Sometimes I wonder what exactly it is that my estranging daughter expects of me. Does she expect me to come groveling on hands and knees begging to be allowed back into her life? Does she want me to apologize for the first honest expression I allowed myself in response to her and that significant outsider’s gas lighting strategies?
All my life I always backed down, and backed down and backed down. Whenever there was a conflict I always was the one to put my feelings and my needs aside to honour other people’s needs and wishes. I had somehow been given the message that this was my duty. That to keep the peace necessitated putting myself last. All through those years of marriage and child raising, my needs were secondary to everyone else’s. If I was angry I had to push the anger down and not express it. If I felt hurt or neglected, I had to rise above the occasion and not let others know the sadness or anger I was feeling.
Child raising books compounded that false message I had received. They told me that protecting my children’s self-esteem was the ultimate goal. So I praised even when I felt what was really needed was correcting. I encouraged even when I saw that there was failure down that path in the future, I did not want to be the bearer of bad news and so I supported falsely when I should have been honest and said “no you are not good enough at that skill”.
Between those two messages I was led down the garden path. Life experience has taught me how false those messages were. In putting my daughter’s needs and wishes foremost, I accepted treatment by her that I should not have. Hurtful things she said to me, I explained away in my mind as “childish behaviour”. Instead of correcting her that it was unacceptable to treat me that way, I allowed it to continue because I was told by the child experts that preserving her self-esteem was my number one job.
In allowing it, I taught her that it was okay to treat me that way. I trained her that I was less than her. Why should I be surprised that she continued and repeated this behaviour as she got older? Is it any wonder that she integrated the message that she was more important than me into her psyche? Is it any wonder that she continued to treat me as less than and felt a constant need to prove she was better than me?
Having grown used to this superiority she grew to believe that she was better and had the right to put me down. After all I never stopped her from doing so. I always backed down and gave in to her wishes and desires. Even when I disagreed I allowed her plans and ideas to take precedence over mine. I created this negative situation out of the erroneous messages I had internalized;
#1 My needs are less important than other people’s needs
#2 I have to be the peace keeper at all costs and
#3 Preserving my child’s self-esteem is my duty.
So what changed?
After years of backing down, of taking it, there was a pattern in our relationship.
She pushed and I gave in over and over again.
She expected me to continue as I had always done, she expected me to back down and give in because that was how I had always behaved.
However she pushed too far! She started to send messages that I was inadequate, that I was incompetent, that I was stupid, and even that there was something wrong with me mentally. She started spreading rumours behind my back not realizing that other people told me of the unkind and untruthful things she was saying.
Over what seems like only a few months the ultimatums started escalating and escalating to the point where I broke.
The day I broke, it was the first time ever that I stood up for myself. I felt not only betrayal but such an intense anger that I hardly recognized myself. Yes another erroneous message that I had internalized, I am not supposed to get angry and when I do then there is something wrong with me.
The day I broke, I realize now, was the day I had finally had enough and said to myself; “I am allowed to be angry when someone treats me badly!" Looking back now I see this as my unconscious self finally saying enough is enough, you don’t deserve to be treated this way. In my anger I swore and cursed for the first time ever. Such foul language came out of my mouth, I even surprised myself. In my anger I wrote; “No you cannot treat me this way, the mother that you knew is dead”.
I did not know at the time how true those words were.
Since that day I have gradually changed as I reorganized my perceptions of who I was and how I deserved to be treated. I started to expect respect and love in return. How novel! I used to believe that I earned love by giving in and keeping peace and allowing myself to be treated badly, by always being the giver.
I learned that I deserve to be loved and respected for who I am! How bold. What a dramatic change. The doormat awoke and said, “this is not right, I will not tolerate this anymore”
Sadly however, by now the damage had been done.
My daughter had already developed the mindset that she had more value in the love relationship than I did.
- In her mind it was my job to love her no matter how badly she treated me.
- In her mind she was better than me and she constantly had to prove in how many ways she was superior.
- In her mind it was okay for her to berate me, to betray me and then the ultimate put down, say that these things were done from a loving place!
