My neon sign

I’ve often joked about the figurative neon sign above my head that reads “Go away!”…  But, those jokes cover a variety of issues that I experience – an inability to trust, be vulnerable, and basically experience any emotion without dissociating.  My past has taught me that people were unreliable, likely to hurt me, and best be avoided.  However, I’m also very human; and as such, crave human contact; this creates a dynamic I experience over and over…  I do things which I consider to open the door to communication, but also look for any hint that the person isn’t genuine, interested, or able to reciprocate in any way.  Depending on the level of involvement that I am expecting to have with the person, I then decide how much energy, and risk I’m willing to take.

Sometimes this has worked out well… for example, my cynical work friend and I get on well.  We’ve formed a good working friendship/relationship, where we can share different aspects of her life, and I share more with her about my life than anyone else around me… it’s a very guarded sharing, but it’s still sharing.

Sometimes this has been a disaster… for example, when I was talking to a mental health nurse this week, I basically set her up to respond in a way that would encourage her to tell me all of the negative aspects of her job.  At the time it was almost automatic, but it was also something that I wanted to explore as a way of finding out her thinking and approach.  It sadly turns out as if my fears were correct.  It came about because my mother had a scathing attitude towards the “manipulative young girls with eating disorders” that she encountered while a nurse… so, when the conversation during my ED appointment turned to online support, it was easy to talk with the nurse about the “destructive, manipulative” behaviours supported through “negative ED sites”… To the nurse, this was probably a conversation about how I was not going to those sites; but to me, this was about her having the same disdain and lack of empathy for those young girls that my mother exhibited.  In my mind, that has totally changed our working relationship… trust is non-existent, and I am feeling the blocks of resistance when thinking of doing anything that she suggests…

I have basically set us both up for failure.  I will go back next week, having been unable to do either of the things that she took for granted were going to happen, and it will reinforce the notes that she has now read from the Mental Health Crisis Team, which say that I’m difficult.  She didn’t hear, or dismissed my concerns about expectations for this week… so it will come back to my difficult nature and resistance to treatment.

But, the situation where this dynamic is most challenging, is when old patterns of dysfunction are involved… for example, the relationship with my mother.  My mother has shown the willingness to be supportive… she has travelled to stay with me after the last attack by my ex-husband, and when I was hospitalised.  But, while she has done these physical acts, there has been a barrier to any emotional connection.  I realise that the barrier is our past… the hurts, misunderstandings, defensiveness, etc.  We continually seem to approach each other from a place of hurt and confusion.  Neither of us understands the other, and we don’t know how to begin a conversation that would ease that position.  A big factor in that, is the neon sign that I wear above my head… my mother helped me build that sign through her actions towards me in the past, so why would I want to change that now?  At times, I don’t.  I want to keep my distance from her, and everyone.  But, at other times, I see the vulnerability; the attempts to reach out, and I wonder if things could be better.

The problem, is that my pattern of taking care of those around me, has meant that I have often been the one to reach out first.  The flip-side of that, is that my “Go away!” sign, means that people often don’t see my distress, or don’t want to reach out first, for fear of being rebuffed.  My mother described this dynamic a few years ago when we saw Bob… Bob asked my mother what she wanted in regards to me, and my mother’s response was that she wanted me to let her in, to let her help.  I remember being stunned… she wanted to help now… after all these years… oh, please!  The thing is, she was genuine… she wants to help, but she doesn’t know how.  When you combine this lack of knowledge, with my defences, you have two people stuck, circling each other…

Last week, there was a small communication between us, which made me think about the dynamics with my mother.  I’m arranging to go to my hometown for Christmas, and the only day that I can arrive is my sister’s birthday.  Considering that my sister and I haven’t talked in over 10 years, I thought this might be difficult; so sent a number of texts and a phone call to my mother before making the bookings.  This small interaction made me wonder about the role, or power, that I play in the continued tenuous relationship with my mother…

A few years ago a very good friend told me that I would need to make the first move in rebuilding the relationship with my mother.  At the time I baulked at that thought… she’s the one who hurt and neglected me!  Why should I make the first move?  But now, I can see the position that has put me in… My mother knows that I am the child she didn’t see.  She knows I’m hurt in ways she doesn’t understand, and that hurts her.  Yes, her pain is about herself, rather than me… but, unless I communicate with her, she will never understand my point of view.  She may never be capable of fully understanding what occurred, and the implications… but the current situation isn’t working either.

There are situations where it’s best to remove yourself from the family group for your own safety… I’ve done that with my sister and father.  But there is a possibility that I could form a better relationship with my mother.  I don’t think it will ever be perfect, as she has so many issues of her own… but, it’s worth trying… I think.

Now playing: REM – Everybody hurts


8 thoughts on “My neon sign

  1. Hi CG,

    I can relate to the “go away” neon sign. I’m not nearly as insightful about the patterns of behaviors I employ with those around me though. I just know people hurt people and it’s best to stay away from them. However, insight and understanding can lead to change. I do think you’re very capable of making small changes to facilitate the development of more solid relationships.

    I’m terribly sorry about the misunderstandings taking place with your mental health nurse. Do you think you could explain to her how your mother felt about girls with eating disorders?

    I can only imagine the difficulty of the situation you’re experiencing. Your mom was a nurse and expressed disdain for girls with eating disorders. Yet, you must see a female nurse to discuss your own eating disorder. No wonder it’s so hard for you to form a successful, trusting therapeutic relationship as it relates to eating disorders.

