I grew up with the feeling that I was doing everything wrong. After all, when something happened at home, I was the first one to point a finger at. If my mother was in a bad mood, I was the first one to be blamed for it. Inside of me, there grew a feeling that I could never get it right.
So this is how I become people pleaser. I wanted to get it right. I really tried hard. When I got negative feedback, I tried harder. I worked longer. I went out of my way to achieve whatever I thought would bring me my mother approval.
It was not only that I grew sad because of constant blaming. No, I also felt afraid. Afraid that again, I might have done something wrong and this would entirely ruin my safety. After all, my mother angry was a horrible view. She did not control her actions at all. For a small child it felt life threatening.
So, in order to avoid dealing with this anger, I internalized her messages. I developed a strong critic that was always able to see potentially pitfalls in my actions. I started to see myself as always wrong. Soon she did not even have to say anything, I already blamed myself to the degree that what she said was completely irrelevant.
So when my inner critic got stronger, I started feeling more and more wrong. Inside of me there has always been this sadness. Feeling of being devalued and unregonized. I, in fact, have devalued myself the most. I have no idea how to solve this yet, but I am trying to move slowly towards banishing this inner critic so that I could stop blaming myself for all the things in my life that I have not achieved.
I have spent last years feeling that I am not good enough for my boyfriend. Oddly enough this feeling is so ingrained in me that it usually takes a third person to point out fallacies in my thinking. Before I get into why and how exactly I have felt like I am not good enough, let me explain the background of this feeling.
The conflicts in my family were usually solved in one way – me apologizing for being wrong. Actually, come to think of it, I do not remember a single instance where my mother has ever admitted to being wrong. So it got ingrained in me – I was fallible. So fallible that in fact, I should first and foremost always look for mistakes in myself. Furthermore, I should not have any expectations on how other people should behave with me, but rather I should take care of fulfilling their expectations. This is the pattern I have continued in my relationships. I have been mighty concerned about satisfying my boyfriend’s expectations.
Few days ago a friend asked me introduced me to a mind blowing perspective – in all situations your partner should take into account who you are. It is not fair for him to expect that you become a social butterfly when you are not. This somehow challenged something deep in me. I have spent so much time thinking how I am behaving in imperfect ways that I have totally neglected that my partner in fact has very little consideration and respect towards who I am. If I do not behave according to his expectations in certain situations, I am made to take a blame for my ‘inappropriate behavior’. These situations hardly ever take into account who I am and his interpretation of these is always that I am in fact wrong.
I have yet no idea what to do with this information, but I shall continue my reframing process.
I am slowly coming to the realization that, I have assumed responsibility for other people’s behavior and feelings my whole life. For instance, I assumed that my ex boyfriend’s inability to express his love to me was connected to me not being good enough. Surely, with someone else he would have been open to expressing his love.
It is a very difficult way of living- you constantly assume responsibility and blame for how others treat you. When someone oversteps your borders, you do not think- well I must just inform this other person about my borders. No, you rather think- what is wrong with me that, they feel they can treat me this way? Why do they assume that I am so bad?
Other people become just extensions of you- they do not have their own will. Hence, their behaviors say something about you and not them.
I have always thought that way and I am only now moving away from this way of thinking. This bias is usually a result of an abusive childhood where you do not develop clear borders between you and your caregiver. It is very common with narcissistic parents, who by definition see you as an extension of themselves. So you do learn that, everything you do, is going to impact the wellbeing of your parents. So when mommy is angry, it must be because you messed up. The world centers around you and other beings reflect your value back to you- when they treat you badly, this means you have low value, not that they are assholes.
I am at the final stages of my therapy- I can feel it. One of the things still to be adressed is my fear for the world. I am afraid of independent living and I am afraid of the world. For someone who has no experience with narcissistic childhood that, might sound weird. For me it is not weird, it is what the world has always felt.
