I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.
I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.
He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.
And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:
Everything happens for a reason. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.
That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.
It is amazing to me—after all these years working with people in pain—that so many of these myths persist. The myths that are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication. The myths that preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.
You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.
Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.
Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.
So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:
Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.
These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on a increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.
They can only be carried.
I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.
I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in many ways it’s hardened me.
While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.
Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me all my life. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.
In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.
I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became „successful” because I „took responsibility.”
There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.
Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.
Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.
This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.
In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.
No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.
The irony is that the only thing that even can be „responsible” amidst loss is grieving.
So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.
If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.
If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.
Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.
You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.
I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.
I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.
The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.
In that nothingness, they did everything.
I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.
Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.
Are there ways to find „healing” amidst devastation? Yes. Can one be „transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.
The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.
Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.
Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.
What to Offer Instead
When a person is devastated by grief, the last thing they need is advice. Their world has been shattered. This means that the act of inviting someone—anyone—into their world is an act of great risk. To try and fix or rationalize or wash away their pain only deepens their terror.
Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:
I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.
Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything butsomething is incredibly powerful.
There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.
Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.
Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.
Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.
You are more needed than you will ever know.
And when you find yourself in need of those people, find them. I guarantee they are there.
Everyone else can go.
1. THEY REFUSE RESPONSIBILITY.
It’s not their fault. Not EVER. It’s always your fault. His fault. Her fault. To a narcissist, it’s not their fault they hurt you, it’s your fault for being hurt-able. If your feelings are hurt, it’s not their fault; it’s your fault – for having feelings. (You may be told that you’re „choosing” to feel bad about the hurtful things they’ve done, and that it’s the wrong „choice”).
If caught doing something insensitive or selfish, they will tell you they „had to” do it because of someone or something else. If you imply that anything is their responsibility, they give you excuses and lies, and often, if those fail to work, they will finally make it clear that the bottom line is they simply don’t care because they don’t have to, and the fact that you care is just unnecessary or wrong.
From their perspective, you shouldn’t care – you should get it right like they do, and be more like they are.
2. THEY LIE.
Narcissists lie to make themselves look good. They lie to get out of emotional responsibility. They lie to manipulate. They lie to gain influence. They lie out of habit. Life is a game to narcissists – a game they have to think they’re winning – and truth is one casualty in their game plan. The only time a narcissist has any interest in telling the truth is when it will serve them or cost them nothing to do so.
The rest of the time, they don’t consider it necessary or important to be all that honest. Honesty can impede their self-gratification and compromise their powerful persona, and they don’t like that.To narcissists the truth is frequently „flexible” and optional. There’s no such thing as an honest narcissist.
3. THEY LOOK DOWN ON YOU.
Narcissists have to make themselves feel bigger by convincing themselves others are smaller by comparison. They’re no strangers to being condescending, snobby, clique-ish, elitist and superior; however, they may be very good at hiding their disdain to prevent a loss of popularity, which narcissists know brings them power. Narcissists with money look down on the working class.
Narcissists in the working class look down on those with more money. Educated narcissists dismiss the opinions of those who have no degree. Narcissists with no degree claim educated people don’t actually know anything. Whatever narcissists HAVE (or think they have) is what they use to look down on others WITH.
No-one else’s background, values, political persuasion, school, religion, way of life, profession or opinions are ever any good or worthy of their respect unless they themselves value and/or possess the same. If you think or choose differently from a narcissist, you’re „wrong”, and they’re „right”.
4. THEY’RE TWO-FACED.
Narcissists have two faces – their real face and their stage face. And neither is anything like the other. Which one you see will depend on how long you’ve known them.Narcissists can be very charming and know how to gain favor. Anyone who doesn’t know a narcissist well will tell you the narcissist is one of the greatest people they’ve ever met! They believe this is one of the most intelligent, kindest, most interesting, funny, agreeable, most attractive, talented or accomplished people ever.
They may wish they themselves had it so „together” or were so popular. However, anyone who knows that same narcissist better (family members, longtime coworkers, etc) will tell you the narcissist is one of the most horribly frustrating and toxic people they know, and the mere mention of their name makes them feel uneasy, angry, frustrated or otherwise unhappy. Being the only one who is experiencing a narcissist’s real face, while all other family members or coworkers can still only see the narcissist’s stage face is a very lonely, painful and frustrating place to be.
Thankfully, the number of people who can see through the facade tends to increase with time.
5. THEY’RE VINDICTIVE.
If you dare to question a narcissist or request things like healthy boundaries and honesty, you’re going to become public enemy number one. The „Mr. or Ms. Wonderful” mask immediately comes off, and there is no level they will not stoop to in order to „punish” you. They have myriad ways of attempting this; some are covert, and some are open and obvious. The narcissist has a seemingly inexhaustible obsession for making people who cross them „pay”.
Once they set their sights on you, you’re a permanent enemy, and their seething spite will feel as intense years down the road as it did when it first began. The length of time they can keep up the full intensity of their hatred for you and their campaign to exact revenge is absolutely dumbfounding to non-narcissistic people.
