My kids laugh when I talk about my tribe.
“Mum, that’s so cringey!”
I smile because they could very well be right, but frankly I don’t care. They say that it takes a village to raise a child. Well in my case it takes a tribe to keep me sane. My girlfriends have seen and heard it all and yet they have not gone running for the hills. When things get tough I know that they will be there for me and that they will help me through.
I was not very lucky initially when it came to the lottery of life. I was born in a family that was dominated by a malignant narcissist who selected me as the family scapegoat. My childhood years were scarred by loneliness and fear. The result was that I had serious trust issues and rock bottom self-esteem.
However as I got older I realised that family does not have to be biological. You can have brothers and sisters who are not of the same blood. I now realise that I have in fact been very lucky in my life. Notwithstanding a rough start I was fortunate to subsequently meet several people who showed me kindness and helped me. Having such a support network in place is key to building resilience and overcoming adversity.
My tribe of ….. rats?
In the 1970s Dr Bruce Alexander conducted a number of experiments with rats that came to be known as the Rat Park studies. The main goal of his research was to understand the dynamics of addiction, but I believe that his findings can be applied to different situations, including narcissistic abuse recovery.
Previous research had revolved around placing rats alone in cages and giving them access to two water bottles. One of the bottles contained water while the other one contained water laced with cocaine or heroin. In every single case the rats tested the two bottles and then kept returning to the drug. In the end every rat in the study overdosed and died.
Dr Alexander, however, wanted to find out whether environmental factors would influence the rats’ behaviour. Instead of putting the rats in solitary isolation he built rat parks where many rats could socialise, play and have sex. He then put the same two water bottles in the parks – one with plain water and the other laced with drugs. In this case the rats preferred the plain water. Some of them did occasionally go for a high, but they did not do so repetitively and none of the rats overdosed.
This study illustrates very clearly how important community is for our psychological wellbeing. Obviously we are not rats frolicking in plywood parks but the same principles that apply to the rats also apply to human beings. We all need to be part of a community and in order to thrive we need friendship and support.
The importance of community
When we are going through tough times it is our community that will help us to get through. It is our friends and loved ones who will provide us with the comfort and support that we need.
We all need to feel loved and accepted. It is only when we feel loved and supported that we can start to heal our wounds and build resilience.
It is only when we have others to lean on that we can start to overcome our challenges. So if you are feeling lost and alone, reach out to your tribe and let them help you back to solid ground.
How to build a supportive community of friends
Sometimes, particularly after having emerged from an abusive relationship, we find ourselves isolated. Narcissists often try to separate us from our friends and family in order to better control us. As a result, we can find ourselves feeling lonely and lost.
If you find yourself in this situation, don’t despair. It is possible to build a new supportive community of friends. Here are a few suggestions:
- Join a club or organisation that aligns with your interests. This is a great way to meet like-minded people.
- Volunteer for a cause that you are passionate about. Not only will you be helping others, but you will also have the opportunity to meet new friends.
- Attend local events and festivals. This is a great way to meet new people in a relaxed and fun setting.
- Go to a local café or restaurant by yourself and strike up conversations with the people around you. It may feel daunting at first, but you may be surprised at how friendly and open people can be.
- Reach out to old friends and family members whom you have lost touch with. It’s never too late to rekindle old friendships.
Building a supportive community of friends takes time and effort, but it is worth it. Surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people will make a world of difference to your recovery journey.
Growing up in an abusive family seriously damaged my self-esteem. It made me feel worthless and unimportant. My friends, however, made me feel loved and accepted. They helped me to see myself in a new light and to believe in myself. I am forever grateful to them for their support. That is why I am so grateful for my tribe. God knows what I would do without them.