I had a really productive Q&A session with BFF2 which helped clarify my thoughts.
The only other remotely equivalent confrontation I ever had was in getting rid of my ex. We split up but he refused to leave the house and it took a year to get him out and I had 1sis and my mother with me as support. I did it because I knew getting him out of the house was the only way my children and I could hope to have a normal life, that there was no other solution and I’d left it long enough. I was desperate.
I am not currently feeling that desperate, partly because I don’t have that same degree of conviction that I need to do this and that this will enable me to move on. And because I don’t have that same certainty about the need to do this, I’m not pushing myself to do it so I am letting my fear get in the way of resolution.
What is my fear of? My fear is of the way previous attempts to talk to my parents ended up making me feel. Emotionally vulnerable, in tears, I would be crying and feeling lost and scared, anticipating the end of the discussion so I could run away even when I’d instigated it. It hurts to not get acknowledgement of my feelings; it hurts to not get that warmth, support and understanding. It was frustrating trying to explain myself in a way they could understand when they didn’t and possibly couldn’t understand. I am reluctant to repeat all this.
So I need to change the rules. As a teenager or young adult I tried to confront my parents on those few occasions. It was very much a “I want this. You’re not giving it to me. This is why you should”. There was always a feeling that I was on trial, having to explain and justify whatever it was that I wanted, that they had already decided was not in my best interest.
My father controls these conversations by not understanding other people’s points of view. I’ve always regarded this with some sadness and sympathy, feeling sorry that he was unable to empathise. But it’s also a very effective control strategy as it means he just refuses to understand thoughts that aren’t how he thinks and unless I turn myself into him, my arguments are never going to reach him because he won’t let them. He does like to win.
So again, I need to change the rules, to not get into a confrontation that is trying to challenge him, a power struggle I cannot hope to win. I need to be able to make it simple: “you do this. It makes me feel…” It’s then up to him whether he chooses to acknowledge his behaviour and how it makes me feel. That doesn’t mean he has to understand why his behaviour causes my feelings, just that it does. This is easy to say but I’m going to find it a radical departure from normal behaviour to achieve.
Because despite all my wishes, the only thing I can reasonably expect to come out of this, is that I say what I need to say, even though I’m not as yet sure what that is, any sort of acknowledgement or understanding would be an unexpected bonus.
I have spent time worrying about how what I say affects them and their relationship, pondering whether I can say things without telling things my mother has never said to my father, of what all this could do to them if they really listened and started to question their own lives and relationships. I have been protecting them all my life one way or another and it’s time to start protecting me.
Any conversation I need to have therefore needs to have precise boundaries about it: it’s about how what they do makes me feel. And that’s it. Explaining to them why I think they are how they are is not the issue. Explaining who I am is.
I find it very difficult drawing that line. Much of my initial counselling has been about understanding what happened and why my parents did what they did. I’m trying to move on from that understanding to thinking about how it all made me feel and that’s more difficult for me as that is a thought I’ve been taught to squash.
I did draw that line with my mother a few years ago, on the last holiday we spent together. How it came up I cannot recall but I said that it was time for her to either deal with my father or stop moaning about him, that I didn’t want to hear it any more. She has barely spoken to me since, which is her way of not thinking about her issues. But that is her stuff, her choice, not mine.
Whenever we have had confrontational conversations, my mother has tended to take a back seat and only interject when she could nudge my father in the right direction but she remains passive. In fact the last one we had started off with my father saying to me “Your mother feels that you’re not getting on as well with each other as you used to.” My mother was unable to say that to me herself.
So I need to focus on what they do and how that makes me feel. Before I can focus on what I need to say to them and how.