musings, narcissists

Love me for what I am…

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Carpenters’ music. I know some of it is super schmaltzy and borderline insipid, but they did have quite a few poignant songs that resonate decades after they were recorded. For some reason, I was reminded of a song from 1975 called “Love Me For What I Am”. The first time I ever heard it was on YouTube. Someone made a school project about anorexia nervosa and used “Love Me For What I Am” as background music. I can’t find that specific video now, but I was struck by how perfect the song was for Karen Carpenter, who famously suffered and died from years of anorexia nervosa.

Karen Carpenter sings her version of the blues.

Anorexics often become obsessed with perfection to the point at which they completely lose touch with reality. They might focus on one part of their body that isn’t quite right, losing sight of the fact that they have become emaciated and extremely unhealthy looking. For years, there was a theory that anorexics got the way they are because someone else had expectations for them that were too high. Nowadays, I think the theories have changed regarding why a person develops an eating disorder. It’s no longer automatically attributed to the pat hypotheses of yesterday– absentee father, demands for perfection, or not wanting to grow up. The truth is, people develop eating disorders for different reasons.

Although “Love Me For What I Am” seems like a perfect plea from someone suffering from anorexia nervosa, I think it’s actually more appropriate for someone in love with a narcissist. If you pay attention to the words, which were written by John Bettis and Palma Pascale, they describe a whirlwind romance that slowly develops into a hypercritical hell. Narcissistic people frequently give their love interests “the rush”, flooding them with positive regard and lovebombing them into believing perfect love has suddenly bloomed.

What makes this song different is that most people involved in this type of relationship lack the self awareness to see what is happening. As Karen pleads for her lover to “love me for what I am, for simply being me”, she might as well save her breath. Narcissists aren’t capable of that kind of love and they almost never change. They only love themselves… and even that “self-love” is kind of iffy and not very genuine.

The words go:

We fell in love
On the first night that we met
Together we’ve been happy
I have very few regrets

The ordinary problems
Have not been hard to face
But lately little changes
Have been slowly taking place

You’re always finding something
Is wrong in what I do
But you can’t rearrange my life
Because it pleases you

You’ve got to love me for what I am
For simply being me
Don’t love me for what you intend
Or hope that I will be

And if you’re only using me
To feed your fantasy
You’re really not in love
So let me go, I must be free

If what you want
Isn’t natural for me
I won’t pretend to keep you
What I am I have to be

The picture of perfection
Is only in your mind
For all your expectations
Love can never be designed

We either take each other
For everything we are
Or leave the life we’ve made behind
And make another start

You’ve got to love me for what I am
For simply being me
Don’t love me if what you intend
Or hope that I will be

And if you’re only using me
To feed your fantasy
You’re really not in love
So let me go, I must be free

I decided to record this song today. I recorded it four or five times. Sure enough, I was focused on perfection. Even as I listen to it right now, I am not totally happy with it, even though I know it’s pretty good for amateur hour. We waste a lot of time trying to achieve perfection, which is mostly impossible to reach. That is especially true when you’re trying to record vocals live on the Internet. You get static, distortion, or the timing is thrown off because of the instability of the Internet connection. When I want something more perfect, I use Garage Band, which has its own issues. But at least when I use Garage Band, it’s done offline and I get more clarity.

The funny thing is, it doesn’t even really matter how perfectly I record it. Not that many people bother to listen to what I record. The desire for perfection is for me, because like a lot of people, I don’t like to hear the sound of my own voice. I can’t simply enjoy the fact that I have a voice– good or bad– and have the ability to use it to communicate.

The Carpenters were always good for emotional, introspective songs. They also did “I Need To Be in Love”, which I also decided to do this morning. This one, I sang in one take. It’s probably not close to perfect, but I’m somewhat happier with it, even though I didn’t get the rhythm quite right, and the mic goes in and out. I guess it’s close enough to perfect for me. Actually, it’s not. I had to do it again… and it’s still not quite right.

I’m not a perfectionist about everything, only certain things, like music and writing. Some people are perfectionists about every aspect of their lives, particularly regarding other people. They have a fantasy of how things should be and they try very hard to make other people buy into their vision. It’s enough to drive an innocent person crazy. I may drive myself crazy trying to hit a note in just the right way, with just the right emotion or inflection, or choose the right words and phrases to get my point across in the best way. But that focus is not on someone else; it’s only on me. I don’t tend to care that much about what other people think, in the grand scheme of things. I mean, if you insult me to my face, it will hurt my feelings. But I don’t go searching for other people’s opinions about me… and I can’t abide hypercritical people.

The more videos I watch by Les Carter and the more Internet posts I read from people being driven crazy by narcissists, the more it seems like it’s an epidemic that is damaging or even ruining other people’s lives. My husband spent years with a woman who didn’t value him for anything more than what he could do for her. He tried to love her for who she was, but she couldn’t reciprocate. She blamed him 100% for all that went wrong in their relationship. She couldn’t love him for who he was.

I know so many people in this predicament. It’s not just lovers or spouses, either. Narcissists are everywhere and involved in every kind of relationship, from boss and subordinate to landlord and tenant. These are people who cannot accept responsibility for who they are. They won’t admit mistakes or accept defeat, at least not without a tremendous fight. They portray themselves as long suffering victims, even when the facts point to the opposite. So, as eloquent and plaintive as Karen’s singing is, a narcissistic person will never love her for who she is. It’s not in them. They’re always looking for flaws and defects, much like an anorexic is always looking for one part of their body that is “too fat”. They can’t get past the distortion that allows them to simply accept and trust another person and allow them intimacy.

The people I have known who were narcissistic usually had difficult childhoods. At least two of the known narcissists in my life didn’t have access to their biological mothers. It’s probably a coincidence, since I know not all adoptees turn into narcissists. The ones I’ve known didn’t have good relationships with their adoptive mothers, either, and exhibited feelings of anger due to being abandoned. But I will admit that I haven’t spent much time studying this link, at least not at this point. True narcissistic types have never learned empathy. They somehow stopped developing emotionally when they were still children. They have to be right at all costs, and will stoop to very low levels to achieve what they think is the upper hand.

Still, I have to admit to loving Karen Carpenter’s take on narcissism in the song “Love Me For What I Am”. She’s taken other people’s lyrics and injected them with heart and soul. One would have to be made of stone not to be moved by her emotional reading. Sadly, a lot of narcissists are like that.

Interestingly enough, my husband Bill doesn’t like Karen Carpenter’s voice as much. He says she’s too technically “perfect” for him. He doesn’t hear emotion in her voice. I think he hasn’t listened to enough of her deep cuts… or maybe we just have a difference in opinion, which is alright, too. Some of the Carpenters’ songs are truly cringeworthy, even if Karen could sound good singing the phone book. Just my opinion, of course. Some people feel that way about Barbra Streisand, who impresses me more when she acts than when she sings.