I have since learned that this is a classic narcissistic trait, to explain away bad behaviour by saying the other person (the victim) deserved it and it was done with love. Hog wash! No one deserves to be treated with disrespect! NO ONE!
Trying to absolve the blame for doing the wrong thing by claiming the other person was to blame, the classic “she made me do it” is also a narcissistic trait. For example I now know that she expects me to apologize for finally having had enough and not backing down anymore. I broke the pattern that she was comfortable with. I refused to give in to her demand peacefully.
She did not realize that her demands had escalated and escalated to the point where I could no longer give in without destroying my self-respect. My self-respect was already damaged and frail. It was like a safety short circuit went off in my sub conscious mind that said, “Enough, you can’t continue allowing this kind of disrespect. It is time to say NO.”
I can see the humour now, and I realize now that this radical change in me, this abrupt NO was interpreted by her as me having a “mental break down”, when in reality it was a “mental break through”. A break through in realizing, that all my so called expected behaviour patterns, were based upon a lie. The lie was that it was my responsibility to please others, to put myself second, to build others up at the expense of my own needs. Once I was backed into the corner of loss of self-respect, I realized the lie for what it was.
Gradually since then I have worked on my healing to the point where there is no way that I can ever go back to living that lie. My relationships must now be more balanced.
- I demand as much respect as I give.
- I demand to be respected by those who would have me respect them.
- I expect to be treated to the same kind of love that I am willing to give.
- I no longer will tolerate being manipulated into doing things that I don’t wish to do.
- I recognize a manipulative and controlling tactic for what it is, a put down.
I have changed so much.
So back to my initial question, what does my daughter expect of me? She expects me to be the old me, the one that is dead and buried. She expects me to continue to support her while she treats me with disdain, as less than, as undeserving of respect, a lesser being to her superior being.
The fact that she feels she is entitled to punish me shows clearly that she wants to be the “parent” in our relationship and that I have to “behave” or the punishment will continue.
But I am not her child, nor am I a criminal.
She does not have the right to punish me or to control my behaviour by the abusive punishment of estrangement.
She does not have the right to be judge jury and executioner of my actions based on the fact that she did not get out of me what she desired.
That is not how relationships between equals is conducted. And so, as long as I refuse to return to my old role of “door mat”; as long as I refuse to back down and accept responsibility and blame for her choice of actions, as long as I stand firm in my need to be loved and respected for who I am, I see no end to this stalemate.
Does this sadden me?
Yes it does. However in coming to understand the dynamics of our past relationship, I also have a kind of closure. She is who she is partly because of how I allowed her to treat me in the past. There is my responsibility and for that I am sorry. (and for this I am more than willing to apologize)
If I knew then, what I know now, I would not make those same parenting mistakes. Alas there is no redo button. All I can do is acknowledge how I contributed to her character flaws. Accept her for who she is and as a consequence accept the type of person she has become and the actions that she is capable of.
What can I do now?
- I can hope that she comes to realize that her behaviour is distorted and unnatural.
- I can wish that she seeks the help that she needs to learn which of her behaviour patterns are destructive to a healthy relationship with me.
- I can be compassionate towards her, for her mistakes and her wrongful actions.
- I can open my heart to a willingness to forgive in response to a respectful desire to atone.
- I can imagine the possibility of a new beginning based on equality not control.
But more importantly,
- I can continue to build up my own personal boundaries for the type of treatment I will endure or not endure.
- I can build up my self-esteem and self-confidence that no matter what any future outcome might be, I will be alright.
- I can continue to free myself of the negative thoughts and concepts that used to plague me and created within me a feeling of inferiority.
- I can continue to be the kind and good hearted person that I always was without being a “push over” or “door mat”.
- And finally and most importantly, I can love and respect myself as much as I used to only love and respect others.
As I reflect on all these thoughts, I realize that I am no longer who my daughter expects. I have changed so much and this new me can't give her what she expects unless she too learns and grows and changes to be the kind of person that can treat me the way I deserve to be treated.
Renate Dundys Marrello
2015 - 09 - 22
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