Story Construct Dialog Mind

Yesterday I went to my mother’s–formerly my parents’, but since my father’s death she has erased every trace of him, except the works of art that she either likes or keeps for their value, I don’t know which–to take a shower.  I avoid going there now, if she is at home.  There is always some kind of unpleasantness, because she resents the fact that I avoid her.

On Thursday she had forwarded me an email from a former student of my father’s.  It turns out that unbeknownst to me, the professional organization of ceramic artists of which he was a founding member had, at their annual meeting not long ago, given a touching memorial presentation dedicated to my father’s life.

The email contained a series of photos of the memorial, with a transcript of the speech.

I was flabbergasted that I had not been invited.  I would have turned myself into a pretzel to get there.

So I asked my mother why we had not been invited.

“Your memory!  Your memory is so terrible!” she shouted.  This has become a refrain that I hear every time she forgets to tell me something.  “My memory.”  Always “My memory.”

I confronted her.  I told her she was gaslighting me, trying to pass off anything she hadn’t told me as “my memory,” so that hopefully (her hope) I would believe that it was in fact “my memory,” that I am “losing it,” that the only truth is her truth and that I am a helpless, powerless imbecile with a bad memory.

I suggested that perhaps this was her story about me, and it might not be entirely accurate.  This sent her off on a tirade about how she and my father had always given me everything, etc.;  which somehow did not seem to be connected with my memory, but with a memory of her own.  And I know which one.

So I asked her why she thought I had left home at the age of 16.

My purpose was not to drag out old arguments, but to engage in meaningful dialogue which might lead to a discussion of how memory works, and how we sometimes make constructs out of our memories, especially painful ones, or ones we’d rather forget.

“Because we wouldn’t let you smoke pot in your room!  And every time I took you to buy clothes and nothing fit (because I was a bit chubby at puberty), you wouldn’t get anything until you lost weight!”

I don’t know what my weight had to do with my running away, since she never noticed I had become anorexic as a result of her calling me “Fat Ass” and teasing me about needing a girdle, but that is another story.  And the pot–frankly, mother, I didn’t give a damn whether she did or did not approve, although I dreaded my father’s lectures on the inevitable downfall of the Pothead.  As for her explosions of expletives, they were just more of the same.

Stories.

We all have stories, especially those crafted by memories of childhood events: “I was up in the tree and this boy pushed me out and I broke my arm.”  So every time this boy’s memory comes up, so does the story about the episode of the tree.  That is a normal story, filed away in our mind, solid in our neural net.

And then there are constructs, where memories trigger not only a picture of what happened, but also a fixed theory of why they happened.  These are often accompanied by some sort of positive or negative judgement:

“Oh, So-And-So.  She was an out-of-control drunk.  She used to get pissing drunk and slash her husband’s paintings with a knife.  That’s why he left her, you know.”

I know that if I mention So-And-So, or her husband, or even their children, I will get exactly the very same barrage quoted above, verbatim, as if from a factory package, from episode to episode.

Likewise if I try to engage in dialogue about events of my childhood, I am shouted down by her yelling me her constructs.  If I ask permission to add my own perception, my childhood neural memory snapshot of what happened, I am scolded that that is intrinsically not true.  Only her construct is true, and my story has no truth in it, and is of no value.  It is only made up in defiance of authority.

She often asks me why I never tell her anything.  So this time I venture out on a limb and say, “If you want to know why I never tell you anything, this is why.”

“Why?  Because I’m telling you the truth and you don’t want to hear it?” She challenges, in a childish “nah-nah-na-boo-boo” voice.

“Because,” I try to keep my voice even and fail, end up shouting, “Because every time I try to share something with you it gets thrown right back in my face.”  I didn’t start crying.

“That is not true,” she counters, icy voice.

“It is true.  Next time it happens I will point it out.”  Psychology 101.

“You just do that!”  Conversation over.  If you can call that a conversation.

I change the subject.  She is angry about that.  Fuck her.

