Feels Bad

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.





11 thoughts on “Feels Bad

  1. This has touched me Maria. I too grew up with this dissonance saturating my life. What brilliant insight you have. In one instance currently in my family circle this is so evident. I fret and feel sad over this 24/7. I have to consciously work through it just as you do. A long time ago a psychiatrist told me I was masochistic. ButIdon’t feel that to be true. When you figure out the safe and healthy, and possibly happy way ( and you will ) I hope you share. 🙂

  2. Oh, Maria! Try not to feel sad. Most family relationships are fraught with the anxious, guilty feelings you are experiencing. Try not to let it get you down. You’ve been working very hard. You truly need a break away with Jon and I’m hoping your trip to NY City will fulfill. Best wishes for a happy little trip!

  3. Maria, every time you write about your relationship with your mother, my eyes fill with tears. My relationship with my mother was similar in that she could never be the mother I wanted, and I could never be the daughter she wanted. I was always filled with resentment, anger, and guilt, but I could never walk away. It felt like a very heavy obligation to be there for her when she got older and needed assisted living. We never really resolved our differences because we could never really communicate honestly. When she died a few weeks before she turned 91, I was devastated. I always thought there would be time for one more visit, one more phone conversation. Three years later, I am still trying to let go of the guilt. I make myself feel better by believing that we’ll be reunited in the next life and maybe our relationship will work out then. Thank you for being open and honest about your life.

  4. Maria:
    You have a relationship. This puts you ahead of many, including myself. I hope the following will make you feel a little happier and sturdier about yours.

    Due to WorldWarII circumstances my mother did not see me from the age Of 6 months to 11 years; she was in England, I was in Lithuania and Poland, with my 2 sisters, one of whom died from Diptheria. When we met her again, on a railway station in Vienna, her first words to me were “why couldn’t you have been the one to die?” My grandmother swept us all up, my other sister and two adopted brothers, and took us home with her.My grandparents then raised us until our late teens.

    Years later at the beginning of my second, present and very happy marriage, she began to answer my letters to her ( infrequent, but I did try to keep a small relationship going) with pure poison pen replies. My husband picked one up, read it and was horrified. His response “She is telling her not to write to you again, so don’t. Nobody needs to put up with something like this.”

    So I didn’t and never heard from again in the remaining 20 years of her life.Oddly enough she began to write to my daughter and send her presents, with never a single unpleasant word. I could only be happy about this, although always worried that she might turn against her–she never did.

    I have talked about this to only a very , very few close friends.

    So, Maria, never think that you are responsible. You will maybe never know why but be happy in your present very beautiful life.

    1. Erika, that is a sad and difficult story, I’m sorry for you to have to have gone through so much. Thank you for telling it here, I’m so glad you were able to find a good life for yourself.

  5. I know a version of this. It has helped me to understand that dark/light is an unbroken circle and not to be afraid, so that I can open my heart and let my mind take a rest when I am really suffering. I find when I open my heart channel things move and I feel better body and soul.

    I have to accept some patches can be rough, be it a few hours or a few weeks. When it passes it feels really lovely. In my healing work I’ve come to learn that when things are actually at the time of shift it doesn’t always feel so great. But it moves me towards a better baseline.

  6. (Sigh.) Even when you have a “good” relationship with ill and aging parents, you never feel like you are doing enough. No matter how much you do, you feel like you should be doing more, even when there’s nothing more that can realistically be done. It’s a situation fraught with misplaced guilt. Please be kind to yourself.

  7. This post almost made me sick to my stomach, Maria……not because of you, but because the emotions it evoked in me were so powerful. I had a very similar relationship with my Mother……guilt that I experienced during my entire life (still do, even though she is gone) through her manipulation (I came to see, much later) never living up to who she wanted me to be……..always feeling a bit inferior, but me not ever being able to speak to her about my feelings……and neither of us ever being able to communicate our true feelings to each other. I only hope you can find a way to come to a good place with your Mother while she is alive……but with that much ingrained history and emotion…it may not be possible. I tried very hard at the end of my Mothers life, but was not able to reach an honest and true place. We skirted the issues and talked…….but there was no *aha* moment. YOU may be able to come to a good place?….. your Mother may not. In reading your other responses……I know I am not alone…..and neither are you. Remember that, please

    1. The responses to the post have been helpful to me in seeing I’m not alone too Susan. And I do realize there will probably not be that aha moment. I like what you said about my being able to come to a good place with it. That would be okay with me. Sorry to bring up those feeling in you, but thanks for your thoughts.

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