If I seem to be flipping topics more than usual between physical health challenges and deep emotional ones then there is method to this madness. Trying to separate one from the other is as futile as trying to take the water from the soil; they are there together for the duration…though, of course, how well the soil does very much depends on the quality of the water and, when it truly dries up, all you get is cracks and barrenness, so let’s try keeping them together here.
I wanted to, briefly, share this spin-off topic of my narcissist post because one of the themes that is coming up for me and some other on the course I am doing is that of so-called “ugliness” which, of course, is an idea put about by those who consider themselves to be in a position to judge; may I also add, when ugly becomes a theme around a person, or is doled out as as criticism by one particular person to others, it is generally a reflection of how they feel in their depths on the inside.
So, however wounded and tragic a person’s story may be (and yes this was me for a very long time) this external reality is very likely sticking to them as the externalisation of some dark inner landscape they harbour, deep inside, which is just waiting to be healed back to the light. If we are unfortunate enough to take on the belief that we are so-called ugly at an early age then we can be put through trial after trial until we stand up for an alternate reality, with every fibre of our being, regardless of what opinions are being served up to us….which, of course, can take quite some doing or many years and painful (if informative) experiences along the way.
Which is why narcissistic personalities so often sniff out such people and stick to them for the duration of their enjoyment, playing the easy facility to be able to lure them to their own self-destruction; and don’t I know that.
A thread has come up this week about lack of kissing from narcissistic partners and, boy, did that set off quite the animated discussion full of many glowing lightbulbs of realisation from those who have experienced this kind of dynamic. Yes, it seems to be a very strong theme. My ex was, vehemently, not a kisser; the best he could do (in the very early days) being a sort of pursed lips, jokey, peck on the face, a flippancy meant to distract from his otherwise inability to deliver what is, surely, such a natural part of an intimate relationship, even amongst those that are not excessively demonstrative (I count myself as such and it is a classic Asperger trait to stick to our own space yet still…). I was brought up in a family where touch and kissing was minimal and yet I had never before experienced the bizarre freezing-over sensation and air of repugnance that seemed to take over my ex when it came to looking me in the eye, connecting tenderly and with intimacy, or engaging with me in all but the most wooden and self-satisfying ways, like I had been objectified from day one. What is so astonishing is how I normalised and put up with this so quickly because, of course, not so deep down inside I felt ugly so why would he want to kiss me; so, in no time at all, this odd behaviour seemed no more or less than I deserved and it is only now, comparing with others, that a theme emerges.
Later on, the darker side of this relationship foible revealed even more overtly because, by now, his physical criticisms of me had joined in with the absence of affectionate demonstration, so I was very often put down or cleverly undermined for my appearance. One of his regular things was to tear my confidence to shreds after we had been out with friends; rewriting the evening to convince me I had looked a fool or been shunned and laughed at when I had initially come away feeling I had had a good time getting on with people. There were certain things about me that he obviously found abhorrent and, most astonishingly, he had no bones about criticising me straight to my face, even if there was nothing I could do to physically change these things or even as I stood there seeking confidence in a new outfit just before going out to some important occasion. I was a fairly quirky dresser when I first met him, by the way, with a penchant for making my own clothes but that was all belittled out of me and I was groomed…yes, even he would say, groomed…right down to the colour of my hair, for the kind of life he said he wanted. I lost tones of weight for our wedding, but this was accepted as no less than I was meant to do and continue to maintain for his pleasure, and there is no point denying I dallied with eating disorders to try and bring this about.
Sex (sorry for TMI but its an inseparable part of this topic) was expected to be some sort of pastiche of the porn films he loved so much or was perfunctory in the extreme, there was nothing tender about it and he utterly abhorred face to face interactions, so these were eradicated pretty early on. All of this was the breeding ground for such deep lack of confidence, on my part, that I almost didn’t flinch when he told me, 6 weeks post childbirth that, having been with me throughout my labour, I was now considered far too repulsive to have sex with ever again because how could he ever face “that” part of me, having seen what he had seen.
We lasted another three years…and my physical appearance took the usual downstep because I had just had a child and was doing everything to take care of her with negligible help but, also, because my morale had never been lower. After the divorce, one of the first things I did was fix the twisted front tooth that felt like part of a catalogue of reasons why he had so physically abhorred me, or, it certainly didn’t help in social situations where, in addition to all those other insecurities he had cultivated in me for years, I had to think which side of my mouth I would present “face-on” on to the world (I had long since ceased smiling properly in photographs). I knew I needed some sort of boost to get back on the horse of life and this was my tactic.
