November 23, 2009

Healthy Entitlement: Self-Nurturing

The Lemon by Edouard Manet, 1880

"I have sacrificed everything in my life that I consider precious in order to advance the political career of my husband." ~Pat Nixon
Now THAT'S a lemon-of-an-idea. If you’re a woman & if you’re old enough, you were socialized to be a man’s helpmate. We were taught to sacrifice everything to the building of the great man’s kingdom---the great man who walked ten steps ahead of us so we could ‘burka’ ourselves in his shadow. A double lemon of a loser idea if ever there was one. Today, few parents encourage daughters to sacrifice her self, her dreams, her wants, her desires, and follow behind the man who is bravely paving the path or steering the unwieldy ship. If people are still teaching children such nonsense, then that's a triple lemon loser of an idea. You can't even add ten cups of sugar to offset the sour taste in your mouth, or the bitter conclusion.

My former article titled Gratitude: the antidote to Entitlement, referred to narcissistic entitlement---the idea that one DESERVES to have whatever one wants. The more we expect to get, the less grateful we are; consequently, the more dissatisfied we become because let's face it: greed is insatiable. The method my parents used to keep 'greed' and 'entitlement' in check was a farming philosophy called: The poor family's method for raising grateful kids. In other words: You can't give your kids what you can't give your kids. There’s not much moral restraint if there isn't a choice to be made, now is there? Our challenge to countering narcissistic entitlement today, is to exercise self-discipline, common sense, and express gratitude. That’s the gist of my prior article. Anyway, ‘anonymous’ made the following comment about my Bosch mixer story:
"This article reminded me of a couple of things. One: that I have a hand mixer that is over 25 years old, and doesn't stay plugged in. I figure if it still works, why get a new one. I guess maybe, because I deserve one. As woman, we put ourselves on the list last many times. Like buying a bra. How often do we wait until it's in mere shreds, before we get a new one, because we think they are too expensive, yet we spend that money on others."~Anonymous
I'm glad you're so frugal, anonymous; I'm also glad I don't work in a bra fitting shop. (j'est kiddin' ya!) Thank you for making this important point about a lack of healthy entitlement, which might also be defined as: sacrificing or neglecting the undeserving self that was not sufficiently nurtured in childhood.

The Narcissistic Family

In narcissistic families, children erroneously believe they don't deserve to have their needs met. Narcissistic parents send the message that children’s demands are overwhelming burdens. Narcissistic mothers are notorious for guilting children about the sacrifices she makes in their behalf. Narcissistic fathers lecture about the hard work they do putting food on the table or buying a lazy kid a pair of socks. (father had no socks when he was a kid and he still shoveled sidewalks in the winter without getting sick. What makes his child think she’s so special she needs socks?)

Rather than be lectured, guilt-tripped, demeaned, or insulted, children of narcissists survive with very little. A narcissistic mother may have a closet crammed with designer clothes, yet her child resorts to begging for a winter coat. If the enmeshing parent dresses her child in fancy attire, the mother is still meeting her narcissistic needs to see her glorified reflection in a decorative object (the child). Of course, there's the overindulgent narcissist who gives a child Too Much, creating another generation of entitled spoiled adults. What I'd like to write about today though, are children who felt unworthy and undeserving, silencing their essential needs in order to avoid rejection and survive parental neglect. When vulnerable children are shamed for being ‘needy’, when vulnerable children worry more about meeting their parents' needs than the reverse, this is abuse---all too common in the narcissistic family.

Because narcissists are highly competitive, narcissistic parents are jealous of children’s possessions, accomplishments, and talents. Their envy exacerbates children's anxiety about having more or doing better than their parent(s). Children become anxious because parental envy threatens the fragile love-connection they desperately cling to. Children’s possessions elicit tirades about selfishness and self-centeredness. Mother must have the best. Father must have the most. It is far better for a child to have nothing, to want nothing, than to face the narcissist’s criticism. It may be hard to believe that narcissistic parents compete with their children, or envy their achievements, but they do. Even the narcissist’s child is sized up as competition.

