It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Scapegoat’s children: the Narcissist’s grandchildren

On 25 October 2013 I published “The Scapegoat’s Daughter,” a guest post written by a young woman named Eve who very eloquently told us about the pain narcissistic grandparents cause for the child who must watch her mother’s pain. It helped us to realize that, even if our children seem unaffected by their exposure to narcissistic grandparents, they may well be suffering just as much—if not more—than we are.

There is another facet to this, however, because not all children of scapegoats are empathetic, compassionate individuals like Eve. Some of them may be innocently influenced by their narcissistic grandparents and some of them may even be narcissists themselves. And that creates a whole new dynamic.

There is a lot that is unknown about narcissism, such as when is the onset of narcissism as a personality disorder. This is because a certain degree of narcissism is natural…even necessary…in infants and young children—it is part of the survival mechanism. How much compassion for her sleepless mother does a 3 month old infant have? Absolutely none: the infant wants something and it cries, regardless of what else is going on. This behavior, however, is supposed to diminish with age and maturity. Toddlers are pretty much without empathy for other creatures, even other people. Susie wants the toy Mary has, Mary won’t give it up, Susie bites her or hits her over the head with another toy: perfectly normal behaviour for that age—Susie has found a way of getting what she wants and she employs it ruthlessly and to her best advantage. So, at what age does narcissism cease being a natural behaviour and enter the realm of a pathological disorder? Nobody knows for sure and there are professionals who believe that narcissism in teens is still natural behaviour that has yet to be outgrown, but there are others who believe that narcissism should be resolved by the onset of puberty. There is, as far as I have been able to determine, no consensus on this.

This is actually important for parents because if even the experts can’t tell us when narcissism enters the realm of disorder, how are we to know how to deal with children who show narcissistic traits? How are we to know if those traits are developmentally normal, fleas acquired from narcissistic family members and friends, or pathological in nature? The short answer is, we can’t. All we can do it try to teach our children to make choices that take into account the feelings and rights of others because you can neither generate nor appeal to compassion or empathy in a person who does not have them. And, sadly, some of us have children who lack those qualities.

In seeing narcissistic behaviours and attitudes in our children, we ACoNs may react in certain ways. Two of my children turned out to be narcissists: my reaction to one of them was to be puzzled by his behaviour and beliefs…my reaction to the other one was denial. My one child did things I simply could not understand…like making choices that made him look like a victim when he had other, better choices available to him (I know now that looking like a victim allowed him to elicit Nsupply from others with a minimum of effort on his part but back then I could not fathom why he would deliberately disadvantage himself…and, of course, he got no Nsupply from me because I knew the whole truth, not the edited version he told people he was trying to get sympathy—and handouts—from). My other child repeatedly made selfish choices, told egregious lies to get what she wanted, and seemed to have absolutely no regard for how she was hurting other people, both inside the family and out. I repeatedly excused her behaviour, writing it off to immaturity and/or to being the result of my mother having stolen her, filled her with a stack of lies, and giving her away to my childless aunt and uncle, people who had failed the home study as adoptive parents not once, but three times!

But as she got older, her behaviour became increasingly self-centred and, when called on it, she blamed other people…frequently me. It was not until I started learning about narcissism that the light began to go on in my head…a light I quickly extinguished with denial. But as time went on she became less and less subtle in her manipulations and exploitations of others and there came a day when her behaviour intersected with my growing awareness of narcissism and I was no longer capable of switching off that light in my head. I had to face the truth, and the truth was, my daughter was a narcissist who had no more conscience, compassion, or empathy than my own mother had.

That was hard to swallow. I came to the realization slowly…I simply was not prepared to accept that my own child had no more ethics or morals than my amoral narcissistic mother, but I finally reached a point that I could deny it no more. I came to the realization and admission reluctantly, looking everywhere for valid reasons to explain her apparent callousness and self-serving behaviour, but simply could not find anything that I could accept. My daughter was a narcissist and she had thrown to the wolves everybody who did not serve her in some way, me included.

