Today a lady who is old enough to be my mother told me she enjoyed seeing me and I was a delight to be around. Instead of feeling pleased, I felt uncomfortable and weird. Why? That is a great compliment, so I should feel happy that I make others happy. But I just felt awkward and a bit confused.
Like many people who have been verbally and emotionally abused, I am used to being treated like crap. I internalized the horrible messages I heard growing up and from my abusive ex even though they were never true. So now when people do say nice things to me or appreciate me, I feel insecure and self-consciously wonder if they are right.
I work with the elderly as a personal care giver and I really enjoy it. So many of my clients tell me how much they like me, and they ask me to come back or be their regular care giver. My ongoing schedule is full because people like me, and I can’t even schedule all the times that people want me to visit them. And even though so many of my clients tell me I’m their favorite or one of their favorites, I still doubt myself. Many of them are just a bit older than my mother or just a bit younger than my grandmother, or anywhere in between. I ask myself how could my mother hate me SO much when so many of the older ladies I work with say I brighten their days? Was my mother right when she told me I was bratty, evil, sickly, lazy, nasty, ugly, horrible and so many other cruel things? Or are these clients right when they say I’m a good worker, I’m thoughtful, I’m easy to talk to and a good listener? My brain knows that my mother was a nasty abuser, and my brain knows that I do good, honest, hard work, but I still have the ongoing effects of emotional trauma engraved in my head.
After a childhood with abusive parents who both showed and told me that they thought I was worthless and a waste of their time, I married two different abusive men who did the same. Kind words have not been a common part of my home life. Until recently, I had very little faith in the idea that I a worthy human being who could be loved.
And yet, I have heard many good things about myself from people who aren’t part of my family. Over the years, I have won many academic awards and many work awards. Teachers told me I was smart and did good work. Bosses told me I did a great job and was a hard, reliable worker. Single men have told me I’m pretty. Friends have told me I’m funny and they enjoy my company. But today, when a lady who could be my mother’s age told me I was a delight, I froze and wondered if she was mistaken. How could such a thing be true when everyone I was supposed to trust has told me nothing but bad things about myself?
Because it IS true. The abusers in my life were the ones who were wrong. I go to this lady’s house each week to help her with her husband and chores. I am polite and respectful. I smile and put on a cheerful face even when my self esteem is low or I’m worried about all my problems. I like to hear about their interests and chat with them. I work hard to clean their home and add details to make life better for them. I help with various health needs. And even though I’m not making huge money, I do my job just as well as I would if I made twice as much. I do good things to help them…and they see that. They see my honest efforts to do a good job, and they appreciate it. They like me because there IS something to like about me despite what abuser who have told me.
I hope with time, these realities continue to help erase the lies my cruel mother planted.
It is hard to escape from the fog created by narcissistic abuse. Abusers lie to us so much about ourselves that we can develop a false idea of what we are like. They want to drag us down until we believe we are as awful as they say we are so we don’t defend ourselves when they bully us. So we don’t have the self confidence to rise above and escape them. So they can pretend they are superior to us. When we get out into the sane world and spend time around people who aren’t disordered, it is reality that seems confusing because we haven’t seen it in so long.
When we escape from abuse–and from the misleading memories and beliefs that were planted in our heads–we find that we have many good qualities that were previously distorted or hidden from us because we weren’t around people who bothered to appreciate us and what we have to offer.
That’s what is happening to me. For the first time in my life, I’m learning to believe the GOOD things healthy people mirror back to me rather than the negative lies that abusers tried to project on me. I shouldn’t feel confused or uncertain when someone compliments me. I should say “thank you” with confidence and realize that they are seeing who I really am and have been all along.