Enablers and Eggshells
Stop Settling for Crumbs, or Why It’s OK to Criticize the President
In the literature that trauma therapists provide to survivors of narcissistic abuse in relationships, one of the documented phenomena that is front and center is summed up in one word: eggshells.
In essence, the eggshells experience when you’re in a relationship with a narcissist is one wherein you are constantly tiptoeing around the person you’re with, restraining yourself and your own needs for fear of when the next abuse will come. It is unpredictable, because the narcissist is volatile, explosive and often violent emotionally or physically, and the way that you protect yourself is by shutting down your body, your needs, and yourself.
Along the path into, through, and exiting a relationship with a narcissist (and it should be said that some do not make it out), you will also encounter those figures who prop the narcissist up. These folks may reinforce your eggshells experience: “if only you hadn’t provoked him, he wouldn’t have lashed out like that;” “you just need to accept who he is, and everything will be fine;” “just be grateful for what you’ve got, because some people don’t even have that;” or “he’s trying, just give it more time.”
In short, the enablers.
It’s the nature of trauma, by the way, that we carry it with us like so much baggage– unless and until we heal it. We carry our eggshells and the influence of our enablers, past or ongoing, into our future relationships.
Here is the moment where I tell you that everyone in America has been in a relationship with a narcissist, namely the former president. That may come as no surprise.
But I’m going to extrapolate this further and ask you to open your mind a little wider.
I’m going to ask you to consider the fact that we are all in a toxic relationship with the systems that govern our society.
Think about it: what happens when you step out of line with white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy?
If your gender identity is outside the binary as defined by the shape of your genitals, these systems may kill you. If you are a gender non-conforming or trans kid or person, they are trying to right now.
If you are a person with a uterus who has the crazy assumption that the organs inside your own body should be yours to decide to do with as you wish, these systems may kill you. They are trying to right now.
If you are a person who is disabled, or sick, or struggles with mental illness or addiction, and can’t therefore prop up the capitalist system with your labor, the system may kill you. It is perfectly willing to do so, as the current covid response makes plain. At minimum, it is content to make you unhoused, though its enforcers will then complain about homelessness, as if the system itself doesn’t require that punishment to keep everyone else in line.
Right now, today, the systems are killing people for the sake of “the economy,” and asking you to ignore it, as Washington bigwigs parade in ballrooms maskless, laughing at jokes about infection while knowing they have access to the latest antivirals and healthcare, and while those waiting on them hand and foot keep their masks on, trying to save their own lives.
We’re all carrying around a lot of trauma. Living under the threat of what could happen to you if you don’t conform is some serious shit.
Fall out of line and you could lose your life– to a police officer, to a violent transphobe, to a state government that hates you for getting sick or for being disabled or for having the gall to think you should be able to decide for yourself whether you want to become a parent.
Living with that fear day in and day out is brutal– though to be sure, it falls to some of us more than to others depending on the shade of our skin, our relative gender conformity, our wealth or lack thereof, our sexual orientation, where we were born.
But traumatizing to all of us it is, because at any moment, the one under threat could be you.
Along the path we’re all currently walking together, as in every abusive relationship, there are folks you will encounter who are enforcers and enablers– those who are so wedded to power, even if they wield such a tiny shred of it that their proximity to power is hanging by a thread, who play the role of “proxies of the state,” as Dayna Lynn Nuckolls has coined it, to keep all of us in line.
Sometimes, these folks are strangers you meet on the internet. Sometimes, they are people you encounter while masked in your supermarket, or on an airplane, or folks who sit on your school board, or who represent you in Congress.
Sometimes, they are the people who raised you, or people in your own home.
The question I want to ask you to consider is who snaps you back into line when you ask for what you need. Who in your life says to you “stop asking, or it will get worse”?
Lately on the interwebs, there is a growing phenomenon that disturbs me. If you’ve ever criticized the current president or the Democratic party, you have likely encountered it.
The response you get is something along the lines of “oh, so you’d rather have Trump?”
Or “we have to project unity, or they’ll elect him again, or someone worse!”
