How Anyone Can Build Resilience Through Empathy & Action to Stand Up to Narcissists
by Sarah Fader, Founder of Stigma Fighters
I am an empathetic person, and have been this way since I was a child.
I’ve consistently been able to understand other people’s emotions and helped them to get through their traumatic experiences. I never wanted to be a therapist, because I knew that I would be emotionally drained from this experience. This proved to be true when I became a case manager for a Welfare-To-Work program. It was difficult to hear the stories of my clients, who were sexually abused and had to endure domestic violence and find the resilience to thrive.
The other day, I was sitting in a restaurant eating a meal of rotisserie chicken, cornbread and a large coke. It was fantastic, because I was there by myself; a total rarity. I’m a single mother, and I’m almost never alone. I heard some yelling coming from the front of the restaurant, and realized that a couple was fighting.
It was horrifying, when I noticed what was actually happening. The man was holding the woman’s arms so that she couldn’t move. She was screaming “get off me!” There were two small children witnessing this event. The woman started kicking the man and he relented and released his grip on her.
I started to panic internally. I have complex PTSD from a variety of traumatic experiences I have suffered. I wanted to help this woman, and I didn’t know how. Thankfully, someone from the restaurant was able to separate the two from fighting and causing more harm to each other. From what I could see, the woman was defending herself. I instinctively yelled “someone call the cops!” I was nervous, because there were children present. I ran over to the woman while waiting for the cops to come, because someone from the restaurant actually listened to me and called the cops.
I sat next to the woman on a bench in the restaurant, while she cried.
“Are you okay?” I asked her, not knowing what the “right” thing to say, as if there was a right thing. I just wanted to ease her pain, like I did when I was a child for so many people. Like I do now for so many people. It’s what I do, and I just cannot stop that part of myself, even if I wanted to. For me, empathy means listening and watching, and it may seem like you're not doing enough, it matters.
“I’m afraid of him. I just want him to leave me alone.” She said softly as her daughter circled around her. The little girl must have been around five years old.
“He’s a mean man!” The girl said.
The cops arrived and took the couple outside.
“Hey! Can I talk to you?” I asked one of the cops. There seemed to be several of them present. The cop said sure and we walked to a quiet part of the restaurant.
“Listen, it’s not her fault,” I said “Please help her, she needs help.” I didn’t know if this was the right thing to say, but I needed to say something. I was concerned that this woman would go to jail.
Then another cop told me to leave them alone. He ushered me away from the situation, and I was actually frightened that he was going to arrest me. So I decided the safest thing to do was to leave and go home. But I was so scared after this whole thing—so triggered and traumatized—that I couldn’t get on the subway. I walked five miles home over the Brooklyn Bridge and I sat in the lobby of The Brooklyn Marriott hotel. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
All I could think about was the face of that small child, her helpless expression, wanting to defend her mother. It was horrible. I ordered a hard cider and self-medicated my pain away. I wasn’t drunk, but buzzed enough to not feel.
I wondered why this affected me so much. And then I realized it, it was because I was that woman once upon a time. I was in a verbally abusive relationship with someone who had narcissistic tendencies. I was triggered because I am a survivor of abuse, and though I wasn’t physically abused, verbal abuse leaves scars. Scars that I will forever remember.
I was called crazy, overly-sensitive, a paranoid schizophrenic (which, by the way, is hilarious because my best friend has schizophrenia), and unstable. I am none of those things, but I didn’t know that at the time. I believed him, because I thought that I was worthless. I was triggered after this situation, because I didn’t want anyone to experience the abuse that I went through.
But it also got me thinking; why was I there that day? Why did I witness that incident? If you believe in fate, then you know that there was a reason for my being there. I believe that reason is this:
- It taught me that I can survive anything.
- It showed me that I am resilient.
- It reaffirmed that I am someone who can get through the toughest times and fight back.
I will never know if that woman got help, and I don’t need to know. I can pray for her and her daughter. I will do that, and I want her to know, if she ever reads this and somehow finds me, that I am her, and that I love her dearly.
You can make a difference in a stranger’s life by speaking up. Remember that when you see something fucked up, don’t just fucking sit there – do something. Stand up to narcissists! You might just end up help transform a bad situation into something good.
About the Author
Sarah Fader is a regular writer for Transformation is Real, a freelance writer, and the Founder of Stigma Fighters, the online phenomenon smashing the stigma associated with mental illness, addiction, and all that would quench the flames of how amazing people can be, no matter what their abilities are.