I can see that she continues to manipulate her brothers with the money she inherited from my mother…and I can see that she insinuated herself into her grandmother’s good graces after years of estrangement: grandmother had inherited a packet from her own mother and was ripe for plucking. All my daughter had to do was to swallow Grannie’s kool aid…to side with Grannie in her animosity towards me. Suddenly, I no longer existed—my daughter usurped my place in the family order and I (and all of the other grandchildren) were disinherited in her favour. Grannie’s bundle of cash and goods was divided two ways: between my brother, the GC, and my daughter.

My daughter’s narcissistic behaviours were blatant and obvious to anyone who knew the signs and was prepared to believe them. I can plead ignorance for her teen years…nobody knew much about narcissism back then and I, like most people, wrote it off to teenage rebellion. But going to my best friend and her husband and begging them to let her live with them because I was abusing her was not “teenage rebellion.” It was a lie that drove a wedge between me and my friend (a friendship that never recovered) as my friend, unable to fathom a child telling lies like this about her own mother, believed her.

I learned that, at age 13 and 14, while living with my aunt and uncle, my daughter used to sneak out of the house at night by climbing out a second story window. She would go to parties and clubs where she got drunk, did drugs, and “hooked up” with much older guys, sneaking back into the house in the wee hours of the morning before my aunt and uncle got up. She was unable to pull this off at my house, so she sought adult guardians she figured she could bamboozle…my friend Pris and her husband Tim. When this came to light, my daughter changed her tactics and ran away…and got involved with a pimp and his live-in girlfriend. My daughter swears that the did nothing but babysit their five kids, but she came back from Los Angeles (brought back through the work of a private detective I hired) with a severe case of PID…she was 15.

The behaviours became more refined and subtle as she grew older, but no less manipulative and self-serving. By the time she was in her middle 40s she and her husband had accumulated a nice little estate: big house, nice cars, good furniture, pension plans—and then her husband suffered an industrial accident and became addicted to the pain meds. Instead of helping him, however, she divorced him and he ended up living in a tent in a park in the middle of a Colorado winter while she lived in their McMansion with multiple empty bedrooms and three cars in the garage.

It was through this that I finally discovered the information that turned off my denial for good. My son-in-law contacted me to tell me they were divorced…she didn't tell me because she had stopped speaking to me about five years earlier and, when I asked why, simply said “I have nothing to say to you.” I had no idea why and she stonewalled my every effort to find out. But now that he no longer had to obey her dictates to keep his place in life, my son-in-law came clean: she was mad at me for my blog.

Now you have to understand, this was before this particular blog was on line. Previously I had a private—password protected—blog that contained the first 46 entries of this blog. I had written it as a catharsis and gave out the password to only a few, carefully selected people. Obviously, my daughter got the password from someone, read the blog and took exception. She told her husband that is was nothing but lies…but almost all of those entries were about events that happened before she was born, and since NM was long dead, she had no way of actually knowing if my stories were true or not, but she decided they weren't. She then cut off all contact with me. But she went one step further, which ultimately explained why some of my family members inexplicably backed away from me: she told them about the blog and scared them into thinking I was telling lies about the whole family. Essentially, she cut me out of the family so thoroughly that when my beloved father died, my daughter and her family were listed as next-of-kin, but I was omitted from the obituary altogether!

Where did I go wrong? Well, hindsight being much more accurate than foresight, I think I know: I made the mistake of allowing my narcissistic mother to have contact with my children. So desperate was I for her love and attention, I used my children as lures…she might not come to see me, but she would come to see them! But it was years until I realized that had she ignored them, along with me, until we became useful to her: her beloved younger brother could not have children of his own and was rejected as an adoptive parent. My mother had tried to force me to abort my daughter when I was 17, unmarried, and pregnant and when that didn’t work, she refused me permission to get married…I had to get a court order to get a marriage license and be married before my baby was born. I don’t think she ever forgave me that: for my entire life my mother made a point of separating me from everyone and everything I loved, from dolls and toys to pets to family members…it was much too late when I realized that her sudden appearance in our lives was not because she had awakened and realized she had a daughter and grandchildren to love, it was because she finally had a use for us: I was the producer of the two children she was going to give to her brother to adopt…and how it hurt me or those children was never even considered.

