My mother was explicit: she felt bad, lonely, frustrated, misunderstood and other people were responsible for those feelings. They were trying to torture her, hurting her deeply, so she was going to lash out at them to show them how hurt she was.
Of course it was the people closest to her that bore the brunt of her emotional distress. We kids were deliberately making messes, pointedly not understanding what she wanted us to do, trying to make her suffer.
Her feelings were our fault and so we had the responsibility to fix them.
These beliefs were at the basis of her antipathy to her mother, who, when she died at 99 years old, was neglected by her only daughter. “That was a nice eulogy,” she told me in the car after the funeral, “but I am still angry with her.” Was this the way she wanted to teach us to treat her?
How can we be held responsible for the feelings of others if we have no way to fix or manage them? No matter how effectively we police ourselves, trying to be kind, sensitive, responsive, unthreatening, compliant and small, the same triggers stay active, particularly for those who cannot or will not work to process, contextualize and own their own feelings.
As I emerged, I often found that those who held onto victim identities, demanding that their suffering meant that their feelings be prioritized over all others were able to keep control by playing on the sympathies and guilt of others. I was able to see how demanding not only safety but also comfort let them chill connection, using their tender feelings to keep others under tight control.
Anyone who challenged these people were silenced by the group who demanded that those who could not own their own feelings, could not heal, be valorized. The strong have to give way to the weak or we can’t keep our oppressed identity.
This was balanced by those who demanded a conservative approach to life, where anything different, upsetting or challenging, needed to be suppressed. If your actions upset anyone then they upset the group, and the conflict you represented had to be purged.
My salvation has always been rational thought, the process of illuminating my own gut reactions to determine if they were helping me grow or were keeping me isolated and wretched. How could I get over my damn self to connect with others, to heal and grow, to help those around me find some solace?
While I have been doing the hard work of self analysis and transcendence, many others around me have been stopped by their own feelings, mired in their own cultural identities, whipped by their own sense of victimization.
“People heal and grow in their own way and their own time, even you.” This, to anyone who has vision, is the biggest challenge and the biggest heartache of being in relationships.
While those who are hurting often want to demand that others change, making a less stimulating and challenging environment, I learned early that the only person I could directly change is myself. It was no use to posit the correct way for others to treat me because they were going to act out of their own views and visions. I may want people to see and acknowledge my feminine heart, but demanding pronoun use doesn’t change the way they see me and blocks their clear communication of their own current understandings, however limited and limiting those perspectives are.
I was able to help my mother grow some, opening her vistas, but damn, it took massive amounts of time and work and I never got her to where I felt seen, understood and valued. She loved me as she could, but embracing my heart, well, if she couldn’t embrace her own, she was never going to embrace mine.
Everyone has a story of loss and pain, of times when they felt hurt and diminished. The bones of our cultural identity are true, based in fact, but the feelings we cloak those truths in are up to us. Our work is not to try and erase truth, even the historical truths that have pained us, but to use those lessons to find a way to transcend. Learning to lead with grace and hope, a willingness to be present and look for miracles of healing rather than being mired in unresolved feelings is extremely hard, especially when we see that pain as at the centre of an identity which bonds us with others.
Getting beyond the pain demands we take the heroes journey, facing down the dragon with “Thou Shalt” on every scale, leaving comfort to face our demons and willing to be transformed, still the same but different in vision. I have had many people want healing but the work of letting go of hard won sickness is just too much of an ask. They want to keep their old hurts and avoid the new scars of growth while also not feeling stuck in the past.
Its easy to want someone else to take responsibility for your feelings. After all, you never consciously took on those feelings, so why should you have to do the hard work of consciously healing them? It’s their damn fault; they should have to fix it! The world needs to change, and now, so anyone who won’t put your feelings first is just a damn butthole who refuses to see the truth you carry with you everyday.
Your truths, though, as real as they are, are wrapped up in the way you carry your history, your experiences and your cultural beliefs. Unwrapping them, I have found, is the only way to expose the even difficult truths and move on to finding stability, peace and grace.
My mother, though, wherever she is now, would probably disagree. To her, it’s still my fault.