I’m so sick of the excuse
“they’re still your mom/dad/sister/brother/etc.”
no, toxic is toxic
You have the right to
cut anyone off who is
unhealthy to you
The above quote is something a friend recently posted on Facebook, and that I have seen elsewhere on quotation sites. I do not necessarily agree with the first part of this quotation; people have to be wherever they are in their lives. I really do understand that every single one of us is the result of conditions that led up to this point in our lives. So no, the first part of this quote does not describe how I feel about this statement.
I do, however, completely agree with cutting off anyone who is unhealthy to you. My mother and I did not always have the good relationship that we now enjoy. There came a point in my life when I actually had to do that with her. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do in my life. I love my mother dearly. I also loved her dearly then. That is, in part, what made what I did so hard to do. The other part? One can only withstand so much pain.
So what happened? For years, as I was growing up, I was constantly criticized, compared to others (Why couldn’t I be like them?), and never ever praised. Nothing I did was good enough.
So there I was, when, as an adult, I decided no more. I’d had enough. Hurt. Pain. Feeling worthless. I was honest with her; I wrote her a letter explaining why. Here is that letter:
April 17, 1998
I have decided that the time has come for me to write this letter to you. I have thought of doing this many times over the last year, but each time I considered it, I didn’t because I thought that there was too much to lose and that maybe there was hope for change. Well, after my daughter’s wedding, I realized all too clearly that I have nothing to lose because I had nothing to start with, and I now have absolutely no hope whatsoever that things will ever change.
Before I begin, I would like to make one thing clear. I will be speaking of occurrences from my past as well as the present. I am not trying to dredge up the past to cause any hurts or because I hold any grudges towards you from my past. I firmly believe that the past is the past, that what happened then is over with, and that life should go on. Holding grudges is not life affirming; it is life draining and destructive. So why am I going to include yours and my past in this letter? Because, mother, the types of things that went on in the past are still happening, and these things are affecting me adversely now in the present. Also, I am not doing this to dump on you, but I need to let you know how the things that you have done, and still do and say, have affected, and still affect me.
Let me go back in time. One year ago this month we had a telephone conversation. You were going on and on about Pat’s latest girlfriend. You made it very clear that you were extremely impressed with her. You just kept talking and talking about how brilliant she was, and what an important job she had. You also went on and on about how she was published for something or other. My response to your going on and on and on was to act totally unimpressed. This was not because it bothered me that someone had a great job and was smart; I think that it is wonderful for any human being to be so gifted. Hard work deserves to be rewarded. No. As you spoke, the first thought that went through my mind was that Pat’s girlfriend couldn’t have had a mother like you, because to be able to do well in life you have to feel good about yourself. You cannot grow up to feel good about yourself if you are constantly belittled and criticized. Even more importantly, you can never feel confident and good about yourself if you are never ever praised for anything. And mother, that describes you. I thought, at the time, that Pat’s girlfriend must have had a mother that made her feel good about herself and praised her when she did well. When someone has a strong foundation like that there is nothing that they cannot accomplish. But if someone is constantly criticized no matter how hard they try to please, they do not grow up feeling secure about themselves and their abilities. Instead, they often spend their whole lives questioning their value as human beings and having little confidence in their capabilities.
Towards the end of the conversation, you tried to remember what it was that she was published in and couldn’t. I made it clear that it didn’t matter. I thought that if you could go on endlessly about how great she was while all you ever did, and still do, is criticize me and show absolutely no interest whatsoever in anything that is important to me, why should I be interested in you going on about how great someone else is? But you, mother, just wouldn’t quit. You pushed the point. We said goodbye. A little later you phoned me back and said that you’d found out the information. You totally ignored what I had said earlier. You were determined to give me the information whether I wanted to hear it or not. I repeated that it really didn’t matter, and that I was not interested. You still persisted. You pushed and pushed, trying to force your will on mine. I didn’t let you. Finally, exasperated, with (I assume not getting your way) you started to criticize me. Well, that, for me, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only do you go on and on praising a person who up until a short while before you didn’t even know existed, but to add insult to injury, you start to belittle me. I told you, in no uncertain terms, that when you were ready cut it out, and only then, would I speak to you. I then hung up.