My boyfriend finds it extremely confusing that I am always obsessed about doing the right thing. I am unable to make decisions because I imagine that somehow my life will be the direct consequence of my decisions. If I only make the right decisions, everything will be fine. This also means that all the bad that happens in my life could be pinned down to my inadequate decisions or more generally inappropriate actions.
I got so used to being held responsible for every angry outburst of my mother. She convinced me that if I had only behaved properly, those outbursts would have never happened. I got scared of doing anything. Usually I could not predict her reactions on my actions, so in fact, inaction was safer…..or running everything through my mother to be sure that there were not horrible consequences for my actions.
I became extremely dependent on her evaluations. I was scared to make anything without having her approval. I was constantly scared of her reactions and convinced that her negative reactions meant that I had messed up once again. I treasured the moments everything was fine between us and I had her approval. Those were rare moments of safety. The rest of the time I was constantly anxious about having done something wrong.
Guess what, in my mind, I am still expecting someone to punish me for some perceived mistakes. I assume that if something goes wrong, it is god sent punishment for being a bad person….for making mistakes.
This is something which is yet to be solved in my therapy..
Throughout my relationship with my partner I have had a nagging sense that something is wrong. I could never put my finger on it, because my family of origin is not exactly known for sanity. In fact, coming from this background makes it extremely difficult to make any relationship related decisions, because you have no idea what constitutes a healthy and supportive behavior.
I have a sense that I am finally cracking out what is wrong with our relationship from his side (note that this is not say that there is nothing wrong with my behavior). For more than four years I have tried to resolve our issues, find solutions for our frequent problems. As normal for someone who has been scapegoated, I assumed the main responsibility for our conflicts. My boyfriend was used to putting our arguments off as my problems. The usual pattern that was established was me going and changing myself after the arguments to eliminate my problem which caused the argument.
Something started to shift in this spring when I dared to tell him that maybe he should consider changing his behavior instead- the argument started with him complaining about my behavior. At this point it seemed outrageous to me and I felt immensely guilty for my remark. However, the next month saw me becoming more and more convinced that the problem was not anymore in me and he was using me as a convenient excuse for hiding away from his problems.
After yet another argument, I am left confused once again. It is not even important what the issue is, it seems to me that my partner just does not hear me. He is so busy telling me how I am to be blamed for the existence of the problem and how everything can be solved by me changing my behavior once again that whatever reservations I have about his behavior become unimportant. It is a little bit like you are going crazy- you are wondering why do I feel so bad after these arguments? Why do I feel ran over? Why do I feel they do not get solved? I think they do not get solved because my concerns are never addressed. Instead I hear often how it is my job to go and fix myself in therapy.
Faithallen in (faithallen.wordpress.com) is writing that together with therapy, some relationships might end or at least change its face. I have never experienced it to such a degree as currently with my best friend.
Our friendship has always functioned in a way that she was the one put-together, giving me advice on various matters and getting to have the upper hand in the relationship. I was the needy one, in need of advice and support. What is happening is, that together with not being so needy, I have started gaining my own voice. So couple of weeks ago I confronted her about her behavior where she was forcing on me her advice and opinion (on a regular basis) by saying that I would appreciate if she in the future would refrain from such a behavior. Naturally she did not take it well, moreover, she pulled the martyr card by saying how she is not allowed to tell me anything, because I am so sensitive, and how I am not taking her good advice.
So I concluded that our relationship has functioned in a manner where I always looked up to her- she was the one whose life was together. This form of relationship meant that I hardly ever criticized her or gave her advice, whereas she had always felt even invited by me, to give me advice and criticism. So I understood something I had missed throughout these years- she cannot accept criticism. She cannot accept someone saying that some of her comments or her behavior is not OK.
The whole drama escalated at some point when she started wondering why I have not contacted her. So I had to tell her, that I found her behavior problematic. This only started the long series of accusations towards me and ended with her declaration that I should have just told her if I do not want to be her friend.
