My mother as an emotionally battered wife and my relationship with her

I´ve been in abusive friendships / relationships. And I remember what it felt like to be around people who might suddenly explode right inmy face. My sister is such a person. My father is such a person. And this had me think about my mother, who is very much not such a person. How does she feel about her relationship with my father?

I sometimes suspect that she is secretly scared of him. Of my sister, too. Even of me. She never shows any genuine feelings. But maybe that´s not because she is evil per se; maybe she has grown that same thick layer of numbness that dulls me down. I remember how I felt about Athena at times; in the middle of a crisis I suddenly started to feel very tired and indifferent. I knew that actually I cared very much about our relationship, that a break-up would devastate me, but somehow I couldn´t feel it anymore. It seemed unreal and far away. I could only see the immediate situation, and saying “Fuck off, I´m breaking up with you!” would have gotten me out of it immediately, which was all I could think of. How to end the situation. It´s the same state of mind that prompts suspects to make false confessions after being interrogated and messed with for hours. I was always aware, though, of the finality of such a statement, and I knew that as soon as I´d hung up on her I would fall apart. So I had to resolve the situation in a different way. I didn´t have any particular feelings for her anymore, least of all respect; I just knew I had to find out whatever she wanted to hear and then say it, so she could forgive me and I could finally go to sleep.

It was a state I found myself in after only a few months. My mother has been married to my father for more than two decades.

This state of perceived indifference is not free of aggression. There is a dark, subtle satisfaction in this; sucking up to someone while withdrawing all love and compassion from him, knowing there is one part of your soul he won´t get and he will never know it. Acting normal while you´re still holding a grudge can feel powerful. If you learn to walk on eggshells successfully you might feel like you are the one in control.

With your walls up like this, though, you are also emotionally unavailable. Your emotions are a show. Not necessarily a lie, but an intentional display. You don´t simply have emotional reactions. You can control them; it is up to you what you show and how much of it.

You lose sight of what you really want and need. You are completely focused on the people around you. Wants and needs are for the weak. You don´t want or need anything. You don´t get emotional support, you´ve had your feelings trampled upon often enough, now you base your self-respect on not needing care and respect.

***

I cannot prove that this is true for my mother. She would, of course, deny it. She denies being scared of my father, and indeed sometimes I´m not sure who has the upper hand in their relationship. My mother must have excellent manipulation skills by now. She probably knows him by heart, which gives her a sense of power; while he displays the stereotypical male cluelessness regarding women and their feelings. I guess she knows more about him than he knows about her, which might indeed shift the power; particularly as his temper seems to mellow with age. Which might explain why she is moving in with him again: Now she has the upper hand. She has ultimately won. Indeed now my father is sucking up to her; or rather telling me in an oddly castrated tone how great and brave and strong my mother is and how I should “be nicer to her”. Which is funny, as it is exactly what my mother tells me when I have trouble with my father: “Be nicer to him.”

How might this have affected the relationship between me and my mother? She was emotionally unavailable. While she was not (or very rarely) openly indifferent her behavior towards me seemed artificial. Something was always wrong, and I guess I just felt that. Then, of course, she never defended me against my father or sister. Instead, she implicitly taught me her coping strategies. That pleasing people can be some kind of revenge because it is a way to get power.

On other occasions, though, her bitterness and resentment showed through. When I was depressed she sometimes said that maybe I just expected too much from life. There was a slight, tiny note of satisfaction in her voice, even though she seemingly sounded so matter-of-factly. I have no business being happy. Recently she said that maybe it was about time I move out because I´m alone at home so often and she doesn´t want me to get used to having a big flat at my disposal since I might have trouble later coming to terms with living in a small flat. She didn´t sound as if she was worried about my well-being, though. What she was saying there was: 1) You are spoiled. 2) You won´t be able to maintain or regain the life standard you have now (which is probably why I attend college, so I´ll never be able to afford anything decent). 3) Better get used to it soon, ha ha. All that while she is about to move into the house of her dreams.

Then, sometimes, even her aggression showed through. Very rarely also physically. Like when I was little and we were at the beach. I wanted to go play in the sea with her, I wanted a playful fight. She, however, went at it with an odd, scary aggression I had so far never seen in her. She was actually hurting me, and when I complained she was almost disdainful, like: “I thought you wanted to fight, I´m only doing what you asked me to do.” My memory is fuzzy, it might or might not have been exactly like this, but this is the atmosphere I remember. She was taking something out on me, she was scary, she was, in a way, brutal.

On another occasion we´d had an argument and I wanted us to be alright again. Most of the time she made the first step, even earlier than I really wanted to. Now I was trying to get the message across, but I didn´t know how to go about it. I must have been looking at her in a way that annoyed her because she suddenly snapped at me: “Well, why are you staring at me like a wounded puppy?”

Apologizing to my mother was never easy. She never seems to be holding a grudge or even be angry, but somehow she doesn´t accept apologies, either. Similar with the situation where I had accidentally left school early. I am often very rude to my mother (much to my friends´dismay; my current girlfriend once said at first she had been shocked, but then when she spent more time with my parents she was starting to understand my behavior), but whenever I try to be nice and helpful, even apologize for stuff she suddenly gets cold and distant (in a deniable fashion). Somehow being nice to my mother just doesn´t work. I don´t know if it pisses her off in some way or if she is indiscriminately angry for being in the weaker position in the family and as soon as she senses vulnerability or even the willingness to compromise/consider her needs she tries to get as much power out of it as possible. I get out of everything easiest by being bratty and acting crazy.