I didn’t speak to you for months. Do you know what went on during those months? Did you even care? I’ll tell you what happened. At first I was absolutely furious. I thought about the fact that I have absolutely no memory whatsoever of you ever praising me for anything during my entire childhood and adolescence. I do, however, have many memories of you criticizing me. I was never good enough. You compared me to other people. Why couldn’t I be like Marie Kipp? You loved to tell me how pretty you thought she was. How do you think that made me, a child, feel? Every Saturday for years I had to do three chores as part of my responsibility to the household. Do you know that not once, in that entire time, did you ever praise me for something as simple as cleaning a toilet well, or helping with buying the groceries? All I ever remember you doing was criticizing me for not doing enough. When I would work hard to get my chores done quickly, all you ever said was, “You’re done already? That’s not enough.” I soon lost all desire to please you with chores. I am just glad that at least Dad would praise me when I cleaned a bathroom well or finished my chores quickly. If I didn’t do a good job on any particular chore, he would make me do it again, which was fair, but he always praised me when I did it right.
When I was in grade eleven and got 100% in mathematics on my report card, there was not one word from you saying that I did a good job. I remember trying so hard to please you. To get just one word from you that said you recognized when I did a good job at something. When I got into one of the advanced math classes in grade twelve and was the only female to do so there was not one word from you. Can you imagine how I felt, when, in grade 12, after spending a whole term at school, getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day to study and work on my math, and as a result of my hard work, (and believe me it was hard work to have that kind of discipline) I got the top mark in my class, there wasn’t one word of praise from you, not even acknowledgement? All you said was why couldn’t I be like my sister Susan; she had a job at sixteen. It didn’t matter that she had dropped out of school. Why couldn’t I be like them. I grew up with a belief that nothing that I accomplished, and nothing that was important to me, mattered to you. Do you have any idea whatsoever what that was like and still is like? To have a parent who was never ever proud of you for anything?
I then thought of the present. I thought about how every single time that you would visit my apartment you would always criticize something. If it wasn’t about the uneven blinds, or the discoloration on the rug from Dido being ill, it was about how I played cards the wrong way. I could have you over for dinner, and you never complimented me on the meal, you just criticized me about something or other. Why do you think that I never invite you over to my place any more? I am sick and tired of the criticism. I have had it. I was taught in religion class that if you couldn’t say something nice about someone, then don’t say anything at all. I also thought about how if I ever expressed an interest in anything over the phone with you, you would always do one of two things. You would either show absolutely no interest and act bored, or you would try to change the subject as quickly as possible. Meanwhile you would go on and on about things that interested you and I was supposed to listen to. I have now learned to never tell you anything about anything that I have accomplished or that is important to me. If I don’t tell you, then you can’t hurt me by ignoring it through acting bored or changing the subject. You know mum, many times during last summer when I didn’t talk to you, I wondered why you ever gave birth to me, if I displeased you so much.
And so for over half a year I didn’t talk to you. I knew that I couldn’t stand your constant criticism any more. I had, and have had it. I will no longer tolerate you treating me in a manner that shows you have no respect for my feelings. I am a human being. I deserve better. I was depressed all summer when I cut off contact with you. I felt as though you had died. I mourned you as though you had. In my mind, and in my heart, I had to let go of the possibility of ever having a mother who cared about my feelings, and valued me as a human being. That mother did not, and does not exist for me. I had to detach myself from you to begin to heal, really heal, from the damage done to me in my past, and still being done to me in the present.
