Thursday, May 17, 2012

Depression back story: How I allow the past to negatively affect my present

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.

Back story

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?


  1. --WOW.
    Powerful. Moving. Honest.

    Thank you so much for sharing this most provocotive, amazing post.


  2. This is quite a moving post.

    I struggle with father issues. My Dad was the one who was always allowing his mood to dictate his words.

    1. Elizabeth, It's hard no matter which parent is doing it, or both parents, isn't it?

  3. Wow, hard to transcend an unsupportive childhood. Sounds like you're really working on it though!

    1. Lisa, I am working on it. I like to think that I' have transcended a lot of it, but I still have work to do.

  4. Ok, are we sisters Tina? Your talking about my mom, right? (I do appreciate my mom taking me to the library as a child and sharing her love of books with me) From what little I know about manic personality, I don't think my mom had that, yet her emotions were so extreme one way or the other: intense love or intense anger. I became hyper-aware to stay out of the way of the tornado. Her love/attention was so overwhelming (& conditional) that I feared that too.
    I didn't fight/argue with my mom though, that would have only increased her fury and I saw what she did to my father so I learned quickly to just let her run my life and play along.
    In my late 30's I finally decided to choose my battles but speak up for what/how I honestly feel. I don't know if I feel better about it now or not, we speak very little anymore and she just got crueler in what she says to me. I still suffer.
    The result of this is that I tend to distrust women , I feel they have ulterior motives and when I see how mean women can be to each other, it really bothers me. I'm close to my daughter's & I have women friends but only a few that I became really close enough to share confidences with - it takes me quite awhile to feel comfortable and know I can trust them.
    I've had some great women friends come into my life in the last 10 years that opened me up..and of course my daughters who are wonderful women.

    1. Krystal Lynn, I'm sorry that we have this in common. I know my mother has and had problems--not sure if it's more than depression. I have learned to pick my battles, too. I actually used to talk with my mother every day. That was not healthy. She got meaner the more I pulled away from her. I don't talk with her much anymore. I have to really prep myself before I call her on the phone or, especially, if I visit her. I have just reached the end of letting her and her words dictate what kind of life I have.

  5. This reminds me of a quote that I love. "Don't let yesterday take up too much of today".

    1. Such a great quote, Keith--and so true. We can't even notice today if we're caught up in reliving yesterday.

  6. Well written. Very meaningful. I'm sorry you were devalued as a child.

    I've long struggled with mind reading. I've been paying more attention to it lately and I can't believe how much I do it. It is always better to ask questions, or to even assume a positive interpretation and move forward in that framework (even if I'm wrong - I'll try to take that chance now). It takes LOTS of practice though. I also have to keep reminding myself that my past is just that, it's past. Again, this takes lots of practice and reminding. I still struggle with this.

    1. Sunny, Thank you for your comment. You're right--it takes lots of practice and reminding ourselves of what we're doing.

  7. Extremely powerful and honest writing. It's a good reminder for us moms to always think about how our actions might impact our children.

    And many thanks for recommending my blog to Shirley Showalter!

    1. Becky, Thank you. Your daughter is lucky to have you for a mom!

      Glad to recommend!

  8. Thank you for sharing this moving post. my mother has always been loving, but also extremely controlling, pretty much running my life until I was old enough to leave home (which I did asap). I try to take the lessons I've learned from my childhood to be just the opposite type of mom, especially to my two daughters. I hope I've given them the opportunities and freedoms to become who they really are, as well as be in charge of their own lives. We all have stories, that's for sure. Thanks for sharing some of yours.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Janet. I think it's wonderful that you deliberately tried to be a different kind of mom to your children. I would like to think that if I'd had children, I would have been a different kind of mom too.

  9. Thank you very much Tina for this post. For me, it was completely the opposite. I had a very similar problem with my father, reading his mind and guessing and believing my guess about what he is thinking, feeling, doing. It was terrible, as I believed it so much that it was happening.
    Until today, my hands shake when i see my dad, when i see his name on my mobile knowing he is the one calling.
    As for my mother. I used to provoke a problem with her, I wanted to argue with her as arguing is better than nothing. She was absent

  10. Hi.

    Thank you for being so honest and open and writing this blog. I too have OCD. I have scrupulosity, mostly, and find I am stuck in my head praying many times a day. I wanted to share something that helped me a bit. When I read the post above I thought about how your mother and my mother share some similarities. Through therapy, I discovered my mother is narcissistic. She doesn't fit every single criteria, but many. I read about it much online. It made me feel better to understand. I am sorry. I am not saying your mother is narcissistic. I just wanted to share my thoughts - I'm not saying I'm right - in hopes of even possibly being able to help you or another OCD suffer or anyone for that matter! :)

    1. Thank you for your comment and suggestion. My mother has suffered from depression, and perhaps some other disorders. It's hard to tell because she's never explored that herself. I agree that understanding that those who hurt us had problems too can give us a different perspective--not excusing their behavior, but understanding it better.

      Thank you for stopping by and reading and comment! I appreciate it.

  11. I am a fellow mind reader!! I ALWAYS think I can tell how someones feels...when in actuality when I have asked about it, they usually feel the exact opposite! I guess I really need to ask more questions and delve deeper so I am not assuming...they feel this way about me, or that way about me!

    1. Shannon, It's interesting that we're usually wrong in our assumptions, or it seems that way with me the more questions I ask. It's such a hard habit to break, this mind reading--I'm not even always aware that I'm doing it. Thanks for your comment!


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