Tag Archive: Mother


 

As children we believe that we are the center of everything, that is why children who experience the trauma of problems in the family, such as marital discord and divorce, often blame themselves for it. It is just part and parcel of childhood development, It is even worse when parents appear to blame us by behavior that seems to be rejecting of us. Of course there are times when that is perception and there are times when the rejection is real. But do we know the motives behind these behaviors? Not always, because once again we think it is about us, not them.

Grief

Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problems in my family were not about marital discord, but something that shook the very foundations of the entire family, the death of my brother. This is perhaps the most traumatic thing that can happen to parents, and it often results in divorce. In my parents’ case, they supported each other, which was good, but that does not mean that the family dynamics were not dramatically affected.

It has taken me a long time to put the pieces together and realize how much of my parents’ behavior towards me was a result of this. Some of the details I only found out about as an adult. My therapist also helped me to understand this better as well. I am now in a position where I am able to finally put myself in their place, rather than letting my wounded inner child carry the whole narrative. Perhaps I should have seen this earlier, I am now 50 years old, but better late than never.

From my earliest recollections, I never felt loved. My mother was critical and rejecting of me and my father was distant. I never bonded with either of them. There are many reasons for this dynamic, but one of the big ones was the accidental death of my older brother at age six. I was only a year and a half old when this happened and my sister was four,

Looking at family pictures is very telling. My sister for instance looked very happy and care-free before this happened. Afterwards I can see the birth of the very serious sister that I knew growing up.

I don’t remember my brother, yet oddly enough I miss him. A piece of the family went missing and never came back. I am told that he adored me, and would crawl along behind me on the floor and call me “baby-doll.”

The trauma didn’t actually start with his death, although that was the climax of it. He was always a sickly child. Born prematurely, he had a defect in his stomach valve that caused him to have serious fits of vomiting, where he became dehydrated enough to require medical attention. Insurance laws on pre-existing conditions back then made it extremely difficult for him to get the surgery he needed to correct the problem. Family pictures show him as a happy child, but pale and skinny. He looked similar to pictures I have seen of children with cancer.

Eventually he did have the surgery, but it did not fix the problem. During another one of his vomiting episodes my mother took him to the doctor. His regular doctor was out of the office, but another one was covering for him. My parents at that time had no idea that he was not a pediatrician. He gave my brother a shot of compazine for the nausea and sent him home.

The following details I only got from my father after my mother passed. I never knew the exact details of my brother’s death but they are horrifying.

In the afternoon my mother got a call from the doctor. He told her that he thought she should take my brother to the hospital. But my brother had stopped vomiting so she assured him that everything was fine. She just thought the doctor was acting out of an abundance of caution.

That night my brother died in his sleep. An autopsy showed that he had fluid in his lungs. The medical examiner believed that he aspirated vomit.

My father was very suspicious about the whole thing and went to see the pediatrician. Having not treated my brother himself he looked in the medical record. He did not have much to say to my father, but he left the record with my dad before leaving and asked for him to take it to the front desk. My father believes this was intentional, that the doctor wanted him to see what was in there. My father took note of what drug he was given and the dosage. When he looked it up he discovered that the doctor had given him the ADULT dose of the drug!

And the most horrible part of the whole thing is that obviously the doctor at some point realized what he had done, which is why he made the strange call to my mother. But he was too chicken to tell the truth so he could get help!

The way compazine works to stop vomiting is to reduce the gag reflex but it also reduces the choking reflex as well. In an appropriate dose that is not a problem. But in the dose that my brother was given it completely eliminated it. My mother gave him water before putting him to bed. That water went straight into his lungs, explaining the autopsy results.

My mother blamed herself for not taking him to the hospital. She felt that she had put finances before my brother’s well-being because my father had just gotten a new job and they did not have insurance yet. Of course it was never her fault but that did not stop her from feeling guilty.

My father put the blame where it belonged and went to a lawyer but at that time the doctors were the ones who had all the powerful lawyers so it would have been almost impossible to win the case. Furthermore my father had no money to pursue this. And it was not going to bring my brother back anyway.

