I expect you are here because you have, or had, someone in your life who is not a "Safe person."
My mother is not a "Safe person" for me to have a relationship with. I have struggled with trying to have an active relationship with her, I have grieved about having no relationship with her, and I have also grieved that I never did or will have that ideal of a good mother figure.
I have suffered both guilt and anger in all of these different incarnations, which I find is self destructive, yet difficult to displace. Some of my journey now, 18 months on, is about finding ways to put feelings like this aside. Dealing with them without suppressing them. To this end recently I have found myself thinking about the adage, "You cant change other people, you can only change the way you feel about them," and trying to find a way to make use of this truth in finding a way to achieve happiness in what would seem to be the final version of our relationship. This one, where she pretends I am dead to her friends and I try to accept being unwanted by my mother.
Also - and for entirely different reasons, I have been thinking about the way friendships grow and decline, how you have different levels, or maybe types, of friendship.
Superficially I think there are clearly several depths of friendship. Those you love who are allowed close in to your undefended self, people you might well share your innermost core with. Others who are friends because of proximity in experience or location, at work for instance, and then there is a surface layer of acquaintances who you brush against with little sharing in daily life.
I picture it as having several concentric rings radiating out from your core, the further in the more personal, the further out the less attached you are, and into these you allow different people dependent on your level of trust and affection.
I drew a diagram ! I know...sorry..
I had the idea that the friendship model might work this way:
At your core you have an immutable self, this is the part of yourself that neither you nor someone else can really change once it has formed. (Note: I am not sure the words I have used to describe the use of the layers are quite right but It forms a loose impression which works quite well and I may change them later - so bear with me)
Moving outwards into the next layer they are mostly unconscious actions based on the reaction of your core to your experiences and interactions.
Then outwards again into a consciously controlled layer, which is what you choose to present to the outside world of people you don’t know - This would also be your highest level of defense layer against strangers and people you perceive to be harmful. A thick shell beyond which a casual acquaintance would not penetrate.
You allow people you do know, love and trust further past these first defensive barriers and discuss things with them and allow them to influence you (but at your choice) on different levels dependent on their "access".
It occurred to me that there is a separation in the way we treat people, it is not just by personality but also by role. The words relationships and friendships were not interchangeable in this model.
People have several roles in their life, for instance not only are they a person in their own right but they will also be a child of someone, so will have the role of daughter or son, they may also be a sibling, an aunt or uncle, a cousin a parent etc
The person they are will affect how they perform their role, the roles they have experienced will affect how they develop as a person. Whilst these things therefore exist in cohort - the are not the same.
Perhaps most notable in the way we unconsciously think about the difference is in the way we describe the outcome:
We might describe someone in a role as being successful or average or perhaps even failing , whereas, when we judge someone as a person with whom we have a level of friendship (A relationship which is of our own choosing and within our control) our response is emotional. We can love, dislike or be indifferent to them.
The responses to these are markedly different..except when it comes to Family.
Suddenly then, the rules change.
It would be reasonable to describe friends as starting outside your shell and slowly earning their way in, as you become closer and gain mutual trust and affection.
Whilst someone else may have a responsible role, doctor , therapist, perhaps teacher, you have a relationship with them based on their role. A role which gives them access to layers you might not expose normally to someone you have no bond of choice with. You do so because they need to for your benefit. So you suspend rules. When these people, in positions of trust, betray that privilege they are considered no longer fit to practice in that role. They are held to high standards by society for the privilege of access.
Yet people in families people have various assumed levels of access IRRESPECTIVE of how the person behaves. We seem to respond to the role and not the person.
In this way a toxic person, one who you you would not choose to have a close friendship, might bypass all of your usual defenses, not unlike a parasite turning off its hosts usual defenses.*
A parent is undoubtedly the most powerful role. A parent will effectively have an "Access All Areas" pass, which they may well maintain as they continue through into adulthood if a loving and trusting relationship continues to develop with the as the child transitions into independence.
It is worth noting that this parental role is so powerful that it is often grieved as an independent thing to a childs' emotional bond with the person who is their parent. There is a great deal of evidence in books , websites and forums of women "Grieving for the mother they never had." when the relationship fails (again independently of the parents personality.)
This is the crux of the problem of having this relationship with a narcissist. A Narcissistic parent will still have that Access All Areas Pass even though they are unable to parent effectively at all. The role of parent, (which the narcissist is incapable of fulfilling with any level of success) can be difficult for someone to protect them-self from. This would seem to be because we are pretty much hard wired to allow someone fulfil that role, even if the actual personality of the narcissist/parent would normally place them outside the outermost barriers of the child with a big, "Warning Danger," sign stuck to them.
It is clearer if we can untangle the role of parent and the personality of the narcissist that we are capable of rejecting a person in both of those areas with without the same overwhelming burden of guilt we might feel if we keep them together. And thus we give ourselves permission to keep them outside all of the walls of defense of ourselves.
At its simplest:
As a person we (emotional response, such as - don’t like) them.**
As a parent they have (level of success described, such as - failed)
They have no right of access because of their failure in both roles - independently.
With this in mind it may be possible to rationalise some of the more entangled thinking around concepts such as betrayal and the triad familiar to all children of abuse; Fear ,Obligation and Guilt.
In my case this allowed me to "demote them" Somewhat like a brief holiday acquaintance with whom we have nothing in common except a shared point in time in a particular place. I have realised I can completely accept the people that they were without anger and I can accept also that they failed as parents it is something that would also seem to allow the oddly illogical shame of my own failure and how that affects my self esteem to separate.
I feel able to externalise a lot of the decisions and inadequacies they tried to force onto me, as, instead of this being about me as a person and damaging my self esteem this was about their reaction, not to me as a person but to the role of the child I fulfilled (or failed to) for them. Especially as it is clear a narcissist would rarely if ever see their child as a real person.
I have inevitably failed them in the role of The Child because they cannot succeed as The Parent and the roles are interdependent. Their failure made mine inevitable.
Even if I insisted on blaming myself I could really only blame my failure at living up to their expectations of the role, which when I consider the person I am , and the many, many roles I have is really only a tiny thing. It is also somewhat freeing to think that I will never need to improve my ability to handle this role again, or work out how to be successful in any relationship in our future. I have no need ever to be The Child again.
I guess it boils down to these two points:
If I am indifferent to you as a person and trust nothing of myself to you, it is because you have done nothing to earn my trust or affection and I will feel no guilt over this. As a person I have the right to feel exactly how I feel about you.
This is not random or divisive, you have had years to earn my trust, respect and affection, friendship even. If you have chosen to not even try then it is not for me to give you what you have not earned. It is your loss and I will feel no guilt over the position you have ended up in because of that.
If I am not the child you, as a flawed parent, wanted me to be - good! that is exactly what success should look like for me.
[It is worth noting that a young child will not have the same defended barriers as an adult, nor will an adult in "Child mode"]
** I don’t want to dictate here - you feel what you feel and I guess that whilst it is more complex to deal with them as a person if there are aspects of them that you do like.But the duality of their roles does not force each aspect of them to considered in the same way. I suppose it is possible a person whose personality you dislike could in fact be a good parent, just as there must be so many variations in-between