It has never been easy for me to be with my mother.
We have argued through the years far more than you would expect from a stereotypical mother-daughter pair.
I remember once as an adult, arguing with her with my father present, and he looked up and said with what sounded like pure frustration, “Why don’t you just get down on the floor and fight it out?”
That’s what my mother and I did for most of my life: rolled around on the floor, fighting, figuratively at least.
It was from my mother that I learned to read minds and make assumptions. I wrote about my tendency to read minds in a recent post.
Mind reading, making assumptions about what another person means by what he or she says, is one of the ways that I allow my past to dictate my present. It’s an example of distorted thinking.
In providing this back story, I am not trying to cast blame or throw a pity party. Rather, I want to show an example of how the patterns that we develop in the past can make the present more complicated and difficult.
I watched my mother closely when I was a young girl. I watched her facial expressions, the speed of her hands as she washed the dishes. I listened to the degree of vibration her feet made as she crossed the floor to tell me how heavy her footfalls were. I listened to her tone of voice.
I did this to try to determine her mood, her level of anger, what she meant when she spoke, how serious she was about what she said.
My mother could make me feel as loved as any child could hope to be.
“I love you so much, I wouldn’t trade you for a million dollars,” she’d say, and I believed her.
She took pride in her housework and was a fine homemaker, a wonderful cook.
She took time away from sewing clothes her family needed to make Barbie clothes for me. She even made a miniature satin and lace wedding gown for my Barbies, complete with veil and a tiny string of faux pearls.
She often allowed me to read instead of helping with chores, and she made sure I had plenty of opportunities to visit the public library.
My mother also told me I was lazy and selfish. I was shy, and she said sometimes said I acted “like a lump on a log.” She smacked me in the face. She told me my friends wouldn’t like me if they knew what I was really like.
She yelled at me for wasting water, wasting time, wasting toilet paper, being slow—all of which I did because of my OCD.
She yelled about her fate in life to “work like a dog” and get no appreciation for it. She threatened on numerous occasions to pack her bags and leave.
She tried to control what I thought, what I did, what I became. She tried to manipulate me into doing what she wanted me to do or giving her what she wanted.
She still does some of these things when I allow it. But I don’t allow it very often any more.
What I learned from my mother was to be ready, to leave the room if I could or stand and fight, whatever seemed best at the time.
I learned it was best not to ask questions of an angry woman who might lash out at me verbally or physically.
So I was often fighting blindly, responding to her in anger, not in any kind of rational way.
How it affects me now
My therapist says, and I recognize, that I don’t always address what is actually happening between another person and me. Instead, I respond as if I’m in the past, trying to read minds and blindly responding, mostly in anger.
Or I respond in silence, stuffing down the anger.
I end up thinking the worst, assuming that the other person meant something negative when actually the interaction we’re involved in provides no evidence of it.
What can I do about it?
I am learning that I have to ask questions like, what did you mean when you said that?
I may not like the answer, but at least I will no longer be responding blindly.
I will no longer give in to the hopeless thought of, why should I bother asking? I already know the answer, and it’s not one I want to hear.
Part of my therapy includes working on skills so that I feel more comfortable and competent at asking questions, throwing away the assumptions that get me nowhere.
I am trying to be more aware of my mind reading tendencies and recognize the thoughts for what they are: a coping mechanism I learned as a child that no longer works for me.
How does the past affect your present life? How do you keep your past from negatively impacting your present? What is your favorite technique for reminding yourself to stay in the present?