There have been many times in my life that the serenity prayer has helped me with emotions that I found difficult to process; times of grief and loss where I felt helpless and hurting. It wasn’t until the abusive relationship with a narcissist that I fully understood what the serenity prayer meant and how applicable it is to coping with and overcoming the abusive, narcissistic relationship. By clearly defining what the dividing lines are between what we can control and what we can’t, we know better what to focus on as we empower ourselves and move forward in life.
Whether your beliefs are in the God I believe in, there is still the element of humility, in releasing our attempt to control a situation to someone who is greater than ourselves. I believe that in the act of reaching out to our higher power or source, we are humbly recognizing that we aren’t the largest being in our own lives and universe, we don’t have all the answers, and sometimes, we need help from others to get where we need to be.
The beginning of the serenity prayer states, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”....
Think about this for a moment; really ask yourself that question.
What is it that YOU, cannot change?
No matter how bad you want to, how much you’ve kidded yourself in the past that you could, no matter the act of your sheer will or utter desire will make what you’re longing for come true (the easy way).
As it pertains to the narcissistic relationship, asking for serenity to accept things we cant change, means:
The lack of love, empathy, compassion, understanding, desire to fix the relationship
The name calling
The silent treatment
The mind games
The gas lighting
The way they treat the kids
The way they turn family members against you or cause drama in general
The smear campaign
All the lies they feed everyone to make you look crazy
I can go on and on and on with the various abuses they dole out, but the point here is…
WE CANNOT DO ONE THING IN OUR POWER TO CHANGE THEM or the things they do and say.
It was present LONG before we came into the picture, and despite what they say….NO. You are NOT the first one that’s brought this behavior out of them. If you don’t believe that, just ask the previous victim. Or the one before that. Or so on and so forth.
We had NOTHING to do with their developing psyches or their stunted growth. Their insecurity, envy, spite and rage may get triggered by things that other people say or do, but ultimately the narcissist is the only person responsible for how they feel and how they choose to act on those feelings.
Wouldn’t we already have changed a narcissist, if it WERE within our power?
How much have we honestly tried to do, to settle things down? How much did we give the narcissist a feeling of safety with us? Let them know, they could really count on us and trust us, because we REALLY loved them?
It DOES take a serene frame of mind to accept this truth. It’s when we finally calm down and realize that we did try everything and NOTHING worked to make things better. Acceptance of this fact, is a release. With this release comes peace and allowing ourselves to take a breather from doing the impossible: fixing a narcissist.
This first part of the prayer discusses the personal boundaries that exist around others and the responsibilities that arise as a result of two individuals having separate and distinct identities with demarcation lines around each of us, letting us know who’s stuff belongs to whom and who can fix what.
Each person has a separation line around themselves – a way to tell what is “me” and what is “you”. This other person, who we are asking God to accept as someone we cannot change – is the only person who can feel what they feel, think what they think, behave how they behave and say what they say. No one or anything outside of those boundaries, cause this person to feel a certain way or act or say certain things. It is always a personal choice of the person at the center of the boundary.
If you think the boundaries only deal with those that exist around the OTHER person (the narcissist); not so fast…..The next part of the Serenity Prayer focuses on ourselves.
“The courage to change the things we can” is drawing the attention back to ourselves.
The serenity prayer is a balanced equation of equanimity of two key elements: What we can’t control and what we can. While we cannot control a narcissist, we can muster up the courage to take control of ourselves.
Boy it does take courage to look at ourselves, doesn’t it? Looking honestly at our own deficiencies isn’t easy for most of us, but I can tell you, with practice, it really does get easier. No pretense, no mask is an easy way to live – and when we’re not in the presence of a narcissistic person who makes us pay emotionally for our imperfections (because they don’t have this boundary the serenity prayer calls for at all, they THINK our imperfections are a reflection of them and they think their imperfections belong to us).
We can only change ourselves. That’s the ONLY only thing in this universe that we have power over. Us. Our corporation. Our entity. Our body. Ourselves. Our circus, our monkies. Like the narcissist, who we can’t change and don’t have any power over, we are responsible for 4 things: Our feelings, our thoughts, our actions and our words.
I’d always heard the serenity prayer when I was younger and never understood it in terms of how its really teaching the concept of boundaries and responsibility. Then I heard a story that made sense to me:
A woman was about to embark on a very romantic vacation with her husband. She’d been planning it for months, imagined the amazing time they’d have together laughing and falling in love again. When they got to their beach destination, all her husband did was complain. He bitched about the weather, the sun, the heat, the critters on the beach. In the wife’s mind, this was NOTHING like she’d imagined and went on to have a “horrible” time, feeling neglected, angry, not relaxed and ready for divorce.
