What a Narcissist Needs… Self-Acceptance is both the Problem and the Solution

Own it

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“When you accept yourself and all your flaws, you don’t particularly need to focus on self-esteem per se. You focus, instead, on being as good as possible at what you actually do. You may have a positive sense of self, but you don’t blow your sense of self-importance up out of proportion.  If you make a mistake, or if someone criticizes you, it’s not the end of the world. You’re the first one to admit that you’re not perfect and you know that there will be days that don’t work out quite the way you’d have liked.” – Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., What a Narcissist Needs is More, not Less, Self Love.

I have to confess that the only reason I chose to read the article – What a Narcissist Needs is More, not Less, Self Love – is because I found the title irritating, especially the first half of it. I must admit that I am very glad I was irritated and decided to scratch that itch because the article is excellent, insightful and very interesting.

It’s also worth perusing the comments, at least it was for me because I got a little shot of self-esteem from doing so. Why? Because I have a flaw which can’t help itself from predicting reactions to things which are said. When these predictions come true, I am rather pleased with myself and often celebrate by murmuring to myself – That’s what I thought!. I don’t tend to say this out loud as that is a mistake I have made which was identified as a mistake due to the reaction which it provoked. People like you to be confident, but they don’t like it when your confidence is perceived by them as being smugness. When these predictions are proved to be false, I learn from my mistake as best as I can once I swallow my pride, which can get stuck in the throat like a very large and hard to swallow but much needed pill.

In this particular case, as I was reading the article, I predicted that this bit…

“People high in self-acceptance turn out, counter-intuitively, to be low in self-esteem. You might imagine that accepting yourself would virtually guarantee having a pretty healthy self-esteem not one that is lower than the average non-self-accepting sort. However, it’s precisely that lack of self-acceptance that sets the individual up for self-esteem problems.” – Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., What a Narcissist Needs is More, not Less, Self Love.

…and other similar bits which echoed the same concept, would cause problems for those reading the words. Especially for those who are and have been in a long term (or a short term which felt too long) relationship with a narcissist and are still in the anger stage, and the anger is still very raw.

The process of healing from a relationship with a narcissist is similar to the Five Stages of Grief, as you are mourning a great loss, a death. However since what has died is still alive, you never get closure which can feel as though it is a form of torture designed just for you. An agonising death which never climaxes.

The anger stage is the hardest part to move through as it permeates everything. Just when you think you’re ‘over it’, you’re out, you get pulled back in.

I am fairly calm with regards to narcissists these days… until I am exposed to my mother in some way, either due to her (narcissistic parents never let go of their children, they own you, you belong to them) or due to someone who reminds me of her so much that for a moment I can’t tell the difference between them and her. Then the anger rises like a tidal wave and reaching higher ground on my little legs moving more slowly than the rage is the sort of challenge which I am more likely to lose.

One of the hardest parts of the anger stage is accepting the anger. Many people have a difficult time accepting the person they are when the anger takes a hold of them. The sort of anger a relationship with a narcissist, that a narcissist, can provoke within a person who, up until they got involved with a narcissist and then suffered the apres-honeymoon (love-bombing) phase, considered themselves to be peaceful, kind, compassionate and empathic, tends to rock their identity boat and world in a manner which makes them not only seasick, but heartsick, mindsick and soulsick.

Being a rational soul, whose sickness temporarily makes them irrational, the victim of a narcissist sets out to find a cure. But many of the cures only seem to trigger a recurrence of the symptoms of sickness. Reading an article which seems sympathetic and shows empathy towards narcissists… enrages them. To hell with the narcissist, what about me and what the narcissist did to me (and is still doing to me)!

Indeed… however sometimes the cure is in the sickness, the vaccine uses the virus, the healing is in the wound. Your wound which the narcissist inflicted on you. But more precisely within the wound which caused the narcissist to develop NPD. The wound of the narcissist is the wound which they inflict and pass on to you. Understanding it is the cure. Yet… you’ve been understanding, and you’re fed up of it!

There are diverse types of understanding… just as there are diverse types of narcissists, even if they all seem the same.

