I’d Rather Feel Bad Than Not Feel Anything At All

Do you guys like The Pixies? I got this title from lyrics of the song Ain’t That Pretty At All, which is actually a Warren Zevon song, but I am more familiar with The Pixies cover.

There is a point to this, I promise. I want to talk about how having a narcissistic parent can steal some of your ability to feel.

Anyway, I recently discovered Neal Brennan. He co-wrote Half Baked with Dave Chappelle and was his partner on the Chappelle show. He has a show on Netflix called Three Mics. I highly recommend this, especially if you have been affected by malignant narcissism.

He talks candidly about his depression and his father’s narcissism. It wasn’t that I just identified with what he said, I fucking felt it. I felt like he opened a door in my brain and just described the contents he found. I especially identified with him when he discussed shutting down his feelings in order to exist as peacefully as possible with his father and how he lost part of himself by shutting down those feelings.

I have written about this subject before and have likened it to having my arms bound to my sides with invisible leather straps. I don’t have a full range of emotions because my emotions have been bound for most of my life. Neal describes this in a more raw and accurate way. He talks about minimizing his feelings as a child as to not draw attention from his narcissistic father. He said his ability to feel his feelings atrophied and eventually he became incapable of feeling all of his feelings. He talks about being able to feel ego and adrenaline and how he lived so long trying to feed either one just to feel something and how eventually he could no longer sustain that path.

I listened to him talk and I had an epiphany. 

My ability to feel isn’t bound. In order to bind something, it must exist. I am coming to the realization that part of my ability to feel is just gone. I don’t have some of the pieces. A progression of emotional growth happens from childhood to adulthood. If your parent is a narcissist, that progression gets fractured, distorted and ignored. You miss out on basic tools needed to successfully navigate your way to emotional maturity.

That’s not to say that I feel nothing. I feel all sorts of things. I feel emotional pain. I feel sadness and grief. Kind of. Grief is hard for me and I’m still working on how to process it, but I definitely feel it. I often feel content or joyful. I often feel happy. I feel love and empathy. I feel annoyance and gratitude. I just don’t feel a lot of excitement when good things happen to me. I want to feel excitement. I want to experience the thrill of accomplishing something important to me.

It’s not that I feel no excitement, but it’s not a pure experience. It’s more like I am watching it happen and then might absorb some of the secondary waves from beyond a thick slab of scratched up plexi-glass.

I resent this was taken from me. I am sad I haven’t found a way to get that back, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to stop searching for a way to get it back. So far, that search has not made me feel good. So far, that search has made me feel weak and lacking.

I do enjoy my accomplishments. I have enjoyed the few times I’ve performed on stage. I love selling my words. I love connecting with other humans through my writing. These things mean a lot to me, but I always feel slightly removed from these events as if they belong to someone else. Someone who is quite a lot like me, but not exactly me.

I’ve tried to pay attention, stay in the moment, and concentrate on truly feeling the excitement of recognition for my accomplishments. I always fall short and it is kind of a drag. I mean, I’m better off just taking in the feelings as best I can without fucking it up more by trying to force something that I have no capacity for.

Perhaps, I need to let go searching for reclaiming my excitement and joy in my accomplishments and appreciate the feelings that I do experience. Perhaps, I should focus on connecting more, on a personal level, with the other humans. I need to remind myself how deeply I love and how deeply I am loved. It took a long time, but the ability to feel deep and enduring love did develop for me. So, who knows? Maybe I’m not finished evolving.

I am nearly sure I am not done evolving.

Apparently, I can’t force any part of this evolution. Change will happen if it happens.

In the meantime, it feels good to know I’m not alone.

Add your comments below. Profanity is encouraged, but not required. ;)
  1. Fiona says:

    You most certainly are not alone, and you are connecting all of us who know and love you through your writing. That’s the easy comment, the other stuff, I’ll have to think about it. I like the idea of not being “finished” though. There’s always space to grow!

  2. Donna says:

    Come up here (seriously) – we’ll lay on the beach, right in the sand, and unclench/unlock to the point that we can freely feel what we feel. We’ll experience the whole ball of wax from despair to elation. And then we’ll go have a nice glass or 5 of Chianti, tell stories, laugh and, likely, snort vino out our schnozzes.

