A Grin Without a Cat
“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!”
(ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, LEWIS CARROLL)
Alice’s trip into Wonderland would become curioser and curioser… just like our own trip into the reality-distortion field of the psychopath, a real-life Cheshire Cat with nothing at all behind his grin.
Alice’s story was fictional and based on a wild dream. But many of the experiences we had–and the messages they hold for us–are remarkably similar to hers.
The Cheshire Cat is unique among Wonderland creatures. Threatened by no one, it maintains a cool, grinning outsider status. The Cheshire Cat has insight into the workings of Wonderland as a whole. Its calm explanation to Alice that to be in Wonderland is to be “mad” reveals a number of points that do not occur to Alice on her own. The Cheshire Cat points out that Wonderland is ruled by nonsense, and as a result, Alice’s normal behavior is inconsistent with its operating principles, so Alice herself becomes “mad” in the context of Wonderland.
(SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” SparkNotes LLC. 2005)
Illustration by John Tenniel
In the crazy, nonsensical world the psychopath created for us, we were made out to be the “mad” ones. When we return to the context of normality, we see things as they actually were. It was not us who were crazy.
In Wonderland, Alice encountered many puzzling things that seemed to have no clear explanation. Like the rest of us, Alice expected that the situations she encountered would make some kind of sense, but they repeatedly frustrated her ability to figure them out. Much like Alice, we tried to make the inexplicable fit into our own reality, but it did not work and only led us farther astray.
‘You see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.’
‘I call it purring, not growling,’ said Alice.
‘Call it what you like,’ said the Cat.
The Cheshire Cat reminds us that we often came up with explanations for the perplexing things the psychopath said and did, to try and make them fit our image of them and the relationship. But no matter how we tried to excuse it, much of it was, well, mad.
The tension of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland emerges when Alice’s fixed perspective of the world comes into contact with the mad, illogical world of Wonderland. Alice’s fixed sense of order clashes with the madness she finds in Wonderland… Her fundamental beliefs face challenges at every turn, and as a result Alice suffers an identity crisis.
We were made to feel desperate to understand and to fit into a world that made no sense; we became desperate for approval, for some sign that we were acceptable. It’s no wonder our “looking-glass selves” gave us an identity crises.
Even though you’re back on your side of the looking glass, you may still be stuck in that crisis. As Alice said, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” Change and growth born from trauma is never easy, but it can be more than worthwhile. You may very well end up much “muchier” than you ever were before.
‘Please would you tell me,’ said Alice, a little timidly, for she was not quite sure whether it was good manners for her to speak first, ‘why your cat grins like that?’
‘It’s a Cheshire cat,’ said the Duchess, ‘and that’s why.'”
Often we have questions that persist, sometimes even for years. Why did he _________? Why did he say _______? There is no way to make sense of it. He did and said those things because he was a psychopath “and that’s why,” as the Duchess said. Although Alice’s experiences lend themselves to meaningful observations, they resist a single, rational and comprehensible interpretation. So do ours. Instead of trying to make sense of each nonsensical detail, look at the big picture. That is where answers and meaning are found.
If you plot your course in detail, you stand a much better chance of seeing when things have taken a wrong turn… even if it happens very gradually, as these things tend to do. What do you want from a relationship? How do you want to feel? What do you want in a partner? And what don’t you want?
With your experience behind you, you will be able to answer these questions. Chances are good that the psychopath you were involved with taught you exactly what you want and don’t want in a future relationship.
‘I wish you wouldn’t keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy.’
‘All right,’ said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly,
beginning with the end of the tail,
and ending with the grin,
which remained for some time after the rest of it had gone.
When you truly understand there was nothing real or solid behind it, that grin will finally disappear.
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“Five Stars. Very helpful.”
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