Your greatest strength.



Letter to my child-self

Me at age two.

For most of my life I wanted to pretend you didn’t exist. You embarrassed me and made me look bad. You cried too much and made scenes. You were weak, sickly, scared of everything, and easily frustrated. You didn’t know how to talk to people and usually ran them off by telling them too much too soon. You were easily overwhelmed. You were too sensitive and didn’t know how to roll with the punches. I hated you. I just wanted you to go away and stop getting me in trouble and making everyone hate me.

I am so sorry. I was wrong. I’d been brainwashed by others. I didn’t want to understand you. It was too dangerous. I might have been punished or bullied for it. I was in fact. I couldn’t let that happen anymore.

It wasn’t your fault you had problems. That was done to you. You had no say. You were a thoughtful and deep child, who loved to analyze and understand things. You were intelligent and read a lot, always wanting to learn about everything you could. You were curious about human behavior and more than anything you wanted to be loved. You felt deep in your bones that the love you needed wasn’t there for you and you tried to find it elsewhere. But you already had internalized the message that you weren’t enough. That message was a lie.

You didn’t know it but your sensitivity wasn’t a weakness, it was your greatest strength. You just hadn’t learned how to use it and you were made to believe it was bad, but that’s another lie. It’s a sophisticated gift that is lost on children but you can grow into as you age. It shouldn’t have been a shameful thing; it should have been celebrated and nurtured because it meant you could see the truth about the world and the people around you. I’m sorry I couldn’t see how strong you were. I’m sorry I couldn’t see how much I needed you.

I can see you there, peeking out and wanting so badly to come out.
You deserve better. I’m not embarrassed by you now, for I have come to realize how much I need you to teach me how to be authentic and fully engaged. Let me hold you and love you. Cry your tears and laugh your laughter and teach me how to be you again, but this time tempered with the wisdom of an adult.
Come on out.

Everything is okay. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I was wrong to be ashamed of you. You are not weak. You are strong, much stronger than you know. You should have been understood and loved for who you were, not who they wanted you to be. I understand you. I want you to be who you are. I want you to teach me everything you know that I have forgotten.

Smile and come out. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

“Don’t Cry Out Loud”

If you were a survivor of a narcissistic family (or were otherwise a victim of narcissistic abuse), as I was, you were probably told your emotions were not okay. Instead you were told to stuff them and hide the way you really felt from the world. Unfortunately that’s the same philosophy modern society holds in general, and of course narcissists stuff all their feelings all the time, except rage. It can get so bad you reach a point where you tell yourself you’re bad for even having feelings or being upset when someone hurts you.

Several months back, I wrote an article about the way some proponents of positive thinking use it as a way to deny their own true feelings or use it to invalidate the emotions of others. Used this way, positive thinking can become a form of abuse or self-abuse. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a positive person, but there’s something very off about someone who walks around wearing a fake smile pasted on all the time and insists we must always do the same. Ironically, these “positive thinking nazis” instill a sense of guilt and shame.

Here’s an article from a Christian-oriented blog that describes how damaging stuffing our emotions is and what we can do about it.

Don’t Cry Out Loud

Stuart Smalley.

Back in the early ’90s, “Saturday Night Live” did a mock self-help show called “Daily Affirmation With Stuart Smalley.” Stuart Smalley was a spoof on individuals who were obsessed with 12-step programs and who had become addicted to the act of going to therapy. Smalley ended each show by looking into a mirror and saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” The skit was hilarious because Smalley was the personification of vanity, self-indulgence and narcissism — traits often used to describe our culture.

To counteract our self-absorbed culture, many Christians have gone the opposite direction. Worm Theology is based on Psalm 22:6: “I am a worm, and not a man…” or the line in the Isaac Watts hymn “Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed,” which says, “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” Worm Theology is a belief within Christianity that a feeling of worthlessness and expression of low self-esteem means God is more likely to show mercy and compassion.