    I try to do this daily – being aware of my feelings and letting them be. Evolution happens. I might be ALL better by the time I’m 65 //snort//

  3. Your willingness to express what has happened and your refusal to bury it will hurt you before it heals.

    I wish you steady steps forward toward those new feeling, healing times.

  4. Paula says:

    Right after my divorce, I started going to a therapist. She identified my ex as a narcissist. There is a theory that you marry someone like your parent to work out those issues unresolved from your childhood. He was like my mother. She died in April. Unfortunately,my first feeling when she died was relief and freedom. To make matters worse, I am an only child. I am very close to my two grown children. They get it as well. My son is very angry with her because she left us such a mess. I try really hard to let them have their lives, no guilt trips. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your posts on this subject, Michelle, it helps me work through my own shit.

  5. Lisa K says:

    I’m scared to let myself feel anything.
    I try very hard not to cry.
    What if I can’t make it stop, this time?
    I don’t let myself get excited and super happy, that’s just asking for someone to rob your joy. If they don’t know what makes you happy, they can’t take it away.
    Lately, I have a hard time being around babies. Poor things have nothing to look forward to and I don’t want to feel sorry for them, get attached to them and then hear what a horrible thing a parent did to them.
    I DO feel joy and contentment.
    I AM happy and motivated to go to work, feed my horses, etc…
    I’ve worked my ass off to allow a few good things to be felt.
    But. In order to feel uncompromised joy and love, one must be able to sink to the depths of despair and feel sorrow, pain and be empathetic.
    I know better than to do that.
    My walls are fine.
    My walls are necessary.
    I’m not that well.
    But it’s OK if you are.
    I will do everything in my power to protect your joy and happy, that’s how we’re supposed to do it.
    Damn soul vampires…

  6. Emily says:

    “Someone who is quite a lot like me but not exactly me….”

    I’m a classically trained musician and, boy, do I recognize that. I went a step further and perform under my maiden name, using my married name (while divorced) for everything else. My kids have my married name, after all.

    I don’t know that one ever really recovers totally. It’s a bit like going through life in leg irons. But going at the problem, as you are doing, in time will free up some ground. Worth it.

  7. mydangblog says:

    My mom wasn’t a narcissist, but she had a pretty major stroke at 21 before she had me, which left her with a lack of impulse control, and a huge bag of anger management issues. I have no role modelling for dealing with anger, so I just don’t get angry, as much as I can. Unfortunately, when I DO get angry, I have no coping mechanism and don’t know how to get past it. Mostly, I just wait it out and eventually it goes away. Also, when I get angry, I don’t like to be touched, maybe because I got hit a lot as a kid. Who knows? At any rate, she’s a great mom now, after a lot of doctors and meds, and recognizes how awful things were to the point where she bends over backwards to make my life easier, god love her. That was long, and I know it’s not the same as you, but I definitely understand your struggles.

  8. Pia says:

    When I was a kid I looked for the meaning of life in song lyrics. I still do which says much about my maturity level.

    But I believe that we’re always works in progress, and that the moment we stop evolving we start dying. Not in the sense that our cells are dying off–that always happens. But in the cells are dying and our brains are going even faster sense.

    That leads to excitement and joy–ebbs and flows with the years. I’m the opposite of spiritual and mindful though I would love to be both but I have been finding that working at excitement and joy by doing things outside my comfort level–basically everything is—and being mindful of the achievement, small as it might be, brings back some of the excitement and joy I took as my birthright in my late teens through 40.

    Great post-obviously I thought so as my comment is a book!

    • Michelle says:

      I love long comments..I love to know what people are thinking. Comfort level. Yeah, I’ve forced myself out of it a few times, but I need to do more. Just as soon as I’m done painting my house. Which will be never.

  9. Barbara says:

    These latest posts are really making me think, and feel, Michelle. I’m nearing the end of my memoir, (which ends with my marriage), and it made me realize the man I fell in love with, who is not demonstrative or passionate, has been the perfect match all these years because he recognizes the wall I’ve put around my feelings my entire life. Deep down I’ve wanted that kind of love but, have been unable to let it in. Thanks for shining a light for me. Now I have to go edit, again.

  10. Onlyme says:

    You are definitely not alone…..you just described me to myself. Wow.

  11. I wouldn’t be surprised if you felt but didn’t know you were feeling. That probably doesn’t make sense but those walls and guards we build are tough. They knock back the feelings with some exceptions before we get the chance to really own them.
    I can pinpoint the exact moment I stopped bothering to get that full experience. But I want better for you and I hope it comes!

