was a tune to it and more sensitive to feeling it.  The week continued and each day for 4 hours she did not seem to acknowledge my existence in any verbal or non-verbal way.  This was more apparent as others did not behave this way towards me.

It bothered me and I wanted to easily say to myself – she has N tendencies.  I know better – stay away.  I couldn’t help it.  I had to learn more (but actually I believe this was my natural attraction).  And in a way, I was relieved about making the decision to find out more for myself.  There could be a million and one reasons and she could actually be someone who does not have these tendencies.

By the last day of the intense module we all decided to go out for coffee.  A way of celebrating the fact that our brains did not explode from speaking a foreign language for 4 hours straight for 5 days.

During the class (before we went out for coffee), Alba (woman who did not acknowledge me) had to give her presentation that day on a topic of her choosing.  She chose Hugo Chavez.  She presented on him and then turned the discussion to us.  She didn’t ask any questions and so I stated my opinion on him and his presidency.  A few responded and a few declined commenting because they did not have enough information to share any opinions on it.

During the coffee outing, Alba states ‘I wanted to raise the level of discussion in our class by choosing this topic and no one could participate because they didn’t know international issues.’  This I found insulting and attackful.  I noticed that all of us let her comment go.  I don’t know why but I gathered she was feeling shameful about her ability to speak (she struggles orally in comparison).  Plus, I heard her fishing for compliments during our class breaks.  Our discussion continued to Americans and language in general.  Alba (who is Irish btw) brought up the point that Americans ask ‘how are you?’ but don’t wait for a response.  She pointed out that this behaviour is superficial and that Americans don’t really care how the other person is.

Since I have been living in Europe for 7 years I have heard this, I don’t know, about 1 million times.  It gets old.  When people started saying this to me I ignored it.  Thinking, well each person has their own opinion.  However, even this has changed for me.  I now address it. My response now:

It is not out of superficiality that Americans say ‘How are you?’ and don’t expect a response; it is an evolution of the language in the country; when I say ‘How are you?’ to a fellow American I don’t expect a response, it is a way of saying Hello for me.  We use ‘how are ya?’ as Hello.  When I want to find out the state or feeling of a person I either ask again or in a different way.  As we are learning in French, there is the standard use of the language and the way people actually use the language.

The Austrian in the group responded to this ‘Exactly’.  It was nice to hear because I felt this was putting myself and how I feel out there.  It was an insult to me and my fellow Americans to equate a characteristic of superficiality with one phrase that has evolved over the years. Whether deemed insignificant or not, her behaviour was an act of cruelty.

She continued to say things about Americans and other nationalities that I was not happy with it.  I walked away knowing I will not spend any more time on her.  She behaves narcissistically and I know my answer.  Don’t go there.

And guess what, she continued the module that I am taking this week.  At the beginning of the module the professor said to me after I spoke a bit that she has seen a good level of improvement from me orally in the language.  Since, ya know, I’m in recovery I forced myself to just take the compliment and enjoy it. 🙂

And you guessed it, Alba and I were waiting for the elevator together at the end of class.  She managed in the 1 minute we were waiting to bring up the compliment and make me feel bad about it (‘well look at you, you don’t have problems with the language, the prof said you speak well).  But, here’s the thing, I changed how I behaved.  I said to her, ‘we all have struggles in the language – for some that is orally and others it is grammar; for me, I struggle with writing the language and each person struggles in their own way.’  She responds, ‘well, I’m great at writing.’

That moment was a breakthrough.  If I hadn’t gotten to know her and decide for myself that getting to know her was something I wasn’t going to spend time on I would not have been able to be empathetic.  It would have been impossible for me to see her shame in not speaking the language well.  If I had allowed her to take advantage of me – emotionally – by not speaking my mind to her – there is no way I could see her shame.  I would be sitting in the swampland trying to dig myself out.

It was weird because I don’t have this strong urge of anger when she behaves narcissistically.  I addressed her remarks and will try to continue to do so when she shames me or others.  It is weird to walk away without the level of hate I have accumulated with regard to my narcissistic friends.  I often wonder if I had done this with them at the get go of our acquaintance would it have led to friendship?  Let me tell ya – Alba is not seeking friendship with me nor am I with her.  That is a point we both can agree on.

xxoo T

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35 thoughts on “Ça va? Ça va.

