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.

Friday, September 28, 2012

No Forgiveness: 10 Commandments of Dysfunctional Families Pt 10

From The 10 Commandments of Dysfunctional Families
by Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

10. Thou shalt not forgive yourself or others.

Sample Situation: “You're always in my way, child! Why do you keep asking me to play with you? Don't you know I played with you last year? Wasn't that enough?! You ought to be ashamed of yourself! Go to your room. Don't bother me.”

Lesson Learned: The only way I can be forgiven and loved is if I can earn it by being perfect. The guiltier I feel, the harder I must work to gain other's approval. If I make any mistakes, even a small one, they'll reject me or think I'm incompetent or worthless. I'm afraid I will make a mistake, I know I will, I feel so guilty. Therefore, even if I think I can do it, I won't. After all, I could make a mistake and then what would I do? Oh, I could never go back and say I'm sorry!

Motto: Since Jesus’ doesn't forgive me, I can't forgive you either.


There is an entry on the topic of forgiveness on this blog but it addressed the subject in a different way. Here we look at forgiveness from another angle: not giving it but receiving (or “earning”) it.

When we transgress, we feel bad—if we have a normal conscience, that is. In dysfunctional families, this can (and often is) used against us, to manipulate and control us. In the example above, a child’s normal need for attention and interaction are viewed by a dysfunctional parent as being excessive, leading the child to believe that her normal needs are undue, making her a burden on her parents. She is shamed for wanting more than she is being given and punished for it.

This does not change the child’s needs, but it does change her outlook on them. She will go from responding to her body’s and psyche’s cues as to her needs and take her parents’ cues: what they are willing to give her is all that she is entitled to and anything beyond that is excessive, greedy, demanding, burdensome—bad. But because her internal cues don’t change along with the child’s understanding of her parental expectations, she begins to feel bad about herself and the demands over which she no control, save to choose whether to act on them or suppress or hide them.

When my daughter was six she was stolen by my NM and taken out of state where she was eventually adopted by my childless aunt and uncle, my NM’s beloved younger brother. My sunny-natured, free-spirited child came under the thumb of an NM, a woman who had failed to pass the home study for an agency adoption and whose only hope of motherhood lay in adopting in a non-traditional way. When my mother presented them with a pair of pretty children, especially a highly intelligent, well-mannered, good-tempered little girl with long blond locks and a bright smile, they gladly took both of my kids off NM’s hands. Eight years later the children returned to me, my daughter transformed into a sneaky, manipulative child who, believing the tale told her by my NM and my aunt and uncle that I had abandoned her, considered herself a burden on me (because I did not want her based on the “fact” that I had abandoned her).

I took her to Macy’s to buy clothes—the same place I shopped for myself. I took her to the cosmetics counter for Clinique because of her teenaged-skin—I also bought my cosmetics at Macy’s. I took her to decent stores for her shoes and school supplies and everything else and heard nothing but complaints about my spending too much, that she could buy twice as much at Kmart with the same money, and that she was a burden. Nothing I said or did could convince her that she was not, just as nothing ever convinced her that I had not abandoned her. She was convinced that she had no entitlement to my care, either emotional or financial, and therefore what I gave to her was either a burden to me or, the alternative, an attempt to “buy” or manipulate her.

What I did not realize at the time was that this was a child who was begging for forgiveness for her needs. Her very survival had depended on the largesse of strangers for eight long years, first as the pawn of my NM, then as the trophy show-piece at the Yacht Club for my aunt and uncle. Her sense of true entitlement—the entitlement to love and care from her parents, to have her needs met to the best of their ability—had been so warped by her role as the GC in my aunt’s household that she could only see our interaction as a transaction and I was setting the bar too high for her with shopping at Macy’s rather than Kmart. There were many other dysfunctional dynamics in our relationship, to be sure, but this was something she spoke out about: “I am a burden here, why don’t you send me away?”