So I went wrong by not realizing just how deeply predatory my mother was, and by wanting the tokens of maternal affection so much that I was willing to expose my children to a grandmother who had mercilessly beaten and demeaned me, their mother. I went wrong by allowing her to have an influence on my children…would my daughter have outgrown her innate narcissism if she had never had the narcissistic role models of my mother and the adopting aunt? Certainly my mother had no boundaries and in reviewing my daughter’s behaviours over the years, I am seeing that she has had very few…what she wants dictates her behaviour and she plays her game several steps ahead, like chess.

Would the lack of narcissistic role models have changed things? My youngest child had a malignant narcissist stepfather who raised him from toddlerhood. The man actually told my son that he didn’t have to listen to me…how is that for teaching disrespect? Would this boy have reached his majority with the ambition to go out and set the world on fire with his intellect (which is prodigious)…or would he have still decided, at 18, that he was going to live his life as a mooch and I was somehow responsible to take care of him for the rest of his days?

There is no way to know, but in my case, it is obvious that allowing my children intimate contact with narcissistic authority figures was a bad, bad move on my part. That I had no idea what narcissism was in those days doesn’t excuse me: I knew how brutal my mother could be but I chose to believe that she wouldn’t behave badly with her grandchildren and I was now too old for her to beat. That I had no idea what narcissism was does not excuse giving my sons a role model for whom exploitation of others and a pervasive sense of entitlement was the core of his personality…I knew he had “bad” ideas about other people but I set him up as a role model, a parental figure, for my children. Is it any wonder they have no respect or love for me? Who did they ever see, during their formative years, who loved and respected their mother? How much of it did they learn and how much of it was in their psyches when they were born?

There is really no way to know…and what I should have done, what is the prudent thing to do in situations like that, would be to keep them away from my FOO. Yes, there were many benign people, but those people were the very ones who asked me to “bury the hatchet” with my narcissistic mother…advice that I took and came to bitterly regret. Just because you are a scapegoat child of a narcissist does not mean you cannot bring forth narcissistic children, but you can limit the influence of your family narcissists, enablers, deniers, and apologists. If I had been looking at the situation with clear eyes and a whole heart, I would have kept those children as far away from my family as I could…and thereby limited their influence on children who didn’t need to have narcissism, enabling, and denial demonstrated to them by the extended family.

I didn’t know…but I should have known that these people were not good role models for my children. Somewhere deep inside I knew better…I just did not act on it. And now, whether or not they were born to be narcissists or it was something learned, is effectively moot.

Monday, September 1, 2014

When you don’t—or can’t—take credit…

Why are some people so gratuitously cruel? It’s more than “because they can”…in my opinion, it is because they get something out of it…a feeling of superiority, perhaps.

My grandmother once told me that if you look hard enough, you can always find something to compliment another person on. I decided to test that out and, sure enough, she was right. Even in the case of a co-worker who dressed like Ugly Betty and wasn’t much more attractive…she was a very nice person who had a wonderful, infectious laugh. The day I said to her “I just love your laugh!” she lit up like she had been plugged in…and seeing her so delighted made me feel good, too.

Years ago, after years of wanting one, my husband gave me a pretty little Yorkie puppy for Valentine’s Day. I was over the moon…she was so cute, and such a little sweetheart. We took her with us everywhere, bought her jerseys and cute outfits and a pretty pink collar with her name spelled out in rhinestones and my husband even sent to America to get her a dog stroller (pram) because walking on a leash in crowds was a terrifying exercise for her (as an adult she weighs less than 7 lbs…as a puppy she wasn’t even 2 lbs!). We went to “slow food” and farmer’s markets and craft fairs and other outings with our little doggie girl securely leashed into her pram and she was such a delight. She is very outgoing and loves attention, so when people would stop to greet her, she would wag her tail and raise up to be petted and even give out kisses if her admirer was so inclined. Every weekend there were at least two or three people who would whip out their camera phones and take snaps of the cute little Yorkie wearing a frilly dress, her hair done up with a bow, and sitting sweetly in her pram.