Instead of debating the merits of this belief system, I want to focus on what I see as a natural consequence to a low view of self in our Christian culture today: a lack of self-compassion. Sadly, I even noticed this in my own house last night with my 14-year-old daughter.

My family recently relocated from Northwest Arkansas to Colorado Springs. No cross-country move is ever easy, but it’s been especially hard on my daughter Maddy. Last night I lay on the floor of Maddy’s room as she cried about feeling like no one really understands her feelings. It broke my heart to hear how alone she feels — that no one understands what she is going through. Thus, she felt that she has no one to share how she really feels. In the end, she ultimately got tough with herself and expressed that she should be over these feelings, that her feelings were wrong and that she was stupid for getting so emotional.

I so wanted to jump in and correct her, “Your feelings are not stupid!” but I didn’t. I wanted to tell her that God cares about her emotions (which He does), but I refrained. I was tempted to recue her by telling her that I care (which I do), but I stopped myself. What an insensitive father, some might think. I didn’t jump in to rescue my daughter because I want her to learn something that most Christian adults don’t get: Their feelings matter!

Beautiful song with a destructive message.

But sadly, for so many people, their emotions usually don’t matter. I watch time and again, when counseling with people, that they constantly judge, belittle, criticize, demean, minimize and marginalize their emotions. It’s like there’s this Christian belief that we must never wallow in our emotions. It’s like people are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent or vain (like Stuart Smalley) if they have compassion around their feelings. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on your self is the way to be. It’s like the ’70s song by Melissa Manchester that had the lyrics, “Don’t cry out loud. Just keep it inside and learn how to hide your feelings.” Listen to some of the messages that are out there about our emotions:

Real men don’t cry.
You’re just being a drama queen.
Play through the pain.
It’s just that time of the month.
You shouldn’t feel that way!
That’s not how you really feel!
Why do you get so emotional?

Both men and women have learned these messages well, and the tragic consequence is that most people have no idea how to validate their own emotions. Since birth, most of us have had our feelings so massively invalidated that we don’t know how to care for our emotions. Instead of valuing our feelings as a great source of information, we stuff them, ignore them or judge them away. Thus, the hope for our relationships is that we will find that perfect someone who will finally care about and validate how we feel. Although we don’t do it, the fantasy is that our friend, significant other or spouse will value our emotions. Great plan, right?

I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give our self is the gift of compassion. When we are upset, frustrated, fearful or hurting (like Maddy) we should be the first one in line to care about how we feel. Why should I expect someone else to care about my heart and emotions if I don’t do that job first and foremost? The question we should be asking ourselves is do we treat our self as well as we treat our friends and family? We are often gentle, kind, compassionate and empathic with others. However, a new research study on self-compassion found that people who find it easy to support and understand others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for negative emotions and perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising. The research suggests that giving us a break and validating our feelings and imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic.

The more you seal yourself from your emotions, the more isolated and disconnected you feel. While you can suppress and repress your feelings, you cannot get rid of them. You always bury emotions alive. At some point they will always come out, but then they usually come exploding out like a volcanic eruption. The only way to make peace with our emotions is to value them, face them, explore them, understand them and then take them to the Lord. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Suppression takes an incredible amount of energy — energy which is constantly being tapped to maintain a wall of protection around your heart.

The bottom line is that your emotions are incredibly valuable. Not in a way that suggests we should all indulge in emotional bliss, holding hands while singing “Kumbaya” like Stuart Smalley. Give yourself the gift of compassion around your feelings — after all, your emotions are the voice of the heart.

What do you do when you are fearful, frustrated, upset or hurting? Are you good at self-compassion, or do you stuff, ignore and judge your feelings?

Tears of beauty.

Most people associate crying and tears with sadness or grief. Yes, it’s true that you see tears when people are upset, grieving or sad, but it’s not really due to the sadness itself. Crying has nothing to do with the negativity or positivity of an emotion; instead they indicate the strength of an emotion. Crying occurs whenever a person is overwhelmed by any powerful emotion, be it sadness or elation. In western society, tears are seen as shameful and “weak.” Why is that?