So here was my grief stricken mother who was trying to hold it all together and still take care of two young children, one just a baby. No wonder I felt rejected, she simply couldn’t deal with it all. My sister was probably old enough to be sensitive to the situation and try not to be a bother. Even before my brother died though, my mother most likely was having some trouble taking care of me because my brother was sick all the time.

Things were very bad for my father as well. In fact I can’t even imagine how he had the strength to keep going. He had to take time off from his new job to take care of funeral arrangements. And his boss bullied him over it. And not just him, but my father’s co-workers as well. My father has told me that they actually made sick jokes about my brother’s death. And he also told me something that shocked me even more than that. He said that this is the kind of bullying that makes people want to kill themselves. Then he said “But suicide would not have solved anything.”

Even as I write this down I am fighting back tears. My poor, poor brave father! No one should ever have to go through that!

He actually stayed at the job because they needed the money. So day after day he had to keep going. He was fired eventually, and this same boss blacklisted him, so he could not get another job. But my father got lucky on one count. He talked to someone who knew this boss and it turns out this guy had something scandalous on him, and told my father not to worry, that he would take care of the situation. The blacklisting stopped.

After putting this all together how can I not have empathy for what both of them went through? I would not have been able to endure that.

I now know that it wasn’t about me. The rejection I felt was from two people who were struggling to keep their heads above water. And they made it. They loved my sister and I enough to keep going.

God bless them both.

 

 

 

I went into therapy so I could learn to do my own laundry.

English: Wall post with love in different lang...

English: Wall post with love in different languages. Taken in Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course it wasn’t just that, but it really was part of it. My mother did everything for us kids. In addition to doing the laundry, she washed our hair for us even into our teenage years and neither my sister nor I learned how to cook because she always chased us out of the kitchen. I was told that I might burn myself.

I guess my sister and I were both lucky that she trusted us with washing the dishes!

One day when I was sixteen I decided I wanted to do my own laundry and asked my mother to show me how to do it. Her reaction was to scream at me and call me “selfish.”

As  with so much of my mother’s behavior, I found that inexplicable and hurtful. I had stored hurt in my heart from my earliest childhood memories. The biggest problem in our family was lack of good communication skills and I was never allowed to speak up for myself and ask my mother to explain her behavior. If there is only one piece of advice I can give to parents, it is to keep the lines of communication open with your children, as it will keep misunderstandings from turning into estrangement.

And that was all this was, a stupid misunderstanding on top of other stupid misunderstandings that at least in part contributed to my first suicidal breakdown at age 16. My thought processes were of course skewed and magnified by my bipolar disorder, but the fact that I had never felt loved by my mother and that I did not feel like I was a good person was the driving force behind it.

My parents got me into therapy, which helped some. The therapist counseled us separately. It certainly helped loosen my mother’s controlling grip on me and after the first appointment with my mother she never called me “spoiled” again. That was her favorite epithet for me.

But the therapist made a big mistake. He never counseled us together. What I needed was not just for my mother to back off, I needed closure. I needed to know why she was so angry with me. Being used to not being able to speak up for myself, I never asked that crucial question from my therapist. He was the authority figure and he ran the show.

The closest he ever came to explaining my mother’s behavior was to say “Your mother loves you but all you feel is her fear.”

The problem was is that it wasn’t fear that I felt from my mother, it was rage and hatred. The statement confused the hell out of me. Again I did not speak up and ask him what he meant by that. If I had he most likely would have told me what I know now, anger is a secondary emotion. It is a cover for hurt and/or fear.

Both emotions were at play in my mother’s behavior.

She did not have a mental illness, I am quite certain of that by comparing my behavior with bipolar disorder with hers. However that does not mean that she wasn’t royally messed up, like 99% of mankind.

It is only at the age of 50 that I have finally gotten a glimpse into my mother’s world with the help of the best therapist I ever had. Unfortunately he has left the county mental health facility that I go to for another job, but I am eternally grateful for what he has given me. I hope someday he may go into private practice and then maybe I can arrange to see him again.