This is something I find extremely difficult to take- people that cannot take any negative comments on their behavior. You drawing your borders and saying- I have heard you advice and criticism, but I choose not to take it, is not acceptable. This is due to the fact that this criticism is not given on your behalf. This advice is given to make them feel better about themselves, as if they would help the bystanders, then these bystanders would start loving them more. Somehow, they would earn the love of these people.
As I choose not to be the helpless victim anymore, the advisors in my life also need to take a new role. They need to face the fact that I am having my voice and also might confront them about their behavior. This might be extremely difficult to some, as I have witnessed with my best friend.
I am afraid of abandonment, which is weird, because I am also afraid of trusting someone, relying on them. Perhaps these are just two sides of the same coin- you are afraid of letting someone in, because you never know when you have to let go again. It is difficult to get out of my mind my mother’s regular rages and threats to kick me out. Every time this happens, you trust a little bit less and less. Until there is nothing really left. Narcissist always tries to creep in again, after they have disowned you. For a small child this can seem heavenly- suddenly you have a parent again, someone who will take care for you. Well at least as long as you obey and fulfill their needs.
In my past relationships that was exactly the strategy I used- tried to obey, tried to follow the rules and still I struggled to commit. The pain and the fear of abandonment were too real to let go and trust. I developed a funny combination with my boyfriends, something between dependency and keeping my distance. On one hand I was extremely dependent on them for providing me love and security, on the other hand, something in me kept screaming- “Do not let them too close”. Every small and not so small sign of rejection made me back off, eroded my trust just a little bit. Until there was nothing left. Again.
I did this for a while, never really understanding what was going on. Hell, I still do this, but now I am also actively fighting it. I am putting myself to situations where I have to be alone, just to test my ability to stand it. Well, it is still terrifying and I lose a lot in my functionality. Life seems hopeless. I am testing the waters of trusting, but I am still regularly disappointed and hurt. People seem distant, they never seem to have time for you. Lets not forget, that my needs are not these of a normal adult, but those of a small child. I want to finally find this one person that can protect me and will never let me go.
Where are you? Have I missed you in my search, have I pushed you away? Have I scared you with my neediness? Surely, I am at fault, who else. Because the alternative would be to believe that you have no control over what is happening. If I were to think that my caretaker really was unreliable and instable, I would be pushed to absolute powerlessness. Instead, I kept looking for fault in myself, at least I felt a little bit of hope and power that way.
I found this article https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201311/the-narcissistic-mother and I almost jumped. Seriously, I have yet to find an article that would summarize my mother’s behavior in a better way.
What I have found throughout my life confusing about my mother is that I cannot wholeheartedly claim that she does not care. In fact there was a lot of “caring” in our house. She cared about how I looked, how I studied etc etc. However, for some reason you really do not feel like they care. Yes, they study together with you, yes they choose clothes with you, but you are still left with the feeling, that something is not “quite right”.
Well, the thing that is not quite right is that- actually they care about how they look to the world. All my elementary school teachers knew what my mother was doing for a living. She made sure that I would not embarrass her with my study results, even though I was not particularly bright. The fact that I might not be as smart as she was, was something my mother simply could not accept. She made me learn some things for hours, until I had mastered it perfectly. Every time I got a bad grade I was afraid to go home. It was not that she made a huge deal about my bad grades every time, just when “she felt like it”. But, well in reality, you just never know what to expect, so you start to over-perform in all areas, just to avoid your mother’s rages.
Yes, her rages. I really could not predict those. Sometimes she would come home being totally calm and sometimes she would start yelling at me at the instant she walked in. Sometimes we could actually sit at the kitchen table and talk and sometimes I would have to prepare myself for listening to hours and hours of accusations as to “what a horrible child and human being I am”. There was no way out of the fight with my mother, she was in it for the kill. Some of our fights escalated to the point where my mother kicked me out of our apartment, telling me to go and enjoy life on the streets. She has disowned me for more times I can remember. It took me years to finally go along with it and say- fine, you disown me, I will not bother you anymore.
My childhood was spent in constant fear and wish to keep mommy happy. Unfortunately she never quite was. Unsurprisingly she still is not. However, I am working hard for my own happiness now.