Articles like this one, are examining patient zero to determine how the infection spreads from them to others, and how they got it in the first place. It may be uncomfortable reading, because it appears to be, in some ways, favouring the narcissist, but sometimes you need to face discomfort to find relief, release and recovery. A palliative cure for the sickness caused by having a relationship with a narcissist may feel momentarily relieving, but may also create a scenario whereby you move from one narcissist to another, concluding even more painfully that there must be something wrong with you because you attract narcissists and keep attracting them no matter what you do.

Why does this keep happening to you! It’s unfair!

And you may conclude that everyone except you is a narcissist. Which is a rather narcissistic conclusion… but it does not mean that you are a narcissist, it simply shows that intense pain which wraps you up in a suffocating embrace, is a narcissistic experience – ergo… maybe the reason narcissists are the way that they are is because they are in permanent pain. Hence what the article is saying is that… that person whom you’ve identified as a narcissist, who has made a living hell of your life, and your relationship with them is a constant open suppurating wound which never heals, is being the way that they are because they are trying to heal their own wound, a suffocating wound which has completely absorbed them, and like the Blob, has now absorbed you too.

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the_blobThe Blob, image via Scifiscoop

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“The lack of self-acceptance that characterizes narcissists is indeed what makes them such difficult living partners. They are judgmental, letting you know when they don’t like something you do or say.  They become particularly enraged when your own actions lead others to cast a negative light onto them. If you’re not dressed “just right,” you make them look bad. They believe that everyone, including you, shares their values and opinions. When you cross them, they feel angry that you’re not showing 100% acceptance of them.  It’s because narcissists are so hard on themselves that they can be so infuriating when you’re in a relationship with one.” – Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., What a Narcissist Needs is More, not Less, Self Love.

That flaw of mine which I mentioned which causes me to predict how people will react to things that are said, was a crack created by repeated exposure to narcissists. Being able to predict how someone, a narcissist in particular, will react to what you say becomes a matter of pain-avoidance. Pain in the ass and everywhere else avoidance. You learn to censor, edit, and control your spontaneous self-expression for the benefit of the narcissist which benefits you too (even though the benefit to you is split-second short term and still painful).

Avoiding certain types of pain, applying a balm… is only a temporary cure which doesn’t really work unless you’re willing to live in denial of how much you are hurting, of your own personal needs, for the sake of catering to the narcissist… which becomes one of your personal needs when you’re involved with a narcissist. That balm is salt in the wound…

“In order to satisfy the narcissist with whom you’re in a relationship, you’ll need to offer constant praise and admiration. The first sign of conflict becomes a dire threat against which the narcissistic individual seeks protection.” – Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., What a Narcissist Needs is More, not Less, Self Love.

Narcissists are idealists and perfectionists, who censor everyone, including themselves, to the point where anything even slightly less than their ideal of perfect is a crime, a sin, a terrifying flaw, an horrific mistake which only genocide can cure, and even then… they always want more, and more, and more, genocide. Of course, since they are not particularly good (but don’t tell them that unless you want to be bored to death by an interminable and repetitious monologue to which they never listen but to which they expect you to listen over and over again with rapturous focus as if it was the words of a god – which often includes your own words regurgitated back to you as though you’d never said them, could never think of such a thing, and they just thought of them and are enlightening you with them but you’ll never understand because they are smarter than you) at dealing with the consequences of their actions, once their genocidal solution to all their problems (which is always due to everyone else except them) leaves them all alone on this planet… but, once all alone, with no one to accept what they refuse to accept, no one left to be a mirror which will reflect themselves, a reflection which they will distort to reflect back to them what they desire to see to appease the hungry demon within, with no one to applaud them even if the applause is canned, be their audience listening to their lectures, putting up with their tantrums, echoing their hopes that they are great… great… great… will they finally accept themselves, responsibility and accountability, or will they slowly die of starvation due to lack of narcissistic supply, still hostile and bitter, blaming everyone one else for what they have done, angry at others for allowing themselves to be killed thus leaving the narcissist all alone. You abandoned them to themselves. Poor them, how could you do this to them, it’s unfair!

How could you leave the narcissist alone, alone with themselves, with their projections with nowhere to project them…

“To admit that they played a role in the conflict would mean they would have to admit that they’re not as perfect in relationships as they imagine themselves to be.” – Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., What a Narcissist Needs is More, not Less, Self Love.

