I have done a lot of personal healing work.
It’s safe to say I have done more than most.
And yet, I yelled at my mother this week.
I was rude, dismissive. I was mean.
She started crying. This happened in front of my children and Trevor.
It was not good.
My mother and I love each other but we also abuse each other. Our relationship is filtered through the drama triangle—that’s how we know to relate to each other. We take turns playing the role of victim, the persecutor and the rescuer. My mother is very good in each role. I am very good in each role. Over forty years, we have turned it into an art form.
My mother and I have had countless repairs over the decades. We have even been to talk therapy together—we like to add people to our drama triangle. None of it helped. It was only when I realized that my entanglements with my mother are about healing me and not about changing her that we could start to have a relationship. Over the course of my personal therapy things improved. Sometimes I even let her hug me.
That’s why this week’s conflict was a surprise to me. It caught me off guard. The part that protects me—my safety strategy Fight—does not like it when I’m surprised. It showed up so fast that only after the fight had left me, was I able to reflect on what had happened from a neuroscience perspective.
In IFS language, my Fight protector hijacked my nervous system when my mother triggered a very young part of me that is still deeply wounded, exiled in my internal system. As I’ve mentioned in a previous newsletter, my Fight does not care that my children and Trevor were present; it does not care about me behaving well. It only cares about the young child I was that was manipulated and used—the vulnerable child in need of safety. Fight doesn’t see that my mother is not the same threat to me now, that I am older and have choices. It doesn’t care about the present; it only cares about protecting the parts of me that still live in the past.
In the EMDR world, I was able to link this present exchange with my mother back to a memory of similar situations when I took in the belief that others can’t be trusted; I’ll be tricked/hurt. I could see how this neural pathway was triggered and how that past experience became present.
From my relational-somatic work, I knew that my body had been programmed very young to sense my mother; it could track her every breath and was vigilant of how I needed to hold myself. The day I yelled at her, my body was no longer operating from the parasympathetic branch of my nervous system. I was not in rest and digest. I was charged with the adrenaline and cortisol released from my sympathetic nervous system. I was prepared to defend and attack before she had even opened her mouth.
I see that even after all the work I have done, there is still more. I see that this episode was a contraction—a pulling back to the old way of being. I am also glad to see that this time I didn’t go to guilt, blame or quick apologies, which is my own personal drama triangle. I see how all my therapy work helps me more easily move into expansion—an awareness of myself and how I consciously respond in the world.
With compassion, I remind myself that my mother is doing what she knows how to do—relate through drama and chaos. I remind myself of my new role of relating by staying in my window of presence, calming my body and declining to step into old roles. My job is to stay Natasha, present day.
When I do this, my mother and I can have a relationship. When I don’t, we can’t.
I remind myself that this is a practice and that I have come a long way.
I remind myself that sometimes I let my mother hug me.
Since the conflict, I haven’t called my mother. I’m not ready.
This week, I packed extra treats for the dog park—they’re for Mooshie.
Take what works, leave the rest.