Neal Brennan 3 Mics 2017 (Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/watch/80117452?) is a Netflix comedy special (which I get it, I’m late in coming to!) divided into three parts – one liners, stand up comedy, and “emotional stuff”. In the “emotional stuff” segments, Brennan tells his story with brutal honesty. He shares with us his life long struggle with depression and the challenges of having had a violent, alcoholic, narcissistic father.
There was so much wisdom in what he shared about depression – and depression as a consequence of a narcissistic parent, that I had to explore and share. I have been privy to so many similar stories, my own included – and I just felt how he talked about it gave a new vocabulary we could use to help ourselves.
First of all, how Mr. Brennan “defined” Clinical Depression.. He likened it to a virus. This virus has your brain spew out negative thoughts, sadly, mostly about your imagined shortcomings. What I love about this definition, is that it “personifies” depression, it “externalizes” it. When those negative thoughts come now, I can say – ah there is that virus! – rather than slip down the rabbit hole of believing these thoughts. That’s an important line of defence!!
In talking about having a narcissistic parent, we can all relate when he shares that “the entire mood of the house was determined” by the narcissistic parent, so as children we learned to “minimize feelings to appease” that parent. The problem is we minimize to the degree that these feelings “atrophy – and we are incapable of having them”. That “muscle” to feel joy, satisfaction, love, has atrophied – but not disappeared! What makes it hopeful to me, is that an atrophied muscle can be woken up! We can start the exercises that allow us to feel .. our own feelings again. I am sure this happened for Mr. Brennan as he discovered he was a “lover” :). You have to have that muscle to be able to love.
In therapy we often discuss and work on “poor self-esteem” as a consequence of growing up in a narcissistic family system. Brennan talks about having NO self-esteem, not necessarily poor self esteem. “I don’t have the architecture for good feelings. You could give me a trophy and it would just slip through – I have no shelving”. So very powerful. When you look up the definition of self esteem you find: “personal overall subjective sense of personal worth or value”. Well if you don’t have the “architecture” to “hold” the naturally positive sense of personal worth, you’re going to struggle. I think therapy in part is about building that shelf, remodelling the inner landscape so you can hold on to something positive about yourself – no matter how small.
One exercise I often give clients from narcissistic systems is writing down what you do know about yourself. What’s your favourite colour, what’s your favourite food, favourite ice cream flavour and so on. Doesn’t matter how small the detail.. It’s YOU. Learning to listen to that voice is the beginning of building the structure needed for some of this real and positive sense of yourself to stick and become your new reality.
And that’s how we begin, one tiny Lego block at a time.
If you recognize yourself in any of this, give the show a listen. The comedy is cheering, and the honesty is healing. Thank you Mr. Brennan, I deeply appreciate your contribution to my well being.
Peace to you.