What could I have said? “Of course you are a burden, every child represents a financial burden but it is one borne with love?” Believing that I had abandoned her when she was six, would she have believed it? Certainly no more than she believed my denial. Sadly, she carried this notion of a child being a burden over to her own child who was, on the one hand was spoiled shamelessly with material goods and an almost total lack of discipline or boundaries, but on the other hand, neglected shamefully in terms of emotional content and even basic teaching of such things as manners. He was a burden who was left to shift for himself, his protests silenced with stuff.

Can a child who believes herself a burden accept “forgiveness” for being so? Can they even believe that they are not nor ever were? Can narcissists simultaneously maintain the opposing sense of being a burden and being entitled?

Feeling like you are a burden makes you feel guilty, at least in the beginning. And when you feel guilty, you try to find ways to expiate that guilt. As children, we take cues from the adults around us who, in a dysfunctional family, are all too happy to tell us our shortcomings. We seek their approval and their forgiveness by trying to surmount those shortcomings, to earn their forgiveness for not being who or what they want us to be. It is, of course, a futile effort because the real shortcoming is not in us, it is in them, in people who cannot, will not, forgive a child for being just a child.

And so we grow up burdens, feeling guilty for our normal, natural needs, turning ourselves inside out to earn forgiveness for without being forgiven, we cannot earn approval or love. And we grow up with this warped notion, which ultimately we internalize, that we are not worthy of love, that we are fundamentally flawed and therefore unlovable. And we grow up thinking that we must somehow abase ourselves, to work for ways to earn forgiveness for our fundamentally flawed selves, in order to be worthy of love.

This is how we get stuck in a cycle of abuse, either going from one abusive partner to another or repeatedly returning to an abusive partner. We take responsibility for their abuse, believing our imperfections, our flaws, our behaviours are the problem, not his (or her) choice to respond to us with abuse and even violence. We do not deserve someone who treats us with respect and love, we must earn it because we see it as a reward for our performance, not as an entitlement of our humanity...and if we feel it is given too easily, we may even disdain it. But before we can begin to earn our rewards, we must first earn forgiveness for our flaws, and that forgiveness must come from a person who holds us in the same contempt, who views us with the same scorn, we knew at the hands of our dysfunctional family.

Without knowing that we do so, we seek forgiveness for simply being. We expect to do things perfectly the first time we attempt to do them, and our failure to do so just further convinces us of our worthlessness. If we continue to associate with Ns, any attempt we may make at giving ourselves props for the parts we did get right, get squelched. In the late 1970s I drove an English sports car and my NHusband and I decided to do a “time and distance” road rally. Or, rather, he decided to do the rally, saying he would navigate so I could drive. (This way, if we won the rally, we won—but if we lost, I was the driver so it was my fault.)

It was my first rally, so I was learning as I went along. Two of the other cars (of a field of perhaps 25 cars) had onboard rally computers—very unusual and costly for the time. I have to give NHubby kudos for not sabotaging me with the navigation (which he easily could have) and, to my utter shock, we came in third place, right behind the two cars with the rally computers. I was thrilled! Ecstatic! Going into the rally, my goal was simply to finish it without getting lost or otherwise making a fool of myself and I placed third and got a trophy!

NHubby quickly stuck a needle-sharp criticism into my balloon of euphoria—it was only third place, he reminded me. “So,” I asked him, annoyed, “It’s our first rally! Did you expect to win it, for heaven’s sake?” His answer? “Yes.” Turns out, third place was still losing in his book, and it was one more failure to add to my list of unforgivable sins.

When we play this game with narcissistic, dysfunctional people, we allow them to set the parameters of our lives. We allow them to define for us good and bad, right and wrong, and we give them the power to hold us to their standards by seeking their forgiveness, their approval, their love. But Thomas Szasz, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York says “A child becomes an adult when he realizes that he has a right not only to be right but also to be wrong.” We have a right to be wrong!

