Sitting here in a room full of afternoon light–with a chubby Japanese Chin shoving a stuffed monkey on my lap, sipping my Keurig brewed hot chocolate–I can see how I could become easily deluded into believing that there is nothing off in the world. However, like many of my writer friends, I know there is evil. I know all about the dark nasty that lurks in the cracks. (It is why, to this day as a grown woman, I dread getting up at night to use the bathroom. Can you relate? The dash to flip the bathroom light on? The dash back from the dark bathroom, down the hall, to the magical, divine shield-like power of the duvet?) The mind has a way of inventing new, more interesting (horrific), monsters for us to tango with everyday, it would seem.
But, what if? What if your monster was real? What if your antagonist–your demon–wasn’t all in your head like the imaginary ghouls that jump from the soap dish the minute the bathroom lights flip off? What if it was a living breathing entity? A person?(Or, an it, depending on how much humanity you wish to ascribe to people who act entirely inhumane.) If your monster had a face, and a name, how would that change the manifestations of your fears and anxiety as a writer? A creator? An artist? For many people, working in and outside the arts (this problem can manifest in any arena, it would seem) monsters are very real. They dwell in our work places, at the clubs and organizations we devote our time to, at brunch, and Sunday dinners–sometimes they are even dwelling in the bed (beneath our impenetrable duvet-shields) right next to us. Antagonists aren’t just on paper, they can dwell in reality.
There is an ancient Japanese saying, “Like a big oni, dragging an even bigger stick.” That saying is typically used to describe a seemingly infinite problem, complicated by another seemingly infinite problem. This is the best description I can find to describe what it is like to have a problem person plaguing us, to only be more so plagued by our familiarity with them…the hold, and influence, they have in our lives.
Now I’m not talking about the parent always wondering “when you going to get a real job?”. The co-worker that asks how your “little hobby is going?”. Or the spouse who asks “How much time did you waste on this today?”. Sometimes these persons’ dismissals of your writing/art comes from a loving place. Sometimes your mother is just seriously worried that you will starve to death, or sometimes your spouse is just really concerned about where this is all going. These aren’t oni with sticks, as annoying as they might be, and as much as they might shake our confidence from time to time, they are still VERY human. However, there is a category of oni that doesn’t come from a good place–it is inhumane–thus can not be soothed or reasoned with. This person is malignant, a narcissist, and continued contact with them will do nothing but stunt our growth professionally and personally, and sap the joy from all life they touch.
Here are some very helpful questions to ask yourself to help you determine if your oni has a stick:
- When they ask you about your projects, accomplishments, or developments in your work, does it feel like they are genuinely interested? Or does it seem they are listening to find error? A spot where you might have a perceived error that they can exploit.
- Do they perceive themselves an expert in your field, when they are not? Do they show signs that they need to be seen as an expert in every field, subject, or discipline that is discussed?
- Do they seem attracted to positions or people of power, often undervaluing anything they perceive to not be direct areas of influence or power?
- When you have a contrary viewpoint to them, do they react enraged, spiteful, or passive-aggressive?
- Do they have poor interpersonal boundaries? As in, they become involved in off limit areas of your life? Show up unexpectedly? Call, email, or text, and demand your attention, even when they are told you do not have time? (Especially when you don’t have time?)
- Do they display low self-confidence and require constant propping up from you and others? Constant compliments to build them back up? Especially in light of other people’s successes, or in light of your own personal promotions and achievements?
- Do they project attributes onto others that they display in themselves? Example: you might know this person to have an over blown ego, yet their pet-peeve is arrogance in others, and they perceive the actions (often unintentional) of others as being egotistical. Or, do they constantly accuse others of telling far-fetched stories, when you know them to be quite a prolific liar themselves?
- Do they tend to put items, or people, on pedestals? Is there a specific celebrity, or gadget, or other totem, that they seem to tie to their identity, and thus become personally wounded when any criticism is spent toward that gadget, celebrity, or totem?
