Today my mother, when pressed, apologized for not honoring my conditions of friendship. I’ve grown up knowing my whole life I was Me, myself, but not being able to express that Self in my family without being punished, lashed out at, vilified, or ultimately labelled in some very unflattering way (“difficult”, “selfish”, “uncivil” – a series of adjectives most people I know are always surprised to hear was part of my family’s lexicon). I’ve found living in her house again that although I can in private articulate something I want for myself, or something I feel, it has been hard for me to bring these to her attention.
For instance when I confronted her a couple weeks ago about continuing to come in, unnannounced and unwelcome into the two rooms my family has to ourselves – after she’d promised to stop two weeks before that – she immediately grew angry (but underneath, I think, frightened and embarrassed) and defensive. The first thing out of her mouth was, “Why do you have to make this so hard?” For the past month or so she has decided I diskile her boyfriend (which is true) because of reasons linked to my father (which is not). In fact to hear my mom’s reports about my feelings (which she gives me when I confront her about something I’d like different in our household) she has guessed at and clung to all sorts of things about why I feel the way I do – without ever asking me how I in fact feel.
This gives me great pain because, as I told her this morning in our kitchen over a cup of coffee, I want her to know me. You’d think she would, as I grew up in her household; but in many ways I remain guessed at. When she has (correctly) assessed I am angry or tense she has imagined the reason why, avoided at all costs a discussion around my anger or upset, and then taken people aside to either talk about her distress or my feelings – all of which not only dismays me deeply but must be very hard on her as well.
This morning’s conversation went far better than the one from two weeks ago. Toward the end of our talk I told her I wanted both of us to be able to make requests of the other, knowing that at first it will be hard for both of us (both to say, and to respond to). In fact when I think about it, my family of orgin was so unbelievably nonconfrontational it is a wonder I have made my way in the world to the extent I have. Even today after my mom apologized (something she has a very hard time with) it was so overwhelmingly reflexive for me to dismiss my initial request – by saying, “It’s OK,” – in other words, quickly “saving” the Apologizer from the pain of being wrong and acknowledging it. Instead I said, “Thank you”, and swallowed hard, and didn’t say another word.
It was almost excrutiating for an apology to pass between us. But I know it was right.