Tell us about a time when someone had you completely fooled, where the wool was pulled right over your eyes and you got hoodwinked, but good. Was it a humorous experience or one you’d rather forget? What was the outcome?
“Lots of people puff themselves up to be more than they are, Manda,” cautioned aunt Sally to her young niece, “it’s born of a deep insecurity; a need to be noticed. You want to watch out for those.”
Twelve-year-old Manda nestled deeper into her hammock and stared blankly into the spectral light that filtered through the rustling leaves of two adjoining maples. It was her favourite thinking place, and she loved it even more when her beloved aunt Sally sat in the rocking Muskoka chair close by and shared her stories.
“Do you have a story you can share to show me, aunt Sally?” Manda asked as she sat up and rested on her elbow, hope beaming from her eyes.
Her aunt thought for a moment. There were too many stories; too many wounded souls who’d pulled the wool over her all-too-trusting eyes. So much hurt. So much pain. Which of these stories could she share without overwhelming the innocence of her beautiful niece?
“Well?” Manda was getting impatient.
Sally smiled weakly. “Well, indeed,” she chided. “You need to understand, Manda, that the world is full of wolves in sheep’s clothing. People who are not what they seem and hide their pain under a clever, often unconscious, disguise. You must learn,” she warned, “never to allow another person’s pain to become your truth. Promise me?”
“I promise,” confirmed Manda, “but do tell me a story, if you have one.”
Sally took a sip of lemony iced tea, so cooling on a hot and sticky summer day, and settled more deeply into her rocker. The rhythm of its gentle sway bringing comfort as she wondered what to share.
“Well, I had one friend … and I use the term loosely … who, well,” Sally felt tongue-tied. She had no wish to lay bare old emotions caught up in past pain. “Look,” she changed tack, “the people you want to watch out for are narcissists.”
“What’s a narciss … whatever that is?” Manda asked, confused
“Narcissist, sweetie …” corrected Sally.
“Narciss … ist …” repeated Manda, still uncertain.
“Narcissists are people who make the world revolve around them at the expense of others. Every conversation; every activity; every experience you have with them will be about them, and if it doesn’t start out that way it will most certainly end up there. They make big gestures based on fantasy; they make promises they never keep; they take what they need without asking at the expense of others and give no thought to its impact on those they offend. They don the mask of perfection so that no one will see the unpleasant truth and they always appear better than everyone else in some way. They take up so much room, and take up so much light you dwell constantly in their shadow and are barely able to see yourself … .” Sally gasped for breath, memories of unveiled wolves suffocating the moment.
Manda jumped from her happy place and knelt beside her aunt’s chair. “Aunt Sally, please don’t be upset,” she pleaded.
Sally gathered herself. “Ah, you’re a good girl, Manda, but even in your concern for me don’t make my pain yours. You will have enough to contend with in your life.” She paused, “Just remember, Manda, that the surest way to protect yourself from these people is to have a strong sense of self grounded in reality. By all means, have your self-esteem, but never at the expense of others because then you rob them of theirs.” She ushered Manda back to her happy place in the hammock and continued. “This is what narcissists do to you, Manda,” she counselled, “they grab all the attention in the room and take you for all you’re worth and then, when you no longer serve their purpose or they see that you are wise to their ways, they dump you in a heap of pain … their pain. They can never own it, or deal with it, so they spread it around to make themselves feel better … and others feel worse.”
Sally remembered a supposed mentor, an equestrian coach who, when it came down to it, had no one’s interest in mind but her own. Not even the horses’. She cringed at the memory of too-tight side reins the coach had put on her young horse during a training session. At the time Sally had trusted this person to know what they were doing. However, it soon became all too clear that her coach was nothing more than a blow hard when the distressed horse sat down, with Sally on him, and fell over within a few steps of the equipment having been adjusted. Her coach took no ownership of her mistake, solidly pointing the finger at Sally and the “stupid horse.”
The humiliation of not recognizing then what an energy-sucking vampire her coach had been, and the fact she’d allowed herself to be victimized by her for a further four years still hurt in far off places in Sally’s psyche.
“Aunt Sally … where are you?” Manda called her aunt back to the present.
With a shudder Sally returned and smiled awkwardly. She took another sip of her almost-finished iced tea. “Oh, I am sorry,” she offered. “I don’t know if I’m being helpful at all, but let me offer one more thought on the matter.”
“What’s that, aunt Sally?”
“As long you are true to yourself and pay attention to how people make you feel when you are with them you can never go wrong. Some people are only happy when those around them are miserable. If you feel miserable in someone’s company; if they bring out the worst in you; if they abuse your friendship or must be the centre of attention all the time, don’t walk … run! For sure as I’m sitting in front of you today they won’t care if you’re unhappy as long as you make them feel better … in whatever meaning that has for them.” Sally paused for effect. “Always pay attention to how you feel in the presence of another. Understand what your body is saying to you when you feel a pit in your stomach, or your bowels start to churn or …” she stopped. “Goodness me, dear, too much information. … Let’s put it this way. How do you feel when you’re with me?”
“I feel excellent! Happy! Loved!” Manda responded with the exuberance of youth.
“Good,” Sally responded, “let this be your guide wherever you are and whoever you’re with. If you feel anything less than this, leave them to their misery. Will you do that for me?”
“Oh, yes, aunt Sally … for you anything.”
“Lovely … now let’s get some more iced tea.”
Thanks for visiting …
©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015