I got an email from an acquaintance who wrote, “I am struggling with my relationship with my mother and I’ve been starting to suspect it might be affecting my relationships with others too…My mother is an alcoholic; I no longer stay with her when I visit my hometown, we just eat lunch together. That way I see her drink, but I don’t see her drunk. I also only talk to her on the phone in the morning, never in the afternoon or evening. These things make our relationship easier for me. These rules make perfect sense when I am away from her and talking to people who understand the effects of alcoholism on the lives of others, but can make me seem to myself like a crazy selfish person when I am with her.”
Well, today’s tool for Tuesday is this: our early relationships with the primary people in our lives reverberate again and again on our current relationships. We might marry people who are the opposite of our parents, thinking it will be better; or we might marry people who are the same as our parents, hoping we can heal a long ago hurt.
But the fact is, if we don’t go back and heal that original hurt, it will haunts us always, in all our relationships. I’ve heard some people say they don’t want to go back to the past; they lived through it once and don’t want to live through it again. But we need to–we absolutely must–revisit the original scene of the crime; if not, we are condemned to repeat it unconsciously.
As for thinking you’re selfish, wrong! What you are doing is not selfishness; it’s self-preservation. We have every right to choose not to be around people who makes us feel uncomfortable, even if those people are our parents or spouses or children. Even if they insist that we are rotten and selfish. Or they accuse us of not loving them, of not caring. Or they get angry because we are healthier and happier than they are.
We have the right to heal ourselves even if those around us, those we love the most, refuse to get better. We don’t have to get pulled down into the darkness with them. We have to help ourselves even if the people we love don’t make it. We don’t have to get sick with physical symptoms instead of getting better.
I know a woman who developed severe scoliosis in her spine so by the time she was 50, she looked crumpled and withered as an 80-year-old. Of course, lots of people have scoliosis. But in her, it seemed like her ambivalent feelings for her parents were so intense and so forbidden that they rooted themselves in her body. I know another woman married to an alcoholic who just withered away from his disease. Physical symptoms sometimes reflect emotional problems. Those of us who are codependent often seem unable to detach ourselves enough from people we love to get better. (See my post on that subject here.)
Remember, we do not have to abandon ourselves out of fear that someone will abandon us. We don’t have to do anything that is not in our best interest to try to please someone else. Act like you are the owner of a precious, valuable, priceless gem. That gem is you. Allow yourself to sparkle and shine even when those you love are stuck in darkness.
For more information on the glittering Miss Israel 2013, check out my article in The Huffington Post.
I think a troubled relationship with a parent or parents is the hardest to shake.
I agree! But we still have to do the work to figure things out…
I think your friend’s adjustments are thoughtful protections for herself, and for her mother as well.
She doesn’t ignore or reject her; she has accepted what her mother still does and avoids her when she’ll be at her worst.
I had a good friend in high school whose father that during the day held down a job that kept a roof over their heads and food on the table, but he drank away much of his pay check. Every night after work he began drinking, and between midnight and 3AM the mother and children locked themselves in the attic bedrooms and hid, quiet as mice, to stay safe.
He wouldn’t go to AA, but my friend and her brother faithfully went to the teen group. They didn’t hate their father, but they didn’t trust him, either, and learned many coping skills that continued for as long as he was alive, and your friend is practicing several of the skills.
Thank you Marylin. Those are good points that you make. I can’t imagine having to hide like mice in the attic bedrooms (there’s a story there for you!) We can all learn coping skills that help us in all situations.
Diana, your friend has managed to love her mom by setting boundaries. She is so wise. 🙂
Tracy, that is great that you see how boundaries free us to love those difficult people in our lives!