Adult Children Of Narcissists: You Have Something On Your Face

A

I grew up in a city in Kentucky just across the river from Cincinnati, OH. I played in an alleyway and cemetery that were behind our house.

My parents made sure we were fed and I never went without a home, but other than that, I was left to my own devices.

My mother worked two jobs because the money from my narc father’s job (sometimes jobs) supported his gambling addiction.

The only grooming education I got as a child was to brush my teeth. I am grateful for that. I didn’t learn about hair styles or how to match clothes. I certainly didn’t learn anything girly. I went to Catholic school, so my school clothes were already picked out for me.

It would have been preferable (at least for my dad) if I had been a boy. The very least I could do was be a pretty and presentable girl for him to show off.

I heard a lot of derogatory comments about my looks as a child from my father. In looking at old pictures, I was actually a very pretty little girl, but no one took the time to teach me how to care for myself. Mostly, I went with the ‘raised by wolves’ look when I wasn’t in school.

When you are raised by a neglectful narcissist, the sting of rejection is a lesson well learned. Apparently, there is another type where you are smothered by your parent. From what I’ve read, that type is really no better at all.

I found that it was easier to fade into the shadows as much as possible. Follow along, don’t make waves and don’t ask for anything. If you never ask for attention, then you can’t be hurt when the request is denied.

But there was this boy.

Charlie Bright. Isn’t that a great name? It sounds made up, but it’s not. He belonged to the crowd of street rats that I hung out with. He had big eyes, thick lips, and I thought he was beautiful.

I was probably 10 or 11 years old and my band of friends were constantly pairing off. He went with her then she went with him. It was innocent enough. I wanted Charlie Bright to be my boyfriend.

My best friend’s name was Nancy. She was bad ass. She wasn’t afraid of anyone and all the boys wanted her as their girlfriend.

I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but Nancy decided to take it upon herself to ask Charlie why he wasn’t my boyfriend. She asked this right in front of me. I can remember with full clarity that hot/cold feeling of fear and excitement. I remember looking at him, terrified but hopeful. I never put myself out there. I always hid, but not this time. I wasn’t going to say “EWW, gross. I don’t want a boyfriend”. I just looked at him and waited for his response.

He wasn’t cruel when he said what he said. I guess that would have been worse. I guess if he had laughed at me, it would have been worse. What he said was “Michelle, go home and wash your face”.

I don’t recall if I went home right then, or if it was later. When I did get home and looked in the mirror, there was a long smear of dirt across one cheek.

I was horrified. I was ashamed.

No wonder he didn’t want me to be his girlfriend.

To this day, I am sickened if I find a smudge of anything on my face. It makes me feel like that little girl who was constantly coated in a layer of city dust.

I don’t know how many opportunities I have let pass me by because of my fear of rejection. Honestly, I don’t even want to think about it. What good will that do? The past is gone.

I put myself out there again.

It’s not the first time I’ve put myself out there. I haven’t lived my entire life in the shadows. But this is the first time I considered putting myself out there that made me think about that little girl with the dirty face.Β 

A blogger I admire put a call out for guest posts. She wanted posts that have to do with change. I had a couple ideas and thought I would float them out to her. I wrote her a short email with my ideas and when I finished writing it, decided to not contact her.

Her blog is a professional blog. She is an admired and successful blogger. I was sure she would be kind and let me down gently, but I was reasonably sure that there is no way my voice could be on her blog.

I sent the email anyway.

I started writing this post before getting a response from her. I had no idea how it would end. I would either wrap it up by writing how a rejection didn’t define me or defeat me, or I’d end it by writing how taking a chance actually panned out.

She responded with YES YES YES.

I can’t begin to tell you how nice it was to start my New Year with those words.

We all want to hear YES YES YES. But hearing no shouldn’t stop us from trying or stop us from living. Life is so much easier when you aren’t afraid of ‘No’. At least I suspect it is.

This acceptance won’t make me bold and fearless. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over feeling afraid of rejection.

However, it did feel good. Not just the ‘yes’ part (although that is my favorite part)Β it felt good to ask.

I’m not that sad girl anymore. I still carry some of her fears and her scars, but I’m an entirely different person. I’m always going to be one of the adult children of narcissists, but I am not a child anymore.

I wonder if Charlie Bright ever got off Philadelphia Street?