And then one Saturday morning at the farmer’s market held at the nearby ostrich ranch, we ran into someone who didn’t admire the little dog but who couldn’t be bothered, like most people who didn’t find her overwhelmingly cute, to just walk on by, saying nothing. She stopped and bent over the pram and Puddin’ began wagging her tail and raising up into a “sit up” position to get petted. The woman ignored her and turned to me and asked “What kind of dog is this?” “A Yorkshire Terrier,” I told her, whereupon she proceeded to tell me, in indignant tones, that my dog was not a "real" Yorkshire Terrier, she was a poor example of the breed and should never have been allowed to live! She went on to point out every fault she perceived the dog had, ending with a reiteration that my precious baby was such a poor example of the breed that she should have been put down rather than sold to someone gullible like me. And then she stomped off in a huff. Not only was I shocked and stunned, so was the dog: accustomed to being adored and petted…and being highly intelligent…she knew that for some reason she did not meet with that woman’s approval and she sat in the pram, ears down and tail tucked, as if she had done something worthy of a scolding.

Now, I have bred dogs in the past and I am well aware of breed standards. I already knew that Puddin’ would never make it as a show dog, but I didn’t want to show her, I just wanted a sweet little dog to cuddle and play with and she fit that role admirably. Spunky and with a cheerful, loving temperament, she was everything I had expected and more. And after that dreadful woman’s diatribe, my poor puppy sat in her pram with what can only be described as a “hangdog” look, and her only sin had been to attempt to greet the woman and bestow a little Yorkie love on her.

I cannot fathom why that person would take such issue with my dog…she’s not a show dog, but she is healthy and personable and well-mannered…what’s not to like? The only thing that I could think of was the possibility that this woman had a show-quality Yorkie of her own and it made her feel superior…and to reinforce (or milk) that feeling of superiority, she had to belittle my dog (and probably any other dog that did not meet show standard). It was not about my dog at all, but all about her.

I am uncomfortable with praise and have been all my life. A curt “this is good,” is all I can take without feeling squirmy, but I don’t feel that way about others. You can wax eloquent about how brilliant my husband is, how cute my kids are, how endearing my dogs, and my sense of pride just blossoms. Go on like that about me or my attributes or my achievements and anything beyond “ya done good,” makes me feel uncomfortable. And I don’t know exactly why.

When all of those people admired my little Yorkie, I felt proud and, seeing how she loved the praise and attention, felt good for her—I liked seeing her happy and obviously enjoying the admiration. And when that awful woman scorned my little puppy in such harsh terms and sharp tones, I felt bad for the dog as much as for myself because it was obvious that the little sweetie knew she was being maligned and the set of her ears and tail showed she felt bad about it.

I get comments and letters all the time from people who have read posts on this blog and took away information that helped them change their lives for the better. I received one such letter over the weekend and, while reading it, began to have an awareness of my own feelings on the subject. On the one hand, I am always very pleased to hear that people have been motivated by what I write and as a result, begin looking critically at their lives and taking responsibility for making changes. On the other hand, as soon as someone writes something greater than “Thank you, Violet,” when they get into more lavish praise or fulsome commentary, I start to feel uncomfortable. Just what the hell is that all about??

It’s odd, but I notice that when someone says something nice about me to another person, I am gratified but when they say it to me directly, I feel uncomfortable. I have tried to better define that “uncomfortable” feeling I get and the closest I can pin it down to is that I somehow feel vaguely threatened. That, of course, is absurd—how can anyone feel threatened by being praised? And yet, there it is—I do not know how to appropriately respond, on an emotional level, to being praised and appreciated. Intellectually I get it, intellectually I am pleased and gratified…but emotionally, I shy away from feeling pleased and gratified and feel somehow threatened by it.