  1. Hmmm. Interesting. I am impressed by your level of self-awareness, T, and of how you handled the situation. I think based on her initial behavior I would have written her off as someone I would not like, and then would continue to look for evidence that this was the right decision; in a way, demonizing her. (Hard to admit that!) My partner has a friend who is pretty narcissistic, and the 4 of us have been getting together for couples things for about a decade now. It took me until about a year ago to stop getting into power struggles with this guy and to stop taking his “alpha male” N behavior personally. I mean, sometimes, his comments were very personal indeed! But something shifted for me (I wish I knew what), and I finally made peace with “Nick.” He is still the same person (he’s not going to change!), but he no longer gets under my skin. I actually have found reasons to like him, believe it or not. And I can now see the shame and insecurity that underlies a lot of his behavior, just like you, with this woman.

    I don’t know if that helps you in thinking about your older friendships, but this post has certainly helped me in thinking about some of mine. Great topic.

    Take care,
    Kitty

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    • Hi Kitty,
      Thank you. I often find myself drawn to people who have treated me like my mother and this attraction has had me thinking a lot. It took a long time to realise that my mother did not recognise me in the sense that I existed. I don’t know if I would have noticed these feelings had I not realised them from her. I often still find myself generally wanting to be liked in group settings. And I accept that and now I start to ask myself why and ask what is happening to me rather than only focusing on them. A long road and this was the first time I actually felt a change inside me.

      Your relationship with Nick is something that gives hope to some of my past relationships. I find it extremely difficult to exercise empathy and compassion towards them. And I know that it comes from allowing them to walk all over me. It is an obstacle to me seeing their shame and hurt. And that isn’t the way I want to behave. It will be a greater struggle with friends for me because I will have to set boundaries that they are not used to. It was (relatively) easy to do so with someone I don’t have a strong emotional connection with.

      Thank you for sharing this story.

      xxoo

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      • I do this too. Do you think the attraction comes from “sensing” something is not how it should be and trying to “make it right”? You know, as in restoring the harmony that there should be there instead of the awkwardness. xxoo

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      • That is an interesting aspect about attraction you mention. I think I did sense it and this time recognise in real time as it was happening. I do think that when a person does not recognise us it is generally an awkward feeling. Recognition meaning acknowledge of your existence. I’ve been thinking a lot about recognition lately since having those repressed emotions from my mother come up. Thinking about writing about it. Do you feel the harmony is out of balance because it is a basic human need for our existence to be acknowledged?

        xxoo

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      • “It was (relatively) easy to do so with someone I don’t have a strong emotional connection with.” That makes sense. Without a strong emotional tie, it can be easier to see the behavior and learn from it. Some of the greatest lessons in my life have come not from friends or lovers, but from acquaintances and even strangers. Go figure!

        I used to be drawn to emotionally distant people, too, and think I had to keep the relationship going myself. After I had a few healthy relationships under my belt, I found myself either shying away from these people or having big reactions to them (like Nick). My female friends were almost universally Ns, and I was always the “adult” of the relationship, doing the listening, supporting, propping up, etc. I actually went through a period of having almost no friends because I didn’t want to keep doing that and didn’t know how to do it differently. And yes, I think Kara is right, that this is about trying to fix something in the past; in my case, I think my relationship with my mother.

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      • Thanks for sharing this Kitty – “I actually went through a period of having almost no friends because I didn’t want to keep doing that and didn’t know how to do it differently.” I am at this period now of almost no friends. The past 2 years I have said goodbye to N friends (in the US and over here). The only Ns left are the ones from DH’s side in the US. I am struggling with how to do it differently. Hugs xxoo

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      • Yes T, I do think it is a basic human need to have our existence acknowledged. That’s why people like Alba are very distressing to us. Imagine if everybody was like her. How would we even know if we really existed? I get very triggered by people like her. That’s another post I’ve had in the back burner for some time. xxoo

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      • We all seem to be going or have gone through a period of having almost no friends when we start letting go of Nfriendships. I think it’s an unavoidable part of the process, like letting the land lie fallow, so it can regenerate. (Another subject worth its own post) xxoo

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  2. Good for you! There are a lot of narcissists, and you can’t avoid all of them. I’m trying to learn how to deal with them, and this is a great example.

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  3. I love this post – it makes me happy, somehow. It’s just good to know that at some point, I’ll be able to see a narcissist and not just get angry or defensive – we can talk briefly, using good boundaries, and say good-buy without rancor. Ah… Thanks.