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59 comments

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  • I could so relate to so much of what you wrote. Especially the part about sending your stuff to “Professional Blog Lady who is so much better than me and will think what I have to offer is shit so why risk putting myself out there and getting shot down because who the hell wants to hear what I say anyway”. I have sat in the shadows and under the radar for far too long, like you. When I stick my toe out there and show myself I have people tell me they like my stuff but then I crawl back in to the shadows because it’s easier not to try and not fail than it is to try and possibly face criticism or rejection. However, 2014 is the year I have decided to say “F*ck it”. I may not be as smart or as awesome as some people but what if I am not the screw up and insignificant worm that I feel like I am? What if my vulnerability and thoughts could help someone else who is also sitting in the shadows and under the radar? I admire you Michelle for modeling what that beautiful vulnerability looks like and for giving so many of us a voice. You rock Sister and I am so proud of you!! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and your beautiful thoughts and feelings. I don’t know you personally but I feel like on some spiritual level I do and I am grateful for you.

    • well…it got a little dusty in here. πŸ™‚

      Thank you so much. This means a lot to me and I appreciate it. We all have a voice that is worthy and important and I’m so FUCKING GLAD you are choosing to use yours. Go forth, gorgeous!

      • Thanks for being part of my journey Michelle. You are an inspiration for me. I have signed up for a course on how to blog so I can finally get my blog up and running (I have NO clue how to set up a blog). I am moving forward with my retreat ideas and I am connecting with like-minded women to make that happen. And I KNOW that 2014 is going to be MY year. This is the year I leave the past, the fears and insecurities where they belong – in the past. I know that we ALL have insecurities. We all have fears. But we also have a CHOICE on whether we let those insecurities and fears stop us or whether we use them as stepping stones to move forward. Yeah, we have a past that s-u-c-k-s and parents that did some damage. But we (I) are all grown up now. Time to use those scars and experiences to rock this world. Show the world that we are survivors and thrivers. We are people to be feared because we went through crap, got shot down, torn down, abused and yet we are still moving forward, living our lives and doing just fine, thank you very much. Okay, a little bent and broken in a few places, but with some paint and a bit of emotional duct tape, we are good to go. Kinda like Terminator….. nothing can keep us down.

        Thanks Michelle for helping us get there, one blog at a time. πŸ™‚ It’s nice to know there are other people out there who feel so messed up, have been through the wars but despite it all are pretty frickin amazing and that we can all support each other on our journey.

        • See? this is what makes this so awesome for me. I’m so glad that you are inspired and I’m so glad that you’re finding your voice. Please let me know when you are up and running. I can’t wait to see it. Also, if you have any questions feel free to use the contact page and send me an email. I don’t know how much help I can be, but I’d certainly be willing to share what I can.

          • Thanks so much Michelle. I will take you up on your offer. I am in the “getting ready to get ready” mode because (a) I want to do it “right” (read: I don’t want to look stupid) and (b) I am still scared shitless to put myself out there so I am procrastinating and yapping about it but not actually DOING it. After February 5 when I take the “learn to blog” course you have permission to kick my ass if I am not actually DOING something about the blog. πŸ™‚ Because as much as I want to do it, there is “mother” in my head sneering “Ha!! That is HILARIOUS. You? Write a blog?? About what?? What the hell do you have to say that anyone is going to want to waste their time reading?”. So, yeah, February 6 – kick my ass. πŸ™‚

  • This reminds me of 8th grade, when I was one of the MC’s of the school talent show. I had a really sore throat, and the breath to go with it. Steve said “YOUR BREATH STINKS” right in front of Toby, the boy I liked. I thought I would die. πŸ™‚

    I am actually “friends” with Steve on FB now. I forgive him; he was 13. I’m not friends with Toby. He turned out to be a meathead. πŸ™‚

  • Michelle, that is so AWEsome. Your story resonates with me, as always. I was that kid, too. And I exactly remember moments like that “Go wash your face” comment you lived through. People were always telling me I should cut my hair, or at least brush it once in awhile.

    I, too, always felt like my dad wished I’d been a boy, so I lived a total tomboy childhood. I had to beat all the boys at everything–best grades, fastest runner, strongest arm-wrestler, best tree-climber, etc–I was determined to be the most badass 9 year old ever. I was super competitive with everyone, and myself (still am, in some ways). In writing this, it just occurred to me that I was always competing with the boys, but never with the girls. Maybe because I felt like they were so much more privileged and beautiful and clean? I don’t know. I just never felt like one of the girls, I guess.

