I am my mother’s daughter.
I’ve always known I had a great deal in common with my mother, but only recently have I acknowledged some of the less-attractive traits. I have known for sometime that my CDO issues come from her. When she bought her last new car, she dragged my brother and me to car dealers five days out of the week. We went to three or four a time. On the road, she would ask my brother the make of every car (he knows his cars). She would talk incessantly about this car and that one until I wanted to scream. This went on for three weeks.
When I was trying to decide whether to go to SF to get my MA in Writing & Consciousness (yes, it was a DFH program at a DFH school which has since lost its accreditation, damn it), I did the same thing. I obsessed over what might or might not happen. What if I couldn’t find the BART station? What if I got mugged on the way home? What if I didn’t like any of my cohorts? What if they didn’t like me? What if I found out that I couldn’t write after all? What if I hated my housemates?
I was ruminating like this in my therapy session one time, and my therapist cut in gently and said, “Minna, half of the things you think will happen, won’t, and things will happen that you never dreamed could happen.” I know, it sounds so simple, but it really cut through my stream of thought and got to the heart of the matter. All that fulminating was a way to avoid making an actual decision. I am very bad at making decisions, so I use ‘thinking about it’ as a way to put off making an actual decision.
My mother is the therapist to all her friends. They tell her their problems, and she wisely counsels them. However, I can’t think of anyone she talks with about her problems–except me. She made me her confidante when I was eleven or so, and she hasn’t looked back. I got to hear about her troubles with my father (NOT what I needed to hear) and to her complaints about life in general.
I used to be like this. I could talk to my friends about many things, but I locked up the truest emotions. I still do that to some extent, but I’m much better now at talking about my pain, if not exactly at showing it. I can call a friend (or, more likely, email) and say I’m feeling down. I can post something as my FB status and have people cheering me up in no time. I am slowly beginning to understand that it’s not necessarily a weakness to show vulnerability. And, more to the point, I have friends I know will still love me even when they see the ugly side of me. I’m not sure my mom has that or thinks she’s worth that. My father is not very nice to her, and I think she’s come to believe that the way he treats her is the way it should be.
For so many years, I believed that the way my family treated me was the way I should be treated. I still struggle with it today, as evidenced by my trip to Taiwan. During that trip, I erased all signs of me because I didn’t feel she deserved to exist. I see my mother do that around my father. She is much different when it’s just the two of us than when he is around.
My mom is the queen of criticism. Well, she was. She’s mellowed in that area over the years, but she used to always find something wrong, no matter what. Sadly, I am like that, too. I focus on the little things that go wrong rather than on the majority of things that go right. I hate that about me, which makes me lash out at her when she does it.
Another way in which I am like my mother. She has the amazing ability to spin the past into a rosy vision of how she wants things to be. She glosses over the negative experiences or forgets they happen because they don’t fit in with her inner narrative. I do the same thing, except I spin things negatively. I overlook positive aspects of an experience or forget they happened until I am reminded of them somehow.
I can see why my mother spins things positively (so she doesn’t have to remember the unpleasant shit), but why do I spin things negatively? I have a feeling it has to do with Carl Jung’s theory of the shadow side. Bear with me. In brief, Jung believed that everyone had a shadow side, the icky stuff we would rather not see about ourselves. Many people deny their lesser-attractive traits, which only serves to reinforce said lesser-attractive traits in action.
I, on the other hand, live in the darkness. For most of my life, I have been aware of my flaws and my negative attributes. I focus on them and cling to them as if they were part of my religion (which, in a way, they are). I am comfortable with my negatives, in part, because I used to think that I was only a compilation of said negatives. I didn’t think I deserved to be alive, so really, focusing on my flaws was a great way to reinforce that belief.