When I sat down with that specialist dentist, who exuded the glossy masculine confidence of someone who feels he owns the world, he not only offered me the correction of the single tooth but to perform a full-blown plastic surgery which would, in his opinion, tip me from being “almost pretty” but with some odd proportions into being “quite attractive”.
Perhaps there was a certain note in the cold and clinical delivery of his professional opinion that reminded me of my ex but something in my railed with great gusto at that moment, sat in the consultation chair with the dazzling morning sunlight pouring in through the window (I will never forget it); as though the scales finally fell from my eyes. With great vehemence, I rejected his costly and painful proposal (yet also well aware of how my emotionally vulnerability could have taken me a different way…) and went ahead with the relatively simple correction to the straightness of my teeth. Yes, it made the world of difference and I began to open my mouth so much more (there is so much deeper significance in that than the aesthetic aspect) and to smile with much more regularity and less over-thinking.
However, more, much more, than this new “perfection” to my looks was the favour that this dentist with the minimal bedside manner had enacted for me at a time when I was rallying all my strength…because he had provoked me into rising up, and STANDING up for myself. Never again would I let someone else’s judgement of my external self determine how I felt on the inside!
In the months and years following the divorce, I don’t know how I did it but, I quickly turned myself around, or so it seemed because, though I know there was a lot of “fake it until you make it” involved, the bounce back was still fairly sudden. By the time I took up the post in the full-time job I needed to keep my mortgage payments, I was (apparently, as relayed by a young lawyer from the same large legal firm that I worked for, bumped into by chance at someone’s dinner party ) a person who, even in that place of many people, turned heads with my jaunty confidence striding across the office and the quirky yet stylish way I was known to dress. Yes, the part of me that had been induced to worked at home for the past few years by a husband that squirmed at me making friends in the office was enjoying the revived opportunity to dress up and project a version of self that was more confident than I truly was on the inside; it was the performance of my life. Something in me knew my relaunch into life depended on it, even if it was to prove unsustainable (two years later, I had the burn out of all burnouts).
After all, I had a lot of unworthy track record to wind back though and set straight because my profound lack of physical confidence went back almost right to the beginning of my life, to days when my older sister would declare me “fat” as she disparagingly tugged the tape measure around my five or six or eight year-old waist in order to make me another new dress for school, berating my parents for over feeding me; not her finest hours but it all stemmed from her own lack of confidence (funny how those conversations, conducted as though I wasn’t in the room, stick in my memory though I doubt she remembers). Then through all the bullying, mimicking and name calling I was subjected to at school (including from a particular teacher, who called me a neanderthal in front of the class) and on to the hopelessly inadequate way I felt when I got to university and my room mate would insist on giving me makeovers, like I was some sort of challenge project, because I had apparently got it all wrong. Incredibly callous verbal abuses from the person who later sexually abused me, either to my face, overheard in deliberate earshot or relayed by my so-called friend who was dating him and loved to share her pillow talk (even the hurtful stuff that she must have known would sting me like a dart), only dug even deeper into my heart until, by the time I got to meeting my narc-husband, I was extremely fertile ground for this dark kind of seed to take root.
Yet, I digress, when I came out of that divorce, yes after the dentist defibrillated me into some sort of newly awakened state where I could perceive the lack of self-love it would have been to have turned myself over to his knife, I knew what I had to do, and it was to “fake it till I made it” with all my might.
So, I turned myself around like I was my own next project, revamped that wardrobe, cut off my straggling hair into a sassy new cut, all of these things but, mainly, I began walking down the street like I knew I was god’s gift (by the way, we all are) and people began to notice. Men in cars would beep, I got asked out, by the time I met my now-husband he would have hardly been able to guess I was anything but confident about my looks (he has since come to know about all my insecurities but, the beauty is, he would never dream of fanning or turning them against me) and all this in the space of under a year; though the inner work had yet to grow the deep roots to replace the dark seed of my earlier marriage.
