Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The most important relationship in my life

I am deeply fascinated with relationship dynamics. Mothers and daughters. Men and women. Parents and children. Even political "relationships" like liberals vs. conservatives. But today I was hit with an urgent, almost electrical need, to address a relationship I rarely discuss - my relationship with myself.

Many would argue that a relationship with God trumps all others. But as I approach age 40, I can't relate with Him, the parental units, the kids, His Side, or the damn Pope until I get a love fest going with the me inside this skin.

You see, I can name what I like and dislike about the people who surround me. I can name the ways God has been good to me. Dammit, I can even tell you what I respect about the differences in liberal and conservative political views. But I would be stumped for words if asked about me. Sure, I could describe my job and my roles in life as they relate to others (e.g. motherhood). I could even repeat the ways that other people describe me and I feel slightly horrified that I would need the references.

No worries... I'm not having an identity crisis that will lead to a self-discovery journey while backpacking across Europe. But I do crave an experience with myself that I can articulate with the same colorful clarity that I use to describe my attachments to others. Those attachments are important. But they're only reflections that can be distorted like funhouse mirrors.

The year 2011 entered with a fizzle for me. For the first time, I didn't receive the new year with an open heart and open arms. I didn't join the usual rally cry "this is going to be my best year yet." But alas... it just might be.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Emotionally Abusive Mothers and Adult Daughters: Part 4 of 4

Subtitled: And joy comes in the morning.

From the time I was young until this very day, witnesses have commented on my relationship with my mother. They’ve called her everything from bipolar to mean to simply jealous. Books and blogs that deal with emotionally abusive mothers describe everything from Borderline Personality Disorder to Narcissism. Hell, I have stories that could support any one of those theories. Several years ago during an innocent car ride, she sneered at me “You look just like those women your father cheats on me with… light skin and big boobs.”

Even though one or more of those theories could be true, I subscribe to the basic idea that my mother is chronically and fundamentally unhappy, attempted to relive her life through me (“live vicariously through me,” as she says), and punishes me like an out-of-line prisoner for attempting freedom.

I took the long route to get here, but last night’s a’ha moment may have saved my life. Mom had another epic mental breakdown because my 18-year old son will travel by train to see his father this holiday. His father and I agreed to this and I helped my son arrange for his ticket. Mom believes his father and I should drive for hours on dangerous Christmas Eve-roads to “exchange him” instead.

To make this long story short, she told both of us off over the phone. One at a time. And of course, my tongue lashing came with a sprinkle of unrelated insults, unfounded accusations, fake tears, and a self righteous hang-up. In times past, I may have joined in the escalation – flustered and crying and raising my voice. Not once did I raise my voice or disrespect. In fact, she commented on my calm with disdain. I suspect she was angry that I wasn’t moved by her next epic meltdown. She did all of that in front of my 18-year old son who was sitting on a couch in the same room with her. What kind of mother and grandmother DOES THAT?

After bitter tears of hurt, I finally realized with amazing clarity that it JUST DOESN’T MATTER. It doesn’t matter if I don’t raise my voice. It doesn't matter that I was too big when I carried weight and too small when I lost weight (true story). It doesn’t matter if I use a plane or a train. It doesn’t matter if I post my straight-A report card on her proverbial refrigerator. If I’m not doing something that makes her the center of my world to soothe her emotional needs, then I’m doing something that deserves her verbal abuse. Period.

Today, I freely give up on feeling guilty for ending the plight to please her.

I gladly release myself from pretending to be an extension of her and for protecting her public image to my own emotional detriment.

I readily give myself permission to feel adequate, a feeling I once ran from to escape the cognitive dissonance of having a mother who said I wasn’t.

With relief, I throw away the need to make or accept one more excuse why it’s okay to disregard me as a grown woman and a mother.

With a sincere heart, I can say: “Mom. I love you and forgive you. You don’t ever have to change a single thing about yourself. But I won’t subject myself to this anymore, and I’m willing to gracefully part ways with you if you won’t respect me as more than your whipping post. You aren’t welcome to project your emotional shortcomings and unmet needs onto me – either directly or indirectly through my children. You don't have a right to interfere with my personal life or give unwanted advice. And most of all, I HAVE THE RIGHT TO LIVE THIS LIFE UNDER THE TERMS I SET FOR MYSELF AND MY FAMILY.

Bonus Link for your Reading Pleasure:
FAMILY JEALOUSY-The Shameful Secret Behind Abuse And Betrayal

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Emotionally Abusive Mothers and Adult Daughters: Part 3 of 4

Subtitled: Control, Family, and Secrecy.
When we left Part 2, I had just returned home as a single mom at the age of 21 after having my son.
One day during dinner, as we all sat in the kitchen with the baby quietly watching us eat, mom told me about a social organization for single parents. She went on and on about this “wonderful” organization and the social status of some of the members. I wasn’t really interested, but I promised to check it out (with the aim, once again, of making her happy and escaping her criticism). The escape wasn’t a clean one, because she ended her speech with, “When you go, don’t tell anybody that you’re my daughter. I am so embarrassed of you.”

Tried as I might to keep a straight face, a steady stream of tears betrayed my efforts to conceal the physical pain of betrayal throbbing in the center of my chest. At that moment, I didn't understand why she had interrupted my new life in another state and asked me to come back home if I was such an embarrassment to her? In reality, it was the only way she could get me back under control and criticize me into submission. My father yelled at her, and I simply continued to eat my dinner. This was the only mother I knew, and heck, I was under her roof… right?

I spent the last 5+/- years searching for ways to understand why my mother didn’t love me enough to stop hurting me. Although I received spankings, slappings, and snatchings, by far, nothing hurt more than the things she said to break my spirit. During my search for an answer, I continued the pattern of seeking a hint of approval. At times, that search meant presenting my accomplishments; much like a child posts a good report card on the refrigerator. Other times, that search meant concealing a personal failure or disappointment; with the knowledge she would criticize me in that moment and throw in some old failures to increase the sting.

I can't think of one self-inflicted prison more demoralizing and emotionally destructive than seeking the approval of a person who can't be pleased. It's like throwing yourself off a cliff repeatedly until you're so broken you can't drag yourself to the peak anymore.

While you're waiting for Part 4 -
Bonus Link for your Reading Pleasure:
Cutting Ties - Knowing When It's Time To Walk Away