Roman Catholic theology has a little known doctrine about a process known as “The Dark Night of the Soul.”
It’s a descent into spiritual darkness (depression, anxiety, despair, etc) that comes just before a spiritual awakening.
Looking back at what happened to me about two weeks ago, I realize this was my own “dark night of the soul.”
My discovery about myself was probably accelerated (and therefore more intense than for some) because of the emotional and spiritual work I’d already been doing on myself for about 8 months before it happened.
A couple of months ago I began to reparent myself for my BPD (I don’t have access to a therapist who could do this or that I could afford). I won’t get into how I did this right now because it would take too long and the whole process of it was….just too personal to post on a public forum. I might blog about it later (because maybe it could be of use to someone else, but right now I’m not ready). Without going into too much detail, I did things to elicit my emotions and try to become as vulnerable as possible. It was scary and VERY frustrating at first and I almost gave it up because I didn’t see immediate results but changes were happening inside me that I didn’t detect.
But just when I’d be ready to give up, some little thing would happen–such as finding a beautiful geode at a very cheap price, a beautiful flowering magnolia tree, and other small unexpected gifts that seemed to come from nowhere, and that to me seemed to be God telling me to keep moving forward and stick with it. God works at his own pace. (I know I use the term God due to my own beliefs, but for you it may be Buddha, a Higher Power, or the Universe. That’s okay too–it all boils down to the same thing–that there is something much more than the tangible world and it’s far more powerful).
Certain things I learned made my reparenting sessions easier. I learned how to “breathe through” the tightness in my chest (which usually meant a big old cleansing cry was on the way) and the pain and tightness that sometimes formed in my throat. I focused on being in the moment, not in the future or the past, and use the music or whatever it was to elicit emotions and just feel them pass through me, accepting them no matter what they were. I absolutely had to be alone. I had to make sure no one would call or visit. These sessions were intensely personal and I had to stay very focused on the here and now, and observe my feelings and the sensations in my body.
I often felt dissociated, and once or twice had panic attacks. When this would happen, I’d take a break, use some of my DBT “self soothing” tools, eat something, take a short walk, play with the cats, what have you.
I learned how to breathe through the panic too.
After a while I noticed subtle changes. The most important was that I began to feel a little actual warm empathy (before this, my empathy was always detached and abstract for as long as I can remember). It wasn’t a lot but but enough to know this was something different, and yet it seemed oddly familiar, like deja vu. That–plus noticing how grandiose my posts were starting to become–I started to wonder if my problem was more than BPD, if I was actually cNPD. When I started reading articles about cNPD that’s when I fell into state of terror and panic, because of the dawning but still not conscious awareness that I was…one of THEM.
It was like getting hit upside the head with a truth stick.
Self reparenting had opened me up to learning the truth that always eluded me but everyone else could see. The panic formed because the articles described myself to me, and I wasn’t ready to look in the mirror of truth yet. I fought and denied, and began to dissociate even more. I felt out of my body a lot and it scared me. I thought I was losing my mind.
I didn’t know it yet, but this was the prodromal phase of becoming self aware.
The moment of self awareness was devastating, disorienting and almost made me physically ill. I continued to feel strangely disconnected from my body for about another week. But they weren’t leading to panic attacks now. I felt somehow more connected to life, even though less connected to my body. This was definitely something new, but again I had that sense of deja vu, as if this was something I had experienced in another lifetime.
Sam Vaknin talks about his own epiphany that happened after his first wife left him and he was in prison. His experience was as intense as mine, if not more so, and in many ways mirrors my own, so I’d like to share it:
I remember the day I died. Almost did. We were in a tour of Jerusalem. Our guide was the Deputy Chief Warden. We wore our Sunday best suits – stained dark blue, abrasive jeans shirts tucked in tattered trousers. I could think of nothing but Nomi. She left me two months after my incarceration. She said that my brain did not excite her as it used to. We were sitting on what passed as a grassy knoll in prison and she was marble cold and firm. This is why, during the trip to Jerusalem, I planned to grab the Warden’s gun and kill myself.
Death has an asphyxiating, all-pervasive presence and I could hardly breathe. It passed and I knew that I had to find out real quick what was wrong with me – or else.
How I obtained access to psychology books and to Internet from the inside of one of Israel’s more notorious jails, is a story unto itself. In this film noire, this search of my dark self, I had very little to go on, no clues and no Della Street by my side. I had to let go – yet I never did and did not know how.
I forced myself to remember, threatened by the immanent presence of the Grim Reaper. I fluctuated between shattering flashbacks and despair. I wrote cathartic short fiction. I published it. I remember holding myself, white knuckles clasping an aluminum sink, about to throw up as I am flooded with images of violence between my parents, images that I repressed to oblivion. I cried a lot, uncontrollably, convulsively, gazing through tearful veils at the monochrome screen.