We have a right to make mistakes, a right to make errors, to screw up, to fall short of the goal, to err, to not measure up to standard—most especially, a standard set by someone else. We have a right to live without seeking the forgiveness of unforgiving others who would keep us lapping at their heels like pet dogs, forever seeking the forgiveness for our never-ending sins, the forgiveness that could lead to approval and from there, perhaps to that most elusive of treasures, love.

We have a right to be wrong, to live with pride in what we did accomplish without being dragged down by what we didn’t. We have a right to set our own standards and goals…and to fall short of even those! We have a right to be unapologetically human and to need no forgiveness for that most quintessential of human traits, imperfection.

When we realize that we do not need their forgiveness, that we have been set up and manipulated to keep us jumping through the hoops that keep them entertained and filled to the brim with Nsupply, we find our boundaries, our separateness, our autonomy. And we finally see that there could never have been any forgiveness given because there was never anything to be forgiven for.

Next: Ten Commandments of Dysfunctional Families: A Summary


  1. Brilliant post Violet. I love your final paragraph. Perfect.

    1. Thank you, CS--I must admit that a great deal of this came together during the writing, and that final paragraph was, quite literally, an epiphany that drove my fingers on the keyboard.

      We DO live our lives seeking forgiveness of just being who we really are because our NParents so disapproved of the real us. Only the fake Violet, the one who ticked all of the dysfunctional boxes and acted as an extension of NM was acceptable--and that was as good as it ever got--acceptable. Not only was the real Violet not acceptable, the fake Violet wasn't good enough to love either. Talk about a set up to emotional self-sabotage!

      But the truth was, I never needed forgiveness because there was nothing wrong with the real Violet--but NM never knew her because she only wanted an extension of herself and so tried to remodel a perfectly normal child into the puppet she needed. I never needed forgiving because there was nothing wrong with me in the first place.

      What an enlightening, empowering revelation that was!

  2. Yet another revelation bubbles up from my past as I read this post. Even though I was the Engulfed GC, I believed that a was a burden to my NM. I always felt as if I asked for too much; emotionally, spiritually, materially. What is so painful to me now is that I have survived with feelings of worthlessness all my life. This emptiness has become so intense as of late. I find it so hard to believe that I have lived in this pain constantly for so long. I feel like I should have withered and died from the emotional neglect I have experienced. How I long for healing.

    1. Katie, a lot of DoNMs have a stereotyped view of GCs, but I don't. I recognize that a child doesn't choose the role of GC any more than they choose the SG role: it is something assigned by the NM and the child can no more to throw off the role than they can grow an extra head.

      I also recognize that GCs may embrace the role in childhood because they are getting something out of it--children are naturally narcissistic and have strong self-preservation instincts. Who, after all, wouldn't prefer to be the GC over the SG, if those were the only two roles in the household and you had a choice?

      GCs who go past the age of reason and embrace their roles, who exploit it and even become flying monkeys for the NM have much less sympathy from me. When they have free choice and they choose to continue to advantage themselves at the expense of a sibling or other family member, my sympathy gets very thin.

      But GCs can be engulfed, as you were, and their experiences--at least up to the time they willing join forces with NM against the others--are no less painful and fraught with angst as those of the SGs. Their experiences are different, but they, too, live on the edge: they know that the scapegoat role in the family is only one wrong word, one excessive demand, one sympathetic gesture to the wrong person, away. And once demoted to SG, the odds of regaining favour and returning to the privileged position of GC are very, very slim.

      I imagine there is a great deal of stress in a GC role. Your feelings of worthlessness are understandable because even though you were the GC, your value to your NM was not for who you really were but for your ability to play the part she assigned, to be the perfect child, the display piece for others to admire and envy. Who YOU really were was of no more consequence to her than the reality of the SG in your household. You had a different role, but the emotional outcome was much the same.