Most pregnant women report they become more emotional during pregnancy and shed tears at the drop of a hat. This hyper-emotionality continues during lactation, when a new mother is bonding with her infant. I believe the marination of a pregnant or lactating woman’s brain in a bath of female hormones accounts for this, and is nature’s way of ensuring a strong mother-child bond. It happened to me when I was pregnant and after giving birth, and I’m not much of a cryer under normal circumstances.

I’ve mentioned my friend Shannon before, who is one of the most mentally healthy people I’ve ever met. She is also one of the most loving and joyful. But she cries all the time, because she has a huge heart and feels everything from empathy to joy so deeply. Shannon is as strong a person as I’ve ever seen, not a weak bone in her body. (She also laughs a lot).

I think tears are regarded as weak because we instinctively know they lead to and indicate strong heart connections between human beings, and emotional connectedness with others and our need for communion with other people is becoming increasingly thought of as a weakness, even for women.

Here are some photos and gifs I found on Google that show how beautiful genuine emotional tears (not the narcissistic, manipulative kind!) can be.






Manly tears.

More manly tears.

Johnny Depp in “Crybaby”

From the movie “Crybaby” starring Johnny Depp.




And of course, there is this famous video:

Who’s “too sensitive”?


“You’re too sensitive!”

This seems to be a phrase many ACONs have heard their entire lives. And yes, many of us are more sensitive than the average person, which is why we were targeted, scapegoated, and bullied in the first place.

Narcissists know being sensitive means we can see the truth about things, that we can see through bullshit and lies. They don’t like that because it exposes them for what they really are, so they turn a quality that gives us intuition and insight into something that makes us seem weak and defenseless.

If our parents were narcissists, we were trained to be ashamed of this quality and turn it against ourselves, rather than learn to refine it and develop it into the powerful gift it really is. Society doesn’t help much with that either. Sensitivity is generally thought of as a weakness rather than a strength. It’s not something you would want to admit on a job interview when the interviewer asks you what your “worst quality” is. I actually did that once, and was shown the door. They want to hear “I’m too impatient” or “I’m too greedy,” or “I obsess too much about power and control,” not “I’m too sensitive.”


I think narcissists also like to pull out the “you’re too sensitive” card because they’re projecting what they see as a fault in themselves onto us. They’re good at that. Narcissists are incredibly hyper-sensitive–but only about themselves; no one else ever benefits from their hypersensitivity.

It’s my opinion that narcissists, before they adopted narcissism as a defense mechanism, started out life as extremely sensitive children and in some cases even had the potential to be empaths. Abuse and neglect turned them into narcissists. Narcissism is an elaborate defense mechanism that obscures, buries and eventually can nearly destroy the sensitive true self. It almost would take an act of God for a narcissist to ever shed their swagger and their “I’m a big mean unfeeling badass” mask and let their sensitive true self come to light. Most of them couldn’t do it even if they wanted to.

But narcissists can’t hide from themselves–not completely. Most of them have exquisitely tender feelings and are easily hurt. It’s very easy to insult a narcissist. They have no sense of humor about themselves and are unable to take a joke at their own expense. They are big crybabies who will whine, sulk and complain loudly should you hurt their feelings (and it’s almost impossible not to). Most will show their hurt as rage–because raging makes them seem big and tough, something they really aren’t but wish they were. Or they will retaliate by ignoring you, abandoning you, cutting you off, or giving you the silent treatment–because those things make it look as if they don’t care. You’d be wrong though. They care alright, and when you have caused them narcissistic injury they are off licking their wounds in silence where you can’t see. Or loudly complaining to others about how
mean and narcissistic YOU are.


They call us too sensitive because they’re unable to own their own hypersensitivity. They turn it into a bad thing because they know they have lost that part of their sensitivity that would have made them able to feel for others and empathize. They’re crippled people. They can’t ever feel sorry for someone else–but as far as self-pity goes, no one can beat them at that.