Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Difficult Work of Acceptance when it Comes to Abusive Mothers

I never considered myself slow to accept the curveballs that life often throws my way. I smiled through my recent bout with Pulmonary Embolism, I adjusted to this extended period of unemployment, and I walked away from His Side with a clear conscience.

Yet the more I find support and comfort in the presence of other adult children with a narcissistic/abusive parent, the more I continue to struggle with my membership in that group.

I can't pin this struggle on pride or embarrassment, which would seem like natural reactions to such a broken relationship with the one who is supposed to love me the most. As I dig deep to understand "why," I only find one nugget: By most accounts, the pattern I've experienced with my mother (who refuses to admit any wrongdoing) does not result in a path to reconciliation.

In effect, I lost my mother although she continues to walk this earth. This death of our relationship encompasses the death of my fantasy of what - and who - a mother should be to her adult daughter. Essentially, the death of this fantasy represents the death of my hope.

My ability to hope in the goodness of others remains important to me, yet I have to let it go when it comes to the larger-than-life presence called "mother."

I clearly remember the day, many years ago, she wanted to go to counseling with my father as she lamented over his possible denial that counseling was in order. As a young adult, I was elated over her willingness to start addressing our family problems. "If he won't go, you and I can still go and get help with our family issues.

I stood broken-hearted as her body language indicated that our relationship wasn't important enough for such a measure. Looking back, I believe she likely wanted a counselor to "whip him into shape." I doubt she wanted anything to do with taking any responsibility for her own actions.

So here I am, elated about my new freedom that comes with setting boundaries against anybody who desires to abuse me, yet surprisingly sad about accepting the death of a fantasy. There's nowhere but up from this bittersweet place...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mothers and Daughters: Emotional Knifepoint and Bitter Standoffs (Part 1 of 2)

I recently severed ties with my mother. Back in May, after a comforting period of silence followed by a stiff Mothers' Day family dinner, she called my home with another unexpected emotional tirade that left me virtually in shock. I ended that tirade with a request that she doesn't "call my house yelling at me again." She promptly responded, "Don't call your house????" and hung up on me. I was mildly amused by her translation, and her response to my heartfelt request to please talk to me before escalating her vague criticisms: "Well you dont' want to hear the truth." (Really??? The truth about what???) We haven't talked since, which represents a bittersweet outcome for me.

I immediately went into "diagnosis" mode. What had I done wrong? My only conclusion: I called another woman "mom" during Mothers' Day dinner, which is a big no-no. My mother practically needed a therapist when I called my ex-mother-in-law "mom" shortly after my marriage. But once again, I was on the wrong path. Her random triggers aren't my responsibility.

Last week, I spent a little time with Iyanla Vanzant, first on her new show Fix My Life and then in Oprah's Lifeclass. These resources flickered across my life in a spark of divine and unexpected opportunity. I try not to ignore the times God whispers a chance for growth into my life.

Since that time, I came to a new understanding - or so I thought - of my mother's behavior. Without a doubt, she is unhappy, wounded, and seeks to find comfort by controlling the lives of those close to her. She gives hell for any life motion that doesn't fit her mold - including the time I got cussed out for not paying for braces for my son's lovely teeth - another classic moment that left me hurt and shocked. Apparently, the tiny spaces between his teeth (which the human eye truly can't see) bothered her. She wanted his teeth so close in his mouth that his wisdom teeth would probably cause a dental problem (which mine nearly did after my braces left my teeth almost too close for floss.)  For a moment, I grieved her pain with an understanding that even my "perfect compliance" would never heal her inner agonies. I have a sincere concern that she will live her entire life attempting to control others to heal her own inner rifts. I quickly named this phenomenon Emotional Knifepoint.

Like a thief who holds-up a victim at knifepoint to meet their own financial needs, Emotional Knifepoint involves the attempt to steal from another what one should really provide for self. And just like the thief who doesn't take the time to explain why they're committing the crime (does baby need a new pair of shoes?), Emotional Knifepoint leaves the victim confused about how and why they're supposed to meet the thief's emotional needs. I can find no better way to describe my deeply personal experience of betrayal when it comes to missing the mother/daughter relationship I may never experience with my own biological mother.

As I went to pat myself on the back for coining a term and solving the riddle (yeah... right), I felt a pain. As I looked to my hand for the answer, I found myself clutching my own knife. I realized with painful certainty that I wield my own knife at my mother. There are no total victims here, because we're in a bitter standoff - face to face - heart to heart - knife to knife. When did I become a criminal in my own story? I can certainly acknowledge the pain of withstanding her behavior as a child in her care, but nothing justifies how long I stayed in this game after reaching adulthood.

I'll explain in Part 2...