What he told me makes perfect sense. The only way she felt competent as a mother was to do things for us, and when I asked her to show me how to do my laundry what she heard was this: “Mom, I don’t think you are doing a good job, so I want to do it myself. I don’t appreciate anything you do for me.”

Of course that wasn’t what I meant. I was just trying to assert my independence which is normal and healthy. While other kids were doing that by getting into sex and drugs, I just wanted some extra responsibility.

This helps explain many other things she said and did, such as saying to me that she wished she were “like other mothers, who don’t take care of their kids.” Perhaps I was being a bit of a brat, I complained that she was pulling my hair while combing it. After she said that she went to take a bath, and I was so devastated because I thought she meant that she didn’t love me or want me around. That statement seemed to confirm my worst fears. I wanted to walk out of the house and never come back, but I had nowhere to go. I was only 14. Inexplicably, after her bath she was smiling and relaxed, while I was still hurting from the worst thing she had ever said to me.

She passed on in 1997, and I never got to resolve things with her. But I think I finally understand. My therapist referred to the book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I have not read it yet but he did give me a good run down on it. Literally people have different languages or rather ways of doing things to demonstrate their love for others. It seems that we all have a preferred style. Her language was to take care of us. What I needed was a completely foreign language for her, to praise me and tell me that I was a good daughter. I could not speak her language and she could not speak mine.

I think this is a great lesson for any kind of relationship. We always assume that others know what it is that we need from them and they think the same thing about us. Then we think the other is deliberately withholding what we need from them and vise-versa.

My therapist also explained that she likely had a limited repertoire to draw from. He feels that she felt incompetent as a mother and so this was all she knew how to do.

The fact is of course that if my mother had not loved me she would not have gotten me therapy when I needed it. But to me our relationship was a confused mess of contradictions. She would say the most horrible things to me and then in the next breath say, “I love you.” I couldn’t process it.

I wish she were around so I could ask her about these things, but I am certain that this is the truth. She wasn’t a bad mother, she was a confused mother.

I hope I have given people some food for thought. There are other things about my mother’s behavior that my insightful therapist has helped me with and I will share those in future posts,

We Are All Broken

Brokeness

Brokeness (Photo credit: TheMarque)

 

I was discussing with a friend of mine our mutual frustrations with our families and she pointed out something that someone had told her: We are all broken.

All of my life I have felt that something was wrong with me, even before I developed bipolar disorder. The wrongness I felt had nothing to do with mental illness, it had to do with something more basic than that. It had to do with being imperfect, being held to a standard that I could never attain. Now I want to make it clear that I am not saying that I didn’t deserve discipline from time to time. It was my mother’s over-the–top reactions that was the problem. Even though she never abused me physically, her words cut me to the core. The difference between constructive criticism  and emotional abuse is that the first addresses your behavior and the later attacks your character.

As an adult I still have trouble differentiating between the two. I have a tendency to beat on myself about every little actual or perceived  mistake. It doesn’t help when my sister chimes in and does the same thing to me.

I have been hurt so much by my sister and yet I need to acknowledge that she has suffered from the same perceived need to be perfect that I have. That isn’t apparent at first glance because she never received the harsh judgments that I did from my mother. In fact, she was held out as the example of how I should be, and I was constantly told “Why can’t you be like your sister?” This in spite of the fact that I was a different person, with different needs and a different personality. Also I was three years younger than my sister and my mother had no concept of age-appropriate behavior. Whenever she said this to me I felt an extreme sense of shame and also confusion and the question that always came up in my mind was “How can I be like my sister? I am me!!!” In fact in my immature reasoning I felt like my mother was telling me that I had to be my sister, not just follow her example. Not literally of course, but the basic idea was that there was something fundamentally wrong with who I was and not just my behavior.