The exact moment I found a description of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is etched in my mind. I felt engulfed in word-amber, encapsulated and frozen. It was suddenly very quiet and very still. I met myself. I saw the enemy and it was I.
The article was long winded and full of references to scholars I never heard of before: Kernberg, Kohut, Klein. It was a foreign language that resounded, like a forgotten childhood memory. It was I to the last repellent details, described in uncanny accuracy: grandiose fantasies of brilliance and perfection, sense of entitlement without commensurate achievements, rage, exploitation of others, lack of empathy.
I had to learn more. I knew I had the answer. All I had to do was find the right questions.
That day was miraculous. Many strange and wonderful things happened. I saw people – I SAW them. And I had a glimmer of understanding regarding my self – this disturbed, sad, neglected, insecure and ludicrous things that passed for me.
It was the first important realization – there were two of us. I was not alone inside my body.
One was an extrovert, facile, gregarious, attention-consuming, adulation-dependent, charming, ruthless and manic-depressive being. The other was schizoid, shy, dependent, phobic, suspicious, pessimistic, dysphoric and helpless creature – a kid, really.
I began to observe these two alternating. The first (whom I called Ninko Leumas – an anagram of the Hebrew spelling of my name) would invariably appear to interact with people. It didn’t feel like putting a mask on or like I had another personality. It was just like I am MORE me. It was a caricature of the TRUE me, of Shmuel.
Shmuel hated people. He felt inferior, physically repulsive and socially incompetent. Ninko also hated people. He held them in contempt. THEY were inferior to his superior qualities and skills. He needed their admiration but he resented this fact and he accepted their offerings condescendingly.
As I pieced my fragmented and immature self together I began to see that Shmuel and Ninko were flip sides of the SAME coin. Ninko seemed to be trying to compensate Shmuel, to protect him, to isolate him from hurt and to exact revenge whenever he failed. At this stage I was not sure who was manipulating who and I did not have the most rudimentary acquaintance with this vastly rich continent I discovered inside me.
But that was only the beginning.
A few days ago I finally began to feel “normal” but there’s a difference now: I’m much more aware of my narcissism than I ever was, and correct myself when I catch it. But the ironic thing is that at the same time my inner “parent” is “correcting” me, I feel that love I should have gotten from my real parents. But it’s okay to be your own parent. For those of us doing this work alone, without the benefit of a professional therapist who can be a sort of “surrogate parent,” we have no other choice. I can do this, and so can you if you want this as badly as I do. It just takes courage and willingness to work very hard and really want to change. [Disclaimer: I strongly advise speaking with a professional before undertaking this or any other type of self-therapy]
Since my “dark night of the soul,” strange and wonderful things have happened.
I know I have to be careful right now. Today I’m feeling euphoric. It’s just like a feeling of falling in love (without a person to focus those “limerent” feelings on) or being high without drugs. I just feel so loving and expansive toward everything right now, and so grateful.
I know this feeling won’t last, but I’m taking it as a message that something inside me has shifted in a profound way. It’s all happening so fast.
It’s as if something really toxic is gone and I’m *seeing* life as it was meant to be seen, and seeing the goodness in others I ignored or couldn’t see or envied before. No, I’m nowhere near cured, and I’m sure this feeling is only temporary as I get deeper into the hard and painful emotional work of eradicating narcissism from my soul (and will probably have to face even darker nights of the soul), but I think it might be a taste of what is to come. Is this what is feels like to be happy? Is this the way normal people feel? I imagine what I’m feeling right now–and it’s pretty intense and awesome–is similar to what happens during a religious experience. I just feel high right now.
As a borderline, I tend to be attracted to intense emotional experiences (and at the same time avoid them like the plague–go figure). The way I feel right now feels suspiciously like a spiritual awakening. So many strange and serendipitous things have happened. It’s incredible and surreal and not part of the material world we can see.
But I must remember this isn’t the cure, only the beginning of healing. I have a long way to go, but it might happen fast for me, given the speed at which my awareness hit me. But the important thing is I have hope for the future now, where before I just felt like a walking dead person.
There’s a man whose story of healing from NPD is so incredible I’m almost itching to post it, but I need to get his permission first before I can that. I think his story could be inspirational to many people who suffer from these disorders and he gives some great advice too. This is a man who appeared on my other blog in a broken state last winter. He was having suicidal ideations and we were all concerned about him, even the N-haters. Shortly after he shared several tortured posts, he disappeared and we all imagined the worst.
I found him again in a forum I’ve been posting on and he’s a changed person. He’s determined and courageous to heal from NPD. I don’t know if he’s cured yet but he seems awfully close, from what I can tell. If this man’s story is actually true and not bullshit (and I believe it is true), he went from the deepest trenches of his narcissistic crisis to a person well on the way to being well in a mere 4-6 months.
That gives me a lot of hope.