A Harsh Slap of Awakening


Daily Prompt: Sad But True
Tell us about the harshest, most difficult to hear — but accurate — criticism you’ve ever gotten. Does it still apply?

This prompt prompted a long path of thought with many other paths meandering away from it. As much as I enjoy following as many thought paths as possible at the same time… not this time.


Not because it meant reviewing harsh criticism directed at me to find the worst and truest one, and thus relive those moments. But because I grew up with parents who were Narcissists, who had other Narcissists as friends, and who also surrounded themselves with sycophants.

My early experiences of other people and the things which they say programmed my mind to consider criticisms and compliments as being the same thing. Further experiences have confirmed to me the similarities between the two.

Contemplation has led me to look beyond the criticism or compliment at the person giving it.

When I get a criticism or compliment I pause and ask – Why are they saying this to me?

Partly that question is more of a – What does this person want from me?

That is cynical, but it is also logical. It is suspicious, but the suspicion is not unfounded. It is also designed to be a time saver.

Tell me what you really want, then I can decide if I am in a position to provide you with what you want. If I am, then I will. If I am not then I will tell you and you can go elsewhere for that which you seek. There are variations. People often don’t want what they want once they get it. Or my version of what they want is not the version they are seeking. And so on.

So, for me a compliment or a criticism is more about the person who is giving it than it is about me.

If a criticism is logical, such as telling me that I am wrong or doing something wrong, then I want a logical breakdown of what is wrong and what is right. I will then decide whether I agree. If someone tells me I am wrong just because I am not doing something the way they would do it, but my way works just as well as their way, then it is a moot point. I may check out their way just because it may be more efficient.

The same applies to compliments. If they are logical, they are a thumbs up. Which is nice and often a needed encouragement. And much appreciated.

If the criticism or compliment is illogical, then there is something else going on, hidden beneath the surface veneer.

I sound like a robot, don’t I? My friends occasionally call me an android. They know they can say this freely because it makes me laugh. I have worked very hard at creating my android self, so it’s a compliment. They also know that I have a rich emotional nature, which bursts out and often takes people who don’t know me so well unawares. That makes me laugh too. A different kind of laugh. My android self was created to balance my emotional nature, and to sort through one hell of a knot of confusion whose first threads were born before I was born.

My entire life has been one long hard slap of awakening. It’s just taken me a while to actually fully wake up. I still press the snooze button on many aspects of it.

My parents were Narcissists. I didn’t know that before. I do now. But then…

Narcissists do two things very well and very often. They hand out amazing compliments and generously dole out the awful truth about you to you.

The amazing compliments are designed to convince you how wonderful they are, to intoxicate you and to get you to do whatever it is they want you to do, and the awful truth is what you get if you refuse to do what they have decided you are going to do. They tried being nice, that didn’t work, so now they will try being nasty. One way or another you’re going to do what they want you to do, their decision is final.

Narcissists do this as a hobby too, to keep their manipulative muscles limber. And because they really don’t know how to do anything else as well as they do this. Yes, they wallow in self pity really deftly and play the permanent victim in distress in need of saving by a very ‘special’ someone – you… but that’s a sideline. Their genius lies… it lies and makes those lies true.

My father once called me a whore. I was about nine years old. Why? What had I done to deserve such an awful truth?

My parents and I had gone out to dinner in Paris. Lovely romantic Paris. After dinner we strolled along the Seine and crossed one of its many beautiful bridges. The stroll was anything but pleasant and it wasn’t a stroll at all. My parents were fighting as usual. It was how they interacted. So I distanced myself from them by walking a few feet ahead of the loud and vicious shouting match.

Watching two Narcissists doing what they do to others to each other… is quite an experience as long as they don’t notice that you are there.

I used to refer to myself as Piggy-in-the-Middle when I was a child. A toy ripped to shreds while two people fight over it, but neither of them want it.

I was luckily being ignored for a bit that night, earlier I had not been ignored. But then a man walking in the opposite direction passed me and he must have looked at me. That made me a whore.

My guess is the man probably wondered what a child was doing walking alone late at night. My father didn’t care what the man was really thinking when he looked at me, he didn’t care what calling me a whore made me think and feel, he was angry, venting his spleen and lashing out with the intention of hitting someone with his words, making them feel his pain. That’s what Narcissists do. In that moment that someone was me. In the next moment he forgot what he had said, he felt better having released some of the pain of his wound, and I was expected to do the same. Forget.

He called me a whore in the same way he called me many other things. My mother was exactly the same, only there was usually a bit more of a barb to her remarks, designed to get stuck in your gut for slow pain release. She hated me for being young. She was obsessed with her age, being older and getting older. She hated it and she hated me for having what she saw herself as losing and lacking. She did her best, which was also her worst, to suck my youth out of me and into herself.

One day when I was a teenager, getting dressed to meet up with my friends, and rather excited because a boy I liked would be there, my mother casually told me, with concern and caring, that I had crooked legs. Poor me, she commiserated, I was deformed, imperfect, ugly, I had inherited my father’s legs instead of her long, perfect, straight and shapely legs. I was wearing a miniskirt. That was the last time I ever wore one. I knew what she was doing, but it still wormed its way into my very self-conscious and insecure teenage mind.

This sort of thing happened all the time. These two incidents are quite mild considering some of the things my parents said to me. They viewed their awful truths as being for my own benefit. Narcissists are very altruistic. I viewed them as being for their own benefit. Everything a Narcissist says and does is about them, no one else exists.

Thinking something and feeling something are very different no matter how many commonalities they share. My feeling nature was a twisted mess, which warped my thinking. My thinking eventually learned how to untangle itself and it set to work untangling my feelings. When feeling and thinking work together to gain understanding, they can transmute it into knowing. Knowing is not intuition or instinct, it is those too, but more than that. When you know something it permeates every atom of your being…

For me, a truth is usually revealed when thinking and feeling pause from running along separate courses and join forces in a moment of understanding, knowing. It can be harsh, but it is a gentle loving harshness.

The truth doesn’t hurt, it heals. But things which heal sometimes sting. A bit. A lot. But the awareness of your body is increased and in that moment you feel, think, understand and know all at once.

So, the harshest criticism I have ever received which was also true… has never come from others. It is usually those moments when I realise, often not due to a criticism, but due to an idle comment or innocuous incident, that I have been an idiot, often because I was accepting someone else’s gift of a criticism, an awful truth, or allowing a compliment to sway me.

That’s my answer for now… it may change later. Things do, thoughts do, feelings do, understanding and knowing are constantly evolving. Into what? I don’t know.