They need you more than you need them, but they will never accept such a thing, because they need to lie to themselves about how much they need you, because that sort of need perceived by them to be a weakness which they perceive as a flaw. A dreaded flaw like the dreaded hooded claw. Thus they always perceive you as needing them more than they need you… they could discard you in an instant and not be bothered by it, they can replace you, you know… you’re nothing to them even if they take everything from you, rely on you for everything which they lack but need… it’s never enough, therefore you are never good enough for them. They’re better than you, better than that… the fear that they are not, pushes them to prove that they are using you and anyone else who is available to be used, abused and… so on.

The title bothered me because the need for more which a narcissist has, has been a source of frustration since I was a child. That relentless and greedy need for more, the desperate scramble to find sources to supply their insatiable demand, the ravenous way they suck all of the life out of you then blame you for being sucked dry and not being able to keep pouring your life force into their bottomless pit of need… and on and on and on… has shaped who I am.

Whether I would have been different from who I am now had I not grown up with narcissists is a moot point. One which is best left unexamined as it could become a thorn in my side which prevents me from accepting who I am as is.

The mirage of what could have been, who you could have been, who you would have been, who you should be, if only this had happened instead of that, is a wound which will eat you alive just as a narcissist does, as it is very much a part of what drives a narcissist to be the way that they are.

“Returning to the issue of self-acceptance, the Peterson and DeHart study also suggests that their highly judgmental attitude toward themselves may be what makes them so resistant to accepting their own culpability in arguments. To admit that they played a role in the conflict would mean they would have to admit that they’re not as perfect in relationships as they imagine themselves to be.
This look inside the mental life of the narcissist may give you greater empathy as well.  It’s no fun being low on self-acceptance, and people who are can never feel content about themselves and their abilities.” – Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., What a Narcissist Needs is More, not Less, Self Love.

Accepting myself as I am, flaws, mistakes, and all… best thing I ever did for myself. Took a long time to do, and is still something which I am learning to do, slowly but surely, day by day. Not all of it is acceptable… but the unacceptable is a part of the acceptable.

Once again…

“You’re the first one to admit that you’re not perfect and you know that there will be days that don’t work out quite the way you’d have liked.” – Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., What a Narcissist Needs is More, not Less, Self Love.

Once I learned how to accept myself, and just do it without too much fanfare surrounding the fact that I was doing it… it became second nature. First nature is… I think self-acceptance is first nature, but then it gets nurtured out of us (or at least it did with me). I appreciate it more than perhaps I would have… another moot point.

After I began to accept myself as is… it slowly rippled into accepting narcissists as they are. This has been very healing for me, even though it does not give me closure, it gives me understanding… a certain type of understanding which releases me from those invisible contracts which the narcissist signs by forging your name and then holds you to it, using emotional blackmail and other threats.

I accept that I will never be acceptable to them. And I don’t really want to be acceptable to them… because that might make me unacceptable to myself as I recall rather vividly the extent to which I bent myself out of shape to try to earn a smidgeon of acceptance from them… and how that was used against me, to keep me a prisoner of their wound forever feeding its decaying mouth.

These days… that feeling, those vivid memories… inform me in other ways, of myself, and of when I am in the presence of someone who is being narcissistic… whether they are a narcissist, have NPD, or not, matters less than how I react to what they say and do.

My flaws… are also the cracks through which light gets in, even though that light is refracted… it still has a certain shine to it which contrasts with that which is dark.

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beautiful disaster

 

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35 thoughts on “What a Narcissist Needs… Self-Acceptance is both the Problem and the Solution

