Does something like this happen to you frequently? You’ve worked as far as you can on a project at work. You need information, but the person who has it is your supervisor. You approach his office and see he is reading a stack of papers. Afraid of bothering him, you retreat to your desk.
You go past your boss’ office several times that day. Each time, the fear of bothering him overwhelms you, even when he’s standing by the window, hands on his hips, doing nothing.
This has nothing to do with your boss’ personality. He has never been anything but kind to you. It’s just that you don’t like to intrude and bother people.
For instance, you won’t take back the blender that you recently purchased that doesn’t work. You’re nervous about bothering the customer service staff. Last night at a restaurant your soup was cold. However, you didn’t send it back because you didn’t want to bother the server.
Why, you wonder, do you always feel like you’re bothering people?
The roots of your fear of bothering people lie in your childhood. Like other facets of your life tainted with parental narcissism, your comfort with asking people to help meet a need has been torn to shreds.
As a child, you learned that your needs didn’t matter to your narcissistic parent. In fact, you learned not to even voice your needs as it could send your narcissistic parent into a fit of rage. Your parent trained you that only her needs mattered. You had to figure out how to meet your own needs.
Or let them go unmet.
Since you learned not to voice your needs at an early age, you never questioned if this was normal. You passed through adolescence and young adulthood. On this path you stumbled along as you tried to get your needs met while bothering no one.
Things were harder for you than for a lot of other people. They seemed more comfortable approaching people. You, on the other hand, struggled.
Maybe in college you needed to put your assignment in a professor’s mailbox. You faced a wall of slats and couldn’t figure out which one your paper belonged in. You didn’t want to bother the department secretary and ask. Even though she was leafing through a catalogue nearby.
A few years later, in your new job, your supervisor told you to work on something to a certain point and then give it to the clerical staff to finish up. You ended up doing the assignment until it was complete because you didn’t want the clerical staff to have to do it.
How many nights did you stay late because you were doing the work of people you didn’t want to bother?
Life According to the Narcissistic Parent
Parents are supposed to serve as mirrors for their children. When a child looks at a parent, they should see love and affection reflected back at them. This is one of the ways in which a child comes to feel valued and develop positive self-esteem.
Unfortunately, narcissistic parents do not act this way. To these parents, the child serves as a mirror for them. And they expect it to reflect back what they want to see, which of course is love and adoration for themselves. Thus, even infants, are expected to serve as sources of narcissistic supply—the fuel that keeps the narcissist’s false image in place.
When an infant cries, a mother with a healthy sense of self, soothes her child, supplying whatever remedy for the child’s discomfort may be needed.
A narcissistic mother, on the other hand, values the infant only when it is smiling at her. She has no use for a crying, screaming infant. She may let the child go on crying and screaming, doing whatever brings her pleasure at the cost of the infant’s needs.
This may be where you started to learn not to bother others.
As you grew into a toddler you wanted your mother to hold and cuddle with you. You approached her and tried to climb in her lap. She responded by screaming at you and told you to get down. She was too busy to be bothered with you.
If you’re reading this and wondering if your parent is a narcissist or not, think back. Examine all your memories. Do you have any memories of the parent you suspect of being a narcissist holding you? How about cuddling or playing with you?
Both my parents are narcissists and I don’t have a single memory of them cuddling or playing with me. I have memories of punishments and scoldings. The only memory I have of my parents playing with me is when Dad and I sat down to play a game I got for Christmas. I screwed up the rules and he literally won in two minutes.
“Wait!” I said. “I screwed up.”
“Nope,” he said, getting out of his chair. “I won.”
He never played the game with me again.
Examine your memories. And think of how you went out of the way not to bother your parents. Doesn’t it seem apparent why you don’t want to bother anyone?
How to Overcome Your Narcissistic Upbringing
It’s time you feel comfortable asking other people for what you need. To do this, you’re going to have to learn to step beyond the borders of your comfort zone. But don’t worry, I’m not talking about asking the President if you can sleep over at the White House…yet.
The trick is to start small. Find a situation where you can ask someone for something small. Go out to eat and send your food back even if there’s nothing wrong. Feel and be aware of the angst as you call the server over. Don’t tell him never mind or ask for a drink refill when he gets to your table. Say the food tastes funny and that you’d like something else.
See, he didn’t bite your head off. Nothing bad happened.
Now, keep placing yourself in situations where you have to ask someone for something. Occasionally, someone will huff and puff, but feel that discomfort. Don’t say you’re sorry. Thank them and walk away.
You’re not going to get punished or screamed at. People don’t act that way in the real world. Everyone is not like your narcissistic parent. You can ask people to help you with what you need with confidence.
Soon you’ll wonder what the problem ever was.
So go out into the world and stretch your comfort zone little by little. You’re right that you shouldn’t have to do this. No one should ever have to have a narcissist for a parent. It’s not fair that you have so much to overcome to be a healthy adult.
But the only other choice is to remain unhealthy. And that, my friend, would make your narcissistic parent all too happy.
So do the work and be proud of yourself. I know I’m proud of you. It’s all too easy to refuse to face our demons. And you are facing yours. That makes you one of the few.
It also makes you special.
In what situations are you most afraid to “bother” people? Tell us in the comments below.