trust your feelings - a letter to a friend & fellow ACON

I remember that my mom spent a lot of emotional energy and time on her relationship with my grandfather. Lots of stress, anger, dissecting her childhood and how he interacted with her in the present. When he came to visit, she would feel ill for a week before his visit and for at least a week afterward. She even developed an ulcer that would flare during that week before/after his visits and eventually she started taking medicine before an during visits to ward off the ulcer. Can you imagine?

In the past couple of years, I realized that she has a similar physical affect on me. No ulcer yet (knock on wood) but I feel consumed with anxiety and depression when I know I have to interact with her, the actual interaction is very uncomfortable, and I spend at least a week afterward with the same intense anxiety, depression, and consuming, obsessive thoughts. It takes a long time to feel back to normal again. So really, one interaction with my mom might affect me for a month! I had been worrying about whether it was wrong or unfair to my children to "take away" their grandmother and grandfather from them, but I wasn't thinking about the impact on them of my being so affected by her. Is it more fair for kids to see their grandmother but have a mother who is emotionally unavailable to them because she's so wrapped up in her own baggage? Does the stress on me affect them? It undoubtedly does, and I know that the stress my mother felt (which was very real, and I feel sympathy for her) had a negative impact on her marriage and children. In our case, my mom is not a great grandparent to my kids - she has unrealistic expectations of how they should interact with her, and seems to value them more as possessions than as individuals. Are my kids really losing much? I don't think so. And in removing ourselves from contact with my mother, my kids benefit, because I am a healthier, more engaged parent when my life is not punctuated by interactions with her.

Did I benefit from knowing my grandfather? I have some happy memories, but was not close to him, and as I got older and understood who he was better, I disliked him and disliked spending time with him but still felt obligated to him. Knowing him helps me to understand my mother, but I would never expect my children to know my grandmother just so they can understand me. Would I give up the happy memories with my grandfather in exchange for a mother who was more tuned-in to her emotional health and able to establish boundaries between herself and her abusive parent? Absolutely.

I also realized at some point that I never enjoyed being near her or talking to her, not even a little, and that my relationship with my father was very shallow and not significantly important to me. And my kids seemed to like them but not really know them or be excited about them.

My point is that I think listening to your body is important. How do you feel, and what affect, if any, does that have on your relationships with your kids and with your husband? How does it impact your work? I have also found it helpful to think about what exactly we gain through each of us having a relationship with my parents, and what we lose. If we don't interact with them, again, what are the gains and losses? For me, part of what we "lost" was the idea of a certain kind of grandkid-grandparent relationship, which wouldn't have been a reality, anyway. Honestly, sometimes it seems like the biggest part of becoming healthy is figuring out which unrealistic hopes I had, and building more realistic expectations!

In my case, the affect on my sanity is sufficient enough and my parents are weak enough grandparents that it's in my kids' best interest for none of us to see them or interact with them in other ways. This might change in the future, but all I can do now is what is right for us in the present. You are the only person who knows what your emotional needs are and what your kids need, and who your mom is, and you will make the choice that is right for you. It doesn't have to look like anybody else's choice.

All you can do is what is right for you and your kids and husband right now. Listen to your body and your intuition! I trust you and you can trust you, too.

When is your mom's visit? I'll be thinking about you.

- Claire


  1. Interesting. I had acne problems during some of the most emotionally abusive periods in my family. For years I thought I had "problem" skin. But once I got well away from them, my skin cleared up and started looking great. Coincidence? No way!

  2. Alice Miller has a book titled "The Body Never Lies," about how the body internalizes emotional responses to earlier humiliations and unmet needs. It's surprising to me how disconnected from our bodies most of us are. It wasn't until after having children (probably due to pregnancy/childbirth?) that I started to really pay attention to how my body feels and what the feelings are related to.

  3. It was around the time I shut off emotionally from my narcissistic father that I stopped being the "sickly" child. I was actually quite healthy!

    He has a bad physical effect on me usually. But recently, since my awakening, I've sometimes been able to be completely impervious to him - and it is because of this, I believe, that he now behaves when we meet.

    Still, NC must be the ACON ideal.