I squint my eyes. The object which I want to focus on becomes clearer as I begin to gaze at my dinner date sitting across from me. No, not gaze…I peer. My senses are heightened, and I feel like I have an understanding of the person in my company. We share a common ground; it feels like a connection. I close my eyes for a second, and allow myself to retreat back into myself. My understanding is very different there. I open my eyes and with some hesitation, continue the conversation. It’s our fourth date together.
From very early on, I knew I had a pretty good sense to understand who people really are below the surface level. I have always picked up on subtleties, cues, details. When I was younger, a lot of friends used to come to me for advice on their problems. I even made it a point to try to get to know people that I just met on a deeper level, to ask questions, to get deeper, faster. I felt proud if I got someone to open up. My goal was to feel as if I could peer into someone’s soul.
Being raised by a narcissist really encouraged this part of me. This part of me that is very attuned to others; sometimes at the cost of not really being attuned to myself. With this quality you are able to see the really great and authentic sides of people. But with that, what is also revealed is the side of everyone that is very dark.
I never looked at this trait as a gift. It was too hard. When I looked at my father I saw complete terror. I saw the monster crawling out from underneath his skin, the scales that would slither off of his body, the blood curdling roar of his remarks and anger. But, I always looked. I always looked for the real person underneath, the softer part of my dad that didn’t get revealed more than a handful of times. My ability to tolerate the darkness, even for just an ounce of the other side, felt at times, colossal.
There are some big and small good moments worth remembering. For example, our trip to Ikea together where I was allowed to pick and choose almost anything I wanted to decorate my new room with. That teenage girl was like a kid in a candy store. My dad seemed to allow for my happiness that day; we had a lot of fun. Then there was the time I was making my dad lunch for work shortly after my mom died, I left the meal in the fridge and left a note stating that I made it for him and that I hope enjoys it. Come to find out years later, he saved the actual note and made copies of it as well.
I look at those times and see what life could have really been. I think about how wonderful it would have been to be made to feel like that more times than not. I like thinking about those moments because it reminds me that I am a real human being. It showed me what way I should be treated. But sadly, this was not usually the case. Instead, in between the moments of terror I peered and waited for the next time my real father would show up.
Maybe these moments were not real. Maybe the narcissist in him was too overpowering and it all was unpinned by his desire to make him look better at any cost. But, I have to have these moments; I want to have these moments where ones is able to feel some sort of connection/perspective of what a normal upbringing might have been. Despite the very infrequent delivery of loving words and gestures those moments allowed a glimpse of who I could be and the potential of happiness and unconditional love.
I still use my “gift” to look at people in that manner. I revel in their beauty and I accept their darkness. I’m more aware of my ability to tolerate too much of others peoples darkness and try my best pry myself away from the tendency I have that allows myself to be treated as unworthy as my father made me believe I was. I make the mistake of thinking that if I can peer into their soul, they can see themselves as the better people they are…even if it’s buried deep down inside. I continue making the mistake thinking that with enough time; people can show themselves to be good, for good. Yet, I’m usually the only one driving to make those connections, and not asking for it back.
I gaze again at my dinner date. This time, the glass shatters and that moment of true connection fades. Their sense of their authenticity is evading. That moment in time, is just that. I laugh politely at one of their comments and look down, secretly suspicious of what I already know. I’ve noticed these moments of connection. But I have also felt the moments of disconnection, the walls that he has constructed as a result of his emotional intimacy and unavailability issues. My vulnerability with that someone tasted again like codependency. An old hat; one that I am constantly trying to dispose of. Maybe since he was not a narcissist those nice moments were real? But, it doesn’t matter. My openness was not reciprocated. Those moments of connection were fleeting. And there weren’t enough of them for me to stay.
Written by: Anna (Creator of Echo’s Corner)