Monday, November 24, 2014

Post Estrangement: Reflection on the Expectations of Change

To change or not to change!   That is the question.

When is it beneficial to make changes in our lives and when do we need to say NO to change?

Often we find ourselves either in a situation where others are trying to coerce us into changing to please them or the opposite, we try to manipulate others into changing to please us.  Neither state is conducive to happiness.  When the impetus for change comes from the outside there is resistance and there is conflict and neither party ends up satisfied.

If we reflect for a moment, how it feels when we are pushed to make changes to accommodate someone else's needs we realize that it is an uncomfortable place to be.  

We may even want to please them because they are a loved one, however, when we are asked to sacrifice our essential belief in who we are, to please them, then we are faced with the difficult choice: 

"do I remain true to myself and risk upsetting 
them, or do I please them and betray myself?"   

What happens when we find ourselves put in a positions of being expected to change to make someone else happy?
This is something that parents that have been estranged by their adult offspring are familiar with.  Most of us have  been given some form of the ultimatum:

"you are faulty the way you are, 
you are not good enough as you are and you will be punished until you figure out what it is that is faulty and change yourself to suit my needs" 

Some estranged parents have even managed to hang onto a tentative relationship by "walking on eggshells" to preserve the peace of the family.  In the process of sublimating their own needs they become the willing doormat for those offspring who are now "in control".   They live in anguish that one wrong word or wrong action will be punished with more silent treatment. They betray their own needs for respect and love and acceptance just for a few moments of time with their offspring or their grandchild.

The end result is never good for anyone.  The "door mat" parent loses self-esteem and self-confidence and the "controlling" offspring never has to face their own inner daemons, to change to grow and learn because their wants and demands are always being met.

At some point in time we have to learn that as much as we dislike and are harmed by being put in the position of changing ourselves to oblige another, we must also appreciate that we must be aware of not putting that dilemma upon others.  This is the life lesson that many young adults have not yet learned.

What happens when we decide to put expectations of change on others?

  • Firstly you are letting the person you are trying to change know that you think that they are unacceptable or unlovable the way they are. You are in essence saying that they must change before you will accept them.
  • Secondly, you are placing your needs above theirs, in essence saying that you feel your needs for them to change are more worthy than their needs for them to be true to their own integrity.  You are creating a power struggle where none should exist.  

To expect the other person to change means you are really seeking the easy answer.  What you are thinking is that if they can be forced to see the light, my way of thinking, then harmony will result.  

'If they change, then their changing will make me happy' is the premise.   And 'if they change then I won’t have to do anything' because now I have been given happiness, / justice / acceptance or whatever it is I am seeking to gain from their change.

However, even should you get your way, you have not earned anything through your own actions, you have just demanded actions of others. In essence you have coerced another to change to please you.  You may have won the struggle but gained nothing of intrinsic value for your own change or growth.

Expecting or demanding others to change, is faulty thinking.  Their changing is only an illusion that you will now be content.   There will always be something else you want to change in others, another someone else to change to bring you contentment / happiness / peace etc.

You cannot get to a place of peace or contentment if you always rely on others to change to make you happy.  In fact you are setting yourself up for failure because almost no one is willing to change just to make you happy. 

The reason people change is because it makes them happy to do so.  They change because the reward is for themselves not because the reward is for you.

If your happiness is always dependent on getting other people to change, to be more accommodating to your needs and your feelings then you are not contributing toward your own happiness.  You are giving up your responsibility toward yourself and you will continue to feel justified in asking others to change for you, while at the same time doing nothing to change yourself to be more compassionate, more accepting, more forgiving, more tolerant etc.

Also you are setting yourself up for failure, because almost inevitably, most people will say, 

“NO, I will not change to please you.”  

When you are ask others to change and they refuse you are the one that suffers the disappointment and thus you remain in a state of unhappiness.  In essence you created your own unhappiness by creating circumstances where you are bound to be disappointed.

Only you changing your expectations and expanding your own personal growth challenges you and changes how you perceive your life and this in turn generates your control over your own happiness.

I challenge young adults everywhere to empower yourself by seeking to change the one person you have control over, yourself.

