I have studied and researched human emotion and thought for my entire adult life. I have two undergrad degrees in psychology, and master's education in mental health counselling. At the beginning of my journey into academia, in 1983 when I was earning my first degree, I would have told you with impunity that I was going to leave my mark on the field of psychology. Fresh-faced and idealistic, I was going to make a significant contribution, and most importantly, people were going to remember me. Well, they'll remember me, alright... as the counsellor whose daughter committed suicide. This has been the most profoundly embarrassing, shame-inducing, ego-crushing experience for me, and not what I would have wanted to be remembered for. Yet it taught me to love the real me, and taught me how to love others the way they need to be loved.
Dale Carnegie said there are two emotional needs of every human being that we should keep in mind if we want better relationships. One is that we all want to feel understood, and the other is that we all want to feel important. I have listened to hundreds of clients talk about their problems over the past 12 years as a Life Coach, and have arrived at the conclusion that Dale Carnegie was accurate; all of us want to feel understood and important. However, I've noticed that for some people, feeling important is their primary need. These are the folks who, on a scale measuring Narcissistic personality tendencies, would score higher in Narcissism, which is a strong need for admiration. I am one of those people. These are the exhibitionists of the world. The world wouldn't be the dramatically colorful, artistic, and passionate place it is without their expressive voices. Conveniently, exhibitionists are attracted to their opposite: the voyeurs in life. Those precious souls who would rather sit in the second row of life than the first, so they get a better view and perspective. If voyeurs had a governing theme, it would be: observe first, take action second. Without the voyeurs, the Narcissist wouldn't have anyone in their audience! More importantly, the Narcissistic personality who prefers to jump before she looks would be without a safety net. It is the voyeurs among us (and you know who you are) who look before they leap. Thank God for you, or we would all be rushing off cliffs together!
Because I am admiration-oriented, when my daughter took her own life, I felt as if my life was over. I felt I'd rather pack up and move to another country than face the overwhelming guilt and shame of being a suicide survivor, especially since I was a counselor; a counselor who wanted so badly to be admired. It was as if the Universe said: "You want everyone's attention? Well then, you shall have it." Not only did it feel as if my daughter had rejected and abandoned me in death, but it seemed as if the Universe was ridiculing me. I felt desolate; all alone in a cruel world where my guiding light had been snuffed out. The porch light of Heaven had been turned off, the door to Heaven locked, and I was put out into the cold to wander in the dark halls of endless grief. For a year I wandered the inconsolable, desolate halls of my own mind. I shut the world out, because it had proved itself an untrustworthy place-full of empty promises of success but devoid of meaning and happiness. I closed my coaching practice because I knew I needed time to heal. How could I teach anyone anything about love and hope and healing when I was in a dire struggle to find love and hope and healing for myself?
So there I was, all alone in the dark. No job, no hope, no direction. Stopped, stuck, angry and bitter. Even the people closest to me couldn't reach out to save me because they were waging their own private battles with the suicide. Not knowing how to begin to deal with the overwhelming bundle of emotions I'd experience daily, I started taking "grief walks." On these long walks I'd imagine I was Forrest Gump: I would keep walking until I couldn't walk anymore. Many times I was tempted to just keep walking and never look back. I understand now how people can suddenly abandon their painful lives and leave everything behind. When there is too much pain, walking away seems... justified.
One day I was feeling so much anger at the Universe for taking my beautiful and smart girl, who over the years had been my only reason for going on, that when I saw an empty lot I headed straight for it. As cars rushed by, I stood in the middle of the field and chucked rocks at God. I threw rocks at the sky, calling God names (which I cannot repeat here). I shouted until I was hoarse: "You lied to me! You told me it was going to be a beautiful life-but it turned into a nightmare! You're a liar, and I hate you... I hate you! I'm never going to forgive you for this." If I could have pulled God out of the sky and given him a black eye and a broken nose, I would have. I sunk to my knees in the dust and wept. Anybody driving by would have thought me completely mad. But on the way back home, I noticed something peculiar; I felt a lot better. Better than I had felt in a long time. I decided then not to hold in my feelings anymore. I found a Psychologist, and he helped me to understand it wasn't God I was angry with-it was myself. I hated myself because I couldn't save my own daughter. The only solution, he told me, was to forgive myself.
After seeing the Psychologist it took a little while before I came to what grief specialists term "Acceptance" of her death. For me, acceptance meant saying goodbye, and giving myself permission to move forward with my life. Sadly, there are people who are stuck in grief, unable to say goodbye. For them, the torment never ends. In order to heal, I discovered I had to express my feelings openly and freely: both to God, and to another compassionate human being. When I did, I could forgive myself, and forgive my daughter for leaving me behind. At that point, I could finally let her go.
For somebody whose driving force in life has always been to feel important, the journey through grief has been more than a detour: it re-routed my entire existence. Yet the path it took me, though excruciatingly painful, wound up saving my life. Without this experience it would still be "all about me" and truthfully, there are moments when I forget the lesson and I fall back on that old familiar ego-boosting mantra. Immediately I'm reminded of what I've learned, and it shifts my perspective instantaneously. The lesson I learned is: It's not important that other people admire me. What's important is that I admire me.
I admire me most when I am humble, when I am conscientious of others, agreeable, and not demanding it be my way all the time. Most importantly, I admire me most when I extend to others the forgiveness and grace which I have been shown. I am learning to love the real me, because she is someone worthy of my admiration.