Sunday, November 25, 2012

Score one for therapy

I've spent the last couple of months struggling with how to be a good daughter to my bipolar, wildly inept, crazy-making hoarding mother while remaining sane and healthy. After much mental anguish, several self-help books, and lots of therapy, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. Our culture has no real archetype or paradigm for bad daughters. Seriously. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Lizzie Borden. Given that I'm planning to figure this whole thing out well before I have the urge to hack my mother up with a hatchet, that's not exactly the role model I was looking for. (On the plus side, Googling "bad daughter" led me to The Bad Daughter: Betrayal and Confession by Julie Hilden, which is quite an interesting read.)

2. Although I've known this one for awhile, recent interactions with my mother have driven this point home once again. She isn't going to change. As much as I deserved a tuned-in, consistently caring mother as a child, she wasn't that person then and she isn't now. Harsh as it sounds, she is and always will be damaged and narcissistic. She is unable to see or acknowledge how her behavior affects other people and will continue to blame others (read: me) for her failures in relationships and in life.

3. She seems incapable of sustaining long-term relationships, whether with family members, friends, or her own children. She drives people away with her neediness, anger, narcissism, and social ineptitude. She doesn't know how to make and keep friends. Does it make me sad that my mother is lonely? You bet. Does it occasionally twist my stomach into a knot or two when I think of her dying alone, as seems likely? Damn straight. But am I responsible for this state of affairs, or for making her any less lonely? Nope. That's on her, not me.

4. And for the grand finale of all conclusions, one that surprised even me -- how I can be a good daughter to my mother while still taking care of myself? I can't. I can't be a good, care-taking daughter to her and still be happy and healthy. And given that I'm not willing to spend any more of my life sacrificing myself for her well-being, at least for now it means that I have given myself permission to be a bad daughter. As a wise friend once pointed out, I can be a bad daughter without being a bad person. What that means in practice, I'm not so sure. But I do know that just having this realization is huge and life-changing and just the beginning.