InPart I of this post, from 2/7/12, I described my belief that parents somehowstill love their children even if they act out a hateful, nasty, and/orabusive family role. This is naturally somethingpeople who have parents like this have a great deal of trouble accepting, and understandably so. IfI were in their shoes, I am absolutely certain I would have come to the exactsame conclusions they do.
Still, as adults from dysfunctional families tell their stories to me in psychotherapy,I always hear of those rare times when their parents were not hateful butactually loving. Sometimes such parents even will unexpectedlyexpress their love directly, although often in a way which undermines their owncredibility. But why would anyone believe the professions of love ofsomeone who generally tends to treat them horribly?
I mentionedthat I would describe some of the “maternal” behavior that a woman who has beencorresponding with me described to me, and translate some of her mother’sbehavior and verbalizations into what I think was really being expressedcovertly. So here goes. (I will not be discussing my correspondent’s childhood, but only what has been going on in the very recent past).
Her mother wasgetting old and was no longer able to live by herself, but was driving everyonecrazy with various demands about whether or not she should be placed, or where she shouldbe placed if she were sent to a nursing home.
She had given herdaughter power of attorney over her affairs in the eventuality that she becameincompetent,setting up a situation in which my correspondent (I’ll call her Mrs. T.) was ina position to make major life decisions for her mother. It was also completelyunclear whether the mother was developing dementia or how severe it was if itwas present, which meant it was also unclear whether or not she was competent.
Mrs. T described theevents as they unfolded, writing at various times (reproduced with herpermission):
She [Mom] reacts extremely poorlyto anything short of immediate subservience and submission on my part, and yet,she has appointed me to be her "power of attorney" in theeventuality that she becomes incompetent. She was turned down by the only nursing home that she agreed to go toand, as of yesterday afternoon, was turning down offers by the hospital socialworker to set up any in-home physical therapy. The county social workerfears that because of her intelligence she will not be found to lackdecision-making ability.
I want to keep loving thoughtstowards her (after a lifetime of anxious helplessness, guiltand overt/covert hostility) [Mrs. T had been reading my posts on disarmingborderlines and spoiling behavior].
Now I must decide whether or notI want to be the person who puts my mother in a nursing home and have her hateme or to decline and leave her well-being to chance.
I was told that my mother was angry and acting out forabout an hour this morning. She was ok when I came to the hospital thisafternoon and we had a good conversation, including my explaining to her thatthe POA authorized me to "put her in a nursing home" and that I wasresigning. She actually said that I should "give it back" afterI said that and she said it in a friendly way. The hospital social workershowed up and tried to immediately serve me with the "activation"paperwork. . . She left to make me a copy of the POA… Mymother started acting out again. I eventually left. I came back inthe room briefly while she was on the phone with my brother "trashing"me and I told her that I just wanted her to be safe.
She called metonight after I was home and told me that she never wants to see me again andthat I am a bad daughter because I haven't confided in her and because I haveshared information about her with the social services people.
Tonight she cited her Sicilian upbringing as a reason forbeing an unaffectionate parent… My mother called my husband yesterday to thankhim for watering her plants and told him "good bye." My motherhas told me that she never wants to see me again. My brother tells methat she has also said "I do not have a daughter" etc. He saysshe told him that she wishes he had never been born… She has called hereseveral times, mostly leaving messages asking for my husband, but I was homeand did answer last night about 10:35 and she spoke to me but was clearly nothappy about it, demanding that I send an attorney there because they were"killing her."
She did not trust me to do thesimplest thing correctly. Even to be in her presence was to be under herdominion and control. I could not wait to leave the minute I got thereeven though my intentions had been good in going to visit her. Sheharangued me non-stop for bringing her groceries. "I thought I toldyou not to...." "Didn't I tell you not to...." She wouldwrite letters thanking for the groceries, and other kindnesses.
[After Mom leaves the hospital:].
Right now she is in a nursing home two blocksfrom my home. She does not speak to me when I go there and bring herflowers or rub her feet.
My mother was on a hunger strikewhen she was in the hospital prior to the emergency mental detention/initiationof the guardianship process. She is now refusing to eat in the nursinghome, except for food which I bring her.I have toldmy therapist for a long time, and my mother's "thank you" notes inthe past confirm, that she credits me with "keeping her alive." I, however, see the other side of the coin, i.e., that if I cease my efforts, Iwill be a murderer. On Weds. afternoon she disowned me to my face and aday later is playing the "I'll only eat food you make me" game.
I left there assuming she stillcan't chew, as she told me that she had been to a luau the night before and atenothing, not even water, not even the coconut cream pie....(I saidwords to the effect of couldn't you just mouth that and swallow it...???) Anyway, very long story short.....b/c my mother dislikes me talking to peopleabout her, I called the nurses station after I left and spoke to Ann and toldher I had brought cottage cheese, yogurt and OJ and she tells me that my momhad eaten a pasta w/sausage lunch no problem....... one of the last timesI saw her, she said "You need lessons, you need lessons" and when Iasked why, she said my meatballs were too hard, then ate part of one andcontradicted herself, said that one was ok. shoot me now.
So, I amresponsible for her survival.....just like I was always made to be responsiblefor her happiness (there is a no win situation for you with a woman who wasconstitutionally incapable of being happy...) So, I am trapped. And, if Istopped bringing her food and she lost weight, and died, it would be "allmy fault."
