Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mothers Who Can't Love

Only weeks ago, maybe between my mom's lapse into coma and her last breath, not sure, I found a book in my mailbox:  
Mothers Who Can't Love: A Healing Guide for Daughters, by Susan Forward, PhD
I tossed it into the Get To This One Day pile. Found it yesterday, buzzed right through. Thank you Harper Collins.   
I'm talking to FD about someone we both know, and he asks, "Why is he this way." I suggest a particular parent-child dynamic, only confuse him more.

"How do you know this?"

"Because this is what we do in my profession, look backward to parents, how they treated now grown/adult children as children. We look for clues. In your profession history helps, but the lab results and the vitals tell more. For us, history is everything.

It didn't hurt, I confessed, that the subject of scrutiny, at someone else's visitation, talked about his father. From this it isn't hard to extrapolate, suggest broad strokes about personality and behavior.

"Oh," he says.

Keep in mind that there are all kinds of genetics that play into personality and behavior. Yet, it is this relationship cause-effect, or psycho-dynamic diagnostic that explained why it took so long for me to write a eulogy for my mother.  Her attributes meant nothing unless I could tell over the why. To me it was the what made her this way that mattered.  In the months of her illness I obsessed about her childhood and how what she experienced in those formative years affected her as a woman, as a mother.

It didn't help that she demanded to hear the eulogy before she died.  She really wanted to edit it.  She edited a few drafts, but it was the sixth that came to stage. We assume she loved the whole show.

One day you'll hear those stories, how my mother loved to love people, to show a smile, how everyone loved her, couldn't help it. Oh, just one. One of my sons went fishing with my father and his friends and one took him aside.  "Let me tell you something young man. Your grandfather is one in ten-thousand. But your grandmother?  One in a million."

But this is a therapy blog so let's move on, talk about the antitheses.

Dr. Forward does a magnificent job describing mothers who can't love, certainly can't show love, those who make adult children cringe even when they know, perfectly well, that they are no longer children, should not be stressing, reaching to cope, spending so much psychological energy and time on a mother.  She suggests ways to set boundaries on moms who enmesh, control, criticize, and otherwise weasel their way into our brains.

Face it.  It is all about the boundaries.  It is all about, "You, mama, have more to lose than I have. You have already made my life ridiculously unbearable. The party is over."

Dr. Forward suggests letter writing and non-defensive communication, above all else. And sometimes, time off from the relationship altogether.  I don't think I ever labeled retorts to critical mothers as non-defensive communication, but surely, this what it is, it is the way to go. Never give mothers like this more fuel, more of an edge.  When we defend it is as if there is something to defend, and with mothers who can't love, guess what, no one needs to defend against their negativity. Their bad.

A short list of simple non-defensive responses to criticism, accusations, complaints demeaning comments, and negative untruths. Parentheses mine:
Really? (add a raised eyebrow)
I see. (sage nod, try not to smile)
I understand.
I'm sure you see it that way.
Practice these in the mirror or with others. If you want to go on the offense, restrain yourself, although I've suggested staging grand behavioral hysteria, falling on the floor, holding your belly and laughing until tears come out of your eyes.  Some of us have to emphasize the absurd, and it works. Dr. Forward would surely concur.

She uses lists-- You make lists.  (a) The lies the mom tells, (b) The truth that really is.
(a) "You are selfish."
(b) "Actually, I'm not."
There is also an adult daughter's Bill of Rights. An abridged version:
You have the right to not take responsibility for anyone else's problems or bad behavior.
You have the right to get angry. (Susan Forward is particularly good with anger)
You have the right to say NO.
You have the right to protest unfair treatment or criticism
And Dr. F suggests Position Statements.  I love this.  When a parent crosses a line, makes you feel uncomfortable, reinforce the boundary with a clear, direct, redefinition of her power and what will no longer describe your response.
I am no longer willing to...
I am willing to...
It is no longer acceptable for you to. . .
I issued a position statement to my father, professionally bullied him many years ago.  I was in my thirties, he must have been mid-sixties. Now I have mixed feelings about it, years later, although I still tell the story. When his grandsons, my twins were about four or five, one of them, when frustrated, would shoot out tears. Annoyed by this my father mocked him at the kitchen table. "Cry," he teased.  "Babies cry."

I looked at him, glared, and asked, "Are tears BAD, Dad?  Because in my profession, we don't think so.  If you make him feel badly for crying, if you continue doing this, then we won't be visiting. So please don't."

