As many people do, I struggle with my relationship with my mother. Often after speaking to her on the phone, I feel guilty for not seeing her more. I feel bad about myself for not doing more for her.
This happened to me again this afternoon.
Earlier in the day, I was in the pasture with Bud and he didn’t come when I called him. I called his name again and again, even blew the whistle that he usually responds to, but it was like I wasn’t even there.
Fed up, I yelled “bad dog come here” and he stopped what he was doing and came running to me, cowering as he sat in front of me.
As much as I wanted him to come to me, the idea that he was responding to a command that most likely, at some point in his life, got him in enough trouble to cower, was upsetting to me. It wasn’t right. Instead of coming when he heard someone yell “bad dog” he should have run the other way.
Why would he run to something that was bad for him?
When I got off the phone with my mother this afternoon, I felt the guilt rising up in me. My heart pounding, my mind started spinning with things I could do for her, places I could take her.
The more I thought about doing these things the worse the panic got.
My mother does not directly ask me to do anything for her. But in each conversation, I hear everything everyone else is doing for her. Which is everything I’m not doing for her. I have a hard time believing that this is intentional on her part, that she’s being manipulative.
I recently heard about the psychological phenomenon called Cognitive Dissonance. This is what happens when “a person’s beliefs clash with new evidence perceived by the person”. This causes confusion and “mental stress“. So the person will either change their beliefs to adjust to the new evidence, justify their beliefs, or become indifferent to the evidence.
I think this is what happens to me almost every time I talk to my mother. I don’t want to admit to myself that my mother is trying to manipulate me, trying to guilt me into doing things I don’t want to do.
Yet I’m seeing this is how our relationship has always worked.
My birth family is filled with this kind of dissonance, where one thing is said out loud and another is implied or expected. So I mostly stay away from them.
Aware that my mind was racing out of control, I sat to ground myself by meditating. Still the stories, lies, excuses, and accusations from myself about myself swirled in my head. I knew I couldn’t trust my mind, so I focused on my body instead. And when the confusion and chatter stopped, what I was feeling became simple and clear.
“Feels bad”, I said out loud,” it feels bad”.
So why do I do it?
And I thought of Bud running to me when I called him a bad dog. And I understood why it bothered me so much. Because I have the same urge to run to what feels bad.
My mother is 90 years old and has Parkinson’s disease. I know in many ways she’s had a difficult life and learned early, as many women from her generation did, to use manipulation to get what she needed to survive.
Being in a manipulative relationship is damaging to me. But I don’t want to walk away from my mother. I want her to be in my life in a safe and healthy way. And I’ll figure out how to do it.