    When I got older, I went and got my own hay for my horses, and unloaded it ALL by my strong-ass self into our barn loft. I helped dad put away firewood until I was ready to drop, until that time when I was 14 and I stopped because I broke a nail–and I remember him staring at me in sort of…horror…as if he just realized I was, yes, A GIRL.

    Nevertheless, inside I always felt like I was just this poor, scruffy little hippie kid with scraggly hair and bony elbows, hairy arms, and probably dirt somewhere from hanging out with horses by myself all the time. I never fit in with the city kids, who were pretty and popular and girly and had electricity and sidewalks.

    At puberty I was never surprised when the boys all loved the blond, pretty, city girls, because I was…dorky old me. Things changed later in highschool, when I obsessed over dressing like the perfect 80s teenager, but I always felt like I was hiding the fact that I was still just a poor, grungy hippie kid.

    I remember specifically the exact day that it occurred to me that I was a girl who might not be an ugly duckling someday. I actually sat and studied my own face in a mirror. I was sitting in our ‘storage’ type structure outside, probably digging through our family’s crap that was ok being outside (you know…marriage licenses, birth records–stuff my dad didn’t figure would matter), and I must have found a mirror.

    I still remember the wonderment of carefully studying my own face at something like age 12 and finding that, it was a nice face, even possibly not a homely face, and that under the stringy hair and horse-corral dust, there was a girl who might someday be considered…pretty. I decided that I actually LIKED my face. It was an epiphany.

    I love that I outgrew that kid, but inside I still always have that feeling that I’m the dorky outsider. Even at my most dressed-up, grown-up, I-arrived-in-a-new-BMW-with-designer-clothes-on…when I walk into a room full of strangers, I feel like I’m the dorky one who doesn’t belong. Which is odd, because over the years, I’ve had friends tell me that their first impression of me of an unapproachable, slightly snobby, classically beautiful woman. That doesn’t sound like me…to me. Then, of course, if they get to know me, without makeup, in pajamas, doing ninja moves and speaking in endless stupid movie quotes, they probably realize that, yes, I’m still a dork, but at least I’m a fun dork. πŸ™‚

    No idea where I’m going with this, except that your posts about growing up always make me smile, and tear up, sometimes simultaneously. I love that dorky kid I was, but I do wish sometimes that I could go back and tell her that she was a pretty girl who deserved to be treated like one.

    Someday maybe I’ll blog any of this, but most of it, I still don’t think I’m ready for my mom to read, and she reads my blog, so…there’s that. Thanks for being an outlet for my ‘other’ stuff. πŸ˜€

    • I love this…thank you so much for sharing!
      I’m glad this is a ‘safe’ place for you to go! I would not want my mother to read this blog. It would make her cry and then I’d have to stop.

    • You know, the other thing I want to add is the epiphany you had…how wonderful! How very awesome that you loved your face at such a young age. I am both happy for you and terribly envious. I have just…after all these years…learned to look at myself and say, you know…not too fucking bad.

      Of course, I counter that with some derogatory comments, but I’m also learning to ignore that voice.

      • Thanks! Yeah, my mom would probably cry at some of the crap I might write, so I limit myself to mild jabs at my dad. Like Jenny at thebloggess says, I think…most of the truly gritty commentary will all have to go in some later book, after no one is coherent enough to read the internet from the nursing home or whatever.

        And, lady–Ignore that voice, by all means.

        Eventually I’m going to start some “my childhood” posts, but they’ll be with a funny slant. You’ll just have to be able to recognize the inherent craziness between the lines. πŸ™‚

  • I relate to this in so many ways……
    I think one of the saddest consequences of that fear for me is that none of my songs have been in the public eye till now, purely because a musician I looked up to didn’t really seem to be interested in my songs, so I automatically assumed them unworthy, after all why would anything I do be worthy? I was very wrong, such a shame it took me so long to realise that. It’s still a battle with that inner voice of doubt, but I occasional win these days.

    • I’m so glad you’re winning because you have an amazing talent. I catch myself singing your tunes (badly) quite often. πŸ™‚

      You need to keep battling that inner voice of doubt.

  • I mean this in the nicest way possible, but I am so happy to not be the only one who still feels like the scared little girl of their past.

    My parents we nice enough, although my father didn’t know how to give a compliment. Either I didn’t look good enough or I needed to cover up. My mom was a tomboy, so I got no instruction on makeup or fashion. I kind of like it that way. To this day, I only wear makeup if I’m trying to impress someone or if I feel self-conscious about my skin that day.

