You know, with all the amazing knowledge and theories and research I’m pulling together for your delight and delectation, it’s sometimes easy to forget that dealing with nutjob parents on an ongoing basis is probably one of the most difficult tests anyone can experience.
Because we so, so, so want it to be different. We so want our parents to stop ignoring us, criticizing us, hurting us, neglecting us, and to just love and accept us. We want them to be nice to us. We want them to make us feel like they care about us. And when they can’t give that to us, on some level it’s completely devastating, and makes us feel that we must be fundamentally flawed in some way, that the people who we most want to love and care for us somehow can’t.
Recently, I had some correspondence with someone who I’ll call Bruno.
Bruno always believed he had good, if superficial, relationship with his parents. Then his dad died, and his relationship with his mother suddenly came to the fore – and Bruno was shocked and horrified to realize that his mum was displaying some pretty sharp narcissistic tendencies that had been impacting Bruno for years.
He went for counselling, tried telling his mum all about it, hoped she’d agree the relationship needed some serious work to get it to a healthy and nurturing state – but that didn’t happen. Robert’s mum flat-out refused to accept that there was anything wrong with their relationship; flat-out refused to validate her son’s feelings and experiences; and when he continued to insist that ‘something’ was a little off in their interactions and needed fixing, she retaliated by cutting him out of her will.
Of course, all from a place of deep consideration, healthy respect and unconditional love for her son…
At least, that’s her version of the story, and she’s continuing to stick to it despite any annoying ‘facts’ that might appear to completely contradict her.
Not for the first time, Bruno was completely broken by the complete and utter disregard for his feelings, his viewpoint and his wishes. His crazy mother has decided that their relationship is ‘perfect’ exactly how it is, and Bruno must be a lunatic for suggesting otherwise!!
What can you do when you hit a brick wall like that? How can you get past the deep hurt and repeated sense of shock you experience when you realize that your parent is literally crazy? There’s no-one to talk to…there never was anyone to talk to. No wonder you have all these issues like depression, and lack of confidence, and an abiding impression that you don’t matter or count in the world.
And in the deepest irony of all, the proof that your mother is crazy, emotionally-neglectful, narcissistic and all the rest is when you come to discuss your deepest hurts with her, and she turns round and accuses you of imagining it all! It’s all in your head! Or your wife’s head! Because she is
P-E-R-F-E-C-T, and there’s no arguing with it.
For all that I can explain to Bruno, and to all the rest of us, that our crazy parents only got that way because they are deeply-traumatised people who have disconnected from themselves on the soul level, that’s cold comfort when you get cut out of your mother’s will as a self-proclaimed loving gesture.
So I told Bruno what keeps me going in these types of situations, where it really feels so much like you just can’t win: you still have a choice. You can’t change your mother. You can’t change how crazy she is, how detached from reality she is, how emotionally unavailable and hurtful she is. But you can change YOU, and how you respond to her.
And that’s really the only game in town.
How to do that in practice is something I’m sharing with you on this blog and in my books: it’s about developing healthy, balanced compassion and accountability; setting strong boundaries; finding your voice, in a healthy, non-confrontational way that still restores your sense of agency and ‘self’ to yourself, and above all, it’s about forging a strong relationship with God.
We can’t change the crazy people in our lives, as much as may wish to. But we can change how we view the challenge we’ve been given, and how we react to it. We aren’t victims (although it sometimes feels like that).
What we are is the biggest souls on the planet, who have been given the toughest jobs to get the world fixed. And the reason God gave us that work to do is because He knows what people like Bruno are only just now starting to discover: we CAN do it.
Crazy parents notwithstanding.