Programming. When you encounter people whose behavior is puzzling, you have to wonder where and how they got programmed that way. I’m not talking about something someone does once. I’m talking about repetitive behaviors; things that make you go…”hmmmm.”
Let me explain. My mother, who is bordering on 80 years, seems to think that every time we have a disagreement, it is the end of our relationship. Have you ever had someone come at you with those dramatics?
It’s the big guilt trip that she always uses. I’ve told her repetitively that I will not be manipulated by guilt trips; yet, this is her response almost every time we have a disagreement. This time around, the drama was, “Ok, since you guys don’t want me around, I’ll just stay here by myself. Don’t worry, I’ll manage.” This, after remarks about how I have always hated her, and she doesn’t understand where all the hostility is coming from.
My mother is very family oriented. She clings to my son and I almost desperately, ever since my younger brother passed 5 years ago. I think a lot of it is insecurity due to her age, which is understandable. So any time she thinks the relationship is threatened, she pulls out the only card she thinks she has to hold on to us with.
Until this argument came up, I never realized that the dynamic I used to think was based on my own insecurities, really was not. So many people don’t seem to analyze their own behavior, nor the behaviors of others. Additionally, they don’t realize that these patterns of behavior cause a lot of stress, not only to themselves, but also others in their zone of relationships. This sort of stress can be a trigger for pain.
In this case, I realized that my former habit of running out of relationships at the first sign of trouble (disagreement on any level), was based on this pattern of insecurity. My “relationships” at that time; (my early twenties up until my 30’s), were always very short-lived; 1-3 months tops. Why? It wasn’t because I was scared of commitment. It was because if I sensed any slight tremor of a potential issue of contention, or if I just wasn’t comfortable with something, I would just run from the situation instead of confronting the issue with that person.
This dynamic, was the result of watching my excessively, passive father walk away from arguments with my mother while she was on an emotional tirade. He always taught us to walk away from a fight, insisting that this made you the bigger person. As the bigger person, you win by not stooping to the level of the person throwing low balls in order to emotionally rile you into a fight or acting as your lower self.
On the few occasions that I actually saw my father engage my mother when she was argumentative, she would go to drastic extremes because she didn’t win the fight or get her way, whichever applied. On one occasion, she just disappeared, leaving me freaking out thinking something had happened to her; and calling the relatives and local hospitals to find out if something did happen.
In reality, she picked that moment to take off on her previously planned and announced vacation, but I didn’t know that until more than a week later when she returned. She had never set a concrete date as to when she was going to take it. In spite of my angst over this, I thought that my reasons for running away from arguments specifically related to this “walk away” concept that my father instilled.
Funny thing is, I would run when it came to personal relationships, but I would fight like hell in other circumstances. I was quite the hellcat while I worked at the post office; with my motto of take no prisoners. My attitude in that situation was, “If you (management) take one step towards (against) the workers, I was taking two steps towards them, fist extended.” I used to fight for everyone, and I took on any battle in that arena; even writing a newsletter for an outside union to rally the troops.
I later realized, that you have to pick your battles. While I was married, I realized if someone is important to you, you can’t just walk away. Sometimes you have to stay and fight. Some things require that you stand your ground, and some relationships are worth fighting for.
You don’t just throw in the towel on people. Every relationship is worth fighting for, but no relationship is worth being continually taken for granted. People have to learn to agree to disagree, and to have a discussion, regardless of the level of heat, without personally attacking the person(s) participating, and without manipulation attempts.
Such under-the-belt tactics can wound people, and cause long lasting emotional scars. These can be the catalyst for a pain problem that grows slowly, over time. Muscles record emotional trauma. It’s hidden deep in the cells because each of the billions of cells that make up the tissue of our bodies, contains a brain with a memory.
I’ve worked on people with deep physical pain locked in their bodies because of buried emotional trauma. An example of this is a person who experienced some form of traumatic abuse, such as rape. As a massage therapist, I know that if I release buried trauma like that in the muscles; the client on the table can experience what’s called a Somatic release.
In such cases, the person may end up reliving the attack or the abuse, and begin thrashing about on the table. Or, they may sob hysterically. All the therapist can do at that point, is respect their process, and protect them if needed, by making sure they don’t fall off the table.
The therapist cannot interfere, and must allow the client to express and work through that somatic release in whatever manner they need to. Somatic release is a way of alleviating unresolved emotional trauma that is buried in the muscles.
Emotional pain or trauma can be hidden in different ways within a person, and likewise, can be expressed in different ways. Most often, we tend to see it exhibited in the form of someone’s insecurity. In my case, I’m having to indirectly teach my mother that an argument over unresolved issues is not the end of the world; nor necessarily the end of the relationship.
I didn’t realize that apparently, she has thought this for most of her life. I shouldn’t be surprised, because I’ve seen this dynamic amongst my relatives as well. It seems severed relationships are the norm with certain members of the family deciding not to speak to each other due to a fight they had.
The whole time we were arguing, she kept kicking out this final pronouncement that simply because she and I disagreed, and my son and I were in agreement about the issue I was bringing to her attention; that we just didn’t want her around anymore. She even tried to tell me that my son wasn’t involved because I’m his mother, and this is between she and I.
I had to correct her on that too. I let her know that my son is an adult, and will be treated as such. I had to say this because I spent almost 40 years still being like a child in several respects; evidenced by her insistent that her siblings run all encounters with me through her. She still thinks she should be the go-between in any relationship between her family and myself; and is offended that I didn’t tell her about a recent family event that she missed and I attended.
After repeatedly stating that we did not hate her, and that we did not want her out of our lives, I had to explain to her that we were both speaking about consideration, and that I had been trying to get her to listen to me about issues like this for a long time.
I had to explain that it was not a situation of hating her, but of being frustrated for years because she refused to hear me for so long whenever I brought up issues like this; always trying to distract me with guilt trips about our level of love for her.
She then acknowledged something she had denied for years. I couldn’t believe it. I thanked her for finally acknowledging that one thing, and let her know that it meant a lot to me that she finally admitted it. Finally, sounding somewhat defeated, she asked, “So where do we stand?”
I told her, “As far as I’m concerned, we’re fine. All we are asking for is just some consideration.” Then the conversation changed to the plans we had previously made, and I heard her awkward questions to confirm that I was still going with her to the appt a few days away.
I think she was surprised that nothing else changed, but I think she’s slowly beginning to see that a disagreement does not mean the relationship is over. It is ok to express your feelings, and to set boundaries about what is and is not acceptable for you in the relationship. Some people go through years of putting up with someone else’s selfishness, or lack of consideration just to keep the peace.
Long term frustration can definitely turn into hidden resentment, and resentment can turn to hatred, and hatred into bitterness. Bitterness can cause pain in the form of chronic stress and diseases, like cancer.
It is better for your health and wellbeing, to do your utmost to express your needs for consideration with consideration; laying out the boundaries so that your dealbreakers are known. If necessary, you may need to do this more than once, to ensure that you are taken seriously and given the respect you need in your relationships.