That must mean that my sister had a better time of it than I did, right? Well, yes and no.  She was never subject to the verbal abuse that I was but I really don’t see was spoiled in any way either. She was expected to tow the line too and yes she was punished from time to time. One time she put off doing a school report until the last minute and she was forced to stay up all night to finish it. I consider that appropriate punishment.

Surprisingly one of the few things that my sister and I do agree on is that she was the favorite (although both our parents denied this).  So I have learned a few things about her perspective of what went on.  While I was expected to be like her, I was also held up to her as an example of who not to be. I was the “bad” kid and she was the “good” kid and while that provided a certain sense of self-esteem (which I argue was not true self-esteem because it was not based in unconditional love) for herself it also created anxiety. She was expected to take on the responsibility of being a good role model. To a certain extent that is fine, but I get the impression that she was expected to take this on at a very young age, possibly when I was a toddler. In a sense she was robbed of a normal childhood and held to an unrealistic standard just as I was.

She has never gone through a lot of the normal development that kids have growing up. She never went through the teenage “rebellion” stage which is necessary to building a sense of self-identity.  She is extremely dependent on other people’s opinions, and belongs to an extremely controlling church that tells her exactly what she should do at all times.  I have always been wary of this church, and although I have heard that it has changed, I am still not convinced. One of the many things that I was worried about years ago is that every member of the church that was single was required to go on a “Saturday Night Date” (with only church members of course and always in a group). Eventually this was supposed to lead to marriage. In other words it was wrong if you just wanted to be single and enjoy your life on that basis! This was labeled “New Testament theology” but to be quite honest I have never found anything in the New Testament to support this kind of extreme control over its members.  Eventually their own leader got expelled from the church because he broke one of his own (ridiculous) rules! He had a rule that anyone who was a leader in the church had to control his own family. If one of the family members left the church then the person could no longer qualify to be a leader. So the mighty emperor was defrocked when his own wife left the church!! Sweet justice!!!

This kind of environment is extremely attractive and yet also very toxic. It is seductive because if you have all the answers handed to you then you can believe that you can never be wrong and thus it relieves anxiety. It is toxic because the people who claim to have all the answers usually don’t. Advice turns into abuse and you are locked into a certain mindset where if you question anything then you are questioning God himself and you are in danger of going to hell.

Even as I am writing this I realize how much of a victim my sister is and how impossible it is for me to expect her to change. She has created the same environment that she grew up with where if things are not perfect she flips out. I have a hard time understanding why a small change in her plans (which she expected me to magically know) would cause her to get angry and throw me out of her house. But here is the thing, I don’t think she was reacting in anger alone. It is hard for me to see this when she is being sanctimonious towards me. But I think she was panicked because she thought our father would get mad. Of course this was never the case.  Our dad is not like that and for him it was a non-issue. It was a non-issue for everyone involved except her.

As wrong as she was I can definitely identify with the fear of not being perfect. In that way, we are the same although we deal with it in radically different ways. I have always wanted her to be something that she can’t be, a nurturing and unconditionally loving sister. But she is as trapped in her role just as I have been in mine.

Should I have compassion towards her? Yes. Should I accept her improper behavior? No, because I can’t take on the responsibility of trying to heal her. That is her responsibility alone. I have the right to be treated with respect and when I am not then I have the right to separate myself from that person.

I do miss her and in my better moments I have prayed for healing for both of us. I have trouble with this as I tend to nurture my anger, however I keep having to remind myself that her journey is different than mine. We are both wounded and in essence I cannot expect her to be anything other than who she is.

Doll

Doll (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

 

I never had a Barbie doll.

That sounds like a trivial thing to be upset about, but it was never about the doll. It was about forgiveness. Specifically my mother’s lack of.

When I was little I accidentally broke my sister’s Barbie doll. I didn’t know the doll couldn’t bend in a certain way. I tried to make her straddle a model horse, and her legs broke.

My mother was very upset, and vowed that I would never get a Barbie doll until I learned how to take care of my toys. Never mind the fact that I wasn’t in the habit of breaking my toys. (Unless you count my trying to bathe my cloth baby doll, which had a device inside that made it cry. Poor thing never cried again.  That was treated as a joke in the family.)