A really basic way in which I am like my mother is our shared interest in psychology. We both find people fascinating, but I think it’s on a different level for each of us. I find people fascinating (individuals, not the masses) because each story is different. When I drive, I think about how every other driver on the road has a compelling life story (ok, most of them), and I would love to hear that story. My mother, on the other hand, likes fixing people, I believe. She gets satisfaction from helping someone through a particularly hard point in her life (as she works with professionals in the social work fields, most of her clients are female) and coming out on the other side.
One way in which we are different (as are the regulations between the US and Taiwan) is that she regularly injects her religious belief into her work. She freely tells her clients that she is a Christian and what her Christianity means to her personally. In fact, ironically, one of her difficulties with sandplay therapy (her specialty) is that most of the other practitioners are Buddhist or simply enamored with Eastern religions.
It’s harder for me to separate what is my mother and what is me because we have been enmeshed since I was a little girl. I was taught that I was responsible for her emotional well-being, and that’s not an easy thing to shed. I had a mini-victory lately, though. She has cataracts in both her eyes. As is her wont, she let them get really bad (to the point where it’s scary riding in the car when she’s driving). She is having surgery this summer when she visits the States as the situation has reached critical mass. So, she emailed me and asked me to make the appointments (one for each eye, two weeks apart) as there is a fourteen-hour time difference between Taiwan and MN. She gave me her schedule and her restrictions (she’s going to a conference in CO, for example), and I called to set up the appointments.
Done. Right? Wrong. The doctor’s assistant called me back to say the doc was taking a vacation during the time we had scheduled the second appointment. Since I knew my mom would be in town two weeks before the first appointment, I set the appointment for then. This was when my mom’s OCD issues sprung to life. She was going to the conference two days after the first surgery, and was that OK? In addition, a cousin was getting married four days after the second surgery (in Las Vegas, and no, Mom, I am NOT going), and would it be ok for her to fly? She wanted me to call back and see if I could change the appointments.
I called the assistant, and she reassured me on all accounts. My mother would be fine to fly after surgery as long as she didn’t do any heavy lifting. I emailed my mom, and that should have been that.
Except, not. My mom called me, and she went on and on about having to present at the conference, and she would have to carry her luggage, and what if there were complications, and it would really be better to have different dates, and what if California slid into the ocean besides? OK, she didn’t include the last, but she might as well have. As I was conversing with her and trying to be reasonable, a voice in my head was saying, “Not my problem” over and over again.
Finally, I reached the end of my wits. I told her to call the assistant herself. That, of course, set off a new round of ‘what ifs’. What if she’s not there? (VM, we all have it in the States). What time? She (my mom) is so tired at night. Couldn’t possibly stay up past eleven. I told her that the assistant had left a message for me on my VM before nine in the morning, so she (my mom) could probably reach her (the assistant) around eight (MN time, 10 pm, Taiwan time). My mom had a few more what ifs, and then she was back to, “What if I can’t reach her? It’s so difficult to reach people these days. You always get a machine.” I was thisclose to telling her to fuck off, but I managed to rein it in and said, “Call her. If you get a machine, leave a message telling her what dates and times you prefer. Then, have her call me.” I had to repeat this a few times, but my mother finally acquiesced.
I get an email a day later saying that she had reached the assistant and set the dates, no problem.
This incident made me realize that I have let my mother get away with acting more helpless than she really is. I didn’t mind setting the initial appointments, but when things started to get complicated, it really made more sense for her to contact the doctor’s office than for me to have to be the liaison. I didn’t abandon her totally, as evidenced by my saying the assistant could call me if my mother couldn’t reach the assistant personally, but I forced my mother to take more responsibility for herself.
Listening to her come up with a hundred and one reasons why she shouldn’t call the assistant and all the things that could go wrong was really an eye-opener. I mean, I knew, vaguely, that I operated in a similar way (all the suppositions and the worries so I don’t have to actually take any action), but it really smacked me in the face to be on the receiving end from my mother after my newfound awareness that I need to set boundaries with her.
I am my mother’s daughter. In this, I am not as sure how to disengage.