|Wonder Twin powers, activate!! In the form of...an emotionally healthy individual!|
"Asking somebody to subvert themselves to an unhealthy dynamic in the name of family love and harmony is not ok. It is not a loving thing to ask."This was with regard to siblings who give us the "she's your mother, this is causing drama within the family, could you just get over your issues and be normal?" treatment. What's really going on is that they lack empathy and fortitude, probably because they were parented by the same hot mess that you were. They cannot understand that your experience is not the same as theirs. They do not relate to the discomfort you feel in the presence (physical or via mail/phone) of your parent. They can only focus on how queasy they feel about the parent being upset and the "drama" resulting from your standing up for yourself. It's a selfish approach. It is not really rooted in love and compassion.
Here's an example of a relatively healthy sibling stance: my sister expresses clearly that she sees how my mother treats me and that she remembers other things my mother has done to all of her children in the past. This provides validation and compassionate witness to me. She does not feel that my choices require her to make the same choices, because she recognizes that she and I are separate people with separate needs and separate relationships with our parents. She has laid down FIRM boundaries with my parents and defends them when necessary. She refuses to get into drawn-out fights and she has let my parents know that she will NOT be put in the middle of their issues with me. That is a sibling who gets it. How she ended up this well-functioning is beyond me. My friend also has one sibling who mostly gets it, although he is currently hitting up against the limits of his compassion. Hopefully that will change, because I know he has been a saving grace for her. We also discussed a couple of standard maneuvers the dysfunctional parent employs. First, act clueless. "I don't know what you think I did...I still have no idea what your problem with me is." This, despite the fact that you have basically been trying to tell them for your whole life. Second, the therapy stick. They hit you with this in one or both of two ways.
1) "You need therapy to work out your anger issues." Here's the thing: therapy shouldn't be the thing we do to fix the ACON. It should be the thing YOU do, mom, because you honestly want to know your kid and do the work required to get along with her. It doesn't count as therapy if all you do is complain about your kid to the therapist. It only counts if you're seriously working to figure out what your own garbage is. Honestly, if my kid decided he didn't want to speak to me, my first reaction would be to wonder what I did, not to tell him that he needs therapy. 2) "I want you to go to therapy with me." This is sometimes worded as a supposedly-selfless invitation, sometimes as more of an order. Problem is, therapy isn't magic. No therapist in the world can go *poof* and make a family all happy-happy-joy-joy just because you all showed up and sat on his or her couch.My position is that if my mother really wants to go to therapy with me, really and truly, I need to see a few things from her first. I passed this along to my friend, who liked it so much that she ended up crafting a letter to her mother around this idea. No more "I don't know what I did" and "let's throw therapy at this problem." Here are what she and I think should be the pre-requisites shown before an ACON will go to therapy with a parent.
a) Elocution. The dysfunctional parent should demonstrate that she is aware that she has taken actions that were inappropriate. She should give specific examples of inappropriate behaviors and describe the ways in which these behaviors were harmful. This should be devoid of victim-blaming or excuses. This shows personal insight, responsibility for one's own actions, and empathy for the experiences of another.
b) Remorse. Expressed verbally. Preferably put into writing. Tell the wronged party how you feel about your own actions, and give a sincere apology, without excuses.
c) Evidence of a willingness to change. This could be in the form of written expression of things she plans to do in order to create positive change, actions they have taken that show that they have taken you seriously and are changing the way they do things, or other positive behaviors.Integral to this is the idea of SPECIFICS. Saying "I know I did some inappropriate things, and I'm sorry, and I plan to change" doesn't mean anything. It's not that easy, lady. (Not that we've ever been given even that much.) This is definitely a time when more is better. Actions speak louder than words. Love is a verb. And more cliché yet totally true things. She and I agreed that what we had seen thus far from both of our mothers was a) identifying us, the daughters, as the sole causes of all dysfunction, or b) completely ignoring reality by acting as if nothing is wrong at all. It is also important that the dysfunctional parent express these things directly to the estranged child. If you want it badly enough, you will figure out a way to get it to the kid, no matter how non-contact they want to be. It's not good enough for a sibling to tell you "she's really upset, she cries, she really loves you, she really wonders what she did wrong." Um, no. If you've told somebody else that you miss me and want things to be right, but you haven't told me, it doesn't count. The parent also needs to do her own work. You can't look on somebody else's paper for this stuff. From me to my friend:
The whole "give me an example" thing that, yes, I'm sure your mom would do to try to pin you to the wall is just lame on her part. If she wants to go to therapy, she needs to have enough self-awareness to think of at least one thing, ON HER OWN, that she thinks she could have done differently. History has shown me that no matter what the child in a dysfunctional family comes up with, the parent will explain it away. And, frankly, the mere act of batting away your objections is a sign of poor insight and lack of empathy in itself. They could at least get half-credit by listening when you tell them about the things that bother you.
Non-empathetic response: "I never did that" or "You were being unreasonable" or "you're taking that out of context" or any such defensive / offensive response.
Empathetic response: "I didn't realize that affected you in that way. Can you tell me more? My intent was ____ but it sounds like it didn't come across that way. How could I do things differently in the future?"
So, do you all have anything to add to our list of pre-requisites for starting to mend fences? What would it take for you to begin to trust your parent again?