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The Simple Buddhist Practice That Transformed My Relationship With My Narcissistic Parent

When I was 25 years old, I attended my first meditation training. At the time, I was struggling with how to have a relationship with my mom. My mom was a malignant narcissist, although I didn’t know that label or diagnosis back then. Back then, I was a young woman trying to figure out how to have a decent relationship with mom – so I could have someone in my life who could support me, love me, and help me figure out the turbulent transitions of young adulthood.

I hadn’t yet realized that my mom was unable to do these things for me due to her mental health issues, and I was still trying to think of ways that I could repair or improve our relationship. I felt a huge weight of “fixing” our relationship on my shoulders. If only I could figure out the right approach, maybe we could become closer and have the type of relationship I needed.

After class one day I asked my meditation teacher, B. Allan Wallace, if I could speak to him about a difficult relationship in my life and get his advice. He listened as I explained my situation. I think he knew, even more than I did, that there was no way to have this woman in my life in any way that wasn’t damaging or toxic.

He told me that sometimes the only way to have a relationship with someone was to do so energetically. To send them compassion from afar rather than trying to work out how to be together in real life. He told me that there was a way of healing my relationship with my mom that didn’t involve finding the right approach for ways to repair or improve anything.

He introduced me to the idea of Mettā, which is often translated as “loving kindness.” He showed me how I could send this prayer, this energy, towards my mom as a way of having a relationship with her.

Mettā goes like this:

“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness. 

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

He taught me how to bring my mom to my mind and send her this prayer. He said that this was a valuable, important and effective way for me to have a relationship with her.

And so, I did.

The amazing thing about this practice was that it immediately shifted my thoughts about how I didn’t want to give up having my mother in my life, to realizing that this was a way that I could that would bring me no harm. It gave me a sense of agency in a situation that had seemed dire and hopeless only moments before.

“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

I sent her the prayer often. I sent it to her when I felt furious and crushed by the hurtful, eviscerating words she said to me. I sent it to her when I felt deep sadness that I didn’t have the type of mother I saw my friends have. I sent it to her when my mother’s friends called me, demanding that I tell them what she had done to deserve such “horrible treatment” from her daughter. I sent it to her when I desperately wanted her in my life and didn’t know how to fix that.

Slowly, I started to heal.

I realized that I could separate from her and still have compassion. And that was indeed a type of relationship. My teacher was right, sometimes, it’s the only one we can have with someone.

Compassion is unique in that it can exist in the same moment as almost any other emotion. I can be angry and have compassion for the reasons the other person was mean to me. I can be traumatized and have compassion for the suffering that must have happened for them to know no other way than to hurt me. I can feel rage against the systems of social oppression that have convinced people it’s okay to think of other people as less than, incompetent or undeserving and still have compassion for the immense fear of losing egoic power that drives that behavior.

I still rage and cry and fight against all of this. And at the same time, I have compassion. It’s a weird paradox.

But then again, being a spiritual being having a human experience is a weird paradox.

I’ve continued to keep this practice as part of my daily life as a way to feel connected, held and interwoven with my fellow souls. Yesterday, I was at the market and the man working at the register looked especially tired. I felt the weight of his life in that moment. I looked at him and exchanged the usual pleasantries, but in my mind, I was sending him the energy of Mettā:

“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

I do this when I pass people walking down the street, whether they are smiling or looking sad. I send it to people I read about in the news or on social media. I send it to the people I see intentionally instigating fear, divisiveness and hatred in our society today. (That last one is a challenge, but when I dig deep I know that all humans do deserve to find happiness and be free from suffering. Much of their hateful behavior comes from a misdirected attempt to alleviate their own suffering, I know.)

So, I have a request. I’d like to invite you to join me. Find at least one person per day to whom you can send Mettā. Look them straight in the eyes and think to yourself, “Hello, my fellow human traveler. I see your messy humanity, just as I see my own. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness. May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

Let me know how it goes. I can only imagine a world where everyone sends this energy to everyone else they meet every day. I don’t know exactly what that world would be like, but I know it would have to be a more loving, understanding and compassionate place.

 

xo,

Megan

 

PS – If you want to try a Mettā meditation, you can find my version of it here.

The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have

We all have “inner critics” — that voice in our head that’s less than supportive, doubting, and sometimes even mean. 

Our inner critic feeds off of self-doubt, imposter syndrome and shame. This is often an echo of the way that we were spoken to as children or a reflection of the value system we grew up in, like valuing hard work or piousness and thereby shaming “laziness” or “bad behavior.”

The main problem with the inner critic is that it keeps us from having a healthy version of the most important relationship we’ll ever have —  the relationship with ourselves.

When we can learn to be our own cheerleaders, wise mentors, and caregivers, it makes life so much more pleasant. When we develop inner mentors and inner caregivers, we improve our relationship with ourself and see dramatic changes in how we interact with the world.

How do we convince the inner critic that they are wrong and that we truly are worthy, wonderful human beings?

One of the ways we can improve our relationship with ourselves is by consistently demonstrating our love and care for ourselves and by asking others to help us, too.

This is just like you’d do with a romantic partner – relationships need to be looked after and tended on a daily basis, and the one you have with yourself is no exception.

