I’m under a lot of stress right now. My mom has always been a narcissist, having been thoroughly broken by abusive parents, and in her dotage she is a practicing evangelist for her mega-church. Not a very good one: her only persuasive techniques are guilt and insult. Worse, not only is she trying to save my soul, she has admitted desiring to convert my wife out of Judaism.
Usually we can blow this off and the hurt feelings will pass. We bring over dinner, I do her household chores, and everything’s fine again. But Easter’s coming up, and she said she has no one to drive her to services—she does, she turned them down 1) so as not to interrupt their family time, and 2) in order to hook us into driving her. We said we’d drop her off, and she got upset that we wouldn’t attend church with her, so to punish us she said she wouldn’t go at all.
Eventually I came around to thinking I could share this with her, not because it means a damned thing to me, but because it was important to her. That was when she called me a liar, simultaneously bemoaning that I wouldn’t go and denouncing my offer (and I offered, and was denied, three times). What can you do at that point?
It got worse and I won’t go into further details, but she held back nothing in being cruel. Given that religion has taught her nothing about love and compassion, I’m guessing she goes to church for the rush of approaching the divine in a roomful of like-minded people. It’s a delusion, and a temporary one, that has never provided comfort in times of hardship, but she called me lazy for not wanting to go to church and ignorant for ruling this out without any idea of what it was about. You know, following the light and the way of Jesus, the Don Rickles of his time.
There has been a heavy black cloud over my household all week long. My wife and I are closer for it, as she struggles to reconcile with meeting, for the first time in her life, someone whose love is conditional. I’m trying to figure out why I feel bad. It’s not because I’ve left a helpless old woman bereft, because I’ve been taking care of her through various medical emergencies for two years, managing her meds, driving her to doctors’ visits, etc., and will continue to do so for years. The weight of this emotional turmoil has made life difficult: there is no energy or room for creative writing. Any quiet moment is filled with reliving the blow-out and trying to make sense of it and plan for the future.
I think I feel bad due to some residual guilt about standing up to my parent, standing up for myself. Many institutions in Western society vaunt parenthood as some sacred phenomenon, even though kids can happen through accident, drunkenness, and violence. Society imbues virtue upon parenthood, charging us to respect our elders, always be obedient to our parents, never factoring that sometimes unprepared assholes can have a child together. It’s that romantic fatalism behind bushido, how a good samurai is loyal even to a stupid, insane, wicked lord.
I’ve done nothing wrong in setting up my boundaries. I’m not wrong in expecting respect for my wife and myself. I’ve done nothing to feel bad about. This is an echo of all the guilt and abuse I grew up with, how easily I was cowed, how desperate I was to play the peacemaker. This, finally, is my time to grow past that and reaffirm myself as a self-sufficient adult. Mom is not Mom: she is her mental illness, and only pain comes from expecting her to be a reasonable, caring adult. Yes, just like in a zombie movie, where the victim believes their loved one is still somewhere inside the shambling corpse that’s devouring them.
One thought on “QotD: Anxiety”
It’s your ethical standards you should aspire to meet, not your mother’s nor society’s.
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