My Mother, My Self


Malgré lui: ‘In spite of himself’

Humans are strange. The things we swore we would never do, we do. The people we said we would never become, we become.

You know, like growing up with abusive parents and then abusing your own kids.

I’ve been able to avoid doing to my daughter the things my parents did to me, but what about the way I’ve turned away from my mother? Am I treating Mom the very way she has treated me? In spite of my vows to the contrary, have I become like her?

I told my lover, Bob, about my feelings of guilt over not returning phone calls to my mother, who has borderline personality disorder but doesn’t know it (and I sure as heck am not going to be the one to tell her). Do I fear that my college-age daughter will abandon me because I deserve it, having abandoned Mom?

“Your mother abandoned you, remember?” he said.

My abandonment story

Oh, yeah. In May 2012, I went to North Carolina, which is across the country from where I live, to give the keynote speech at a college graduation ceremony. Mom knew months ahead of time that I was coming, yet found reasons not to attend my speech or to see me during my entire 10-day visit — not even on Mother’s Day. I sobbed on the night before Bob and I flew home, feeling utterly abandoned.

A month later, I called her and told her how I felt about what happened.  She lashed out verbally, as usual, and hung up the phone. A day or two later, a cousin told me that Mom had changed her phone number and unlisted it,   and that I wasn’t allowed to have it. I felt stunned, but I knew she’d be back. I’ve heard this song before, many times.

I did cry, though, on her 70th birthday, when I was unable to call her. I reminded myself: this is what she wanted. Plus, I told myself, I’m better off without her abuse. Still, I couldn’t help feeling sad.

Shortly before Mother’s Day this year, she called me at midnight. It must have been 3 a.m. on the East Coast. I didn’t get the call, but she called again on Mother’s Day. I got her phone number, told her I was on my way out the door (this was true) and promised to call later in the week.

But I never did. I don’t know why; I just don’t really care to talk with her. I love her, but I don’t trust her not to hurt me.

Borderline Personality Disorder and abandonment

In therapy, I’m working on my own “abandonment depression” and other issues BPD people suffer. My therapist says I’m not BPD, but I do have some of the symptoms, probably learned from my mother.

Doing my self work, including reading the excellent book Another Chance to Be Real, has given me compassion for Mom, and helped me to see that her verbal lashing out isn’t really about me at all.

Someday, when I’ve given full expression to my “real self” instead of acting out of fear that those I love will abandon or reject that self, I’ll call her back. Then, I think, nothing she can say will hurt me.

And perhaps I’ll be able to ease her pain by helping her to see that I haven’t abandoned her, after all, but just taken time for me — not the compliant “me” she wants or needs me to be, but the autonomous, powerful, strong, authentic me — the self I need to be.