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