I just checked the thesaurus for synonyms for “threatened” and was rather surprised by what I found: endangered, vulnerable, susceptible, exposed, helpless, defenceless, disappearing, in danger. And it begins to make a little better sense…if you use my little dog as an example, she had come to have an emotional investment in the positive interactions she had with people: their praise and admiration made her feel happy. And that correlation between the praise of others and her feeling of happiness left her vulnerable, exposed, and defenceless to the killjoys of this world, like that woman who thought my dog should be perfect or it should be dead. Puddin’ approached this woman, all doggie smiles and innocence, expecting a pat on the head and some positive-sounding noises and instead, she got what sounded to her like a scolding. She had no idea why she was being scolded, what she might have done to deserve it, but she knew she was being found wanting and that woman was hostile about it.

Now, this was a puppy…imagine if it was a child? This little dog had faith in the world and in strangers…up to that moment, her every interaction with people outside the family had been positive, and her little spirit bloomed. She was a happy dog and she projected that and people responded to it by giving her positive attention, which made her an even happier dog. And then that woman happened by and stuck a pin in her balloon.

But she is a dog and she recovered…her detractors were few and her sunny disposition drew positive attention. Even today, at 5.5 years of age, she is still a happy dog, eager to meet new people and exchange greetings with them.

But what about little Violet? What happened that the child grew into a woman who feels vulnerable, exposed, endangered by being directly praised? What occurred that, instead of feeling proud and pleased when the recipient of praise, my first instinct is to feel powerless and imperilled? I also notice that I often give others credit for ideas that were, in fact, my own and that I am pleased when they receive the praise instead of me.

This is undoubtedly linked to my childhood and my narcissistic mother but I can’t, for the life of me, remember a time in which I received negative attention specifically for accepting praise from another. I do know, however, that NM was always give centre stage and that any accomplishments I made were, one way or another, attributed to her. If I got an A on my report card, it was because she “wouldn’t accept anything less and the kids know it.” If I won a prize at a talent contest, it was because of her sacrifices in paying for lessons and the amount of time she “selflessly” devoted to making my costumes, putting on my make up, and fixing my hair. Whatever I achieved, she usurped. Perhaps I divined that objecting to her taking my limelight was a dangerous thing to do, and that the safest course of action was to simply step back and deflect onto her all praise and credit for whatever it was I was being lauded for.

It makes sense but, quite frankly, I have no recollections of anything like this. But, ordinarily, I am not a shy, retiring kind of personality but rather a gregarious sort, known for my ability to tell funny stories…it doesn’t seem to fit with the woman who easily gives credit to others and deflects praise as being uncomfortable. It tells me that there was something in my childhood…probably very early in my childhood…that makes me shy away from positive attention directed at me by others. Something that gave me sense of foreboding from praise, a feeling of being threatened as the recipient of positive attention…as if I were stealing the thunder from a great and powerful giant.

How deeply buried this must be that it is only now surfacing, more than 60 years later…and I still have no clear sense of what it is. But rather like finding a black hole, I can only infer an event…or series of events…from what evidence is available to me: an outgoing personality known for entertaining conversation who systematically deflects praise and avoids taking credit for successes and good ideas. Something is definitely wrong here…even my dog revels in praise and positive attention…why am I afraid of it?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do you know how to feel loved?

As the scapegoat children of narcissists, we know how it feels to feel unloved. We know what it feels like to want to be loved and to feel its absence from our earliest memories.

Many of us spend our lives seeking the love withheld from us by our selfish, narcissistic parent(s) using a variety of largely unsuccessful techniques…I say they are largely unsuccessful because few people who actually feel loved find themselves reading a blog like this one.

The problem with growing up feeling unloved is that when we go out seeking to be loved, we don’t know what it is we are looking for. Having felt only its absence, how will we know when we have found what we are looking for?