    Lastly, you write fantastic posts here, so it’s no surprise to me that one of your ideas would be accepted for a guest post. I look forward to reading it.

    • I don’t take that bad at all….it SUCKS to feel like you’re alone in anything sad or difficult or scary. Not that you WISH it on anyone..but if they are already there? Well then…YAY!

      Oh man…not me..I wear makeup. I ALWAYS wear makeup. Well..not always…I have gotten to a place where I will go to the grocery without it. I feel exposed without it. I just learned on my own.

      And thank you. πŸ™‚

  • I can sooooo relate to being that kid (young adult, older adult) who is/was afraid to come out of the shadows and shine. It has gotten easier but I don’t expect it will ever be 100% natural. And that’s okay.

    I like to think that all the crap we went thru is what what gave us our voices. The whole “your mess is your message” thing.

    So when is your guest post going up? πŸ™‚

  • I feel that you richly deserve that YES YES YES because of the quality of your writing and the humanity you express with it. Please let us know when and where it goes up.

    • Thank you so much.

      It’s funny, it’s not always hard for me to do this. It wasn’t until I started reading about the effects of narcissism on kids that I understood what it means to be disassociated from yourself. Sure, it’s not healthy and it really makes emotional intimacy difficult…BUT…you can look back on your life and write without (much) pain or (much) fear. Of course, these moments are punctuated with OH MY GOD…WHAT HAVE I DONE????

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it.

      You know, if I’m really honest…it’s the absolutely wonderful feedback that I get that I have the most difficulty with. I’m still learning how to accept kindness and acceptance. THAT shit is really hard. As much as I do appreciate it.

  • Oh! I am so glad you sent it! I was going to come down here and rant mercilessly at you until you were finally like “okay, anything to make you stop!” That is so awesome. Please let us know when your post is up so we can follow the link and go fangirl all over it.

    • Thanks, Aussa…I will!! I’m glad I sent it as well. It’s these little things that don’t seem like big things that are actually big things…things like sending an email. Scary stuff.

  • Major congrats to you. That’s fabulous and you deserve it. Everyone deserves moments of appreciation and respect. In my case, that’s recently come from fellow writers. Some highly respected authors have not only read my blog, but found it witty and entertaining. One specific author contacted me directly earlier and demanded I update. She said it’s been too long and she needed a fix lol (paraphrasing). Later she got upset because she said I made her spit out tea. I love people who can laugh at stupidity, even it if is mine. And while this isn’t going to be my eventual “author” blog, it thrills me to know that people who were once in my shoes enjoy my rants. So, good for you. Keep sharing your stories. They’re appreciated.

  • It is always good for me to come here. I read and nod my head the whole way through. Working through this stuff is hard, satisfying work! I just finished reading a book called “Difficult Mothers”. Between that and reading your blog and going to therapy, I feel like I’m really uncovering so much. Today’s big therapy revelation…my parents were WRONG. It felt so amazing to realize/say/feel/ KNOW that to the core of my being FINALLY. And thanks for checking out my unicorn πŸ˜‰

    • I am so sick today…fuck. I feel terrible. And then I read ‘thanks for checking out my unicorn’ and I laughed a little.

      Good luck with the therapy and those little revelations mean so much, don’t they?

  • I don’t think if I could ever be unsure of myself if I got half this number of responses on any of my own blogs. Also, I haven’t read anything else of yours (came over at random from Chuck Baudelaire) but I wouldn’t be afraid of rejection if I could write like you do.

    With regards and the best of luck.

    Bill.

    • Thank you so much. That is very kind and I would love to believe it.

      I DO, a little more every day…but it’s a long road. Again, thanks for your kind words. πŸ™‚

  • Change the city to Logan, Utah and the boy to Kevin Kelly and this could have been my story (except Kevin WAS mean in his response: “Jana, only my dog would want to make out with you.” — on a school bus FULL of 7th and 8th graders who laughed and laughed. Still stings.

    One of my resolutions this year is to take myself out of my comfort zone bit by bit — I’m glad you took the leap, and that it paid off for you!

    • What a little asshole. I would spit on Kevin for you.

      And thanks..it really was a confidence boost for me..the asking part.