- Are they a control freak? Are they visibly displeased, agitated, or even violent, when they don’t have full control over a group, setting, or project? Do they demand control over you, your time, and thoughts?
- Do they ingratiate? Sounds like a weird one, because complimenting others is a nice thing, however, I think everyone who’s dealt with this type of person understands how humiliating flattery can be. It is a red flag if this person often compliments you or others, always in front of others, to the point of embarrassment.
- When this person is upset with you, do they send other people to berate, or correct your behavior for them? Do they do this by gaslighting?
- Finally; do you feel better, or worse, having had this person in your life? In your day? Eating up your time?
These questions are really just the tip of the iceberg. After a lot of consideration over my own life events, I did a lot of studying into narcissists(Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder), and their cousins, Psychopaths. I wasn’t shocked in my life as an Aikidoka to see that these personalities were attracted to martial arts. It made sense with the perceived power, the ranking systems, and perceived control it can give some one with a frail ego over others. (That’s for another blog, another day, in which I plan to gather interviews from other Aikidoka on the topic.) I wasn’t shocked hearing stories about narcissists talking to women at the battered women’s shelter. However, I was shocked to see how many stories my friends in the arts related to me about Narcs in writing, media, and graphic design.
My only thoughts, after dealing with narcissists in my own life, is that these oni with sticks are paper puppets. The oni is a leach, and the stick nothing more than a figment of your imagination; not too unlike the monsters you hide from under the covers at night. They are just facades–layer upon layer of false selves. They are not monsters we’ve created in our minds; it is more pathetic than that. They are monsters constructed in their own minds, and ultimately, they are the ones who are tormented, day-in-day-out, by their own fabricated, fragile persona. They are never content, never satisfied, always wanting.
If you have found yourself in a relationship with this person, get out. From all my study and conversations I’ve learned one constant, they can not be cured; you can not save them. Save yourself. Their goal is to destroy you in place of themselves. Your career will never excel with their influence in it. Pray for them if the spirit moves you, but do not indulge them–do not allow yourself to be a well for them to drink from anymore.
Why you can not be successful in your field with a narcissist hanging on:
- They do not care about you, regardless of what they say, or regardless of what grand gesture they make. It is all about them. Your dreams will never matter to them. You are on your own, baby.
- All their energy goes into propping up their delusions of importance. You are not a person. You are a character that they have created–a projection of themselves. Your only purpose in their life is to reflect back to them how great they are. Your needs will never be important.
- Anything you do outside of them will be disregarded and undervalued. You are a part of them. You can’t achieve anything, that isn’t stupid, outside of them.
- They need you to prop up their fantasy. You will never be allowed to be your own person, thus, your goals and interests will slowly be taken from you, bit by bit, until they have destroyed your individuality completely.
- They won’t stop until your identity is completely absorbed and demolished. You are a well of attention to feed their ego. Once you are all used up, and they can’t find any other way to gain narcissistic supply (yay, fancy psych term!) from you, they will toss your dried up husk aside and move on to the next victim, leaving your life empty, your goals unmet, and your heart in shambles.
Under these circumstances, how can you be successful? How can you value your own writing, career, and art, so long as a person like this is a prime player in your life…in your mind. Many formerly abused people tell me that the abuser is always with them. Speaking into their mind, even when they aren’t there. Second guessing them, killing their sense of confidence. If this is your scenario, you will never be successful…they will never allow it. (Unless they can find a way to gain a sense of self-importance via it. Example: you receive a promotion, the narcissist can ride your coat-tails and feel important by association…they did play a big part in your success, after all!! *eyes-roll*)
In the end, from personal experience, once you cut this cancer from your life, you will be amazed how much easier it is to breath. Goals become more achievable. You are free. No matter what they think.
I’m currently taking lemons and making lemon curd cupcakes with my own experiences. I have, what I think, to be a very interesting story idea sprouted out from this subject. I think I have what could be a very neat magic-system, as well, based off of these experiences. I’ll keep you all up to date with that project. Things are looking marvelous!