To change or not to change?

I believe the only changes you are entitled to make with a clear conscience are to yourself.

And now to bring this reflection full circle.

I was estranged when I stopped being the "door mat".   The day I said "NO" is the day the estrangement began.  I was being punished for saying "no you cannot treat me this way and yes I too have rights to be respected and appreciated for who I am and not for who you want me to be"

As much as being estranged has hurt me on many levels, it has also been a new beginning for me.  In the aftermath of being estranged I was forced down this path of getting to know my "true" self.  This time of self-discovery and learning that "I have value" has been an enlightening process.   Before the concept of "self"  and my intrinsic value as a person was a foreign concept to me.  I always felt that I had to "earn value" by being pleasing to others.

With this backward perception I was doomed to failure
because I was never "good enough" to meet some of the ridiculous standards expected of me. I also have learned that this negative self-belief is a red flag for people with narcissistic tendencies.  They see the "doormat" as offering an invitation to be exploited. 

Once I realized I had to change, the first thing I changed was my thoughts.  I started with self-talk that stated; "I have value because I am human and I do things for others because I am kind and compassionate and considerate and not to earn that which I already have by right of being human."

This turn around in thought allowed me to free myself from the destructive thought of "what did I do wrong?" to the much more accurate "what is wrong with them that they do not appreciate my worth?"

So now I am prepared for those times when someone asks me to change to make life easier for them. I now know I have every right to remain true to who I am and say;"NO".

This does not mean I won't change and grow (for I expect to continue this healing and learning journey for the rest of days), rather, it simply means I won't change myself to facilitate another person being able to escape making the changes they need to make within themselves.  

When they are acting controlling and manipulative that is not my problem!  Rather it is their character flaw!  It is not my role to accommodate their character flaw, rather they need to learn that they have no right to bully me.  In saying "no" to being manipulated and coerced I am actually giving them a valuable opportunity for self-awareness and growth. Whether or not they see that as an opportunity is not my responsibility. Only they can make the choice to learn and grow from a stalemate, where they do not get "their way" at my expense.

Learning this has freed me from the no win situation of my wistfully thinking my estranging daughter will change before she is ready to change.

My letters of begging to be forgiven were in effect me asking her to change when she was not ready, willing or able to change.

I release that expectation.  I let go of the need for her to change to be happy within my own life.  If and when she should change, I will be here, a healthier happier stronger me because I have grown in awareness of my own needs, desires and wants.  I will be an equal and not a door mat. And that is a good thing. 

Renate Dundys Marrello  
2014 - 11 - 24 
updated and revised 2015 - 08 - 24 

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Reflections on the "Master / Slave" Relationship with our children that our society has helped to create

I just read this post by a fellow estranged parent on a support group that I visit.  It spoke to me a truth that I have long been struggling with.  
I have struggled with the idea and hesitated about being so blunt...and yet as I read Nina Wornham's words I found my self saying  "that is exactly how I feel too".

so here I share with you her words.
I am sure that our problems with our adult children are because of the master and slave relationship we've been forced to adopt because of the child's rights movement and the subsequent theories by the 'experts'. 
I ask myself all the time 'will my Adult child ever come back'. 
But then I realise I'm asking myself the wrong question.

The question I should ask I want them back?

In my heart the answer would be no, not if the relationship was going to be on a master and slave basis again.

I can see from some of the other posts on groups I've seen recently (I don't look very often) that this is now where the stalemate is. 

'Accept our rules or stay alienated'. 

'You really aren't alone. My inbox is full with messages from many parents all with similar stories. 

These are good, decent, devoted parents who have made many sacrifices for their children only to find themselves now cut off and rejected.

I do believe that in some ways, those children who have been given so much love and devotion, have grown up to believe they're not only 'entitled' to have their demands met but that they're invulnerable too.

They haven't felt pain yet and so they don't feel or see the pain they're putting their parents through when they cut them off.

You didn't do anything wrong.

We were told how to be parents and we were faced with the wrath of the higher ups if we failed to treat our children as precious and valued individuals. The children themselves were made aware of their rights and how they were 'entitled' to have their rights met. They learned to have overly high expectations and they learned to manipulate too.

