“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.

Runner: Living with regret after running away in shame

I didn’t always think of myself as one who runs away. I’m a determined person, and I’ve been able to achieve many of the goals I set for myself. Recently, though, as I’ve reflected on my life, I see things a little differently. I set goals, achieve them, and then run when things get tough. I get to a good place, find people who love me, and then I sometimes want to run and flee from it all. I feel safe with someone, and then I smash the feeling to bits by oversharing and then withdrawing for a while.

I run. Safety is foreign, and uncomfortable. I also run from joy; Who am I to have it? Growing up with a Cluster B personality-disordered mom, things were never emotionally safe and joy was only acceptable if and when my mother was also feeling happy. Misery loves company. Because I didn’t want to overshadow my mom, I often embellished my misery. I neglected seeing the bright side and, consequently, I lowered my resilience and my ability to focus on positive emotions.

There were many times in my life when I couldn’t run. I was by my mother’s side as we moved cross-country with her boyfriend when I was ten, leaving my father & extended family behind. I moved to a few places with my mom and her next boyfriend, who quickly became my abusive stepfather. I couldn’t run from my mother’s control over my decisions throughout my childhood.

At seventeen, I ran towards my dreams and my goal of freedom. A prestigious ballet school had offered me a scholarship plus a stipend, and I rented a studio apartment which I shared with another student. It was glorious… I was even offered an apprenticeship with the professional company. It was truly a dream come true until I shattered my foot. After that, I was full of shame and embarrassment. I didn’t need to be — the school administrator even told me so: “It happens to everyone,” he’d said with understanding— but I felt defective. I stopped attending class because I couldn’t dance, and my stipend was removed without warning. Broke, embarrassed and feeling physically broken, I left. I ran. It never occurred to me to stay or ask for help or advice. Years later, people asked me why I disappeared.

When things got hard, I didn’t run towards people who were healthy & safe. I’m not sure I really had any who were available and present in my life at the time. I ran towards what I knew. I called my mom, with whom I was still very enmeshed, who told me I should move back home. She convinced me that the company surgeon was neglecting me and that I should see a surgeon in her city. Even when the company surgeon called and advised against the proposed surgery, she was adamant that I go through with it. I didn’t run. The surgery didn’t go well. Ashamed and embarrassed even further, I recovered slowly and eventually I ran back towards what had saved me before: ballet.

Against many odds, three years and two surgeries later, I returned to live out my dream, only it was much harder than before. I soon set off to move across the country and my mother was so despondent & angry when I drove away that I spent the entire cross-country drive feeling guilty for taking the opportunity I had been given. When I arrived at my new job, I was much less self-assured than I could have been. I was filled with guilt and anxiety and I hadn’t had years in a studio apartment alone – free of my mother- to prepare myself emotionally for the pressure I’d experience. Right away I met another new dancer with BPD (what are the odds?!) who leeched onto me a little, asking if she could move in with me when she was kicked out of another living situation. I had not yet learned healthy boundaries or how to recognize safe people. She was not a positive influence on my experience although for a while I thought she was a friend. The tough thing about personality-disordered relationships is that they can be disarming… things get so twisted and confused it’s hard to know what is going on. Things got tougher when a minor injury set me back a little and I decided to run away…again. I wrote a letter and left behind a beautiful opportunity. I moved again, this time towards a narcissistic dancer who lured me into believing the grass could be greener at the lower-level company where he worked. I was easy to fool. I ran away from a director who liked me towards one who was antisocial and abusive.

Eager yet ungrounded, I stayed in the negative environment for the rest of my short career. Negativity was familiar. When the dynamics became too toxic for me to tolerate, I exited. I was never fired, and I think my boss might have wanted me to stay in the end… but I decided to go, giving only a tiny portion of the reason why. I guess I thought I might return one day.

Looking back on these decisions now, I feel so sad. I forgot what I loved and let insecurities, abuse, and my own negativity cause me to run away in shame. I was raised to believe that I should constantly feel guilty, that I was not okay, that every move I made was the wrong one, that I would never be good enough as I was. I wish I had believed otherwise.

Can you relate? Do you look back and regret the ways you self-sabotaged by running away in shame when you didn’t need to? Did you ever lower yourself for no reason? Did you leave those who cared about you to move towards people who only wanted to use you?

These days, I am trying to run towards what is good and avoid the negative things that want to draw me in. I’ve learned that it is easier to face my shame head-on than cover it up and hide it away. There are good things to run towards … goals & dreams & loving people who bring out the best in me. My mother wants me to always run towards her – to make her my top priority and her grievances my biggest problem. It is so easy and natural for me to do this. I was raised to do this. But, for my own sanity, I must choose to stop walking on eggshells & run instead towards love.