As an adult child of a narcissist and a codependent compromising myself kind of comes quite naturally to me… doing anything and everything to make my parents happy, to make them be nice to me. Watching them closely. Figuring them out. The hyper-vigilance woven through every fibre of my child brain. If they were in a bad mood, what had I done wrong? If they were angry, how could I make them happy again? Are they angry…? What is it they’re trying to passive aggressively express to me? This pattern repeats as an adult. Or at least it did until I started unraveling it.
Don’t compromise yourself to make other people love you. Don’t do things you don’t want to do just because the other person will make your life easier if you do it. Don’t let other people hurt you, take you for granted, make fun of you, talk about you behind your back, make you feel inadequate or stupid. Don’t compromise yourself to make others love you. If you do, it’s not really you that they love… it’s your coping strategies and anxious attachment style, the people pleasing. The crippling low self worth and hole in your chest that you need to fill, desperately.
This isn’t about shaming or judging the intense desire to do anything and everything just to make people like/love us. I know because it’s in me. I remember when Anna first taught me about self abandonment. We worked a lot on this over the years and she really helped me understand that you really need to know yourself very well to know when you’re self abandoning. When you’ve had a lifetime of keeping the other person happy and calm, you don’t ever learn how to tune in to your own feelings. It’s that question I’ve struggled so much with in therapy, ‘what do you need?’ What do I need?? I need for you to like me? I need for you to not leave me…? I need to be different? Should I be more like you? What do you think I need? These are all self abandonments. Constantly seeking the other person to make us feel worthy. Looking for ways to be liked, admired, adored, needed, wanted. Looking for ways to be noticed by others so that they tell us the things we need to hear because we can’t feel it inside ourselves… social media and blogging could be a version of this. Depending on how much we feel it defines us. How much we feel we need it. What happens inside us when we don’t get the responses we’re expecting? What happens when we’re questioned or challenged? Is it uncomfortable? Too uncomfortable? Does it feel like a personal attack? Does it feel like a rejection? Is it easy to take feedback that disagrees with our message? Can we have a conversation around these disagreements or do we ignore, delete, shut down? Does positive encouragement and praise feel genuine and congruent? Can we take that in? What happens when we don’t have the feedback we feel we need…?
Anna helped me reflect on all of this. On the need to be secure in my own sense of self… and the reasons why that goal often feels impossible. As a child I wasn’t reflected back, not in a positive way. If ever I was given praise or felt manipulative or sarcastic or had jealous undertones. Or it was taken from me… ‘you get your creativity from me’… that kind of thing. Experiencing this emotional deprivation, this invisibility in my childhood led to me looking for positive affirmation and validation externally. Always. From teachers. From friends. From my parents… still!?? From my therapists. From strangers. I wrote before about one of the many gifts Anna gave me, by keeping herself out of the room she allowed me to find myself. I could no longer use my tried and tested tool to make her like me because I had no idea what she wanted me to be. Although as if by magic, that’s exactly what happened because I guess all she ever wanted was for me to be myself. I learned who I was while sitting in front of her session after session. What I valued, what I liked and didn’t like, what made me feel good, what scared the shit out of me, what made me feel worthy. Where a boundary needed to be installed or firmed up, where I could learn to be more flexible, where the woundings were.
The right people will love you when you are true to yourself. All my life I’ve been playing games trying to bend and contort myself to make people like me but I never felt their love or actually I never felt like I deserved it… it was incongruent. What did they love? Who was this person they loved? It certainly didn’t feel like me. It has taken me years to even begin to scratch the surface on this one. What do I need in relationships? Acceptance. Trust. Clear communication. Personal space. An attentive listener. Validation. Equality. Balance. Respect. Shared joy. Forgiveness. Authenticity. Congruence. Generosity… (and many more). When we constantly squash our own needs, wants, desires – when we ignore that voice inside – we betray ourselves and we unconsciously build up a huge store of resentment and suppressed anger. The anger can pop up in unexpected places (often times at someone that didn’t really deserve it) or at ourselves. That’s been a common theme in my sessions. Tales of all the ways I betray myself and let others betray me. Repeating the abuse. Betraying myself like I was betrayed. Violating my boundaries like they were violated in childhood. So we find ourselves doing very thing for the other person and nothing for ourselves. We martyr ourselves… ‘after everything I’ve done for him he still doesn’t x,y,z.’ If we are not happy doing something we shouldn’t do it. Boundaries! If one of our core beliefs is that we are not as worthy as the other person, we will be stuck in this never ending cycle of trying to please the person enough to make them tell us how worthy we are. We’ll let them betray our boundaries time and again in the hope that will make us worthy… but it never does. It’s quite likely the other person doesn’t even know what’s going on. The only person who is responsible for expressing and demanding respect of my boundaries is me. No shaming here though. It makes sense I would find that fucking hard. That poor little girl who had to dissociate every single feeling away to let other people do what they wanted so that she’d feel a little bit loved… a toxic, fake love.
The only certainty in this life is that my relationship with myself is the longest one I’ll ever have. So the loyalty and love has to begin here. I must not allow myself to push a boundary of mine, to lie to myself, to break my own trust after I’ve made a promise to myself. I’m getting better at drawing a line when I reach my limit of boundary pushing, by others and by myself. When the invalidation, imbalance, jealousy, selfishness, judgement becomes loud I’m able to notice and take a step back. By tuning in to what my body has been telling me all along… ‘these things don’t feel good and I deserve better.’ I don’t have to wait for others to tell me I deserve better… I do already. Only when we really feel this in the core of ourselves, can any outside validation and affirmation touch us. I’ve noticed that in the 2 sessions with Linda… her reassurance, validation and affirmations are going in! And when something doesn’t feel right? I tell her. Slowly slowly learning to have healthy relationships that no longer repeat the patterns of my childhood abuse.