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    • Thank you, Toto! I hear ya. It is a big struggle. The only reason I think I was able to handle her was because she hadn’t taken advantage of me. I think my need for her to recognise me or in some way like me would have led me to start offering favours for her (give her notes from class when she missed, etc.) And led to feelings of anger when I eventually realised I was being used. Thank you for reading. xxoo

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  4. Hi T, this is a fascinating post on a lot of levels. First your new awareness to not shove aside your feelings of being treated as if you were “invisible.” But second, your understanding that this woman is either pathologically shy (Kara has written a post about social personality affects of Brits, Spanish that ties in in interesting ways here) or a narcissist. In neither case did you feel there was anything wrong with you. What progress that is for we who are in “narc recovery.” What I’m mulling is how once you made the decision not to expend any more energy on her, you felt some empathy for her obvious (seems to me) insecurities. In my experience, when people dismiss “all Americans as” they feel either wrongly superior or inferior in ways that aren’t often visible to us. Your response to her is a lesson to me. I’m going to think about it the next time someone in a group with me acts like I’m not “there.” xx CS

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    • Hi CS, Thank you. I did think maybe she was shy and I am too as well. And that was part of the reason why I invited her to coffee. I make an awful first impression – some have told me that I see like a btch – I am shy and reserved. And that is a great post from Kara on how cultures handle this trait.

      It is interesting you ask, I did feel at first there was something wrong with me. I do think it will be a natural tendency that will hopefully diminish – but now it is more of a trigger that something isn’t right if I automatically jump to the fact that there is something wrong with me.

      I honestly think the only reason I could have responded to her like that was because I had made the decision that I didn’t like her and I wasn’t going to waste my time. The story would have ended differently. The patterns of almost all my past friendships tell me something about myself – not something I feel comfortable to look at but more necessary.

      She was on show during the coffee break. She did speak of all cultures. I have a problem with people equating the trait of saying ‘how are you?’ with being superficial. People are superficial in every country. She continued to talk about how she hated all dutch people because the government hadn’t recognised colonisation. She had reached a boundary of mine. I felt uncomfortable with what she was saying and I was able to in ‘real time’ recognise that and respond to her blatant comments.

      Thank you for the comment; it made me see the process of what I went through in dealing with her which is what I couldn’t articulate very well.

      Catch up with you on your side. xxoo T

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  5. I am noticing that when I respect myself it is easier for me to be aware of other’s insecurties and needs. Thanks for some excellent examples on how to treat others that are behaving like a narcissistic.

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  6. Great post T. I have learned so much from it. You did a great job of dealing with Alba, and man, she sounds “hardcore”. I noticed that everything that came out of her mouth was designed to put down her audience. That can be really triggering, even if you realise that she struggling with shame.
    I think the level of hate/resentment is directly proportional to the emotional investment we’ve put into people. Because you’re not trying to “connect” with her, you’re better able to deal with the triggers. I feel like that about the “house guest” too. Look forward to hear what else you learn from spending another week with her. It’s almost like you’re taking two courses instead of one: a language course and a people management one 😉
    Kara xxoo

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    • Hi Kara, You picked up on her being ‘hardcore’. That is a great way to describe. Words like harsh or abrupt but hardcore seems to work better. She is a trip and half.

      I totally agree with that ratio. I think I was only able to do this because there was no strong emotional connection.

      That was the other thing that changed. I felt empowered a bit. I wondered if maybe she didn’t ‘like’ me for some reason at first. But in the end I had come to the conclusion that I didn’t like her and so my first question was no longer relevant. Indeed – it is 2 courses!

      I think as we continued to encounter people like this – houseguests/classmates – we are starting to break a pattern in ourselves. xxoo

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  7. In general it seems unfortunately that the less investment we have in someone the more able we are to tolerate the intolerable without feeling implicated. This is probably why it takes us forever to get clear of the deathgrip of our Narc Foos–we’re so deeply emotionally invested that it’s almost impossible for us to stand back, know it’s not “about” us, and feel empathy for them. This seems to me a hard dilemma.