  1. Great post… so much insight, gained from the long and painful journey of having lived with, and suffered under narcissists. Its an important point that we don’t get too narcissistic when coming out of the damage and anger phase of having dealt with the condition, in that, on some level we have to accept that narcissism exists and we are wounded and hurt by it and must suffer without a real cure, cause I really agree that in trying to heal the wound they left we get attracted to other narcissists and end up even angrier and more frustrated (at least in my experience). But if we continue to hold onto the unresolvable hurt without at least finding some level of acceptance of something it fucking hurts to accept, we are wounded forever. I loved that you address the anger part of healing. Its like having been pistol whipped by an invisible pistol and then suffering from the lacerations which are invisible and leave invisible scars which still burn all the way down to the core and you have to hold it, as the narc wont offer you any resolution or validation of the part they played in the entire drama. Then the pain of holding it, having gone on for so long is so much there is no other option but to let go or else we will continue to be wounded by someone else’s wound which they deny exists in the first place. (Some narcs will own the fact they have a wound but then you get told its someone else’s fault which is confusing, as they too, are holding onto it and wont let it go and don’t even see the bigger picture that they were wounded not due to anything personal but due to the fact that life is NOT ideal and people are human). Anyway I loved this and really it touched on so many important things. Its a good reminder to me too, to always accept the humanness of humans including myself. ❤

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      1. I think closure is, in some ways, just another ideal there to inspire but not always something which becomes a reality. However reality itself has plenty of inspiration as is.

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    1. Thank you very much ❤

      It can take us what seems like forever to get to that place where we can just be ourselves as we are and… so be it. When we get there, we may still struggle with it, but there is a shift to the way the struggle is experienced.

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  2. The search for the “father”
    Another insightful and well written blog…lovely! Finding myself still shedding, with understanding (your Blog’s) and science–and with some beer, for better or worse—my archetypal role as scapegoat in a narc dominated family, knowing all narc “victims” of narcissism are scapegoated, which creates its own personality “syndrome”—character. And thinking “forgiveness” is the key, which maybe a literal replacement for the “self-acceptance” meaning in your article; yet there’s a primal survival force wedged somewhere in my psyche (id, ego, super-ego), that’s conflicted and easily regressed and angered by those who would commit such emotional “genocide,” particularly under the guise of “love.” So the war goes on, know the enemy—which is always partly ourselves. But who among us can love our outward enemy’s, and perhaps more importantly the inward enemy without forgiveness? And how do you forgive an emotionally inanimate (perfect) object—we can’t right? So do we forgive ourselves for loving, or for not loving something un-lovable? Maybe all we have is here and now. Love you!

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    1. Thank you 🙂

      The point you made about “a primal survival force wedged somewhere in my psyche” is superbly insightful. That primal force is at once terrifying and exhilarating, and is vital to our life, yet sometimes it makes life harder to live.

      I love the juxtaposition of outward and inward forces, the enemy within versus the one outside, and the interplay. Very deep food for thought!

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  3. Oh, thank you for the link to this article and your (as always) insightful commentary! I just wanted to say one thing about empathizing with narcissists and “understanding” them: some relationships are worth our time and energy. We will never get anywhere and may indeed make matters worse if we do not understand the narcissistic defense.

    I’m so glad you decided to scratch your itch! I loved reading this post, too.

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  4. I think I am entering an hybrid stage where I am finding self acceptance and a great deal of inner peace – yet – when I am in any way even obliquely reminded that the narcissist exists as an entity in this world I am burned by the embers of the anger part

    however – I can let it slide now… kind of like distant thunder on a stormy night.. I watch the sad little prick even now in these last days over a years later looking at my personal blog and I feel a little pity for its troubled soul and then I go off and do something I enjoy… this is quite a journey.. thanks for these words….. 🙂

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  5. This is a really well written piece. I found myself lost in it once I gained momentum in the rhythm of it. I’m sure I’ve commented here before that my father was narcissistic in many ways. He was emotionally immature and so I think he was actually borderline and he had quite the anti-social demeanor.

    I also demonstrate narc traits (and was dx’d with borderline), of which I’ve become much more aware that that is what they are and not just that they are ‘not right’ in some way. It’s frustrating because I get caught up and then hate myself for the behavior, usually taking something someone says or does personally and getting inappropriately angry about it.

    So yes, I am emotionally immature too. I felt slighted by an affair partner when he broke it off with me in a text. I had those, “How could he” kind of thoughts, feeling superior in an ‘out of his league’ kind a way, even though I felt drained with him as well, and being an affair, I was not getting what I needed from him as a partner, even in a healthy way.

    I pushed him away many times, wrestling with my own conscience and then would pull him back in because the loneliness was unbearable and I was sexually addicted to him. His finally ending it for good caused me so much pain it drove me to find out what was wrong…with him at first. And in reading about narcissism I did see traits that explained his behavior.