  • Reading this, I know exactly how you felt that day. I was raised by my narcissistic mother, who never taught me to take care of myself. When I was in sixth grade, one of my “friends” told me at recess (in front of half the other girls in my class) that I “stink of B.O.” I didn’t shower regularly or wear deodorant, because I wasn’t taught to. To this day, I don’t go anywhere without deodorant and perfume in my bag, just in case, and I feel out of sorts if I don’t shower every day. I also had the worst skin until I was 16, because I didn’t know I had to wash my face twice a day, every day. My mother said years later that she just assumed I knew what to do because I read teen magazines.

    I got in trouble at my last job because I was working with a woman who was like a perfect TV mom – warm, pretty, full of compliments – and I latched onto her pretty hard. I did her extra favors without charging her, without telling my boss. When he found out, he was pissed, I was in trouble – and I couldn’t tell him why I did it. I was too ashamed to say it was because I wanted her to love me like my mother never has.

    I have trouble putting myself out there, too, especially when it comes to relationships. I have actually tried a few times recently, and it has not ended well, which just reinforces that fear and makes it even harder to try again. I decided that this year I’m going to have to work harder to pull myself together. I have to accept that it’s just always going to be harder for me than for some people. Luckily, I have one good friend who has been encouraging me…because she knows my mother never will.

    I’m glad to see that you’ve learned to push through the fear and doubt sometimes, and just go for it. It’s something that I couldn’t do for over 30 years, but I’m starting to now. (And now that I’ve been writing and rewriting this comment for a full hour, I’m going to take a deep breath, call it good, and actually hit the ‘submit’ button.)

    • I’m glad you sent it. I could feel the pain in your words and I wish that I could make it go away.

      I’m so sorry that you’ve gone through this. I understand about latching on to someone because you so desperately need approval. I find myself looking for approval from people that I dislike the most and I HATE IT. The more someone is like my dad, the more I want them to validate me. It’s such an uncomfortable place to be. I end up disliking and resenting those people even more. GAH.

      BUT..I am aware of it..and if I catch myself offering up information or chatting with a person who I know has narcissistic tendencies, I remind myself who I am talking to and that I don’t need (and won’t get) their approval. It’s a process.

      • I subscribed to comments for this post, and I started seeing emails about other comments & your responses, and I started feeling terrible for submitting my comment, because you didn’t say anything to me. But then I came back this morning to see why the other people got responses and I didn’t, and there was your reply; you sent it before the subscription kicked in. So I was kicking myself for putting myself out there, when everything was fine. I do this a lot.

        I spent years trying to win my mother’s approval, but I finally started to resent her so much. By junior high, I started wanting approval from people who appeared to be the opposite of my mother. But I latched on too quickly, started over-sharing, and then they started backing off because I weirded them out. I started becoming more aware of it a couple of years ago, so it happens less and less. But I was tired and stressed at my last job, and I already felt like I was failing in my boss’s eyes, so when this woman was nice to me, I just lost my head for a bit. I’m almost positive she’s the one who told my boss about my behavior, and I was so insanely hurt at the time, but I know she did the right thing.

        It’s definitely a process. Figuring out that my mom is a narcissist and realizing that many of my problems stem from that was a huge step in starting to get better. Finding others who went through the same thing is so validating, too, because people who had “normal” parents often don’t understand.

        • Oh! I’m so glad your saw my reply!

          Don’t beat yourself up over it too much. We all have our way of dealing with our issues, even if they aren’t always the best way. The important thing is, you recognize it. Too often, I think we go through life without seeing ourselves for who we are and how we are perceived by others and then get confused/hurt/angry when people react to our behavior.

          And you’re right..I think it’s great to connect with people who really ‘get’ what it is like to have been raised in this toxic environment.

  • Michelle, I can relate to so much of what you write…I swear, I was holding my breath till I saw that you sent the email, and then one eye was skipping past the paragraph before the YES YES YES! So happy for you and can’t WAIT to read your guest post!

    I am glad I am not SO far behind on my reading that it already happened. πŸ™‚

  • I always enjoy your posts.
    Most could have been written about me. My parents were alcoholics, which I guess is the same thing. Anybody in that kind of trouble is going to be very self-focused. Actually, my father was the active alcoholic, and he, surprisingly, was more aware of me. My mother was a narcissist from the get-go.
    Their public image was law-abiding, intelligent and charming people. Nobody knew about our home life.

    All three of us children are severely damaged. I’ve had the most therapy. The benefit of that has been to see our situation more clearly, but rising above it? I really don’t know.

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