      We heal ourselves, Katie. This is not something we want to hear: we didn't damage ourselves, why should we be responsible for healing? But life is seldom fair--it just is, and we have to play the cards we are dealt. Like me and millions of other SGs out there, you got a raw deal and it wasn't fair, but you still have to be the one to clean up the mess and repair the damage.

      The good news is, YOU are in charge--you don't have to trust someone else, wait for someone else, depend on someone else. More good news is that you CAN be healed--it happens all the time. I may spend hours each week on this blog and writing back to readers, but I am not doing it from a place of pain, I am doing it with a full heart and curious mind. My pain is long healed, at least with respect to my NM, and what I am left with is a huge puzzle, the puzzle of understanding. I am doing that on this blog so that others can follow along and gain understandiing as well...and sometimes help with their own observations and epiphanies.

      So, can be healed and your fate is in your own hands. Good therapists are out there: look for one who is familiar with adults who were abused in childhood. Google is your friend (although do beware of the two sites noted in the tabs above), and in particular, work by Joanna Ashmun and Kathy Krajco can be enlightening.

      I used to think of my NM as being all-powerful. When my T stated early in our association that she wanted me to learn to be strong, I recoiled: "strong" was my NM and I wanted to be nothing like her! But I learned that she was not strong, she was pathetically weak, using subterfuge and manipulation to get her way and make her look strong. The truth was, I was stronger than SHE was because I survived all the shit she threw at me AND I healed.

      And Katie, difficult as it may seem right now, YOU can do exactly the same. So what are you waiting for?



    2. (((hugs))) to Katie. I've been browsing through some of the sites on this blog, and have found them helpful...I hope you will, too. Often reading about others' experiences and how they've coped and gotten past them, is so helpful. Sometimes, just the validation that others have gone through the same, is a tremendous help.

      Yes, we've been programmed by our NM's to believe we are sinning just for breathing, haven't we? I for one have an awful habit of constantly saying "sorry", usually for the most absurd things. I know I sound ridiculous, but I can't seem to stop.

      When I was a little girl, NM ominously warned me that I had a thing inside me called a soul, and that every time I did something bad, I got a black spot on it. She mentioned my younger (by 2 years) sister and said, "And every time you do something to her, you get TWO black spots!" The thought terrified me. My sister and I were just two normal kids...yes, there were many spats and some pigtail pulling, but it was a pretty even deal...I was only slightly taller and certainly not a bully.

      But, what was conveyed to me here was that even if my sister threw sand in my face in the sandbox, if I threw some back, I was doubly in the wrong. If I told on her, I was a tattletale, and was slapped for that. "Show me what a BIG girl you are, you're older..." NM would sometimes say in a cooing voice. Never mind sitting us BOTH down and telling us both that throwing sand in someone's face is wrong and that there would be consequences if either of us didn't comply and giving whoever offended time out or whatever was appropriate...

      Of course, little squabbles between young siblings are normal and harmless, but, the message NM's often give, isn't. So, you're expected to go through life and let everyone do as they please to you, or you are a BAD girl. I didn't realize til later on that this was just NM's ploy for scaring me into not pestering her in any way when sis and I were out playing. She couldn't be bothered to deal with sibling conflicts. And oh, those black spots I kept accumulating...I couldn't wait til I was old enough to make my first confession in church, but even then, I just knew that wouldn't be good enough.

      GC's can pick up on this, and NM's indeed use them as their flying monkeys to speak on their behalfs. If you're a woman who professes any faith in God, this gives them extra leverage. In my own situation, my GC brother has sent me some rather scathing e-mails in the past, upbraiding me for having NC with NM (which he denounced as "cowardly"), and using the "honor your mother" thing to basically call me a flaming hypocrite. He then cited his own (agnostic?) daughter to say how she "far surpassed (me) in love, forgiveness, and compassion."

