“You’ll be sorry”: a narcissistic projection?

I opened the French door to her bedroom and said goodbye; I was leaving early. She was in her bed in the late morning, coming down from her last rage, and she looked at me with her eyes squinted & cold as she said in a deep, haunting voice, “You’ll be sorry.” I walked away.

Maybe I would be sorry for leaving, for not anticipating what she’d wanted the day before, and for not making up for the lacks she’d had in her childhood. I was always feeling sorry. I had walked around apologizing nonstop for most of my life. “Sorry,” I’d say, when someone banged into me at the store. “Sorry,” I’d say, after talking too much, or not enough, or if I asked a question. I was sorry for being indecisive, for being decisive, for having an opinion. I was sorry for it all. That day, I was tired of trying to make it all okay.

I had wanted to connect with my mom on that trip. Recently married, I’d only known my husband for about a year. I had been living in a whirlwind with a new husband, new home, stressful performing career and college classes on the side. I was trying to be and do it all. I’d made some mistakes during this whirlwind of a time that were weighing me down, though I hadn’t had the space to confide in anyone or even come to terms with them yet. My mom didn’t seem too interested in the things going on in my life, but threatened by them. She was not the type to enjoy seeing the newlywed photos.

We were making dinner and discussing evening plans (including my plans to visit a friend in a bit) when my mom offered to play a new song for me on her piano. I’d listened to my mom’s songs before and knew I would need to be fully focused while listening. No smirks or smiles that might be incorrectly perceived, which can be difficult to monitor during hystrionic moments. Full attention. I suggested that I shower first, thinking that I could let my hair dry while I listened and be more attentive, rather than rushing off to shower so I could make it to my date on time. My suggestion caused a narcissistic wound and she began to scream, with and without words. Shrill screams and then, “You know what I want but you WON’T give it to me!” There was no diffusing the situation and I’m not sure that at this time I really knew what “diffusing” meant. I could have apologized then. I could have given her a hug while she yelled at me. She couldn’t hear my reasons, nor did she care. We went back and forth for hours. The next morning, the fight continued and worsened. She shook me told me to go to hell. In her mind, I should go to my grave sorry that I didn’t want to listen to her song the moment she wanted to play it. That I didn’t love her well enough. I could have, she thinks, but I didn’t. Just like everyone else.

There have been quite a few times in our life where my immediate, natural response has been utterly offensive to her while not necessarily wrong or bad. Once, she showed up unannounced to my new apartment shortly after I’d moved out for the first time. I was seventeen. I was busy, tired, and sick with a cold. She’d recently broken up with her boyfriend and wanted a friend, but I was not immediately excited to see her and it showed on my face when I opened the door. It’s been twenty years and I still don’t think she’ll ever forgive me for that. There is no room for me to be myself, with my own separate feelings and desires, in her world. Internally, I long for the mother who can accept me, with my failure to perform appropriately for her. I walk on eggshells, but eggshells break.

I feel very sad that my mom feels so desperately needy that she cannot tolerate the slightest perceived rejection. It grieves me to think that she must have been denied the type of attention a child needs to thrive. I can’t make up for that lack and as much as I try, I cannot always have the response that she wants me to have. I resent that I have tried so hard only to have it all fall apart, cyclically. Last year, holiday planning caused a similar outburst. In that one, she expanded the guilt: “You should be sorry when I’m dead IF you have any remorse or empathy.”

Sometimes I wonder if the phrase, “You’ll be sorry” is just a projection. Maybe she is the one who is sorry, or fears she will be someday. Maybe deep down, she can see that she aggressively pushes away those who love her the most.

Lisa Brennan-Jobs, in her book “Small Fry” writes this about her father:

“It is possible that he didn’t want me to leave, that he helped cause the very losses he didn’t want, that he wasn’t able to keep in his life the kind of people who might explain this pattern to him. Had he kept them, he wouldn’t have listened to them anyway.”

Her words explain so well what it is like to be a in a personality-disordered relationship. There is no getting through about the pattern. Sometimes you must let go.

Please comment if you can relate.

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