Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Loving Difficult People

Of all the challenging relationships in my life, by far the most difficult is the relationship I have with my mother. I suppose it’s natural to have more problematic relationships with the family that you are born into, because forever afterwards, you get to choose your relationships, and move away from people who cause you pain. The one characteristic that gives me the most angst is my mother’s tendency to be very judgmental. The letter that follows is what I would like to say to her, but probably never will:

Dear Mother,

The one thing that I would like to change about our relationship is to have you accept me and value me as I am. As an adolescent, there were many times when I wanted to talk to you about my feelings, particularly why I believed certain things, and why made the choices I did, but you have been very critical of me for thinking and acting differently from what you wanted. So, I have not felt good about disclosing these kinds of things to you, lest it upset you and make you feel disappointed in me.

Sometimes it seems you are sad that we don’t have a closer relationship, and I feel sad too, but it seems like the choice for me is either pretend to be someone I’m not, or to distance myself from you. I’ve always wanted to hear you say to me, “I know that even though you’re not like me, you are capable and competent to live your life in your own way. I know you have good judgment and good intentions, and I respect you for who are.” I don’t believe you will ever respond to me this way, but that’s okay. I’m going to accept you as you are, and stop expecting you to be different. Whatever kind of relationship we can have is okay, even if it’s very superficial and casual. I don’t want to make myself feel bad anymore by expecting something of you that’s unrealistic.

I still love you in spite of everything, but I cannot express my love by allowing you to continually rely on me for emotional support. I almost never agree with your position that various other people in your life are responsible for your problems, and treat you badly. I think that you create most of those problems for yourself and you could find better ways to interact with others if you really opened your mind to the possibilities. However, you become very defensive and angry if I try to suggest ways for you to see others’ points of view. I’m sorry that this is not what you want to hear. I wish I knew how to make our relationship better, truly I do, but I am out of ideas. I think you are actually very angry at me for being so distant from you, and you would like to tell me so, and that it’s all my fault…but how would that help us really? I feel like you want more from me that I am able to give. I’ve always hoped that as time passed, you would become a happier person, and be able to gracefully accept what life has to offer, but if that’s happening at all, you certainly hide it well. At least I can be grateful that I’ve learned a few valuable lessons from the way you’ve lived your life:

  • Blaming anyone else for my unhappiness is pointless, it’s up to me to find a way to be happy.
  • If I get upset when people tell me the truth, they will stop.
  • If I think most people think and believe the same things I do, I’m probably wrong.
  • By relying on others for emotional support without giving anything in return, my presence becomes an unpleasant burden.
  • It’s better to prepare children to face whatever life brings, rather than try to protect them from it.

In some weirdly ironic way, it's like you unknowingly sacrificed your happiness so that I could learn these things. I am very grateful. Try to understand that it’s hard for me to be in a relationship with someone who expresses love in a way that hurts me, and I think I’m doing the best I can for you under the circumstances, at least I sincerely hope so.


Who are the difficult people in your life and what would you like them to know?

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