And so now we have a generation of ego charged, invulnerable, demanding young adults who find it easy to break their family ties if their ego's aren't satisfied or if we offend them in some way.
This is a generational issue of the parents being subservient and the slave in the relationship while the child is the master.

This is the legacy of children's rights gone awry. The saddest thing is that at some point, these adult children will have no one to turn to when life teaches them that their ego and high expectations don't get them far in life. 

I think rather than try and change things in the short term, which is unlikely, the point needs to be made that this current situation is a very big failure created not by parents, but by society and those 'experts; who dictated at the time, how we should parent our children.'

Nina Wornham

Note: the hightlights for emphasis are mine...but the words are Nina's.   Thank you again Nina for your expressive post.
Renate Dundys Marrello

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reflections on Accepting Estrangement versus Understanding It

I read this quote recently and pondered, can there be recovery without understanding.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance
and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”
― J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

As a parent that has been estranged, I constantly battle with the questions of how my children could have grown up to be the kind of adults that they are.

I thought I had taught them the values I have for communication, for resolving and working through issues.  

I thought I had shared with them my belief that it is important to be kind, to not ridicule others for their failings, to have empathy. 
I thought I had raised them to be compassionate and caring and forgiving people.

And I think I was successful.  

My son is a kind of person who reflects my values.  My younger daughter is reevaluating her concept of what family means.  And my other daughter treat others in her life with kindness and compassion.   So in that sense I did not fail to pass on my values.

I did not raise my children to be hard hearted people.
I did not teach them that shunning is an acceptable way to handle difficult relationships.
I did not teach them to be judgmental and critical and without compassion for the mistakes of others.

And yet this is exactly how my estranging daughter treats me.  Toward me she bears a grudge and her heart is hardened against me.   It is me she shuns and she truly believes she has chosen the best way to handle the situation.  It is me she is judging, and me she is critical of and it is my mistakes for which she finds no compassion. 

In the course of my healing journey, I may have come to the place of “accepting” that she is who she is.  I do not however accept that her actions are acceptable.  No matter how much I offer her the right to choose her actions, it does not make the choice of action (silent treatment) the correct action.  She has chosen this action as her preferred way of handling a disagreement.  She has chosen this way of treating me to try to coerce me into agreeing with her on an issue which I see quite differently.   I accept her right to choose, but I do not condone nor accept that she has made the right choice.  I see a very clear distinction between those two thoughts. I also doubt I will ever understand it; simply because it is in my nature to try to resolve issues not to run away from them.  I am also very patient in that I give time for people to work out their own feelings before working on conflict resolution. 

Another thing that I cannot understand is;  how she can live at peace with what she has done. Her actions destroyed not just our mother daughter relationship but the whole family. Also her actions are a complete contradiction to everything I believe in and everything I thought I had taught her.  That we communicate to work out differences, that we accept that it is not necessary to agree to get along etc.

I know I taught my children the golden rule “do onto others as you would have them do onto you”.  And I wonder is this how she wishes others to treat her?

I taught my children to speak kindly of others “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”.   And yet she says horrible things about me behind my back.

I know I taught my children that love is unconditional and means accepting a person as they are.  And yet she feels she has the right to tell me how I need to change before she will find me acceptable.  (I am under no delusion whatsoever, the silent treatment is a tactic used to coerce the victim of the shunning to conform.  The silent treatment says in effect "until you conform to what I want you will be punished".) 

I also know I taught my children that you stand by your friends when they are in need or in trouble.  And yet she feels that rejecting me when I needed her help was acceptable. 

By her actions toward me, and the subsequent destruction of the family, she shows that she feels the rules do not apply to her relationship with me.

She somehow feels it is acceptable to be judgmental of my failings, and she feels she has the right to be critical and to withhold her time, to shun me, to prove her point.  She feels that it is acceptable to break up a family to show her disapproval.  There is no compassion in her heart towards me.  She has no empathy for how I am feeling. There is no forgiving and no acceptance and no unconditional love  in her vocabulary about our relationship. 