What does it feel like, to feel loved? Would you know it when you felt it? Or would you, like I did, mistake something that felt comfortably familiar for it? Do you have a list in your head of what it would feel like to be loved? Do you use that list to guide not only how to recognize if someone else loves you, but as a way to show love to others?

One of the problems we face is that of subjectivity. What feels like love to one person does not feel loving to another. That not only means that what feels like love to one ACoN does not feel like love to another ACoN, it also means that what feels like love to me may not feel like love to you…or to my husband or to my kids or to anyone else on the planet. And while this may well be true of “normies” as well, I suspect that they probably have a clearer, more accurate sense of what it feels like to be loved than we do.

I grew up with the sense that love hurt. Unless my heart was wrung with anxiety and even a bit of fear, whatever I was feeling was not, I believed, love. My comfort zone included a dynamic in which I had to earn the love of my partner through excellence: being the best cook, lover, housekeeper (that one was really tough for me because I hate housework), most obedient and even anticipating the desires/needs of my partner and spoiling him. It means keeping my kids quiet and out of the way unless they were on their best behaviour, and demanding nothing in return…fidelity and love would be my reward if I was good enough.

Of course, this failed. And my failure generated a lot of fights because I perceived this as my partner’s expectations, and that they were unreasonable (then I married a malignant narcissist and those actually were his expectations and they were still unreasonable.) We would fight because I was stressed by the unreasonable expectations and my partner’s failure to live up to his end of my one-way unspoken bargain: to be faithful and to love me in a way I could feel loved. Because throughout all of this, despite having set up a paradigm in which I was supposed to be able to finally earn my partner’s love and then actually feel loved, it never happened. And no wonder, since I was going about it all wrong…

It took a long time and a lot of therapy to realize that, until I loved me…flaws and all…that I could not feel love from another person. And that was key…it didn’t matter if another person loved me or not because I was in a situation in which I could not feel loved, and what I identified as what I needed in order to feel loved was way off base. I was working against myself…no matter what I tried, I did not ever make the effort to love myself as I was because it actually never occurred to me. I thought that would come when someone else loved me and I felt loved…I needed outside validation—the love of another person—before I could allow myself to love me.

One of my biggest epiphanies came when I realized that without respect there is no love. A person who does not respect you and your very humanness does not love you. Oh, s/he may be obsessed with you, but without respect, there is no love. We mistake many things for love: obsession, passion, need, even fear…but the single most important component of love is respect for it is from respect that compassion and empathy grow, and without those, love is simply not possible.

We know what it feels like to feel unloved and some of us, simplistically, believe that whatever makes us feel unloved, the opposite will make us feel loved. For the most part, this is incorrect. This is like thinking that if we do the opposite of what our narcissistic parents did, we will be good parents and loved by our children: nope…extremes don’t work whether it is the extreme of non-nurturing narcissistic parenting or its opposite number of smothering and indulging a child’s every whim. And it doesn’t work for love, either, especially when you consider that, growing up conditioned to feel “normal” in being disrespected and unloved, the opposite might feel cloying and even mocking. Why? Because, simply, we don’t know how to handle it and we aren’t very experienced at accepting true expressions of love. We may even be suspicious of someone who treats us with the respect and kindness every human being deserves because we did nothing to earn it.

We may also find simple, honest love to be “boring.” How many times do you hear men lament that they are stuck in the “friend zone” because the women they meet are attracted to the “bad boy” type, the players, the men who will inevitably break their hearts? This is a manifestation of love being perceived as a competition, something to win: a woman who wins and weds a “bad boy” perceives herself as better than the women who failed to do so, never mind that people don’t change for other people and the marriage will likely be fraught with tension as she must keep up the competition indefinitely…just because he is married doesn’t mean he is necessarily tamed. Does she feel loved? Probably not…she feels victorious but the competition never really ends…as long as there are other women out there, the competition continues.