      Of course, it didn't take long for NM to find some serious things wrong (in her eyes, anyway) with GC's daughter, which she vocalized, and she has now driven away her granddaughter, as well. Now GC's daughter is nothing but an ungrateful, selfish spoiled dare she go NC because she (like me) got fed up of the criticism and insults?

    3. (part 2, got a bit carried away there)

      My NM has driven away 3 of her 5 children, and all 8 of her grandkids (and is missing out on 2 beautiful grandbabies as well), but she still sees herself as the victim, someone who never has to say she's sorry, when she's the one who's done all the damage.

      Funny, NM's have a way of trying to make us feel like we've done horribly wrong simply for fleeing from danger (them) via NC, yet, if we side with them and do something that's truly sinful, like engage along with them in hurting another person they happen to hate, THAT is not evil at all. It baffles me no end.

      Damaged people like us go through life apologizing, imagining we've slighted others somehow and always, always trying to make amends (when usually we've really done nothing at all), trying to smooth over (imaginary) conflicts ("Did I say something to hurt your feelings the other day? Are you mad at me?" just because a friend hasn't promptly returned a phone call when in reality, they were simply busy or maybe not even home; we agonize over things we've said that 99% of the time, we find out the other person took in a totally different way and wasn't mad at all. Why?


    4. P.S. to Katie: you weren't a burden, children are a blessing! It's just that a flawed recipient, no matter how beautiful a gift is, doesn't always accept it that way. But, that doesn't change the value of the gift at all...

    5. Yup, you've got the right of it, Poohbear: they are too freaking lazy and self-absorbed to bother with real parenting, so they dump it on us with unrealistic expectations and outright lies. I must say, your NM was especially creative in the story about the soul and black spots, but classic NM just the same.

      Good for your niece that she recognized NM's bull and got out when she did. The cost for self-preservation, when you are the target of an N, can be very high but I've yet to see a situation where submitting to the NM was worth the price.

      And isn't it funny that they take such umbrage at our defection without even the barest acknowledgement of their part in our decision to go? They really DO expect us to willingly submit to their abuse...but you can bet if the tables were turned, they would be screaming in outrage! Evil devils, NMs.

    6. I don't imagine people are mad at me or anything like that when they don't call or something like that--I assume they are "too busy" for me (like I expect to be at the tail-end of their priorities and things like picking up the dog poo in the back yard is more important than returning my call). Yet, when I fail to do something, like promptly return a call or an email, I will go into a complete panic of apologies and explanations, hoping to soothe hurt feelings or irritation or annoyance of the person I failed--even if they aren't the least bit bothered by it! PURE "placate NM" leftovers!

    7. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I do have a nurturing understanding therapist. I do have hope for healing. It's just that I'm at the beginning of the process. The process is painful and I feel adrift because I don't really know what to do with myself. I'm trying to find out who I am. I have money issues and those issues get in the way of moving forward. I hope to figure it all out in time. Thx.

    8. Katie, looking back to myself, early in the process, I can appreciate where you are coming from and how you feel. It was easy to get discouraged when all I could feel was the pain, but in my case, I came home from every session to an NHusband who abused me every bit as much as my NM had done, and every time he did something mean, it reinforced my determination to see the therapy through.

      I remember telling my therapist that I had had enough of pain, that I didn't want to open all those old doors and drag the pain behind them out into the light. I wanted them to stay safely locked, the pain contained behind them, so I didn't have to deal with any more. I truly felt that I was at my limit of endurance and simply unable to take on any more pain, new or old.

      She said something very interesting, something I discounted at the time but have since found to be very true. She said that the old pain I was refusing to acknowledge was, in fact the source of the pain I was dealing with every day. And every day that I refused to acknowledge it, every day I refused to take it out and examine it, it grew bigger and stronger, and more overwhelming.

      She then had me make a mental image of a burning room and I was trapped inside it. I could see the doorway, the way out, but there were flames between me and the door.

      And she asked me, "how do you get out of the room without getting burned by that fire?"