    Then as the ruminating about him faded, I began to realize that I also had some of the same traits he did. It’s a rude awakening. But I couldn’t push it away.

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    1. Thank you very much 🙂

      Everyone has narc traits. Some of those narc traits are healthy for us (although someone else may experience our healthy narc traits as unhealthy for them, and may label us as a narcissist – their narc traits might not like our narc traits). Having narc traits, behaving narcissistically, does not equal NPD or any other similar disorder. It’s all about perception and being human. A human being human, and having narc traits is one slice of the pie of a whole human. We all take things personally, get frustrated, behave irrationally, love ourselves, hate ourselves, hate ourselves for hating ourselves, feel guilty or ashamed for having said or done something in the heat of the moment either because we hurt someone or embarrassed ourselves in some way, etc. We cut others slack because we empathise, and we need them to cut us some slack too, and they can and do because they empathise and need slack cut too.

      Narcissists, those with NPD, don’t know how to empathise – at least not in the conventional form and interpretation of empathy, their version of empathy is not user friendly – they can empathise with those who are being manipulative, they can also teach others about empathy but this is done to get the benefit of empathy from those they are teaching as well as being part of a performance to gain kudos points from their audience – therefore they can’t cut slack… however they want us to empathise and cut slack until that’s all we’re doing in the relationship.

      Being able to – “realize that I also had some of the same traits he did” – is a part of empathy, and it is also how we gain understanding (without necessarily being the kind of understanding which makes us a doormat). It’s one of those “rude awakening” moments which is healthy for us, even though it can be rather shocking and uncomfortable. We learn to accept that we’re human… and so are others. Which means that we’re more open to being fair… yet we can shut that door at any time, especially when being fair is unfair to us. If we’re unfair to ourselves it’ll have repercussions on our fairness towards others.

      We live, experiment (make mistakes, learn from them), and keep living and experimenting. So do others. We’re all in this together, sometimes we go it alone for a while to get our bearings.

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      1. I think this is so important to recognize ourselves in other people. I also have come to recognize some of what is classified as narc/borderline reactions and coping mechanisms in myself after trying to understand “unacceptable” behavior in others. I know there tends to be a reaction against “understanding/empathizing” too much with the “perpetrator” because of a fear that it’s going to lead to “codependancy” or acceptance of abuse. But what it all comes down to, as you said, is just learning to set boundaries and accept yourself and the events in your life. When you accept yourself and your own struggles, I think that you can’t help but see yourself in the struggles of other people as well. That includes people who have destructive coping mechanisms. In interactions between individuals, there may be a “perpetrator” and a “victim”, but in the larger scope of an entire life, there usually isn’t. As you have identified in some of your other posts, people who display a lot of these traits also spend a lot of time talking about how other people abuse them. The thing is, because it’s true! It has happened, it hasn’t been dealt with, and it has colored this person’s future interactions with others. Now each one of those stories they tell may not be fully factual, but it is that person’s true perception based on their past experience and coping mechanisms and fears. Because they are struggling to deal with life and they do not know how. I am not suggesting there is a solution in discarding your own boundaries and “fixing” someone else to your own specifications. But I am suggesting that life is messy and in my opinion it is better to just be aware of the fact that everything and every person is not classifiable into a perfect little box of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Even yourself. Even the person that has hurt you where you most feared to be hurt. We all have our emotions that other people don’t like, we all have opinions about how other people ‘should’ be. But what it really comes down to is just how things ARE.

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  6. Reblogged this on Ladywithatruck's Blog and commented:
    I love love love this post. I had to force myself to not overthink it. I know one truth for myself that has helped me the most in my healing, Self acceptance. I always had confidence, I was strong, decisive, “in control” of my emotions and my life. It was not until I was trying to heal from the wospos that I realized there is a huge difference between confidence and self acceptance and it is in self acceptance that I have found inner peace. Not perfection, not knowing everything all the time, not making the best decisions all the time but the acceptance that I won’t always make the right decisions, that I will make mistakes and that I am only human and that is ok. That is where I found peace.