That was to come and, oh yes, it has taken diligence and careful watering but, slowly and surely, it has happened and come to flower. Now, I look back and can’t imagine how it was just so easy to have been taken down to the dungeons of self-loathing that I got into after more than a decade in that other relationship but I do believe that it happened (I am not a naysayer or underplayer to of my own wounding), yet also that I am the incredibly stout hearted one that rose back up and survived it. I can wind back time to both perceive all the hurts of my life and yet notice how none of them were true, not least in the light of all the goodness that always shone out of my heart, and still love myself all the more for the pain I dragged myself through for years. I can see how I joined in with those false beliefs, recruited by the cold hearted forces “out there”, not only that of my ex but of an entire culture geared at making women feel so low that the only way up is to try harder, spend more, keep on working at our external appearance, to peddle peddle peddle until we are exhausted to the bone. It was a formidable force, when I was party to it, like a ton weight sitting on my head, the endless to-do list, that I could never truly be rid of. Now it has gone, I realise what a fiction it all was!
These days, I really don’t think (at all) about who might look at me and judge that I am too ugly to be in a room…and by the way, I never was, it was all one very manipulative case of “smoke and mirrors” (and the same goes for all of us; if we are in that mode of believing we are ugly, to any degree…and it can be subtle but it all comes from the same place of power-play…then we are being duped). When I fell for those lies, I manifested it, and now I don’t, it’s not even a factor. Its been a tender plunge into the most supportive relationship I could ever imagine, on a par with that I have with my second husband, to love and appreciate all my unique qualities and stand up for them, in all their differences and similarities (since we are all a unique mixture of both…yes, oddly similar to family and even to complete strangers in the street, though we all each have our own particular fingerprint of distinctness). This is as it is meant to be, in spite of the prevailing culture that tries to dictate “conform at all costs”, as is so loudly delivered through life’s tannoy by mainstream media.
These days, I seldom wear “make-up” and my skin is, I notice, in far better shape than many women my age as a result (although that softened and almost lineless effect is also to do with my Ehlers Danlos…a gift from the so-called flaw). I wear what brings me joy in my own inimitable fashion and frequently gather compliments or second looks (I don’t choose to interpret which angle those come at me from; that’s their business, not mine) but that’s not the point: I do it all for me and I really don’t think too hard about “that” kind of external projection as I know I project other things which are far more important; those that come from the feelings I radiate as pure frequency transported on the airwaves. When I enter a space (and its the same for all of us…but knowing it is so makes it far more powerful to us), it is always this frequency that precedes anything I might happen to be wearing that day or how I did my hair and knowing this gives me the unshakable confidence to be myself. This inner frequency, as it happens, does all the real work when it comes to manifesting our external appearance, as in, we shine from the inside out, though we have been sold the idea it all comes from working so hard at it on the outside, and that our very survival in the game of life relies on accumulating an endless array of products we must supposedly invest in to stay young and attractive. No, they are misleading everyone in that regard, though not for too much longer I sincerely hope. It’s ALL an inside job and, in a way, I have my early life experiences to thank for the way I came to realise that.
This, vehemently, doesn’t mean I ignore my outside appearance or let myself “go to the dogs”; I have also come to learn, the hard way this last decade since my health became more challenging, that if I allow self-care to slip long term, on any level, I rue the consequences in both my physical health and emotional wellbeing. We all have our off days but if I was to make an old pair of washed-out joggers my daily uniform (apart from the fact I have discovered that over sloppy clothes are my very nemesis if I am having an EDS flare-up, as the last thing I need is lack of structure both inside and out) I would quickly lose all morale and sparkle. I also happen to love to use clothes as an extension of my innate “artiness” and have a particular penchant for colourful scarves and accessories (which I design) whereas drab, uniform clothing can quickly flatten my mood. The difference is, these days I do it for me and not some sort of extension of hidden insecurity on the inside; as in, my external presentation isn’t so much a survival ploy (a defence against a harsh world) as a form of creative expression (a celebration of the world and my part in it). Life itself begins with the act of creation so this degree of care of external appearance is now the daily opportunity for a refresh or even a complete reboot, leading externally where my inner state can quickly follow.
So, do I regret what I lived through for all those deeply painful, so very unconfident years where I made poor decisions based on the assumption I was worth less than the next person? No, oddly, I don’t. Does part of me worry that I have now slipped when I don’t fixate on the latest anti-wrinkle product (though my intolerance to chemicals in products has put paid to any of that so I really have no choice anyway, thank you twist of fate, and by the way organic products made from actual plants will always serve you better in the long run) or do I really see, I mean SEE, that I was never better turned-out than I am now in all the ways that matter? Am I better, stronger, more awake for having had the contrast and, now, risen up from the ashes of the fire that felt like torture at the time, like a phoenix lifted on shining wings? I don’t think I really have to answer that.