***

Then, of course, my mother also identified with me. She and I used to be the weaker ones in the family; those who aren´t as good at winning a shouting match. She always branded me as “particularly sensitive” because I couldn´t take it when my father and sister were yelling, even when it wasn´t directed at me (though, of course, that could change any second if I made a noise or asked my mother a question). She said that approvingly, like it was something special to have a problem with angry people.

It was my mother who, for much of my life, made me feel like I was special in a good, slightly mystical way. When my father moved out my mother and I became very close. I pretty much claimed her for myself. We went on walks together, we went on holiday together (though sometimes we did that before, too), we talked a lot. It was a bit as if I was an adult; I often felt as if I was already a grown-up. It was not like she was doing the talking and I had to listen. It was more like me talking, telling her things, and her nodding and listening. Maybe it wasn´t so different from her relationship with my father. She had those talks with my sister as well, so I might just be imagining that I had a special role. During that time, I envisioned the three of us (at least from an idealistic point of view) as three adult friends or sisters. I felt like I was not a kid, but not a teenager, either. I had simply skipped that phase. I didn´t have to rebel against my mother and throw all those silly temper tantrums. I could just be mature.

I think my mother dropped me when I was 16 and decided to become an immature teenager after all. I´m still that teenager in many ways, or at least I want to be. I´m starting to understand growing up is not adopting the set of behaviors and attitudes I showed with 12 or 13, so I might find a way to do what I have to do and still feel free. At the moment I see growing up as: I´m financially independent so the world can kiss my ass! It´s the kind of growing up my teenage self can live with.

I think that identification thing is actually the most painful part. It started long before my father moved out. It started with me clinging to my mother because everybody else in my family was scary. The worst thing is really how much I depended on her. I have to be grateful she identified with me and made me feel special. I hate myself thinking of it. It seems to justify everything she did. Everything she turned me into just seems to be a result of my weakness. Maybe I cannot be anything other than the emotionally dead people-pleasing control freak. Why couldn´t I be like my sister who grew some balls (thanks for the visual, I know) and just openly and honestly bullies others? I feel like she is more likeable than the sly, secretive person I am who never even dares say she is pissed off (this blog being the exception). I am so much like my mother than I feel I deserve to be disliked. I´m not even angry at people who don´t like or actually despise me. I can understand them. How pathetic is that? Couldn´t I at least think they are twats?

Sad thing is, if I thought so I would be betraying myself just as much. I would be thinking so on behalf of my mother, in her very own voice. She loved to tell me others were just jealous of me. In a way, self-hatred was always a method to feel just a little bit of integrity. Maybe this is why I am holding on to it so much.

There is this line in a song by Nightwish that goes like: “It is the end of all hope to be someone like me.” I´ve always sort of identified with that line, but now I´m starting to understand why.

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7 Responses to “My mother as an emotionally battered wife and my relationship with her”

  1. vicariousrising Says:

    I have that tendency to build protective walls too. I’m dealing with it right now with one of my guitar teachers, one I have a terrible crush on. All I can see is me getting hurt, so practically every week I fight wanting to tell him to forget lessons and cut loose of the potential hurt. I’m waiting for him to break my heart first, and it’s like I’d do anything to avoid that pain, even cut things short without any real reason to fear him “dumping” me as his student.

    It’s a learned behavior after years of being a target. Your mom may suffer from it — or she might just be indifferent. I think it’s good that you’re willing to examine your own reactions.

    • Having thought about it, I think I do build protective walls against positive feelings, too, not just against negative ones. Or if I don´t, they make me nervous, like I´m challenging fate. It´s actually quite a great reason for many of my compulsive behaviors and my excessive worrying.

      I´ve seen your blog is protected now. Is everything alright?

      • vicariousrising Says:

        I’m ok, but having some privacy issues around the blog. I’m trying to figure out how to deal best with it. Not a big deal but definitely a little odd.

        Thanks f

  2. building walls is a skill we (the adult children of damaged parents) acquire at any early age. Writing and sharing your story will be helpful to both you and all of us who read it. I personally found it very helpful to think of my mother as a woman with her own problems. Problems that resulted in narcissistic personality disorder. It was just easier than thinking she was an evil, toxic person that disliked me and did everything in her power to deflate me. It was the same outcome for me, but motivation mattered. Great Post!

    • Thanks for commenting, and I´m sorry to hear you had to deal with a narcissistic mother. My mother has always been a blank slate for me, I could never be sure I correctly read her. Trying to figure out what might be going on inside of her makes me feel more like a person of my own, someone separate from her. I guess that journey has just begun, but I find others sharing their stories very helpful, too.

      • Remember the quote about It’s all about the journey and not the destination? I believe if you enjoy the journey enough, the destination will be pleasing as well. Good Luck discovering the real you….and keep me posted on what you find.

  3. Good to hear from you, Vicarious, hope you get it sorted out soon. 🙂

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