“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!” How many times have you said “I’m sorry” about a trifle. Forgetting something. Dropping something. Making a loud noise. Coughing. Sneezing. Getting sick. Just being human. Existing. But you’re sorry. Very sorry.
I know you say “I’m sorry” all the time because you’ve told me so in comments, emails and Facebook posts. And I’m the same way. I apologize about everything. Could this be a sign of living in a narcissistic home!?!
Love It / Hate It
Here’s my take on how narcissists feel about any mistakes we make.
On the one hand, they love it. Our mistakes give them a golden opportunity to feel superior to us. They never pass up a chance to deliver a lecture on how we should be, usually using themselves as a shining example of Superior Humanity.
On the other hand, they hate it. Our boo-boo’s cause them inconvenience. Our mess-ups require them to practice patience. And a narcissists can’t stand any of that. They tolerate us for what we can do for them. They resent having to do anything for us.
Here’s a few examples of “mistakes” that narcissists love to hate.
Thou Shalt Not Forget Anything
If your home was anything like mine, forgetting (like fools) was not suffered gladly. There was no excuse for forgetting anything. How many times have I heard the condescension, the impatience when something was forgotten. The message was clear: Thou Shalt Not Forget Anything…Ever.
Coupons. That’s an easy thing to forget, but narcissists get really pissed when you forget the coupons. Or laundry detergent. I forgot it once…and heard about it for months afterwards.
A co-worker once raved to me, “Your parents were so far ahead of their time.” If that’s so, then I fear for the children of today.
I have yet to make a mud pie. I have yet to do finger-painting. I have yet to play in a sandbox at a park. I was never allowed any pets…or birthday parties, playdates, sleepovers, most field trips, my date to the “prom” or boyfriends. Even creative messes and lap blankets had to be cleaned up and folded ASAP. That’s why I wrote my bitter article False Guilt: #SorryNotSorry. Oddly enough, my husband was raised much the same way.
Only recently did I stroll through a proper woods without staying on the tar path. Only recently did I go fishing. Only recently did I have a long-term friend. Only recently did I dare to eat a sandwich without using a Handi-Wipe first. Only recently did I start petting strange dogs…and not washing my hands afterwards. Only recently did I start living like a normal human being! Horrors!
You see narcissists are so selfish that they must live carefully so nothing distracts, nothing requires patience, no problems occur…and they foist this peculiar brand of paranoia on their families.
If you don’t go anywhere, you don’t know anyone and you don’t try anything…nothing bad can happen! If they have a hobby at all, it’s usually one they “borrowed” from you. One gets the feeling that narcissists are just trying to get through life unscathed. But they’re not living…and neither can you when you’re with a narcissist.
Coughing & Sneezing
In Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennett scolds her daughter, Kitty, for coughing.
Mrs. Bennett…unable to contain herself, began scolding one of her daughters. “Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for heaven’s sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces.”
“Kitty has no discretion in her coughs,” said her father; “she times them ill.”
“I do not cough for my own amusement,” replied Kitty fretfully.
As ridiculous as this sounds, many of us have actually experienced it. As a kid, I got sick a lot and I coughed a lot. And my dad couldn’t stand it. Even when he got sick, it infuriated him that he was unable to control his own coughing. (Control, control, control.) I remember one exciting day when dad was fighting a cold. He couldn’t stop coughing, flew into a rage, jumped to his feet and passed out cold on the floor.
Not only does our coughing irritate narcissists, but so do our sneezes. I know, I know. That sounds really weird. But it’s true! I speak so quietly no one can hear me, but my sneeze can rattle windows. I’ve tried to quiet it down, but it’s impossible. So I got scolded every time I sneezed. Tone it down. Does it have to be that loud? It hurts my ears.
So I apologize when I sneeze. Always. And I bet you do too.
In their amazing book An Adult Child’s Guide To What’s “Normal”, John and Linda Friel make this fascinating statement:
Perfectionism is probably the most common and also one of the most damaging characteristics of dysfunctional families.
They go on to promote the “20% Mess-Up Factor” described thusly:
Everyone in your particular family, work or friendship system gets to “mess up” 20% of the time without any criticism, shame, blame, belittling, anger, rage or subtle words of correction…
What was your reaction to reading that? Here was mine: buuullllshit! I’m too steeped in perfectionism to accept a 20% mess-up factor! It’s utterly unacceptable. Which just goes to show how badly you and I need to embrace the 20% mess-up factor.
Falling In Love With Mediocrity
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse, it’s that we are all well-spoken and intelligent. We had to be to survive. I bet we’re all also ultra organized to the point of being anal. That’s the narcissist’s legacy to us.
Our challenge is to “let our hair down.” Oh, maybe 20% imperfection is too high. Try 5%.
This means that out of every twenty cakes you bake, you’re allowed to burn one…and eat the evidence. One out of every twenty plates can be dropped and broken. One out of every twenty words you type can be misspelled.
Narcissists demand perfection…and still don’t / can’t love you. So they just keep raising the bar higher in a back-handed attempt to shift the blame for their cold heartedness onto us. Perhaps they even resent us for rising to the occasion ever time in our ill-fated effort to earn their love.
You don’t have to be perfect to be loved. You don’t! I’ve learned that from my husband. He loves me just as I am…and the more I un-learn what the narcissist’s taught me, the better my husband likes me. I’m allowed to sneeze, cough, clash the silverware, break the crockery and generally be “raw” and “organic” without any scolding, teasing or put-downs. It’s delightful. (But he refuses to glue any more porcelain together. “Just buy new!” he finally said.)
Mediocrity. That’s the goal. Let’s fall in love with mediocrity, embrace imperfection and learn to live, really LIVE…warts, dirt, boo-boos and all! We can be mediocre…and be loved!