      And I replied, "there is no way to get out without getting burned by the fire--the only way out is to go through it."

      And she said, "exactly!"

      And from that time on, whenever I was feeling stuck or overwhelmed, adrift or overburdened with the pain, I would imagine that burning room and the door that led out and away, and rather than shrink away and try to avoid the pain as I had done for so many years, I would step forward into it, battle through it, and come out the other side.

      It is not easy...this kind of thing is never easy...but it DOES work if we persevere. And I promise you, eventually, if you stick with it and do the work and step through the pain, you'll come out of this happy, healthy, and vibrantly alive.

      Hugs to you, Katie. Please keep in touch.


  3. This is amazing, Violet. All of it, every word. There is so much in this post, that I keep going back and rereading it again and again. I want to imprint these words on my heart.

    I epecially love this:
    "We have a right to be wrong!"

    YES! I can be wrong, I can make mistakes, I can fail, I can sin, I can be stupid and ignorant and still, STILL, be worthy of basic courtesy, kindness, compassion, and LOVE. I have the right to be a fallible human being and still be loved and still feel good about being me.

    Thank you, precious Violet! Your beautiful gracious strong spirit is both healing and inspirational.


  4. Yes, Charity--you have a right to be human, with all of the failings attendant thereto. And there is no shame in it, no sin in it--too err is human and you have a right to err---repeatedly, even---and still be worthy of respect and love.

    And anyone who tells you--or even implies--different is full of shit, and seeking to manipulate you in some way.

    I think when we finally realize...and INTERNALIZE...the concept that we have an absolute right to be wrong, to err, to make mistakes, it just might be one of the most freeing, emancipating feelings in the world.

    Welcome to the rest of your life!

  5. Thanks for this post. All of these commandments so far have resonated with me painfully but this one was so close to home that it made me cry. My mother has never forgiven me for anything in my life, neither big things nor small things, whether it was a intentional wrong or an innocent mistake, whether I even knew what I did wrong or not...all infractions are the same in her eyes, and none can ever, ever, ever be forgiven.

    I once begged her to forgive me for whatever I'd done..whatever she wanted me to do, I would do it to earn her forgiveness. She said I couldn't earn forgiveness from her, that I would have to beg forgiveness from the whole world, because I was such a bad person.

    1. What a bitch! And how typically N, to not only reject you in your time of need, but to give you a hopeless task in the bargain.

      The truth, Elena, is that these people makes themselves feel good by making us feel bad...everything is a contest to them and you are not allowed to win, so if you are looking happy, they have to "knock you down a peg" so that you cannot possibly be happier than they are.

      They do this by finding out what it is we want and, if they have the power, withholding it from us. If they don't have the power, they will undermine us so that we don't believe we have the power to get what we want. In the situation you describe above, you got a double whammy--she did both to you.

      I hope you realize that you don't need to be forgiven, by her or anyone else, for being human. We are not perfect, we err, it is part of the human condition, and we need no forgiveness for being who and what we are. The person who needs forgiveness is HER, but you'll never convince her of that. You, however, don't need it, especially from her because SHE is the one who is wrong. And she's not wrong in the forgivable "natural human error" way, either--she has quite consciously committed an act of evil on another person.

      Before you rush to forgive her, remember, it is not a trade-off. You can't get forgiveness by giving it. And giving it to a narcissist can be a fraught might want to read the entry on forgiveness before embarking on that particular journey.

      But if nothing else, I hope you took away from this post the knowledge that your NM was being mean, that she was wrong, and that you don't need forgiveness from her or anyone else for simply being what you are: a fallible human being.



    2. Elena, I think they demonize you as a subconscious way to justify(forgive themselves)how they have treated you. It reminds me of a friends mother who reacted to the Catholic priests molesting kids scandal by determining that the media had a hidden agenda against the church and made up these lies. It's easier for her to believe that then face that she has (perhaps) wasted her life worshipping child abusers. A healthy loving mother might have responded to your request for forgiveness with, "honey, you have done nothing wrong to need forgiveness!"