Or “look at all these things Biden has done for the economy! Just ignore that people are still dying of Covid and folks can’t afford rent or to feed their families. Vote blue!”
Sometimes, it’s a lot worse than that. This weekend alone, I was called stupid, had my law degree questioned, was referred to as a “chaos agent,” simply for questioning whether it made any sense for Nancy Pelosi to visit Ukraine in the current environment at home.
Wade into why Biden should forgive student loan debt, and you’ll get this on steroids. So-called moderate democrats will sling abuse at you for, god forbid, asking for something that would vastly narrow the racial wealth gap, on an issue that has been publicly acknowledged to be holding the Biden agenda back.
“Oh, so you want a free ride? What about me? I paid my loans already.”
Or “just imagine how much the rich white folks are going to resent this– they’ll never vote for Democrats if he does this.”
Let’s take another example: the child tax credit. Congress failed to renew the child tax credit last year, which objectively lifted a third of the nation’s children, and half of all Black and Hispanic kids, out of poverty. This Congress, under Democrats, failed to renew it, and returned those kids and their households to life below the poverty line.
But you’d better not mention that, or “it’ll cost us the House.” Better not demand more, or “your candidate won’t be electable.” Ask for the baseline of the use of your own tax dollars to benefit the working poor and their kids, and you just might be met with the claim that “it’s impossible, and just remember how bad it was under Trump!”
The real kicker to all of this? These people are supposedly on the same side.
Sometimes, the enablers are people in your own home.
Sometimes, the folks who remind you to walk on eggshells are the people you live with.
Just don’t ask for what would make your life liveable, for what would make you truly free, or your abuser will be back.
Maybe, he never left.
In healthy relationships, it’s ok to ask for what you need.
In healthy relationships, it’s ok to say to your partner or your friends or your family, “I’m struggling and I’m scared and I need help.”
In healthy relationships, those folks don’t say to you “what, you expect help? Just imagine how much bad it could be! Now shush, get back to work, and be grateful for the crumbs you’re being tossed. And stay there, or it will get worse.”
In healthy relationships, those folks respond with love, and kindness, and safety nets.
In healthy relationships, folks aren’t left to flounder and die alone.
I’m tired. I know we all are.
We’ve lived through a mass death and disabling event that is still ongoing. The systems of our society extract everything we’ve got to give and then some, just to survive.
But I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste any more time replicating trauma.
I want more for us, for every marginalized person, for the entire nation, and for my kids’ future.
If we can’t criticize the President, or his administration, or the systems that keep us down, for fear of a threatened beating in the form of another far right president or party (hint: that party is already here), we’re replicating complicity with a system that only serves a tiny fraction of the population.
We’re settling for the crumbs of what they’re giving us when we capitulate to that— and make no mistake about it, they are crumbs.
“The economy” doesn’t mean you can feed your family when minimum wage hasn’t moved in thirteen years.
“Jobs numbers” don’t mean you can pay your rent if you’ve got long Covid.
When trans kids are under attack, and there’s no federal legislation protecting their rights and recognizing their personhood, we’re getting crumbs.
When the right to abortion is mere weeks from being eradicated by the Supreme Court but could be saved by legislation codifying that right, we’re getting crumbs.
When children are returned to poverty because the legislature that is currently under Democratic control can’t even pass a revised child tax credit, we’re getting crumbs.
The point of participatory democracy that’s supposed to represent all of us is that we are allowed to petition our leaders for change. We’re actually supposed to do that.
Democracy doesn’t function if we don’t.
This is a plea, if ever there was one: use your voice. Use it now.
Because the point of where we are in history is that if we walk on eggshells, if we listen to enablers, if we settle for the crumbs of what we are being given, it will not change.
Let them threaten and let them snap. Let them swarm and harass and troll. Our lives are already under threat, right now.
Demand better. Demand a society where the most vulnerable do not fall through the cracks and where your housing and your food are guaranteed as rights and where if you’re sick you can get whatever care you need and where children aren’t attacked for being themselves.
The harm is ongoing and it won’t stop until we stop it.
And sometimes, today, the trauma is enough.