“Let’s play pretend” was one of my favorite childhood games. It was the fastest way to transport myself to a magical place with anything or anybody that I wanted to be around. I would spend hours in the small backyard of the house that my parents owned make-believing that I was living in the world of Hercules and the Greeks. The snow on the ground represented the snow on windy mountain I was fighting a battle on, the little dwarf conifer would represent the huge forest in which I living in; each corner I took was a new discovery, a new obstacle which I surely would overcome. My imagination was wide-awake creating this world and the many experiences that took me away from the real world.
The real world, which, at many times, got very hard.
In between the time I spent making up these special places I would endure the life at home with a narcissistic father. Life was a living hell most days. I remember hoping over and over again that at least one Sunday would go by without my father starting a terrible fight with my mother. I think I just gave up hope before the day ever came.
Being in any kind of relationship with narcissist distorts your reality. Their propensity to manipulate, tell lies, accuse, as well as their keen ability to turn everything back around on you causes what is real to be twisted into their own web of lies and manipulation. In psychology this term in called gaslighting which formally means “a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.” (Wikipedia.com)
My real world was completely distorted, and I would continue to play pretend. I would play pretend that my father wasn’t a monster, I would play pretend that I liked things that I really didn’t just for the sake of pleasing a certain crowd of people I was in, I would play pretend at times when I experienced abuse thinking that I was strong and compassionate enough to take it. Whatever stories and lies my father would tell me when I asked him why he was doing something that was obviously hurtful was the same kind of lies and stories I would tell myself about others as I grew older and older. And there I lived, in this fantasy world where real events were distorted through the stained covered glasses my father imposed on me.
Because of that, I struggled with identity for a long time- everything from not knowing who I really was to what I liked and didn’t. For a long time when I was younger, I remember trying on different “identities”. I was trying on everything under the sun from the hipster look to more country western. I had no idea who I was, or who I should be.
Those questions plagued me for a long time. When I first realized that I was a codependent I went hard to work trying to figure out what that meant and how that related to who I was. I began plucking myself away from playing the codependent role. I would start with asking myself what I really liked from food to music as well as checked in on myself in regard to how I felt about a person, or interaction, and so on. I began studying up on narcissism in an effort to understand who my father was as well as how he affected me. I started getting more in touch with my inner world and my inner voice.
I had many years of gaslighting to work through, as well as combing through all the times when my father made me feel “wrong” for whom I was or who I was becoming. I made a concerted effort to begin to peel the layers off to find who I truly am.
To this day, I am still peeling. I am peeling away the layer that makes me think that I should be a different. I am peeling away the layer that makes me believe that each one of my qualities that make me a unique person are, just in fact, flaws. I am peeling away the layer that makes me think that I am not good enough as I am. I am peeling away the layer that makes me believe that hurtful words and comments are not a form of abuse.
There is a difference in between changing and growing or evolving. I thought that before I could consider myself a good person I would have to take on these specific qualities, which I made up, that each “good” person had. Because most of the qualities are not really who I am, I was disappointed in the fact that I was not “getting better”. I was again, playing pretend. But, I realized, the only way to get better is to accept that something bad happened to you, because bad things do happen to good people. We, as survivors, are good people exactly as we are. We just might not have had a certain someone or someones to love us unconditionally as lovable and unique individuals. So our reality was distorted, and down we fell, deep, deep into the rabbit hole.
Crawl out of that hole. Go find that real person that is underneath all the bullshit. Real life can be just a beautiful and magical as the imaginative mind makes it out be. There is no need to hide or pretend.
Written by: Anna (Creator of Echos Corner)