I engage her in a project that needs doing.  It takes up several hours.  Then, at last, I spend a blissful half hour in the shower, grateful for the new water well–previously it was spring water and one had to take 5 minute showers–and the on-demand hot water heater.

Refreshed and not caring, I descended the spiral staircase into the lower living space.  She was waiting for me.

“You know,” she said sheepishly, “the reason I didn’t tell you about the memorial is that the organization expected us to pay our own way, including the $500, $600 admission fee.”

“Oh,” I said, ignoring the fact that my memory had just been restored, “That’s horrible!  What nerve!  I can’t believe they would do such a thing!”

As I gathered my things and exited, she looked at me wistfully and said, “Good Shabbos.”  It was Friday night.  When Dad was alive, I always made them dinner on Friday nights.  I tried to do it a couple of times with just my mother, but found it too awkward, since there was nothing to say.  So I stopped.

“Oh,” I lied.  “I thought it was Thursday.  Guess I lost a day.  Good Shabbos to you!”

I got in my car and drove back to my little house on wheels, tears burning my vision.

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27 Comments

  1. I used to get the same thing from my mother it has taken a very long time to sort through ball of that stuff to come to a please of quiet,I will send you lite and love so that you may find some peace
    As always Sheldon

    Reply
  2. So sorry, Laura, so very sorry.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kitt. Writing this post has led me to think about my own stories as a mother to a child who, unlike me, has always challenged everything in his life, especially his mother. I, for my part, had many failings in my mothering. I think my greatest failing now is pestering him with, “did I do this or that, fail you in this or that way?” Which I’m sure is annoying as hell. But at least I don’t blame him for my failings, and vice versa. And then again, when he was a struggling teen I didn’t cast him to the wolves, as my parents did. I found him the help he needed, and with much painful work on both sides, we each grew into new people, accepting accountability for our own actions. Therefore I know there is no excuse for shucking off blame for a parent’s bad behavior on their child. Whew, long winded reply!

      Reply
      • Agreed. I, too, work hard for and with my son. Just offering some empathy. Too bad you live so close to your mother. Too bad you need her shower.

        Reply
        • And that, my dear, is why I have bet my life savings on this tiny RV. As soon as I get my dad’s stuff organized, and I’m 3/4 there, I am OOH (Out Of Here). In the meantime I am becoming motivated to simply go to the gym and shower, even though the water there takes a toll on my hair. Better my hair than my brain.

          Reply
          • I was going to suggest truck stops for showers, but the gym is a far better choice. Much more important to protect not merely your brain, but your soul, your spirit, than your hair.

            Reply
          • I took my son to a Korean acupuncturist last Thursday. He identified my son’s problems as stomach and sinus problems and prescribed herbal remedies as well as focusing on stomach and sinuses when doing acupuncture.

            Reply
            • The stomach meridian traverses the sinuses. The meridian itself is not necessarily causative or related to the physical organs. Sometimes it is, and sometimes/always has to do with the bio psychosocial nature of the meridian.

              Reply
              • Hopefully my son gets healthier. Our pediatric NP recommended this guy who is out of network. Our pediatrician called back with a referral to an American woman who studied acupuncture in U.S. & China & works at CHOC. Tempted to see her for second opinion b/c Korean acupuncturist didn’t know what GERD is, had to spell it out. Believe that someone who spends most of her time at CHOC might be more knowledgeable about my son’s symptoms vis-a-vis intersection between Western and Eastern medicine. He has GERD, sinus allergies, asthma, eczema, migraines, anxiety, phobia, explosive impulsivity at home when tired. Want to give him tools to lessen symptoms and gain more control, strength, and health.

                Reply
                • Wow, it’s great that you’re giving him the gift of wonderful care and love.

                  Don’t be put off that the Korean practitioner doesn’t recognize GERD in Western terms. For her, he’s got damp heat in stomach/spleen meridians, and that’s her way of understanding. Mine too, in acupuncture terms. I had one heck of a time trying to convince my Ayurvedic physician that if I don’t take my Omeprazole I will vomit blood and die. In his tradition, what I have is fire excess, which I agree, but his tools for fixing my degree of imbalance do not work fast enough to prevent my early demise without Western treatment. So we hammered out a compromise, and although my stomach fire excess is still as bad as ever, other problems have improved beyond my wildest dreams. So go with your gut (heh heh).

