Beth, thank you for your story. I have had as little to do with my mother over the last 9 years as possible, so it was interesting to hear an account of alienation from the “other side”, which you wrote so well, and with so much heart.
Speaking for myself, I can say that I yearn to be in contact with my mum. But for reasons I will never understand, she seems to be incapable of respecting basic boundaries and unable, or unwilling, to stop pulling me into abusive games. One such game, for example, is to sabotage her life in obvious ways and then plead for rescue, only to then feel “controlled” when you intervene in the way that she has requested, and subsequently sabotage the very help she has requested passive-aggressive-resentful teenager kind-of-way. It’s a no win situation for me and one that I found (when I formerly allowed it) very damaging. I was consistently caught between being massively drained of energy for trying to fix unfixable situations, while being sabotaged, and being resented for declining to help with the accusation that I was “reneging on my duties as a man…etc” Eventually, after a breakdown, I realised I had to just cut her out to protect myself.
Her seeming inability to understand the impact of her behaviour, much less modify her conduct, is interpreted by me as a deep rejection. I have spelled out my boundary requirements and basic needs so many times, but it makes no difference: I only have to erect a boundary for her to instinctively trample on it. My demands were quit simple: 1. accept that I have a right to decline helping in a situation if I feel that help may be resented or sabotaged and 2. Stick to agreements (rather, than the frustrating practice of believing agreements or just ways to get other people to do things). It seems like such an easy and clear two things to stick to, but it just doesn’t happen, and it leaves me feeling as though her toxic behaviour is more important to her, than I am. Each and every time I have afforded her a chance, she has merely interpreted that as a sign that I am willing to re-engage in historic abusive patterns, and the same games begin in earnest.
If I received a message from her that in any way suggested an awareness of her behaviour and its impact, and a heartfelt commitment to at least try to adhere to basic boundaries, no matter how imperfect, I would open my arms to her.
But since she seemingly regards herself as the victim of my aggression, rather than as an abusive actor in a dysfunctional relationship, I simply withdraw, knowing that any further interaction without an understanding of the dynamic at play, would only lead to the same outcome.
I’m not prepared to budge anymore on what behaviour I will tolerate so our position as a stalemate. And I love myself too much nowadays to sacrifice my sense of self, dignity, and self respect, to do otherwise. It was devastating for me to realise that if I didn’t play by her rules, I was simply out on the proverbial street.
I don’t understand a mother engaging in what seems to be conscious alienation of her own child. It still eats me up on a daily basis, and I still engage in magical thinking at times, ruminating through solutions of how I could fix things, only to follow the ideas to their logical conclusion and realise that all paths lead to Rome, and that I have no power to change my mother, only the power to accept her as she is. And unfortunately that means keeping her out of my life where she won’t do any further damage.
Listening to your story, I can’t help but wonder what your daughter’s experience of your relationship is, and whether you’ve been as blind and stubborn and selfish as my own mother. I concede that I am biased, and that I begin from the assumption that no child ever wishes to be alienated from a parent, unless there is something very, very wrong.
I can only suggest that you think really hard about what your daughter has actually said to you, and reflect on it, with a view to explaining how you’re sorry about what happened and that, more importantly, you’d like to better understand each other so you can insure that the present has some hope of being changed.
I really hope you manage to work things out some day. Thank you for the article.