Now I am going to talk about the event that has triggered the writing of this letter – my daughter’s wedding. Mother, I have every right to expect you, as my parent, to want the best for me, and to want for me to be happy. That is my right, as your child. It is every child’s right to expect that from a parent. Cutting me up just before I leave to partake in one of the most important events of my life was selfish and cruel. Did you ever, for even one moment, stop to think of the effect of your words? As my mother you should have been trying to help make every aspect of this wonderful event of the marriage of my daughter to Norm special for me. But what did you do? Just as I’m heading out of the door towards where the ceremony begins, you ask me “Aren’t you wearing earrings?” And when I answer yes, you can’t see them very well because of my dark hair, you say “Oh, I thought you were tying your hair up.” Well, mother, unless your eyes are no longer functional, you knew damn right well that my hair wasn’t up. So what was the point of your comment? There can only be one answer. You were trying to make me feel bad. Do you know how many times you have made a point of telling me how much nicer I look with my hair up? Mother, I have lost count it’s so many. And I am completely sick and tired of hearing it. If you don’t like my hair down I don’t want to hear it. It is not only terribly impolite to point out negative things constantly to someone, it shows that you have no respect whatsoever for their feelings. Your comment, as I went out the door to be part of the ceremony, was not only the culmination of numerous unpleasant incidents leading up to the actual wedding, but it was the straw that, once again, broke the camel’s back.
When I was preparing for the bridal shower, I felt ill for most of it. Do you know why? I was terrified that you would say something, or do something, to make me look bad, or embarrass me in front of other people, especially Norm’s mother and sister who I was meeting for the first time. That shower was an emotional time for me anyway without having to worry about your criticism. Not only was I meeting Shelley and Deana for the first time, but Bob’s current wife and my ex-inlaws were all going to be there.
Well, mother, you didn’t disappoint me. You did try something. Fortunately, nobody saw it. When we were helping to load up the car, you chose to load yourself down with way more than you could carry. Instead of immediately putting something down and carrying less, you started towards the car overloaded with stuff. I met you in the front hall, overloaded with stuff. You asked me to take something from you. I started to say that I couldn’t because I had something in my hand that I would have to put down first because I couldn’t help you with just one hand free, and also that I couldn’t take the whole load from you because my back has been really bad lately (which I hadn’t told you about before, because I figured you wouldn’t care) and I have to be careful about lifting. You didn’t even give me a chance. Before I could even reply, you criticized me for not taking something from you. That I had hardly anything to carry. I was not only hurt (again) that you automatically assumed the worst about me and figured that I wouldn’t help you, but I was angry that you didn’t even give me a chance to say anything. And so I told you in no uncertain terms to cut it out. That I was sick and tired of your carrying on. That I was not going to tolerate it any more. And so it went.
Mary told me that you raved about the food that I prepared for the shower. I nearly fainted from shock. I spent many, many hours preparing that food. You said nothing to me that you even liked anything that I made. I figured that you didn’t like anything. How hard would it have been to compliment me if you ate something that I had made and that you had liked? Not very. So you see mother, the lifetime pattern to which I refer. Always, always criticizing, never praising. I am just sick and tired of it. The closest that you seem to be able to come to praise of anything about me occurred only once during the wedding. And that was the first complement of any way shape or description in years and years. And it didn’t even come from you. You passed on a compliment from someone else to me, when you said that Deana thought I was nice. I could go on, but there is no point. I think that I have made myself more than clear.
And so back to your comment about my hair not being up just as I headed out of the door to be part of the ceremony of my daughter’s wedding. Instead of going into the ceremony thinking only of my daughter, thanks to you, mother, I went into the ceremony hurting (again) that my own mother cared so little for how I felt that she had to say something to make me feel badly just as my daughter is about to get married. Do you have any idea at all how much that hurt me to realize just how little you do care?
Mother, right now, I really don’t want anything to do with you. I am hurting and need to get over it. I can’t if I have anything to do with you. I can’t get over hurting if you are just going to go on criticizing me about things all the time. I have had it. Talking with you is like being at war. I am always guarding myself from your criticisms. I simply can’t take them any more. There is no other person on this planet that I feel like that with. I am tired of never being able to tell you anything about anything that is important to me because it appears that you don’t care. For the time being I want absolutely no contact with you. I want to get on with my life in a non-destructive way. That is simply not possible right now if I am in contact with you. I will always worry about how you are going to criticize me next. I can’t live like that any more. Maybe by Christmas I will be ready to handle being around you. I don’t know.
I had nothing to do with my mom for a very long time. Eventually, much later, I bumped into her at a family wedding. It was awkward at first, but then I realized she had changed in her behavior towards me. I decided to give it a go again with her. The change was HUGE. No more unfair criticisms. As a matter of fact, much to my surprise, she now praised me when praise was called for. Needless to say, I was stunned. So ironic.