Many mentally disordered individuals project frequently. Narcissists, however, are some of the most actively and severely projecting people encountered. Ever full of accusations and criticisms, the most crazy-making thing about most of the narcissist’s claims is that YOU are doing exactly what THEY are doing. (Projection.) Have they just lied to you? Well, you’re about to be called dishonest. Are they cheating you out of an opportunity? You’re going to get the finger pointed at you for being sneaky.
And you can’t say a word to them about something hurtful they have done, because that makes you an abuser – of them. You can’t give them anything but glowing feedback without their raging at you, but you’ll be the one constantly criticized severely and then called freakishly oversensitive if you show any feelings about it. And if they say so, it’s law – you don’t know what you’re talking about.
7. THEY SMEAR PEOPLE WHO OPPOSE THEM.
Narcissists are allergic to healthy boundaries and fairness. If you question the insensitive things they do or put any limits whatsoever on their bad behavior, you will be targeted for social, professional, or personal obliteration. Whatever narcissists perceive to be your psychological or situational „weak spots” will be their prime targets.
For instance, if the narcissist knows that your greatest fear is social ridicule, that will be the main focus of the smear campaign. If he or she knows that recently, you made a mistake for which you feel guilty, that will be used against you.
Narcissists know that the more effectively they can pinpoint your insecurities or flaws, the more successful they will be in eroding your confidence and your influence. And if they manage to do that, they stand a good chance of getting back the power they planned to do whatever they pleased with before you „got in their way”.
Tired of Being a Negativity Sponge? Reclaim your energy!
Being Responsible With Your Energy
Most people are not responsible with their energy, but this doesn’t give you permission to be irresponsible with yours. This means being consciously responsible for the energy that you receive and the energy that you project. Once you are completely responsible with your own energy, it doesn’t matter if someone is regurgitating their energy onto you – you won’t take it. Ironically, it will also happen a great deal less.
If you do take on another’s energy, it is important to remember that once you take it on, it becomes your energy – not theirs. If this is the case, notice in what of the 12 ways above you have allowed your energy to be infiltrated. Take responsibility for it. No one can force you to take their energy. As long as you blame another, you have no power to release it – thereby giving even more of your energy away.
Over time, you can train your energy upward to a threshold where others cannot bring you down. It might take some conscious effort to get there but once you do, life flows with ease and grace and you become a beacon of love and light for others.
Here’s how you can be even more responsible with your energy:
1. Own Your Energy
It is important to know how you feel prior to all interactions, so if there is any change in how you are feeling, you can identify it, and quickly release it by saying, “This is not mine – I release it.”
2. See the Innocence in Everyone
When you look deep, we are all really innocent. Seeing everyone as innocent and doing the best they can will allow you to stay positive, and not take on the negative energies of others.
3. Get the Happy-People High
When you do come in contact with happy or high energy people, join the party. Accept the gift of positive energy – just be careful not to depend on others to feel good.
4. Practice Letting Go
Living in a state of letting go allows you to keep your energy clean and clear. When you let go, negative energy cannot stick to you.
5. Don’t Play Catch
Just because someone throws you a dirty rag, doesn’t mean you have to catch it – let it go, and it cannot affect you.
6. Look for the Beauty
We tend to look for what is wrong in others – but, instead look for the beauty, and you will align with higher and higher aspects of others. People will feel your love and respond in turn, raising your vibration and theirs.
7. Be Kind to Yourself
The world is always reflecting the feelings and beliefs that we have towards ourselves. If you want others to address you more positively, you must also commit to doing this for yourself.
8. Set Boundaries
It is okay to let people know how to treat you and even how to speak with you. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, such as: no gossiping, no judgement, no complaining. You might say something like, “You probably didn’t know this, but I am making how I feel the most important part of everyday, so I am no longer taking part in gossip or anything that feels judgmental toward me or anyone else.” You might add, “Would you like to join me?”
9. Share Positive Energy
If you are feeling good, show it. Smile, be generous and give compliments. Live out loud. Remember, the stronger vibration dominates all personal encounters. When you out-warded share positive energy, you won’t be affected by lower vibes and those around you will actually begin to feel better. This is how you make a difference every day!
10. Project Energy
Instead of surrounding yourself with a protective energy shield, imagine Divine Energy flowing into you and overflowing from you – creating an aura of light and love all around you. Allow this powerful energy to resonate from you and affect everyone you meet.
11. Trust Your Intuition
Your intuition is a superior inner guidance system and will always show you the way. When you don’t listen to your self and you put the desires of others first, you compromise your energy and you allow the energy of others to affect you. Every time you trust your inner guidance and take action accordingly, you strengthen your ability to protect your personal energy, and therefore you naturally keep-out negative energy.
When you ultimately reach a point where you don’t take on the energy of others, you are able to connect and respond from a higher level, where it is possible to feel what someone is feeling without acquiring their pains and woes. This is the Divine Experience of Compassion.From this pristine space, you can give love without compromising or sacrificing yourself in any way. Instead of feeling drained, you feel powerfully energized and have an abundance of positive and powerful energy to offer and share.
It is through this state of Higher Love, that you are truly of service to the world.