These are not the values that I taught.  These actions make her a virtual stranger to me.

So while I accept what she has chosen to do and while I accept her right to make her own choices, I have no understanding of how she could have made those choices, or how she can possibly feel that she has chosen correctly and how she can in good conscience live with those choices.

And yet she does! 

  • She lives her life with her “new adopted family” and pretends we don’t exist. 
  • She smiles and laughs and lives and celebrates as if her actions have no consequences.
  • She turns a blind eye to the suffering she has caused to all the members of the family 
  • And worse, she doesn't see her actions as inappropriate or extreme.

She baffles me. 

And so yes, I accept the situation I find myself in as a consequence of what she has done, not because I want to, but because I must in order to heal.   I face the reality of what is.

Facing it, always facing it. 
That's the way to get through. 
Face it.
-- Joseph Conrad

However, I don’t think I will ever understand why she felt this was the right choice for her.  It is like my daughter has become a stranger that I no longer understand.  It is like she has taken on the values of the others that now influence her. 

So after much reflection and soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that it is possible to accept a situation even though there is no way to understand the choices made by another. 

When I choose to be very clear within myself about categorizing
wrong behaviour as wrong; when I instead focus on accepting a situation I have now power to change; I can find a way towards healing and recovery.

There are other questions that I sometimes ponder:
  • What other influences were in her life to teach her this type of behavior?
  • When and where was she exposed to this estrangement concept?
  • Who taught her this style of conflict resolution?
  • Where is this type of action against family found to be acceptable?

However as more and more time passes I realize; not only do I have no answers but that answers no longer really matter. The answers to those questions are her burdens to bear at some future time.  We all sooner or later come face to face with past choices that we made.  

I truly believe that is the nature of Karma, when at some future time we have to face the consequences of our past choices.  My beloved daughter will some day have to face the choice she made to destroy her family.  That will be a difficult time for her and I feel compassion for what she will have to experience in that moment of confrontation with her past.                           

Renate Dundys Marrello
updated 2016 - 11 - 04 

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reflections on my memories of my Dad on All Saints Day.

Today is All saints day

I honour the memory of my father and my grandparents and even all the ancestors that I know so little about.  They are the reason I am here today. 

Their lives are reflected in me through their genes and the teachings of my father.  The stories, that are remembered and passed on, of the hardships of his childhood and youth remind me that even out adversity a noble heart can be forged.
My dad only had a little time to spend with me because he was so busy making a living to support our family.  And yet when I pause to reflect back I remember all kinds of little moments that are precious memories. 

My memories with him are fleeting glimpses into my past:

  • Helping him cook Sunday breakfast 
  • Lounging on the sand while spending the day at Wasaga Beach
  • Cold winter days when he drove me to school before going to work. 
  • Shoveling snow together and the time he had to crawl out of the “milk box” because the snow was so high piled against the door he could not open it.
  • Skating on Grenadier Pond 
  • Sunday afternoons in the living room watching Walter Cronkite and Ed Sullivan
  • Following the first moon landing together 
  • Listening to him sing “Waltzing Matilda!"
  • Summer days at the “garage” helping him work on cars and sharing lunch on the car seat benches in the lunch room
  • Him falling asleep on Christmas Eve because he was so exhausted from working so long and hard
  • He taught me to build bird houses and how to paint.
  • He made me a swing in the back yard and taught me now to swing.
  • He taught me to ride my bicycle and later how to drive a car.
  • He was patient even when I messed up and even when angry at what I had done helped me to grow and learn from the opportunity.  
  • He taught me by his example what it is like to be uncomplaining, to make the best of difficult circumstances.
  • He was always smiling and joyfully approached his work and the chores around the house.  
  • He gave me the gift of music and the opportunity to learn to play the accordion.  He nurtured in me the perseverance needed to get good at playing and helped me find the discipline for daily practice.
  • He taught me how to be loving and kind, generous and forgiving. 
Thank you Dad – I miss you!   I hope you are proud of me and the way I have tried to follow in your footsteps. And I pray that someday my own children will remember the good moments that we have shared.

Renate Dundys Marrello 
2014 - 11 - 01 

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