One thing I’ve struggled with for years is my sympathy for my mother’s past. From what I’ve read, most people end up with a Personality Disorder because of trauma in their childhood. My mother definitely fits that bill. It’s one of the reasons I let a lot of abusive behavior slide, delayed asserting myself , tried for decades to make things work between us and gave her many second chances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did so in a way because my conscience is clear that I tried everything humanly possible to have a good mother/daughter relationship with her. But even though I try to focus on the healing and good growth that is in the present and future for me, I do wonder how much damage trying so hard and for so long did to me.
From what I’ve heard from relatives, it sounds like my grandmother may have been bipolar. She would have days on end where she’d shop, clean, spend and then days where she couldn’t get out of bed. My grandfather was a medic during World War II and from what I’ve heard from relatives, it sounds like he self-medicated PTSD with alcohol. It was a tumultous and violent household. My grandmother once either stabbed or attempted to stab my mother with scissors. My grandfather tried to start a fire on the fire escape one night while drunk.
Those are awful, scary things for a child to go through. And I do feel for her that she had to go through those things. My father also went through traumatic experiences with his alcoholic father. Fortunately, he had my grandmother who tried to shield him when she could.
While we eventually heard about my dad’s experiences, he never made it into a competition or used it to justify his own abusive behavior. My mother has done both. Apparently, she’s the Queen of Pain & Suffering so no one else’s pain mattered. My father’s was disparaged because he didn’t have it as badly as she did. My brother & I have nothing to complain about because no one stabbed us or tried to set our house on fire (plenty of domestic violence and at least one life threatening situation though). Really, Hallmark should make a Mother’s Day category, “thank you for not stabbing me or setting the house on fire.” I think it would go over welll with people who have ambivalent relationships with their parents.
Now, I don’t have a problem with my mother saying her situation was worse, because honestly, it was. What I do have a problem with is that she thinks she’s the only one entitled to sympathy and compassion because her situation is the worst. That’s sort of like saying, “hey we can’t give those people with broken legs medical attention because they’re not as bad as the amputee!” That makes no logical sense. As I’ve said in a previous post, sadly my mother seems to think love and compassion are finite qualities and there’s not enough to go around for everyone. If someone else gets some, it’s at her expense. I feel sorry for her because they’re not finite, in fact my experience has been the more you are willing to give love and compassion to people, the more likely you are to receive it yourself.
The other problem I have with it is that she uses it to justify her own abusive behavior. I even tried using “I feel” type of language back when we were speaking to describe how hurtful some of her present behavior had been (she continued the shaming, berating and would engage in it often when I visited her or spoke to her on the phone). I was called cruel for doing so and she brought up her past as an excuse.
I was talking about some of this and my own self-esteem issues to a good friend. And I was pointing out how my mother had a traumatic childhood. She pointed out that so did her own mother. But she never wanted anything but the best for her children and was always loving & supportive of them. Her mom is one of the folks I have turned to as sort of a motherly role once I realized I wasn’t going to get mothering from my own mother.
I’m just puzzled by the contrast of how some people can go through traumatic experiences and come out still capable of treating others well, while some emulate abusive behavior.