Without turning her head to lookat me, my mother said to me "You didn't get any sleep at all last night didyou?" Today, while talking to my husband about this feeling of alwaysbeing under scrutiny, with his help, I made the following observations:
1) with her I was alwaysunder close observation......nothing I ever did went unobserved, nothing I everdid was free from commentary, judgment or mischaracterization
2) she did not ask as one might,"are you tired?" but instead she made a gross exaggeration (anysleep at all)
3) she made her observation inthe form of a leading question.
For most of my life, Iwould have 'taken the bait' and defended myself with an "Oh yes Idid" kind of answer which would have just started an argument oroccasion a global statement by her to the effect of "you never get enoughsleep" "you don't take care of yourself" etc. OR a criticism ofme along the lines of being a hot house tomato or thin skinned if I objected tothe criticisms.
This may seem like a smallobservation, and yet, it helps to describe the type of relationship I had/havewith her.....she was intrusive, and yet, her intrusions did not feel likeexpressions of love or concern, they were simply opportunities for her to chideme, condemn me or make me feel inadequate or incompetent as a person.....Idon't think I am ever going to "heal" from this.
I do not remember her ever kissingme.
She said, the other day, as I was leaving, words to the effect(and this is very very very rare) "You know I love you very much, don'tyou? You make life liveable." This was after telling me earlier thatshe did not want to be alive this time next year, among other things. Ibelieve that by providing her with homemade food, so she doesn't have to eatthe nursing home food, she feels cared about by me.
In reading this, the things that jumped out at me the most wasthe fact that Mom is constantly giving off double messages to Mrs. T. aboutneeding and loving her. The positivemessages, however, could easily be interpreted as having a negative ulteriormotive behind them - like Mom is only saying them to manipulate Mrs. T. This negative interpretation comes about for a number of reasons:
First, the positive messages are expressed way less frequently than thenegative ones, and are rarely said directly to Mrs. T. They are said to third parties or written innotes. Second, expressions of concernare expressed as criticisms, and their frequency make it appear as if Mrs. T isconstantly being judged in the negative. Third, Mom seems to imply that Mrs. T. is responsible for Mom’shappiness, and that Mrs. T always fails her, making Mom’s misery Mrs. T’sfault. So, of course Mrs. T interpretsthem in the way she listed above as her three “observations.”
I believe that the negative comments and the spin Mom seemsto put on her positive comments represent Mom’s “role” of spoiler in herown family of origin – manifestations of a false self. The positive comments and theunderlying concern represent what is going on covertly, and are what I believe to be manifestationsof her true self – the way she really feels.
For example, Mom complained bitterly about the groceriesMrs. T. brought to her, but would then write letters thanking her. Then, to top it off, she refused to eat anyfood except that which Mrs. T brought to her. She even credited Mrs. T. withkeeping her alive, although she “undid” this at different times by accusingMrs. T. of “killing” her and by predicting that she will soon be dead. She tells Mrs. T she needs cooking lessons –again while refusing to eat other people’s food. (Except occasionally. Just tothrow everyone else off).
After a lifetime of avoiding kissing Mrs. T., again Mrs. T naturally discounted Mom’s statement, "You know I love you very much, don't you?You make life liveable."
Mom “disowned” Mrs. T. several times. Each time, Mrs. T. felt like Mom was going todo what she said, despite the fact that it never actually happens.
At one point, when the patientwas sitting with her in the hospital, Mom said, "Sorry this was so boringfor you." I told Mrs. T. that I would wager that Mom had said this with a tone ofvoice that was dripping with either sarcasm or hostility, as if Mrs. T. were anungrateful daughter who does not appreciate all her mother had done for her, and who resented Mom for inconveniencing herself- or something like that.
Alternatetranslation: "I know this is no fun for you and I'm a pill to be with, andI really do hope itwasn't as bad for you as I think it would be."
Sounds insane I know, but when patients who are subjected to this sort of figurative insanity think back, they may find they canremember times when Mom was actually loving in some strange way. Doublemessages are the norm in the BPD family.
Last I heard, by the way, Momended up in an appropriate facility, Mrs. T. retained power of attorney, andthey are still speaking.
In my post of July 6, 2010, Distancing: Early Warning, I wrote: When parents act in an obnoxious mannerlike this that pushes their adult children away, this is referred to as distancingbehavior. Parents who know they were abusive,even if they do not admit it, may secretly believe that their children arebetter off without them. Hence, they engage in distancing to push theirchildren away, thereby protecting their children from themselves.
It's a version of self-denigrating sentiment expressed in the famous quote by Groucho Marx: "I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member."
|Groucho Marx on "You Bet Your Life"
However, the parents also secretly long to have ahealthy connection with their children, so they cannot seem to bring themselvesto just cut off all ties directly. Their own conflict causes them to give offthe double message that are inherent in distancing behavior: come here but get the hellaway from me. Or as the singer Pink so aptly put it, “Leave me alone, I’m lonely!”
Mrs.T.’s mom obliquely refers to her own upbringing as the source of herdifficulties being a good mother when she blames her “Sicilian upbringing” as thereason for her being an “unaffectionate parent.” What transpired in that upbringing, and howmuch Mrs. T knows or does not know about it, is something Mrs. T. and I havenot discussed in great detail. I amwilling to wager that the story of Mom’s background is powerful andmoving. Such stories always are.