  12. Doug in Oakland says:

    “Humpty Dumpty” by Aimee Mann

    Say you were split, you were split in fragments
    And none of the pieces would talk to you
    Wouldn’t you want to be who you had been
    Well baby I want that too

    So better take the keys and drive forever
    Staying won’t put these futures back together
    All the perfect drugs and superheros
    Wouldn’t be enough to bring me up to zero

    Baby, I bet you’ve been more than patience
    Saying it’s not a catastrophe
    But I’m not the girl you once put your faith in
    Just someone who looks like me

    So better take the keys and drive forever
    Staying won’t put these futures back together
    All the perfect drugs and superheros
    Wouldn’t be enough to bring me up to zero

    So get out while you can
    Get out while you can baby I’m pouring quick sand
    And sinking is all I have planned
    So better just go

    Oh, better take the keys and drive forever
    Staying won’t put these futures back together
    All the perfect drugs and superheros
    Wouldn’t be enough to bring me up to zero

    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
    Couldn’t put baby together again
    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
    Couldn’t put baby together again

    In motorcycle racing, they call it “run what you brung”, I don’t know what they’re calling it in life these days, but I do know that depression will have you feeling bad in order to feel anything at all.
    The fucked up part about that (one of them) is that you can be fully aware of what you’re doing and still get right on with the feeling bad thing.
    Kurt Vonnegut called it “bad chemicals” but didn’t (perhaps couldn’t?) get around to the “good chemicals” part.
    I did my own investigation with the altering of chemistry approach, and while it had its moments, I wouldn’t recommend it, unless the chemicals are administered by someone who knows what they are doing.
    Personal evolution? Could be that’s what we’re here for, that and helping each other through it.

  13. C.S. Lewis said “We read to know we are not alone.”
    One of the nice things about the music of The Pixies, not to mention Warren Zevon–I’m kind of a fan and his song “Splendid Isolation” comes up pretty frequently on my playlist–is they make us feel less alone.
    It’s hard when there are no easy answers, harder when there may not be any answers at all.
    As a certain Angel said, “Deja vu isn’t what it used to be.” I don’t know if that has anything to do with anything, but I know you’ll recognize the source and I hope it makes you feel less alone.

  14. Mary-Anne says:

    I hear you. I have similar problems with feeling – except profound sadness – I can feel that for sure. I blame it on the medication I am on, but I am sure my upbringing had a lot to do with it too.
    I have been listening to some lectures by Pema Chodrun and they have been really resonating with me. It is about triggers and I am also attending a group for trauma recovery – but anyways it is about not hoping for change but living in the moment and being where we are as we work through our triggers. I am not paraphrasing it very well but she says that hope can trigger us as much as despair does. This makes sense – at least to me. So I loved the ending of your piece about focusing more on what you have, how you love and are loved. That is a healing place for me too.

  15. The more you write about your journey through this, and your experience, the better I seem to absorb my therapist’s messages. She should pay you part of her session fees!

  16. I’m going to have to put this one under the microscope to see if I share this trait. I’m not sure though I did experience a narcissist parent….she’s on the sidelines right now. What I have learned is that when I start to go deep into a dark, perhaps dangerous or at a minimum damaging, rabbit hole – I hesitate. Like the person who sees the slight of hand right before the magician’s trick – I’m like – wait a minute, look over here. My mind can be a bad neighborhood. I have to remind myself that feelings aren’t facts and neither are hunches. That’s tricky right – we’re all told to “trust” our gut instinct – well mine is faulty but not consistently enough that I can totally dismiss it. So I can’t always trust my first reaction and that sucks.

  17. Kate says:


    I have been getting caught up on your entries, and when I read this about Neal Brennan’s show, I, too, had an epiphany. Not about my own parenting – no narcissistic parents, thankfully – but about my husband’s father.

    Having been married for decades, you’d think I would’ve figured this out. Better late than never. It opened my mind to a gut-wrenching truth about my husband’s reserved nature, and lack of outward emotional reaction to incidents and events. I was dumbfounded and, I admit, angry at him at times for his seemingly robotic response to things that demanded a far different reaction. We discussed it at length, and both felt lighter and more deeply connected afterward.

    Then we watched the show and it was stellar, simply outstanding. I really cannot thank you enough.