Though children blame themselves for being unworthy and undeserving, self-blame is less painful than admitting a parent is untrustworthy or unloving. By not expressing their needs and having those needs met time and time again, children lose awareness of their realistic (normal) needs. Or they label themselves as too needy. Or feel guilty about taking more than they deserve; and so, they take very little. They (women especially) are reluctant to take too much space in a room, or too much space in a conversation, restricting their presence in an attempt to please/placate others.

Being a low-maintenance child or partner (a nice word for self-neglect) is idealized as a valuable attribute.

Lack of healthy entitlement may start in childhood but it can also be learned in adult relationships since available resources are geared towards the narcissist. The partner’s self-denial is consistently rewarded with the narcissist’s appreciation for not making demands of his or her precious time and energy. This can be a proverbial slippery slope, even for women who entered the relationship with a healthy sense of entitlement. Typically, people respond to being rewarded. If self-sacrifice results in affection, approval, and the appearance of a loving bond, people will be inclined to ignore their needs in the belief they are benefiting the partnership (or family). In my experience, this pernicious belief happens surreptitiously. Only in hindsight do we see how easy it was to stop taking care of ourselves because care-taking ‘needy’ others expended our energy. The deceptive appearance of reciprocal ‘caring’ by the narcissist is the image presented by the narcissist. We willingly sacrificed our wants and needs in reciprocation of the narcissist’s pretense of self-sacrifice. Eventually, we realize that narcissists sacrifice others, not themselves.

There's also the situation in which people with low self-esteem feel unworthy or undeserving, thus neglecting their needs and feeling bad about themselves as a result. Because they are out of touch with what they really need in order to feel good, they impulsively buy what they want and neglect self-care: i.e.: the woman with diamond studs on her toenails but no gas in her car to get to work.

To bolster positive feelings, self-neglecting people over-indulge and under-nurture. This is easy to understand because withholding from the self feels ‘normal.’ This may be a pattern from childhood that feels ‘comfortable and familiar’. Not nurturing self-care by providing for one's needs leads to impulsive behavior that gratifies insatiable wants. This is ultimately self-destructive. Yielding to dissatisfying wants and ignoring essential needs is an addictive cycle that might stem from a lack of guidance and validation from caring adults when we were children. We feel bad about ourselves and so, self-indulgence compensates for feelings of low self-worth. Early parental deprivation is repeated when we deprive ourselves. Lack of parental nurturing is repeated when we do not nurture ourselves. Recognizing our unhealthy behavior is the first step towards invalidating narcissists' messages and compassionately meeting the needs of our ‘needy’ inner child.

One last point: women have been socialized to embody self-sacrifice as the mark of the virtuous woman. However: "Self-sacrifice which denies common sense is not a virtue. It's spiritual dissipation." ~Margaret Deland

Giving your self permission to ‘Have’
Healthy Self-Nurturing

1- Start small by giving yourself things that don't cost much, if anything at all.'Freebies' are best because they won't trigger guilt, anxiety, or your mother's envy. Give yourself the same tokens you gave yourself as a child: gnarly branches, broken asphalt chunks, random hub cabs, road-smashed bicycle parts...anything evoking the child's delight finding treasures nobody noticed but themselves. Pick up a small rock that shines in the sunlight and tuck it in your pocket. I still have a couple of cool rocks I snagged while on a melancholy stroll across my property. They make me smile. They remind me of my inner child who marveled at cracked mud pies and the beauty of broken glass.

2- Buy a dozen roses at Costco (cheap enough to rip the petals off) and throw the petals in your bathwater at home. Not at Costco's appliance department. Unplug or shut off your telephone, put a Do Not Disturb sign on the bathroom door, let everyone know you are 'off limits' for at least half an hour. Put on some comforting music, strip off your clothes and lay in the water until the palms of your hands are as wrinkled as your face. Whatever you do, don't eat the roses. I hear those big commercial flower growers use lots of pesticides. No pesticides for you. Only vitamins. Which by the way, you should GIVE yourself daily.

