Respect, True and False

Sometimes in life you will encounter people who need your surface to reflect what they believe is their due; respect, agreement, friendliness. Some people are highly skilled at understanding and fulfilling this unspoken role play. They naturally slip into a rapport that allows the needy narcissist to feel the right way. Perhaps they just understand what is expected and are nimble about providing it, no matter their true feelings.

I am not one of those people. When I encounter a narcissist, particularly a toxic one, I shut down. I do a crummy job of hiding my emotions, be they good or bad. I am reticent about allowing that person - who to me is plainly unhealthy - any power over me. I'm a bad faker.

I recently had an encounter that ended badly, with someone being wildly put out that I didn't shelve my worries (a young relation was having a heartbreaking medical downturn) and show up happy when we ran into each other randomly, on my day off. The consequences to me were bewilderingly punitive; I was cast out of paradise. Some people need to use their power, to retain their equilibrium and stay comfortable, and heads will need to roll. 

I have apologized to this person for allowing my sorrow to show on my face, when she expected me to smile and offer myself up as emotionally available. Saying I'm sorry is about all I can do. People around me are quick to provide reasons why I shouldn't make the effort, when "everyone knows" this person is "crazy" and other more specific salacious comments.

Many of my favorite people are "crazy", and the truth is that I offended this person. I am sorry. It doesn't make me any less of a kindhearted, genuine being to admit that. One of my flaws is an inability to do hero worship. I have other things to offer, including loyalty and deep respect, but sucking up is not in my repertoire. Because I love to be around creative people, this situation will always crop up in my life. The line between originality and nuttiness is nearly non-existent and in any case, I love both.

So I take responsibility for my surface, which offended a powerful person, and will again in my life -- I can be sure. What I won't do is become defensive and buy into the shame that I am intended to feel. I failed to reflect good feelings, so I am "bad". I don't believe that kind of binary nonsense. I hope you don't allow yourself to be shoved into that sort of holy-unholy complex, either.

Bullies are sad people. They exercise their power to try and control reality, to force the world into the shape they need it to take, so they can feel okay. They are fragile. They struggle to maintain a sense of worth and slashing with their sword is sometimes the only remedy.

So, I apologize for the moments when I, by virtue of not hiding my true self, offend. But I won't redouble my efforts to be "nicer". I won't accept the idea that I really am, deep down, bad. I refuse to be defined that way, as an angel or a devil.

What I will do is hang on to my dignity, and keep risking. My writing, my coaching, and the other forms of work that I do all demand that I not let myself be projected upon by bullies. I must show up as authentic, no matter the cost. I must see clearly when people need to put me in a box for their own convenience, and refuse to climb in. 

I will pay the price for these choices. Some days, honestly, it's hard. No one likes being told they are rude, unworthy, and not okay. As an insecure, flawed, vulnerable lady myself, I'd love if the feedback I got was all hearts and roses. Lucky for me, I am deeply loved and fortunate to have friends who actually know me. We love one another for who we really are. My real loved ones are able to see that some days, when you've been at the hospital all day and now there's no dinner, and life seems wretched, it's not about them. 

If you are facing down a toxic narcissist who threatens to shame you, and cast you onto the pile of rejects, take heart. Your real self does not need the false approval of people who demand your "respect". 

What you need, what I need, is the self respect that comes from being authentic.

Also, if you see someone who doesn't look at you in a way that makes you feel good, consider taking a moment to wonder if that person is wrestling with sorrow and tragedy that day. Life isn't smooth for anyone. If your goal is having people like you and want to be your friend, compassion works far better than coercion.