For years I waited for that Barbie doll, even when I would normally be considered too old for one. On my eleventh or twelfth  birthday my mother got me a cheap knock-off version of a Barbie doll. The doll didn’t last long because it was (literally) held together with rubber bands. The bands broke and I was left again without a doll.

Now I don’t think that my mother knew that it was held together by rubber bands when she bought it, but she was not apologetic when she found out. She never suggested that we could go get a better doll. Although I do not remember her going into a rage about it, it was understood that that was my one and only chance to prove I was worthy of a Barbie doll.

Even as an adult I have struggled at times with a profound sense of guilt when I have accidentally broken something. One time I broke the chain of a necklace that a boyfriend had given me. I had set up a camera on a tripod and as I bent down to take the picture the chain got caught on one of the parts of the tripod. When I stood up the chain broke. I felt so guilty that I never got a new chain and never wore that necklace again.

The reason why this is coming up for me now is that my sister is behaving in the same way. Getting upset and banishing me for little things, such as my not having enough money to pay for my nephew’s birthday meal even though I gave him a gift.  And I happen to think it goes a lot deeper than just these things. It doesn’t make sense to go into a rage over things that can be easily worked out.

In a sense I feel set up. Just as I was set-up by my mother so many years ago. Nothing I do will ever please my sister. She has claimed that if I had talked to her before we got together that we could have worked something out. I don’t believe her because she would have probably found something else to be angry about. In fact, she did. She was already mad at me for something that I had no control over, transportation to her place. She decided that I had purposely neglected to schedule the Dial-a-Ride service (for the disabled). She knew full well that the services have been cut and that there was no guarantee that I could get a ride.

I believe that at least some of her behavior is due to the fact that she simply will not forgive me for the past, the things I said and did when I was ill with bipolar disorder. Strangely enough, she seems to be furious that I have moved on from that kind of behavior and that I have learned to treat her and others well.  For her, things were better when she had a reason to be mad at me. Now she doesn’t know what to do because she is faced with the prospect of forgiving me.

I am certainly not a mind reader but I am putting this theory together based on things that she has said over the past year:

1. She acknowledges that I don’t yell at her (or her family) anymore but insists at the same time that I haven’t changed and that I am “disrespectful” towards her and her family. She won’t give me an example of this so-called “disrespectful” behavior.

2. She has told me that I do not want to deal with my “abusive” behavior in the past. That is not true. I have offered to go into therapy with her before and she has declined. I think the problem as she sees it that I won’t admit to having the motives that she has decided that I must have had during my bipolar episodes. I have tried to tell her that my actions during my illness had very little to do with her. She apparently thinks I am lying.

3. At the same time she has also engaged in abusive behavior against me when I was ill and, although I cannot hold her responsible for my behavior, she didn’t make things easier for me. For instance, when I needed a shoulder to cry on she would get angry and say sarcastic things to me. This was part of a pattern of her trying to control me when I was sick and of course I would get upset at her interference in my life. Another example was her deciding that my taking medications was a moral issue and accusing me of lying about my symptoms and  “making excuses” when I tried to explain why I needed them. (Of course she and her husband thought that I was the one being abusive when I got angry!)

It is for all these reasons that I don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with her. She wants me to admit to things that I have not done. Yes, did some wrong things when I was ill. But I never intended to hurt anybody. For example, my suicide attempts were about punishing myself, not others. That ought to make my sister feel better about what happened, not worse!

One of the reasons my dad and I get along so well is that he figured out a long time ago that my behavior in the past was not about him. He actually forgave me before I even asked him to!

Why can’t my sister do the same thing? I am not engaging in any of that behavior now.

It doesn’t matter to her. In her mind I deserve to be punished forever. Just like my mother did. So if my sister can’t find anything to punish me about, she will make up one. Or several. It doesn’t matter. Just as long as she delivers her self-righteous punishment and banishes me from her presence like the Queen she seems to believe herself to be.