That was a Position Statement.  He apologized and never did it again.

I miss my father, and wish, instead of bullying him, I would have simply, sincerely asked, "Did your father mock you when you cried?  When?  How did you feel?"  We do remember things like that, you know, those snap shot memories of trauma.

That would have been productive, too.

therapydoc


Monday, September 09, 2013

It's Going to Get Worse Before It Gets Better

In my defense, I was tired. I had been up since four on Labor Day, although I napped, and to prepare for an upcoming Jewish holiday threw together a few chalahs (those breads Jews make for the Sabbath and holy days, shiny and twisted), one carrot cake, two blueberry, and four sheets of chocolate chip cookies.  For a change, it all turned out well, not a burnt morsel, nobody fell.
West Wing on Mourning

FD and I colluded to tackle a closet and made considerable progress. You know what that means. You label what should go back in, and most importantly, throw a great deal away.

At 8 pm, paralyzed, the TV beckoned, I succumbed, chose vegging and watching to reading the new DSM 5. Nothing appealed on the tube so I turned to The West Wing on Netflix.

To me, it is new, although a well-respected patient had recommended it years ago when there was no time, no inclination, for television.  My luck, I pick a Christmas episode (In Excelsis Deo) in which Leo McGarry, White House Chief of Staff, is about to be outed for having had a Valium addiction when he was Secretary of Labor.

"It is going to get worse before it gets better," Josh Lyman, his young deputy tells him.

And maybe it will. I'm still in the first season reruns.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Landingham, the President's secretary, tells Toby Ziegler, Communications Director, that she's sad because on Christmas she thinks of her two sons, killed in combat in Viet Nam in 1970. A minute later Toby takes a call from the police. A homeless man found dead in the park has Toby's business card in a jacket pocket.

"Is he a friend of yours?" the detective asks Toby.

"No, but he's wearing a jacket I donated to the Vets.  My card must have been in a pocket. Sorry I can't help you."

Cleaning out that closet, one of the things I found was a bag of clothes put aside to give to the Vets. Irene from Purple Heart calls me at least six times a year to see if there's anything to give away. There is always something to give away.

Toby doesn't recognize the body but feels he must do something for the dead man wearing his jacket. There is a bond. He searches out the man's relatives, finds a brother-- "a little slow" -- and determines to see that the deceased has a military funeral. He oversteps his authority and uses President Bartlet's name to make it happen, but when the president hears about it, he is unhappy.

"Do you realize," President Bartlet chides Toby, "that when this gets out, every homeless Vet is going to want a military funeral?"

"I hope so," Toby replies.

The President thinks about it, nods, and lays a grateful hand on the aide's shoulder. He gets it.

The music on the West Wing is sinfully good, and between the children's choir and the Xmas pa-rum-pa-pum-pum continuing throughout the snowy funeral, and Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten, Mrs. McCluskey of Desperate Housewives) telling Toby to wait up, she wants to go to the funeral, too, I'm in a million tears and hunt down FD to tell him that I have stupidly booked my whole day tomorrow, between babysitting and really working, and Wednesday, too, because distraction helps, but now I want to go to the cemetery to see how my mom in doing instead. She's been there a little over a week, after all. She is surely upset with me.

Although she knows the trip out there is going to kill my back.

I'm worried, that this could get worse before it gets better.  Best to watch less TV, maybe. No, watch more! When television is best, it inspires us to be better people. That episode of West Wing, several that I've seen so far, moralized without ever using the word. A bit like my mother.

So the next night I watched a Sopranos episode from the third season, wouldn't you know, the one where Tony's mother dies. "Why is this happening???" I shout to FD, but make it through the show anyway. No idea what happened there except Tony's sister insists people say things about their mother at their family/friend get-together after the funeral and no one can think of anything nice to say.

In the comments to the last post, one of you mentioned that as I work my own program, that grief therapy I've been shoving down your throats for years,that I should talk about it here (or did I dream this).  At first I balked, thinking, the new DSM will prove far more interesting, and I just read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (amazing), and The Good Wife is starting on television at the end of the month.

They're saying, you know, that blogging is dead. But someone told me the other day, "It will make a comeback, for sure.  You'll see."

We're in the seventh year of Everyone Needs Therapy. Seven years!  Maybe it is time that I write more about myself, my life, my mom and dad, my brothers, handsome and strong, one here, one there. Something tells me that you won't mind.

therapydoc