One way we can work on our relationship with ourselves is through our “love languages.” We each have a ranking of which love languages makes us feel most loved, valued and appreciated. The five love languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.

 You can find yours here: Take the quiz!

(Mine are: “receiving gifts”, “words of affirmation” and “acts of service”)

 

 Once you have found your love language profile, here’s what you can do to improve your relationship with yourself.

  1. Find your top 2 love languages and do (or pay someone to do) at least 2 things per week for yourself. For example, buy yourself a small gift (“receiving gifts”), use a grocery delivery app (“acts of service”), get a massage (“physical touch”).  Make note of the ones that bring you the most joy so you can do them again!
  1. ASK for others to do things for you in your love language.  For example, ask a friend to tell you 3 reasons they value your friendship (“words of affirmation”), ask a friend to surprise you with a gift sometime in the next week (“receiving gifts”), or ask your partner to do the dishes every night this week (“acts of service”).

 

This may feel weird to ask at first, but we have to get used to asking for what will make us feel loved. Plus, studies show that taking care of others increases people’s happiness. So we’re actually making THEM happier by asking!

Once you’ve made it a habit to buy yourself flowers every Sunday like Lizzo or get a massage each week no matter what, you will be well on your way to learning how to value yourself and understand that you deserve to be treated well and are deserving of all the love.

 

xo,

Megan

 

It’s the ME show. Staring ME!!

Hundreds of years ago, people mistakenly assumed that the sun and planets revolve around the earth. We now know that’s not the way it is, but it was easy to see why people thought that way — that’s what it looks like from our point of view here on earth.

However, humanity became very attached to that perceived importance as the center of the universe, so much so that when Galileo questioned it, he was convicted of heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. (With no DoorDash to deliver Thai food, I might add. That was the true punishment.)

There’s a tendency for people to do the same thing. Just like when we look up at the sky it appears that the sun, moon and planets are revolving around earth, when we look out from the eyes in our heads and see the events happening around us, it appears that much of it revolves around us. And we become attached to that percieved importance in a very similar way. 

I often assume that what’s happening around me must involve ME, simply because that’s what it looks like from my point of view.

It’s the “Me Show” starring… ME!!

Each of us is starring in our own Me Show. Everything we see, feel, and experience is as the star of the show. As life unfolds around us, it’s easy to see what’s happening as a cause and effect of our own actions (or lack thereof). We notice how people act, or how events unfold, and because we are seeing it only through our own eyes, it’s easy to assume that it must be because of something we did.

Now, stop for a minute and think about the fact that everyone is starring in their own Me Show. Everyone thinks what’s happening in their world is mostly a cause and effect from their own actions.  So, everyone thinks that the world is a reflection of them, and their actions.

But we can’t all be the star of the show. It just doesn’t add up. 

When you react to someone or make a choice that impacts someone, how much of that is because of them and their actions and how much of it is because of how you feel and what you think the best course of action is? I would argue that most of what you feel and how you react is because of your own internal state: feelings, past experiences, trying to make something work out the way you’d like, etc. But, the person who is impacted is naturally going to assume that it has to do mostly with THEM and their actions. Why? Because they are staring in their own Me Show, too.

So, why does this all matter?

If you stop to realize that your coworker who just sent out a condescending email or your mom nagging you is acting out a dramatic arc of their Me Show, you see that it probably has little or nothing to do with you. This allows you to let it go.

That’s their drama, not yours.

You don’t have to be a supporting character on their Me Show. You can choose to let them play out that dramatic arc without you.

Reframe it for yourself – their actions are much more likely a statement about their own internal drama than anything to do with you.

So, take a deep breath, remember that we are all spiritual beings having a (messy) human experience, and send them a little love and compassion.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

The one question that has saved my relationship

In every relationship, you are going to make each other angry. Through thoughtlessness, naiveté, and ignorance, we are all going to flub it up with our partners every now and again.

How do you know if you should bring it up? If you mention every little thing that irritates you, it will quickly devolve the relationship into a paranoid bickering match. But if you bottle things up, they will eventually come out in a messy, gargantuan tirade and may spell the end of the relationship.

Fortunately, I’ve found a middle ground.

When my sweetie does something that irritates me, I check in with myself using the five-year rule. I ask myself, “Will I remember this incident in five years?” If the answer is yes, then it’s something I want to address with him. If the answer is no, then I let myself be angry (on my own) for as long as I need to get it through my system and then I forget it. If it’s not something that I will even remember happened in five years, how important can it be?

The odd occasion when the dishes are left in the sink? I won’t remember that in five years. That weird, nerdy thing he said to my friend at a dinner party last week? I won’t remember that in five years. The mud tracked in when he was working in the yard? Nope, I won’t remember that in five years either.

When he said that I’m not as good about exercising as he is? Ouch. Um, yeah, I’ll remember that in five years so it’s time for a talk, buddy.

It may be that as a mental exercise, you’ll need to start with a ten-year rule or an eight-year rule. Make it however much time would have to pass before you’d look back on the incident and either laugh at it or not even remember it happened. Then test it out. How does it feel to let things go? Do they simmer for weeks inside you or do you move on faster than you would have thought?

Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried this and how it works for you! Remember as Buddha wisely said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping at a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at somebody else; you are the one who gets burned.”