This is why I feel like that there is no way that I can fix what is going on with my sister. Because she doesn’t want to put any work into this relationship. She is letting me know that I am not “good enough” just like our Mom did. For me, that is a losing game.

think

think (Photo credit: the|G|™)

 

You can’t get water from an empty well.

This is what a therapist told me in my twenties in regards to my relationship with my mother. She was right and yet I here I am in my late forties and I have yet to master that truth. Not with my mother, who passed on years ago, but with my sister.

In my last post I detailed the latest problems with my sister,  and how I realized that I can’t fix the problems in our relationship all by myself because I didn’t create all those problems alone.

You would think that I would be relieved to learn that I am not responsible for every grievance my sister holds against me. In a way yes, I feel better. But in a way I don’t feel good about this at all.

Why? Because as long as I thought everything was my fault then I could hold onto the hope that I would be able to change things between us.

The truth is, just as the Serenity Prayer says, there are just some things that are out of my control.

I feel that 90% of our problems have to do with poor communication and jumping to conclusions about each other. But in her mind, when I say this I am making excuses, even when I am admitting that I have been guilty of that also. Because she believes that I am a bad person to the core and no amount of proof to the contrary will change that.

In the past several years it has become evident to me that she holds grudges about things that I could not have possibly known that she was upset about.  While I realize that siblings are going to argue at times, I have decided that it is impossible for me to continue a relationship where I am under the gimlet gaze of someone who is looking to find fault with everything I do.

A couple of years ago, I asked for my sister’s help in picking up a prescription at Walmart. I happened to make a big mistake that day of taking an over-the-counter anti-histamine together with cogentin, a prescription medication. I usually try to keep track of possible medication interactions, but I dropped the ball on this one. When she came to pick me up I was in a confused state and I kept falling down as I was trying to walk. She dropped me off at the store and I did my grocery shopping and got my prescription. When I came out I put the groceries in her car, but when I went to put my cart away something really strange happened. I blacked out for a few seconds and when I came to I was just wandering in the parking lot with no idea of where I was or why I was there. My sister called out to me and I came to my senses.

I told my sister what had happened and she seemed to accept my explanation.

About a year later she attacked me for “taking advantage” of her. Not only did I not know what she was talking about but she didn’t give me much of a clue to even figure out what incident she was upset about. I had to guess.

According to her I “tricked” her because she only agreed to help me with my prescription, not a full shopping trip. I, on the other hand, had thought that I had brought up both things with her.

The most obvious explanation was that I was mentally impaired that day. She saw and acknowledged that I was in a bad state, and yet she still thought I had enough wits about me to deceive her?

The truth is that I was confused and not responsible for my actions. Also my sister had previously complained to our dad about me saying that I should only ask her for help if I was going to do a full shopping trip. She felt it was a waste of her time for me to go for just one item.

I guess the thing that irritates me that most people would look at that and think, “Wow she was acting really strange and out of character that day.” I am not in the habit of taking advantage of anyone, much less my sister and so I should have been given the benefit of the doubt.

The fact is that I was trying to do exactly what I thought my sister wanted.

I grew up with a mother who ascribed all sorts of bad intentions to my behavior that were not true. I think the nuttiest was when at the age of 16, when so many of my peers were doing drugs or getting pregnant, I wanted to learn to do my own laundry.

Yes you read that correctly. Laundry! My mom screamed at me and said I was spoiled and selfish for asking her to show me how to do my own laundry.

I wasn’t always that innocent but I was certainly nowhere near an evil child.

I should give my mother credit where credit is due because she did go into therapy with me so a lot of these behaviors stopped but she really never gave me an explanation as to why she thought I was such a bad child. I am not sure that she even knew.

Now I am dealing with the same crap with my sister and what I want to know from her is “Why?” 

Maybe she doesn’t have an answer either.

All I know is that I cannot expect her to be anything other that what she is. I can’t change her. She has never been there for me and she never will. For whatever reason, she is incapable of showing me any kind of understanding or empathy.