    My relationship with my mom is complicated by her past alcoholism, illness, near death and liver transplant. Her mind isn’t what it once was. I’ve had to accept that there will never be any sort of revelation from her about what her words and actions did to me. She’s never going to understand. But, I know she loves me and never meant to hurt me. She made mistakes.

    Her behavior sometimes still hurts me and scares my inner littles. It’s important we learn how to protect ourselves. But, I’m having to let go of the past and just focus on my present relationship with my mom. I don’t know if that can work for you, but I do hope you’re able to build on your relationship with your mom!

    Take care,

    • Hi rl,

      I do believe that “people hurt people”… but, at times I can see that the risk of connection is worth it. If I didn’t take that risk, I wouldn’t have met some of the amazing people that I now consider friends (including you!). So, while it triggers all those old fears, sometimes it’s worth it… when it isn’t, and there’s hurt; well, that’s a learning thing too 🙂

      I’m sorry about your relationship with your mother… although, it does sound as if you’ve come to a place where you’re a little more at peace/accepting of it all?? Sometimes the hurts can hurt all the more because you know that the person does love you, but there is something that they can’t do, or say, that is needed…

      Please take care,

  2. I found it beautiful that you could see some hope in the relationship with your mother. You’ve shown that you know when and how to sever unhealthy or dangerous relationships so you can likely trust this hope.

    After I read this post I thought about my disposition as what I call being a “realist” as opposed to a pessimist which is what my husband sometimes calls it. I expect people to fail me; to use me when they need something and then bail. I expect people to be selfish and I expect to have friends only as long as I’m either entertaining or useful.

    I have to wonder how much that outlook affects my choices in who I hang out with and the subsequent fulfillment of my expectations.

    The point I’m making though isn’t about me. I just meant that I get where your neon sign comes from.

    I also think that the most difficult relationship issues I’ve had with the person closest to me, has been because he didn’t know how to help me or what I needed. Many times that was because I didn’t tell him what I needed. Of course, just as often, I didn’t know what I needed either. But sometimes people are willing to help and support but they need us to instruct them how to because they are at a loss. It definitely is unfair to have to make the first move in this case but maybe the benefits outweigh that?

    I hope so for you. 🙂

    Oh, and sorry if this comment made no sense. It made sense in my head but I’m not sure if it translated here or came out as blathering.

    • Hi CI,

      Your comment made perfect sense! (as usual)

      Your paragraph about your difficult relationship, where the person didn’t know how to help… I can so identify with that! It’s pretty much where I’m at with another significant relationship. In my case, it really is my poor communication skills that mean there’s so much trouble… I’m so used to running, hiding, and going sideways around a need, that I don’t know how to communicate in a way that others can understand. I’m lucky, in that the other person is willing to take the time for me to learn new ways… that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt us both, but it’s a learning process.

      I’d like to think that the bravery involved in making the first move is worth it… I know it isn’t always, and we’ll get hurt; but again, that’s part of the learning thing…

      So much to learn… 🙂 … :-/

      Please take care,

  3. I actually DID take a step out of my families life – for 5 years I had no contact with anyone except my mother. It was very hard and I thot I’d made a mistake, more than once. But then the day came when I was again associating with them (somewhat)and I realized that I don’t need them to validate me anymore and that allowed me to fly! I will never have the kink of relationship with my mother that I want, tho. It is worth it and I wish you all the strength you can muster, steal, beg, and borrow.

    • Hi Ivory,

      I’m glad you were able to protect yourself in such a way, and then gain freedom as a result… That’s so positive!

      It’s good to “see” you 🙂

      Please take care,

  4. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while (apologies for not putting that thinking to paper… or to screen, as it were!). Two things have really struck me. First, that you can see the “neon sign” now, and that you can see it CAN be worth it to take that sign down for a little while, for some people. That is huge progress, CG. 🙂

    Second, I’ve been thinking about your relationship with your mother, which in some ways seems to mirror my relationship with my mother. You’re right – it does have to be you who steps out of the pattern of your relationship and try new ways of communicating and relating. Your mother won’t do it, any more than mine will. In part probably because she’s afraid (but would never admit it) and in part because she simply doesn’t know how. For me, I’ve found something ironic in ME teaching HER how to relate on a more human level. It doesn’t always work – old habits die hard, i think – and there are certainly times I question whether it’s worth it. In all, though, I think it is. Both for the benefits it can bring to our relationships with our mothers, and for what the process teaches us.

    Third, there’s something about when taking the neon sign down doesn’t work. It’s not a failure, though I know it feels like it. Certainly not YOUR failure, anyway. All part of life’s journey, apparently. Or something like that. Brain. Foggy. Anaesthesia. Sorry. 😉

    • Hi Kerro,

      I hope you’re feeling better this morning!!

      I think one of the key reasons why we are the ones who need to step out of the pattern of the relationship, is because we are aware of the need for things to change, and are learning new ways of being (otherwise known as working on healing). Based on what I know of our mothers, they will not do this healing step… not because they don’t necessarily want to change, but for any number of reasons, they aren’t able to. We’ve made a concious decision to change the way we relate to the world, and a big part of that is our relationships.

      I’m glad you feel able to show your mother new ways… I know of some people who don’t have that patience, or tolerance.

      It can be scary to take the neon sign down… or even dim the neon a little… but yes, I think it is sometimes worth it 🙂

      Please take care of yourself (((hugs))),

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