The wife had a horrible time, because of her thoughts. It wasn’t that the husband was horribly abusive, it was that he just didn’t enjoy the beach as a romantic getaway. He had his own work troubles on his mind and felt stressed out because he couldn’t be at home solving them.
Had the wife realized the second part of the serenity prayer during that week’s vacation, she could have had the courage to change the thing she could: HER ATTITUDE. She could have gotten up every morning, went for a nice, long walk on the beach, then spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun, splashing in the pool, getting some R&R and reading a book she hadn’t been able to read at home. Had she allowed herself the well deserved break, she’d have accumulated her own good feelings and self respect & possibly may have handled her complaining husband with a more playful, flirtacious manner or invited him to romance, but whether he agreed or declined, still would have had a great time on vacation. Same vacation; different feelings.
The courage to change the things we can requires that we put our big girl /boy panties on and assume responsibility for how we feel, how our life is going is up to us. Admitting we’ve placed all our eggs in the narcissist’s basket and hoping that their being better would make us happier is a failing prospect.
We DONT need the narcissist to change for us to be happy. WE need to change the way we think and feel about things, ourselves included, and then to decide how we’re going to live a happy life away from the narcissist.
Let me clarify that this does NOT mean we need to stay & learn how to live with an abusive, narcissistic person. My thought on this is unequivocally, that the abusive relationship has to be terminated. Abusive relationships (those that contain a narcissist) are out of the realm of normalcy. There is too much toxicity and crossing of boundaries (abuse) that there’s no possible way for one person to be healthy and committed in one, while the narcissist is incapable of doing so.
So we’ve covered the yin and the yang of the serenity prayer; the narcissist, who we’ve left, and ourselves and we wind up with the last piece:
“THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE”
This one sentence puts it all in perspective. It’s about knowing the difference between ourselves. Where the lines are drawn in the sand. Who’s stuff belongs to who (even if the other person doesn’t want to ‘take’ their stuff) They don’t have to. This natural law of responsibility does it for them.
When we learn about this disorder, we start to learn that alot of things we were accused of were in actuality, behaviors or thoughts or feelings that belonged to the narcissist. The cheating wasn’t ours, the lying, the planned attack, the mental health problem, the paranoia, the envy, the triangulation, or selfishness – that was NOT our stuff to take responsibility for. The narcissist crossed those boundaries many times by accusing us of them, but in hindsight, we know that was just another thing that was messed about them. They can’t handle the serenity prayer because they think there is no second part and everything belongs to everyone else.
As we take good looks at ourselves, our vulnerabilities, issues and flaws, we can say, ok this one belongs to me, or I did ignore red flags I saw in the beginning. By acknowledging the things we did that we know we need to work on, we’re giving ourselves some possible tasks and achievable goals. It’s stuff we do need to fix. And! It’s stuff we CAN fix.
One of the biggest sadnesses I see in newly free, no contact targets, is this horrific self blame and feeling that we’re worthless. The narcissist is off pretending to be happily hooked up with someone new so soon, while the target remains grief stricken and hurting. So much of the targets self worth is boundary blended with the narcissist (even though distanced from the narcissist in physical proximity). Targets thoughts have long been been trampled over and brainwashed to constantly play the negative message that we are NO GOOD because we couldn’t make the narcissist happy.
The target has not yet had the chance to clear out all those old, untrue messages of the person that planted them there. And YES. Narcissists plant those seeds. Day in and day out, being told that you are worthless, selfish and an awful human being definitely begins to make you think those things about yourself and will resultantly cause you to feel bad about yourself; lowering your self esteem. We are still responsible for what we think, however, the constant aggression conditions a target to acquiesce to these negative thoughts in an act of survival.
With taking in alot of new messages and understanding how the narcissist methodically administers abuse to us, we begin to push negative, critical put downs and behaviors, past our boundary and out of us because it isn’t ours.
We firmly draw a boundary around our own identity, thoughts and issues and we plant our feet firmly in trusting ourselves that we are clear and healthy enough in our thinking to know the difference between these two very different identities; a narcissist and ourselves.
This wisdom also allows us to draw certain clear lines in the sand as it relates to domestic abuse by a narcissist. At NO TIME, is the target of a narcissist’s abuse RESPONSIBLE for the choices that narcissist makes to cheat on, demean, lie to, smear campaign, financially abuse, alienate children from, cause harm to and otherwise destroy. This is solely the choice of the abuser. This boundary is NOT up for debate about what the target did to deserve this. That argument only illustrates that the person holding that opinion does not clearly understand the concept of boundaries and personal responsibility.