  6. What a fantastic, inspiring post! You said, "Can narcissists simultaneously maintain the opposing sense of being a burden and being entitled..." I think they cannot 'maintain' both perspectives because feeling like a burden is a vulnerability they rarely speak of, even to themselves. Once you're let in on their 'soft spot', they have to kill you. A bad joke, but they certainly do hate showing their insecurity and seem to attack those who know about it. They attack by concealing their weakness with that pesky sense of entitlement.
    So much of what you said in this post speaks directly to my inner child who was manipulated to believe this twisted crap, especially this paragraph, "And so we grow up burdens, feeling guilty for our normal, natural needs, turning ourselves inside out to earn forgiveness for without being forgiven, we cannot earn approval or love. And we grow up with this warped notion, which ultimately we internalize, that we are not worthy of love, that we are fundamentally flawed and therefore unlovable. And we grow up thinking that we must somehow abase ourselves, to work for ways to earn forgiveness for our fundamentally flawed selves, in order to be worthy of love..." Most of my life has been me dancing as fast as I could for everyone and being wounded again and again when that love wasn't forthcoming. I am an expert NS-er as a result. My eyes watered when I read, "We do not deserve someone who treats us with respect and love, we must earn it because we see it as a reward for our performance, not as an entitlement of our humanity." The fact that our parents, our protectors, created that horrible false belief in us is heartbreaking. Thanks so much for your validating thoughts and words!

    1. "Most of my life has been me dancing as fast as I could for everyone and being wounded again and again when that love wasn't forthcoming."

      A profound realization, Trisha, not something someone can give you, but something you must come to see for yourself. I used to work with a woman who, while attractive, smart and capable, had serious self-esteem issues. Her father was a famous scientist and, from what she told me of her home life as a child, very N. She was a little overweight, but pretty and well-groomed, but her husband left her with two little boys, one autistic, for a woman who had dumped him when he was just 19. She became an emotional wreck.

      For some reason, she fixated on one of the managers in our work group (he was one of the guys she supported) and became obsessive about getting his work done "just right." She stayed late, she came in early, and went the "extra mile." This went on for weeks--she didn't neglect the other managers in the group, just was obsessive with doing her job for this one manager with great perfection. Secretary's Day came and went and he didn't so much as send her an email or leave her a note...all of that work and he could not so much as thank her. She was crushed...and she came to me to cry on my shoulder and I was absolutely incapable of getting her to understand how she had created this, how he simply sucked up her extra attention as his due, and how his lack of appreciation, his failure to reciprocate the "mutual grooming" she thought she was creating was no reflection on her, personally. He was, of course, the office narcissist, attractive, charming, and totally self-absorbed. I don't think she had any romantic designs on him, only an EXPECTATION of reciprocation, approval, appreciation...and when the "love" was not forthcoming, she was wounded to the core.

      Sometimes, like my friend, we try to pro-actively elicit the "love" that is not forthcoming on its own by going out of our way, by not saying "no," by volunteering, by being the doormat or the deep pocket or the "old faithful," but we seldom get more than used. We put ourselves out there to BE used, but we expect a return on that investment, a transaction, that seldom materializes. And so we are disappointed and hurt over and over until we either wake up--or become bitter and cynical.

      You identified the source: our parents who created in us the belief that we have to EARN the love and approval of everyone in our sphere, that we, as we are, are simply not suffient. It is not who we are that others will appreciate, but what we do for them...and that is so, so wrong!

      Every realization of this kind can be one more nail out of the coffin of dysfunction our parents nailed us into. Once we KNOW what we are doing and why, we are now empowered to substitute a healthy behaviour and belief for the unhealthy ones. Good for you for seeing the patterns here that resonate for your life--it's a bigger step than you know!!




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