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  7. “Whether I would have been different from who I am now had I not grown up with narcissists is a moot point. One which is best left unexamined as it could become a thorn in my side which prevents me from accepting who I am as is.

    The mirage of what could have been, who you could have been, who you would have been, who you should be, if only this had happened instead of that, is a wound which will eat you alive just as a narcissist does, as it is very much a part of what drives a narcissist to be the way that they are.”

    Your words hit home, this makes me suffer more than anything else..i could have been normal…

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    1. There is no such thing as being normal, it’s an unicorn (although an unicorn is more likely to be real than being normal) which is being chased, there is such a thing as the norm, but that is an equation based on perception of statistics (which can be manipulated to get desired results to prove or disprove something).

      And this normal which you could have been, do you really want to be it or do you prefer to wish you could have been it, yet secretly enjoy never being able to be it?

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      1. I have no answer to your questions, i just long for an avaerage self esteem and self acceptance which sems out of reach for me and i see that it is natural for most people i know to feel it towards themselves.When i said normal i could have said average, but i am not into statistics, I sense the threshold between a natural way of being and a deeply neurotic (or pathological if you prefer a non psychoanalytical reading)one which prevents me from being far from anxiety and at ease with myself and people, is very subtle and, in spite of my efforts, I still find it very hard.

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        1. Where is this criteria which you are using for what is average created? Are these people whom you are concluding feel a way which you do not feel but want to feel, really feeling the way you have decided that they do and then compare and contrast with yourself to determine your lack and their gain?

          Have you ever considered that perhaps being ‘deeply neurotic’ is a natural way of being? Anxiety is ‘normal’, everyone has it, experiences it, wants to be as far away from it as possible – the statistics for anti anxiety med use, plus other forms of anxiety relief, could be used to prove that anxiety is the norm.

          If you spend enough time with people (and you don’t have to do this in person, the internet allows for it to be done from a safe and alone distance) you realise that we are all the same, yet a different kind of same. We all find it hard, just as you do, and we all have the tendency to think that we’re the only ones who find it hard, or this hard, that somehow others have it easier. It appears that way because we are not living inside of them, we can only live inside of ourselves… and others have that same perspective. There are people looking at you thinking the same things which you think when you look at other people.

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          1. The only criteria is self realization.I can vent over and over my parents destroyed me, which is true, but I have never been able to get what is important for me; I have always preferred to put other people’s needs first, unconsciously.My needs are not met as i have no self confidence to dare to ask or try.
            I am responsible but i would like to feel differently, to be a bit kinder to myself, less touchy and so afraid to show who i am.
            It depends on the level of anxiety, have you ever been sort of paralysed for hours with no concentration?I am not saying it’s the worst situation ever, but it can be debilitating.
            Being neurotic is natural to a certain extent, it has to allow you to live and accomplish something, otherwise you are stuck..in a rut!
            i can’t imagine people looking at me and think i am at ease, i don’t manage very well to play a different role of myself!
            I am in a pickle when somebody who loves me makes a compliment, I am aching. All my reading, my analysis, my efforts are directing me to identify every defense mechanism of my behaviour but i wonder if one day I will be able to go beyond it and get rid of them, at least reduce them.
            For instance, i am very slow in my judgement.I had to stop being in contact with a very old crony of mine a year and a half ago, and only now I can say to myself she really hurt me, I can confess i am angry.But most of all, I am angry with myself as it’s who who allowed her to tread on me for thirty years.
            Self -acceptance is essential: i picked up drawing again but i have to be careful as i feel like throwing everything into the bin, i know perfection doesn’t exist but i demand a lot to myself, with my parents’ inner voice…But i try hard, sometimes I even appreciate my honesty, but i am not progressing.
            BTW, last night i went to the cinema a saw a wonderful documentary on, life, nature and the planet and it reminded me of you. Le sel de la terre.

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            1. “i picked up drawing again…” sounds like progress, and a means of realising the self, and accepting the self.

              Your experiences, past and present, are in and of themselves a documentary about life on earth, the nature of this planet, the salt of the earth, gradual evolution from one form of being to another, retaining elements of the old form within the new, the friction, pain, destruction and restructuring… it’s all connected and interwoven.

              Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, as with air…

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