3- Sooth yourself with the gift of 'peace' by leaving early enough for work to stay relaxed and calm during stoplights. No rushing for you today. That's an order. Give yourself an extra ten minutes to get wherever you’re headed. Sooth your tired nerves with extra time. Allowing yourself to be free from anxiety and stress is harder than it sounds because children and partners of narcissists have learned to survive on adrenalin. Kick the adrenalin habit and smile when everyone else on the freeway is grimacing, growling, and acting like stress junkies.

4- See a bracelet you want to buy at the jewelry store? Ask yourself what you want more: the new bracelet or the debt. Then nurture the comfort of being debt-free by choosing to let another person charge the bracelet to their Visa account. The next month when your bill arrives, you'll appreciate a second gift: the gift of self-confidence in trusting your ability to give you what you really need---freedom from the anxiety of debt. Think of it this way: all jewelry tarnishes thirty days later when the bill comes due.

5- If you feel guilty passing the homeless in the street, yet you can’t afford to solve the crisis by yourself, nurture your peace of mind by recognizing your privilege. People resolve guilt by blaming others for tragic situations. Don't do that to yourself. Nurture clarity of mind by checking yourself for 'blame'. Don’t avoid the feeling of sadness by projecting blame on others. (You may choose to allocate a charitable contribution of money or time where what you CAN DO will have the biggest impact. Nurture your soul by taking action.)

6- Free a neurotic conscience about meeting your 'needs' yourself. Use common sense to determine ‘needs from wants’ and then question internalized messages about selfishness or self-centeredness. Recognize that feeling guilty for having needs, or labeling yourself as selfish and greedy, is a residual of narcissistic programming. There is no virtue in continuing narcissists' devaluation by devaluing yourself or denying your needs. You cannot deprive yourself or give enough to others to ‘earn’ your right to be loved. In fact, you can never 'do without' enough to squeeze a dram of compassion from narcissists’ hearts and gain their approval. If your conscience is nagging you about being selfish when all you want is a new mixer with a decent plug that'll stick in the outlet without falling out, remember this quote: "Conscience that isn't hitched up to common sense is a mighty dangerous thing." ~Margaret Deland

7- At least one day a week, liberate your self from self-improvement. Do not open a single workbook, nor log into a recovery website. Do not worry about fixing whatever ails you, and do not check your progress, nor tally your mistakes. Take a nurturing-the-self day and just ‘be’. Feel without Fixing. Do without Doing Better. All you have to do is be yourself. Tell yourself, “Everything is Unfolding Exactly as it Should” and then, fold up the self-help books and relax. Give yourself what you really deserve by nurturing your good-enough self.




  1. Once again, such a great article. You hit the nail on the head in so many areas. I could tell you a million stories that relate to so much of what you said. You know, because you have been there.

    When I first left, I read, and read, and read, trying to understand. When it came to children, I seemed to read more how narcisstic parents spoiled their children. I saw the opposite in my situation. Everything had to be earned, and little was given in return.

    Thank you for continuing to bring you knowledge forward in the wonderful way that you do. Honestly, tactfully, lovingly, and with humor. You have helped me the most make it to the other side. I am finally no longer focused on the why. It consumed me at first. I now think of me when I wake up in the morning, and about my day, instead of him. The relief is beyond words.


  2. I'm glad you are doing better, anon. Feeling like ourselves again is a tough battle. Most people can't even fathom the degree of confusion we experience in a narcissistic relationship. The narcissist's deceit is so, well...deceitful.

    Maybe there are "narcissistic" parents who spoil their children and raise a generation of pathological narcissists but I'll bet those full-blown narcissistic kids don't overindulge their kids.

    My experience is that pathological narcissists are more likely to be MISERLY than overly generous. I don't know if that corroborates with other people's perceptions. It's difficult to assign any absolutes to the narcissistic personality. Ns are so different from one another and yet, so alike.

    I'm glad you're here, anon. I'm especially thankful to know that my 'ramblings' have given you some relief...and understanding.

    Happy Thanksgiving!


  3. Hell yes.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  4. CZ -- this is brilliant. Your 7 steps are awesome -- I'm in awe as always.

    You are amazing. And I so appreciate you in my life. Thank you.



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