And now? Well, we ended up back in each others lives, happily so. That letter, coming from an honest place, was one of the best things I could have done. I never, in a million years, would have expected this outcome.
It takes a lot of courage to walk away from anyone who causes pain, but even harder when that person is a parent or a sibling. I’ve had to do that with a brother who was causing so much grief in our family. I do not miss him. I wish I could say otherwise. Toxic really is toxic, no matter what the relationship. I am glad you were able to reconcile with your mother, may your relationship with her bring you joy.
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I’m so sorry that you have had to go through what you have with your brother. I hope that you have found some peace around it. I agree with you completely that toxic really is toxic. Thank you for your kind words in regards to my mother and our relationship. She has dementia now, but still knows who I am and still loves it when I visit. She still lives in her home; one of my brothers lives there and gives her her meds and that type of thing. She is still able to make a cup of tea (which she likes to do and still can) when I visit. I love to bring her a treat to have with our tea (especially scones, one of her favorites). Believe it or not, she is actually turning 97 years old in a week and a half.
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I am sorry too, but I have found peace around it and wish him well, despite some of the cruel things he’s said and done.
wow – 97 years of age – that’s quite a milestone! I’ve had three of my maternal aunts diagnosed with dementia – it’s wonderful your Mom still knows you; often it is not the case. You are so kind to bring her treats. I am sure she must enjoy that as well as the visits. Wishing you both many blessings.
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Very powerful letter, and it takes a lot of courage to do that with family. And I agree with you, I don’t like the first part of that quote.
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Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I found it very scary, but necessary. This healing business is certainly not easy.
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I too did something similar with a family member once. It was (oddly, for me) not by letter but in person. I just couldn’t understand why the person kept initiating contact only to criticize everything I did (basically act like they couldn’t stand the sight of me) when we were together. Near the end of one visit I finally said enough is enough. While I wished her well, I truly did not want us to see each other any more if it had to be like this. Funny, same thing happened as with you, the person saw things differently and we are able to maintain contact again. But I find that the behaviour begins to creep back.
It was incredibly brave of you to send letter. Kudos, and wonderful for your relationship in the end — in fact it turned out to be very precious gift to your mother at this time in her life. Also nice that she was able to open her heart and accept your criticism, so that you could both start fresh. Thank you for sharing it with us here. <33
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Wow! You are so brave to have done what you did in person. That must have been hard. I’ve noticed that kind of thing can happen also (the behaviour creeping back). Fortunately for me and our relationship there were only slip-ups maybe two or three times a year. I will be forever grateful that we were able to start afresh. I really appreciate your kind words. ❤
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Thank you. ❤ Actually she was great about it though. That's what made the difference. That and the fact halfway through my impromptu, heartfelt little "severance speech," I remembered there were kids involved, one I hadn't met yet who already mattered very much to me, and others I didn't want to deprive of her different-from-me kind of awesomeness. So we were going to have to find a way to get along.
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I am so happy to have found you just now! Your letter to your mother could have come from my pen. I never felt accepted or “good enough” for my mom when growing up and when I was compared to my older sister, I fell short. (A’s should have been A+, etc) But all is well today. I ended up quitting my job in Seattle to move back South to take care of my aging parents for nearly 7 years until they both died at the age of 92. That time of caring for them allowed me to learn to forgive, understand, and truly love them both. Reading your blog has opened my eyes to the importance of being authentic.When I started writing in WP I wanted to be funny like some, smart like others, never thinking I would be “good enough” for anyone else to read. As you speak your truth, your courage, your being, you give those of us fortunate to get to know you, a renewed breath of life through your well chosen words. We thank you. And I am so glad to meet you!
I am so happy for you that you finally found peace around your parents. I feel touched and humbled by your words. For some of my posts on “Imprints We Make” my courage came from the support of some very special friends, friends who accept me just as I am, friends who really care, friends who I love and trust. Thanks to them, I kind of just took a deep breath and spoke my truth…and you know what? I too am so glad to meet you!
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