One of the funny things about my family, is that we always have said “I love you” freely to each other. Yet I feel that with my upbringing saying that phrase was often a cover for unloving behavior. My mother always said that right after she had finished telling me what a horrible child I was for making her so miserable.  I feel the same way with my sister.

LOVE IS A VERB. PERIOD.

A mother holds up her child.

A mother holds up her child. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a very powerful dream this morning. I was sharing a prison cell with a lovely young woman who didn’t seem to belong there since she seemed so nice. I was a cop who had been falsely accused of a crime (Ok I was Olivia Benson from SVU. I love that show!) When I was released and almost out the door, my cell mate came running up to me and said joyfully, “I finally know who I am!”

I puzzled over the meaning of that for awhile and then I remembered the Dr. Phil show that was on last week about maternal narcissism. Something about those women reminded me of my mother.

Now let me say off the bat that I don’t think my mother was a monster or that her behavior was as extreme as the guests that were featured on the show. However I recognized the distinct lack of empathy towards others and the tendency to make everything about themselves as traits that my mother exhibited during my childhood.

I have wanted to understand for a long time why my mother behaved the way she did, why she took my minor mistakes and misbehaviors as an attack on her. I am in a unique position where I can understand mental disorders from personal experience and therefore I have felt that if I can understand her then I can forgive her. However I know that she was not bipolar or depressed, although she could be moody at times. Her behavior was consistent towards me, regardless of her mood at the time.

This isn’t really about blame, it is about wanting to have compassion for her in order for me to move on.  And also having compassion for the child I was, knowing that the problem was not that I wasn’t “good enough.”

When I was four years old my maternal grandfather died. My mother’s relatives lived way on the other side of the country so we didn’t see them often. However we did go and visit them sometimes in the summer. Apparently I was very close to my grandfather, although I can’t remember him now. We visited with the family the summer after he died, and when we got there I was running around the house asking where “grampa” was.

My mother got furious with me, because she had already told me that he had died. I was “embarrassing her” in front of her family. She felt that they were judging her about not making me understand that he was dead. I have no idea whether they were or not, but that was the way she perceived the situation.

Somehow it never occurred to her that it was unrealistic to expect a four-year old to comprehend what death was. She made the situation all about her, and made it all my fault.

When I was a year and a half old and my sister was four and a half, our older brother died. I doubt that my sister understood completely what had happened, but it was made more real to her because she went to his funeral and his gravesite. She understood that he wasn’t coming back. In essence I think she understood the concept of death much better than most four-year olds.

Ironically, I don’t even remember the incident that my mother told me about and maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that I heard the story my entire childhood. It was all about how I had “shamed her” in front of her family. This was a continuing theme during my entire childhood that any perceived or real misbehavior was an attack on her.

My sister has told me that she felt that a lot of my mother’s behavior was due to ignorance about age-appropriate behavior in children. I have no doubt that this was true. But there was something even more basic that was wrong with her. She was completely unable to have empathy towards me. She couldn’t put herself in my shoes, not even for a minute. She was allowed to have feelings, but I wasn’t. As a result I felt completely abandoned and alone my entire childhood. She was physically there, but emotionally she checked out. Worse of all, I thought I deserved to be alone because I was such a “bad” kid.

I should have been allowed to grieve for my grandfather. Instead I was told to completely ignore his life and his death. I don’t even remember him now. I was young of course but I wonder if I might have remembered something about him if I had been allowed to mourn his loss.

Back to the dream I had this morning. This prisoner in my dream obviously represents me. And “knowing who I am” means knowing that I was an innocent child and that I can set myself free instead of remaining “locked up” forever. And freeing myself means that I can free my mother as well.

Update: Although I have worked in the mental health field for many years as a peer supporter, I am not a professional and my expertise is in helping those with bipolar disorder. I am not very familiar with personality disorders. As I have learned more about narcissistic personality disorder, I have figured out that my mother did not have all those symptoms. Still, her inability to feel any empathy towards me does fit, even if nothing else does. So I am keeping this post up, with the hope that it may help others.