                  Reply
                • Kitt, I’m so sorry your son suffers from all these awful illnesses. It has to be rough on you that your child is suffering. I know if l I’d much rather suffer myself than have my son suffer. I really hope you find the right healer who can help both of you! Blessings….

                  Reply
                  • Thank you. I feel like I must appear to have Munchausen by proxy when in reality I’m sick of seeking help and desperate to help him.

                    Reply
                    • That must be so, so frustrating…. There is nothing so distressing as having a sick child and finding no one who’s willing to go to bat for him. I surely would, if I could….

                    • He has good providers. I’m not blamed. I just feel so inadequate. I feel as if as his mother I should be able to keep him healthy. I’m brought to tears just thinking about it.

                    • It’s so rough when you as a mother feel helpless to help your child…. Been there….

  3. gloriad54

     /  April 12, 2015

    My narcissistic stepmother was not so blatant as this. Her putdowns were insidious with a tone of lovingness, so I grew up pretty confused. I am glad you have figured out that it is her, not you. Just a thought. I wonder if the organization was really going to charge your father’s family to attend the event honoring him. You called her on her behavior, and so she had to come up with another bad guy. It takes all your energy to deal with people like this. Peace to you.

    Reply
    • Wow, Gloria, that must have been so hard, so confusing. These people’s agenda is to reduce us to cowering toadies who will flatter them endlessly, in order to feed their starving egos. I feel sorry for them in the same way I feel sorry for the rogue elephant that must be put down because it has a nasty habit of stomping villages. The elephant has lost its mind because of the trauma it has endured, and now all it can think of is to destroy the destroyers. The problem is, the villagers are not the problem. The problem is the big game hunters and tusk poachers. In the same way, the narcissist has been fatally damaged, doesn’t know it, and takes out their need for revenge on the nearest vulnerable person they can find…usually their own child. It’s a sickness, but that doesn’t mean we need to forgive it. Sick people are also accountable for their actions. I’m sick, and I’m accountable for my actions. Sometimes I really screw up, and then I have to go through the process of trying to somehow make reparations and really apologize.

      I think you are spot-on about the money. Even if they had sent the standard announcement including the fee, one phone call or email would have fixed that. Peace to you also!

      Reply
  4. You handled that really well!!! It’s unfortunate your mom has to be like that but having the strength to confront her, I really admire that!

    Reply
    • Thank you! In truth, it’s a waste of energy to confront her, since it doesn’t ever “stick.” Five minutes later she’s back to her own construct. My therapist keeps reminding me that my energy is best directed in more productive enterprises, and I see her truth. However, if someone was gaslighting HER and trying to convince her that her memory was failing, I doubt she’d stand for THAT for one minute. I am on my way out of this awful situation, just some last minute things to tidy up and I’m gone, down the road in my tiny RV.

      Reply
      • Oh I agree with you! It’s really difficult to walk away when someone is clearly saying something wrong about you. I guess so long as you don’t engage in those conversations frequently. They can take a toll.

        Reply
        • I’d rather not engage in them at all. They trigger rage attacks, not good for me…I feel like I’m going to die. In fact, I’ve been having trouble with my heart because of all the turmoil. I have to distance myself from it, before I die of something I don’t want to die from! I have passive suicidal fantasies, but heart disease does not figure in them 😦

          Reply
  5. Very sensible of you to be able to get away. I’m sorry that she’s continuing to be so awful.

    Reply
    • “Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?
      A: Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.”
      It’s virtually impossible to convince a narcissist that maybe a tiny bit of the problem may possibly have something to do with their own issues. That’s because they are already perfect, and they get very incensed if someone has the GALL to suggest otherwise. So, after a good long spate of trying, I’m out of here!

      Reply

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