When you are struggling with abandonment fear, chances are there is at least a little bit of a people pleaser in you. You either struggle saying no to people or try to do your best not anger them. Before I started my therapy I was almost unable to confront anyone. I would still get mad at people, but I would usually talk about “how awful someone was” with some other person. I had no courage to confront my ex-boyfriends either, instead I chose much more “proactive” solution- I just assumed that they should know things. When they did not behave the way I wanted them to behave, although I never communicated my wishes, I just assumed that they were not right for me. The right guy would obviously know my wishes, so that I would not have to really express myself and risk with rejection. Sounds reasonable, does it not?
One of my big advancements is that I have learned to say “Fuck you” to people. Sounds awful? Well for me it sounds like an achievement. I get an immense feeling of empowerment out of this. Couple of years ago I would have never imagined that I could actually confront people about their less than perfect behavior towards me. Of course people notice it and they start testing your borders. The more you allow them to do, the more they actually do. I struggled with colleagues that turned to me only when they needed some favors but ignored me the rest of the time, I struggled with renters that thought they could just scare me into ending their contract etc etc. The more volatile people are, the more they will sense your helplessness. Psychological theory puts abusers together with those that are helpless and scared. So chances are that as a pleaser you will naturally attract people that take advantage of you.
Most abuse victims report that their friendship circles have change after the therapy. Well my friends circle has not changed that much neither have I actually yet experienced that I attract “healthier” people, but I do notice that I interact with people in a different way. Nevertheless the initial reaction to take the blame and apologize is still very strong. I had a situation at work today where someone was accusing me of missing the deadline. My first reaction was of course to apologize and feel very guilty. Only couple of hours later when I analyzed the situation and actually recognized that no one had communicated with me about the deadline, was I able to react in a more constructive way. Even though I know I had a point about the deadline, I am scared to open my email to check what the other person has answered. I am still scared of yelling, blaming and abandonment. However, now, my reactions are not as strong and I am able to observe the whole situation from a neutral viewpoint.
Sometimes I really envy people who can talk about their exes as assholes. I have a hate-love relationship with those people. Some part of me wishes I could do the same- that I could look back at my exes and think- they really did not deserve me. Instead, I however, mostly end up thinking I did not deserve them and that it was mostly my fault that these relationships fell apart. Reading self-help literature has made me realize about all the mistakes I made.
I have always been a family scapegoat, well the family being me and my mother. The truth was, most of our problems were put on me, no matter how old I was. I am still extremely susceptible to blame. I wonder if that is part of feeling helpless throughout my childhood and wanting to believe that I had at least some kind of control. The wishful thinking that if you only had been a better child, your father would have not abandoned you and your mother would have shown more love towards you. Anyhow, blaming myself still comes relatively easy to me. I am doing my best to control it and things have actually advanced to the point where I can stay strong while confronting my boyfriend who likes to, surprise, surprise, hold me accountable for our relationship issues. This has not come easy, in fact, it has taken three years of therapy to even get to that level. However, I am now able to draw some borders and say no and hold my ground in the middle of arguments without being afraid that I will risk abandonment.
Nevertheless, realizing how big role abandonment issues played in my relationships, where I never entered fully, since I did not believe they would last, makes me feel sorry for all the missed chances. It makes me want to apologize for my exes and say that I screwed up. I cannot take back what I did, but I wish I could start over, be twenty again and avoid all the heartbreak on my way.
I spent countless years criticizing other people’s relationships. It was a great hideaway strategy from my own issues. By criticizing others, I could make myself believe that I did not have problems with commitment, it was other people who settled. It has taken me surprisingly long to own up my feelings and understand how criticizing other people has been caused by my abandonment fear. How can they make their relationships work, but I cannot? There must be something wrong with their relationships- a good strategy to avoid dealing with my own shame and desperation.
I hope that one day I can have the same kind of not-ideal but committed relationship that other people, I have been criticizing so far, have.