Last session focused on my mother. It’s such a difficult topic for me I’ve been reluctant to write about it.

My mother is a good person. She tries very hard. She is the epitome of the ‘good girl’. She has taken care of my father for fifty years. She feeds all who come to her house. She doesn’t complain, she doesn’t gossip, she is never aggressive. She loves literature and is usually reading, when not doing household tasks.

However, we have never been close. It has always seemed as if there was a wall between us. Our conversations is mostly formal and to the point.

I think for one thing, our temperaments have always been at odds.

My mother came to see me about a week ago, and that was what I talked about in therapy. She wanted to talk about some financial arrangements, and about a diagnosis my sister had recently received.

It was unusual for me to have contact with my mother when she is not embedded in my family. We drank green tea and chatted at my kitchen table for about forty minutes. I can count on one hand the number of times this has happened.

Usually, my experience has been that my mother doesn’t talk. She gives nothing away. For her, to show any emotion is extremely shameful. To be upset about anything is wrong it seems, beyond mentioning the subject.

Maybe because we were alone, I ventured a criticism. We never had mother daughter fights – I didn’t really know those fights were possible, as a child. And an unspoken rule of my family is you do not criticize. Only my father is allowed to do that.

My sister has never had a regular job – she has been working on a PhD for many many years, since she was in her twenties (we are both now in our fifties). This means she has always been extremely poor. My mother asks, helplessly, why oh why doesn’t she just finish it? She’s so intelligent, etc.

I respond that she would finish it if she could. She has an anxiety which stops her. It’s not that she’s not smart enough, doesn’t work hard, or doesn’t care.

My mother looks completely blank. She is not psychologically minded, and doesn’t understand this.

Then I say, why was it never OK in our family to get an ordinary job – say as a teacher, nurse, or in an office? My sister has not felt that she could give up the degree, and go off and make a living like an ordinary person.

My mother says this is completely false – it’s my imagination entirely. Why, her sister is a nurse!

Then I add that probably, my sister is worried they’d treat her like they treated me. Which my mother pretends not to hear.

My sister was always the star, and I was the loser. It hasn’t worked out much better for her than for me however.

My mother then changes the subject, and soon leaves. She never shows any upset at all, though I know my comments have probably hurt her feelings. After all, I’m blaming her and my father for my sister’s plight.

When I think about this afterwards, it feels somewhat daring to me. I actually ventured to express a real point of view. As has happened all my life, my mother completely and utterly denied my perception.

In my session, I get into some of the devastation I feel when seeing my family, because they all stick together like a lump. I’ve always felt completely crazy when I try to disagree with them.

At this point, I remember little of what Ron said. Which is why I should write things down at the time. Sigh. I remember he said my mother is scared. That she does not seem to have real conversations with anyone.

He also said that he believes me, and he is on my side. It is difficult to speak in contradiction to a family that is sticking together, without support.

This session did plunge me into a depression over the weekend. It is tough to tackle mother.

It seems like my mother puts a frosty glaze over everything, so nothing seems real, and you can’t get your footing, quite.

  1. It is so hard when your family won’t even validate your point of view, isn’t it? I know that in mine, I don’t even need for them to completely agree with me, just agree that from where I am coming from, something might look different from how it looks for them. But I guess that when they are locked in denial, they don’t have enough flexibility to do that. 😦

    • Ellen said:

      Yeah. My family is like that too. Thanks Cat.

  2. I think that as a kid, it’s SO important to feel like part of a team with your family. Not to agree with everything, but to know that you share the same values but also respect individuals’ opinions and choices. I think that’s a big part of how kids develop a strong sense of self. There are even studies that show that kids who learn a lot about their extended family and ancestors manage to resist peer pressure more and stay true to themselves during the formative teen years. It all has to do with their sense of self (or so the researchers say).

    It sounds like you were never given the opportunity to develop this, since it seems like complete agreement with the family was a requirement of membership. I hope that writing about your mother here has helped you to process some of the anger and pain. It’s a long road to hoe, I know.

    • Ellen said:

      This makes a lot of sense. My mother is an ongoing issue for me. I feel like I need some kind of plan for dealing with her, which maybe I’ll be developing soon. Thank you One.

      • I realized not long ago that I needed a plan for dealing with my mom, too. It hasn’t been pretty, but I’ve established some distance and have had to work hard to stand up for myself – as my own person, who makes my own choices.

        You comment below that you don’t have much of a relationship with your mother and that it’s a fundamental thing to be missing. I think you’re absolutely right and the body of literature out there on emotionally unavailable or neglectful mothers supports that view. There are so many of my struggles that stem from this exact thing.

        I hope that you’re able to start chipping away at some of these issues with your mom. One step at a time, I guess.

        • Ellen said:

          Good to hear you’ve made progress in the mother area. I agree it’s important to establish ourselves in the here and now, as adults.

          I may start chipping away – or I may continue to avoid her. Trouble is, she’s embedded in the family usually, which makes it too difficult. I think I need to get her on her own to make any progress at all. Thanks One.

  3. I think it is daring to express your own point of view even when your mother can’t or won’t understand or even acknowledge it. I think it is part of the small steps we make that shifts the relationship we have to ourselves and our FOO. At least I hope so because that is what my T told me after I spent two sessions on the difficulty I’ve had interacting with both of my parents lately. Mother’s Day my mother cancelled having dinner with my family giving me no reason. That hurt but I think it was because my father and I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago where I discussed my asthma and the breathing difficulties I have had. My father then explained to me how it was my fault because of my weight, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, citing examples from when I was 5 and a teenager to now. I kept disagreeing and pointing out what actually happened instead of his story about me. Eventually he said that I was impossible to talk to because I was so stuck in my own perspective and that any reasonable person would be able to listen to what he said and reflect on its validity. That is when I got upset enough to tell him that he didn’t like to talk to me because I wouldn’t accept his perspective not that I was locked into mine and that he didn’t have the right to talk to me about reasonable people considering the unreasonable things he has said and done in the past. So I stood up for myself and nothing changed except that I did.

    I hope that things have settled down for you on the family front.

    • Ellen said:

      It felt daring – thanks.

      Your father seems more overtly hostile than my parents would be. What a crummy response he gave you, what complete lack of sympathy and attunement. As if he had some god given knowledge about you. I’m glad you stood up for yourself. That may be the best thing – to change ourselves and be OK with that. I’d like my mother to change, but of course she won’t. Mostly, I just avoid her. Plus, the thing that gets me, is this was a tiny little topic. This wasn’t ‘you didn’t protect me from severe abuse’. I suppose she would completely deny this also, and it would be completely painful and awful, so I’m not going there.

      If your mother cancelled dinner because of a disagreement you had with your father, that’s a very passive aggressive thing for her to do. Just sayin’.

      Thanks Diane.

  4. Hugs. Criticizing family is one of the taboo subjects that once started seems to open a flood gate. Some people are very afraid to do that. When I finally talked about my mother, I spent 2 years trying to wrap my mind around our relationship or lack of one. Courage is standing up for yourself and recognizing and acknowledging your perspective, usually against the wishes of a family. The healthiest one in a dysfunctional family is usually the one in counseling since they are the ones that are no longer denying there are problems. I can say that through the years my relationship with my mother has change because I have. You are doing great to recognize where some of the problems start….not with you but your parents’ choices.

    • Ellen said:

      Criticizing family is taboo, for our families, and it seems also in society at large.

      I also suffer from a lack of relationship with my mother – it’s a problem still. You can’t really not have a relationship that’s so fundamental = it’s just it feels like an emptiness I guess. I’m glad things changed for you through dealing with this. Thanks Ruth.

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