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      • Hi guys,
        Reading all your new comments this morning I’ve just had a massive lightbulb moment. My attraction to emotionally distant people comes primarily from the “blueprint” of my relationship with my mother (with my father also, though not quite so intensely). Like Kitty said, I also believed that it was my job to keep the relationships going. It’s like we have been “trained” to think that connections with others require a lot of work (emotional investment) when really they don’t, and they shouldn’t. Connections between people should occur naturally, and when they don’t it’s a sign that something is off. I hope this makes sense, I’m still trying to get my head around this discovery of the link between how our parents “brainwashed/gaslighted” us in this regard. I’m going to try to put this into words
        and write a post about it.
        Kara xxoo

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  8. OK, you guys will love this (not said like an old narc who repeats the same old stories). I had a FOO moment with the guy who’s doing some carpentry for me. He’s been showing up late (10am) and leaving early (3pm), while I know he’s billing me for a full day. I’ve been out there first thing in the morning spackling and puttying holes myself, so when he shows up I’m already working. I was giving him the “silent treatment,” and of course, being a guy, he didn’t give a crap. I realized later that I was trying to “guilt” him into showing up on time, because he’s a man and I’m a woman, and I didn’t want to exert direct authority on him. When I see him again on Monday (that’s right–he’s starting another job in the middle of the one with me, so I won’t see him again until Monday), I’ll remind him that I”m his freaking boss, that he works FOR me, and that he can show up on time or I’ll start deducting hourly wages from the checks I write.
    And I’ll do it without any “affect” at all. How’s that for changing a pattern?

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    • Awesome story, CS. I’ve had run-ins and epiphany moments too with handyman types who I’d hired here and there as a single homeowner. Some of these guys are real pieces of work, and can be a wealth of opportunity for women like us! 🙂

      Once I was getting estimates on getting my house painted. One of the guys bidding wrote “shudders” instead of “shutters” on the estimate. When I chuckled, he asked me why. When I told him (politely, of course), he started arguing with me, so I got a dictionary to show him. I figured I was doing him a favor, but he was highly offended, and continued to argue with me! Needless to say, he did not get the job.

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      • Oh yeah, let’s dig out our single homeowner contractor’s stories. LIke the guy who came to give me an estimate on waterproofing my basement. After forgetting the first appointment, he keeps the second one (a week later), gets to my house, goes into the basement, takes a cellphone call, and talks for twenty minutes. I go up and down the stairs three times, finally I gesture at him to hang up the phone. 5 minutes later he hangs up, and says to me “that was an important business call.” STanding in my basement. I tell him, “I am an important potential client and you are being rude.” I told him to leave, that I wasn’t interested in his services anymore.

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  9. I really believe that FOO damage has caused ripples through every area of our lives. Work on the core, as we’re all doing together, and the peripheral interactions will inevitably be affected. It’s cool to see the links. I’m going to try hard to hone the “real time” aspect, a la Kara. xx CS

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  10. T, you doing ok out there? Hope you haven’t been felled by flu. I’m curious how you ended up deciding to live in Europe? My youngest sis lived in Europe for nearly a decade, in different places. I know she did it to get as far away from my parents as she could (though she’d deny it now). Then five years ago she moved back, right into their metaphorical back yard. Now she’s enabler in chief, and the person I was great friends with for so many years seems to have vanished back into the ClanBlob.

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    • Hi CS,
      I’m doing okay. My BiL and SiL are in town and well it hasn’t been easy. I was a bit anxious leading up to the week and now they are here. So much N in DH’s family and just within the last few months I have seen how big the legacy is.

      I live in Europe due to DH’s job. We have stayed here longer than usual because he took a second job with same company over here. The timing of the move overseas is kind of ironic. I was living in Chicago close to my FOO. And I was trying to put together our relationship. I thought that a lot of the problems were me and that I had been acting immature over the years. I tried to make it ‘normal’. It didn’t seem to work, go figure? I was left feeling awful about myself after every visit. Then we moved and I went no contact and then after 3 years in Europe one of my friends here introduced me to N rudely. So, in some ways, maybe I was willing to move overseas to get away from them like your sister.

      I can imagine that had to have been hard to see your sister move across the world only to come back and enable N within your family. That can feel in some ways like a betrayal. I feel this way sometimes with my FOO. All my family members from aunts to cousins have seen me as the ‘problem’.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      How have you been? I’ll catch up with you on your blog!

      Hugs, T

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  11. I’m good, T R. What you say about “feeling awful after every visit,” I know what you mean. I felt this way too. and after each phone conversation. Still do. it’s like an awful swamp where you walk in and start sinking, and it takes twice as much energy to pull back out. My youngest sister, she’s just been reabsorbed, and its tragic for me since she was my best friend in my FOO, and had always been there for me, at least up until my mother plagiarized me and all that shit hit the fan. I tried to keep her out of it bjut my mother dragged her in, enlisted her. But my sister’s a grown up, and let herself be enlisted. So be it. I’m glad you’re ok, hanging in. More soon. hugs back, CS

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