So what is it you think you need from someone else to feel loved? Can you analyse it honestly and determine whether or not you would actually feel like you were loved if you had it? I know that in my case, it didn’t matter what another person felt about me, until I could perceive myself as being worthy of love…which meant loving myself including my flaws…nothing another person could do would make me feel loved. I would have been uncomfortable with lavish displays of affection, embarrassed, even. I would have been very suspicious, thinking I was being led along until the big reveal, in which I would be humiliated and abandoned. Because I didn’t feel I was lovable, I not only didn’t love me, I couldn’t believe anyone else could truly love me, which meant those who declared they did were just leading me on, manipulating me, or otherwise trying to take advantage of me. This went for family members as well as romantic partners. Out of desperation I had allowed myself to be fooled a few times when I was young, and the bitter lessons stuck tight.

I didn’t come to love myself during therapy, but I was able to see that loving myself first was the key to feeling loved and internally accepting it. I had mellowed a great deal, no longer perceiving insults where they did not exist, and able to shrug off those that were real. Over the next years I came to view myself realistically…I began to see and embrace truth…and to recognize that having flaws is simply part of the human condition and not a barrier to love or being loved. I let go of the idea that I had to be perfect by some other person’s definition in order to be worthy of love and I also gave up the notion that I could remodel an unsatisfactory man into the man I wanted to love. It eventually manifested into an understanding of acceptance…that I must accept a person as he is and he must accept me as I am…as a key component of love.

I found, eventually, that what I needed to feel loved was to feel respected and accepted just as I was…by me. It didn’t mean I couldn’t recognize and work on character flaws…it simply meant those flaws did not render me unworthy of love, respect and acceptance, including my own. All of the things I thought I needed…beauty, wit, accomplishment, being “the best”…none of them truly mattered because I had achieved them all, in one way or another, and they had not changed anything about my feelings about myself.

What I eventually discovered is that my mother always found me wanting and I had adopted that mindset. A report card of 4 As and 2Bs should have been all As…and when the straight A report cards came, then I was found wanting because I had not been producing them all along. My hair was too straight, my posture unacceptable, my feet flat, my shapely legs marred with eczema. If I spoke like my peers, I was exhibiting lazy speech; if I spoke correctly I was being pretentious. To not have my chores done perfectly was to be defiant and lazy; to have them done perfectly was to be angling to get something from her. I came away from my childhood feeling fat, ugly, stupid, manipulative, unworthy, and of the opinion that if I was to get anything even resembling love, I couldn’t pass up any opportunity, and to get what I wanted from another person, I was going to have to fight for it.

And yet I went into relationships expecting to be loved and respected just as I was. Of course, by picking the wrong kinds of people—often immature and/or narcissistic men like my NM—I guaranteed that I would not get what I expected and wanted, and then I would have to either fight for it or go outside of the relationship for it…and sometimes both. Years of this type of interaction ultimately wore me down until I was suicidal and leapt into therapy with both feet, a lifeline at a time I was rapidly losing the battle.

What did I need to feel loved? What did it mean to me? For me, I ultimately discovered that feeling loved by someone else was secondary: I could not accept love from another without being suspicious of it until I was able to love myself, accept myself, accept that my flaws were simply part of my human condition and not barriers to respect, love and acceptance. Eventually I found that by being able to love and accept myself as having value and worth, despite my flawed condition, I was able to believe that others could love me as well. I learned to expect respect and acceptance from others before I would believe their declarations of love—how many times had I believed a man loved me when, in fact, he merely wanted something from me or wanted to remake me into the perfect woman according to his definition. Ultimately, I discovered that when a person tries to change me, he is not respecting me or accepting me and, once you truly accept and respect yourself, you really aren’t willing to accept anything less from others.

So what is it that you need to feel like you are loved. Do you have fantasies of when you are pretty enough or accomplished enough or smart enough, then someone will love you? Or have you learned that first you must love yourself, warts and all, before you can actually feel the love of another?

It is, I have discovered, a key part of healing and feeling whole.