The guilt is too much

I’m in unknown territory in terms of the emotional work on my past that I have never previously delved into. The words are hard to find because I feel guilt and a sense of failure, which I typically do not expose. I keep the walls high around this way of thinking and rarely expose my weaknesses.

The truth that my mom is imperfect is extremely difficult for me to write about. She raised me in a way that her needs came before mine. I remember things about her life during my childhood more than I do about my own life. I have selective amnesia for most of middle childhood, ages 5-12 but I remember my mom’s divorce from my father, the jobs she had, the therapist she relied on, her pursuit and attainment of a Master’s degree. What do I remember about myself? Not much except I tried to be the best at everything to hide my sense of inadequacy. I was competitive. I was the fastest girl. I was also the tallest girl. I was one of the best in gymnastics, the high bar (due to brothers) and I could always make people laugh. I hid my lack of self-esteem by portraying a person who was better than others. I grew up with this false identity.

My last post recognized my mom’s shortcomings. I’ve been trying to meditate and learn to just “be” with the idea that Little Me didn’t get what she needed and a void was left behind.  My goal is to fill the emptiness so that I feel whole and worthy of my own love and acceptance.

I’m doing pretty well with this grief work on my own but this morning I made the mistake of saying something to my mother during a phone call. My sense of remorse is enormous.

I’m fully present and aware of how badly I feel to call my mom out on her narcissistic traits.

I want to drive 300 miles to be with her, to show her I still love her, despite what I said.

I wish I could take it back.

It is my fault. Not hers. How dare I blame the person who raised me!

A mother can do no wrong. It is the child’s fault. I am and always will be a burden my mother had to bear.

What happened on the phone?

My mom and I were talking about menopause and her memory is failing, given she is almost 80 years old. She has rheumatoid arthritis and had knee replacement surgery last month.  (You get where I’m going – with all these things wrong with her what possessed me to speak up about my own little issues.)

I tell her I am having hot flashes and migraines, all due to menopause. She says, “I don’t know why you are having all of these problems, my menopause was fine.”

“Oh, no, it wasn’t. You were on hormone replacement therapy from when I was in high school until the 90’s. That was 15 years, at least. You don’t remember your menopause because you took hormones.”

Gulp, I did not just challenge my mother, who lives in a state of denial and believes she never had any troubles in her life. I have played that game long enough, of believing I have the problems but she never did.

Quickly, I try to set things straight by reminding her that her Dr at the time recommended she get on hormones due to calcium loss and the fear of osteoporosis from low estrogen levels. I gently tell her, “I know it was a long time ago and you may not remember.”

That sets her off and she justifies her need for HRT by reminding me, “I was dealing with a daughter who was kicked out of school for smoking in the bathrooms all the time and she had to be taught by this crazy lady.” [True, I was expelled for half of my junior year of high school and my mom found an old lady to tutor me so I didn’t fall behind. She puts a lot of pressure on academic achievement so for her to have to attend meetings with the school principal and superintendent because of her out-of-control daughter was too much for her to handle].

I tell Mom, “I was really angry in high school. I know it was hard for you but would you rather be the person watching a teenager with anger problems or be the teenager living with that anger? I think it was harder to be me dealing with all of that rage.”

Mom replies, “I don’t know why you were so angry. I had you seeing a nice therapist once a week.”

“I did see the therapist and that was good you sent me there.” Truthfully I don’t recall her name or anything that occurred in her office. But, I do give my mom credit that she taught me to seek outside help.

“I wasn’t ready to talk about the real issue at that time. That’s why it didn’t help.” Mom and I both know by “real issue” I mean the sexual abuse by her first-born son, my brother, upon my prepubescent body but neither of us say “incest” aloud.

I talk in the safety of the third person and say, “Children don’t expose their pain until they feel safe and it wasn’t until after college that I spoke to a therapist about that.”

My mom’s head is spinning, I can tell she has lost focus and doesn’t know what to say. I quickly feel I’ve overwhelmed her and I say, “I apologize for bringing all of this up, I was just talking about menopause.”  Her response is, “it’s just stupid.”  That’s the stroke, the surgery and her recent move speaking because she never used to say things offhandedly that don’t make sense.

I feel bad that I put my needs first and now I try to back pedal. Be a good daughter. Ask about her. Talk about her wonderful new retirement home. The superb dining service they have. She tells me what she and the three others at her table had for dinner last night. I agree her new residence is like a 5-star hotel. She talks about the “culinary arts school” nearby and that she has a reservation for dinner tomorrow night. She tells me about the colleges her new friends attended. Her safety is in intellectual pursuits and knowledge and I play along. I agree that all of that is wonderful, blah, blah, blah.

But, I can’t take back that I told her my high school years may have been difficult on her but they were worse for me, living it.

I cannot believe the overwhelming sense of guilt I feel.

I should be helping her as she ages and begins to lose her full physical and intellectual functioning.

Wow, this sense of shame and remorse is so powerful I can’t stop it. I hate myself.

My mom couldn’t help me then and we know she can’t help me now. Why did I even speak up? I love my mother and I didn’t want to cause her pain.  Speaking up was a bad idea, it only hurt both of us.


12 responses to “The guilt is too much

  1. ((hugs)) you should always say how you feel even if you might hurt someone- how else can they know how you feel? I too have tons of guilt issues with my mother and the older I get, and the older she gets, the most responsibility I feel for her happiness, and I have always been responsible for her happiness – sigh – I don’t know what to say but keep posting and try to do something self-caring when you feel this way, it will help. -Sparrow

  2. It’s ok to speak up. It’s when we don’t things start to eat us alive.

    • I know you are right but when I speak up I feel so guilty. I think I need to do the hard work of healing without bringing my aging mother into it. She and I have spoke openly many times and she has shown regret and remorse for the allowing the incest to happen under her watch. We haven’t addressed this new theme in my head about her narcissism and I don’t think I should. There’s nothing I can teach her this late in life.

  3. same story here. My mom just had surgery, and I keep feeling guilty for my new boundaries I set with her. I want to send her flowers and clean her house and get her groceries. I know the flowers would bother her allergies, the cleaning would keep her from resting, and the groceries would have too much salt. I want to be a good daughter still. Sigh. On another note, same thing here. My mom sent me to useless therapy in HS before I was ready. She thinks she did more than enough to help me with MY problems, because they surely were not HERS. Keep going, doing that hard work and tearing those walls down. The real you wants to come out!

    • Yes, everything you describe is me and my mother! She and I have talked openly about the incest but I’ve never accused her of always putting her needs first. The conversation yesterday taught me that I don’t want to either. She’s getting old and confrontation will weaken her. I love her so much that I don’t want to harm her with my issues. I know what I’m saying is the problem –putting her needs before mine but I will have to heal the void without expecting her to fill it. She had her opportunity and can’t do it, this I know. I forgive her for her inadequate parenting and will try to enjoy the connection that we do share in the last few years she is on this earth as my mother.

  4. Dear Daylily,

    Ok, this is only the second post of yours I’ve read and I can’t believe how well you write and how succinctly you express your emotions. what a wonderful gift you have…

    I completely understand about your guilt/shame feelings with your mother – it’s complicated, I know. The toughest part of owning my life and healing from all the &*%! from my childhood was standing up for myself when my parents did not. We’re wired to be protected by our parents, so when they don’t (whether on purpose or because they themselves haven’t healed from their crap), it creates a habit of denying our pain, which eventually sets a pattern of self abuse. The answer is to do exactly what you’re doing – feel, write, feel some more, and write some more. Becoming a mom to our 2 sons made the light go on for me. I asked myself, ‘would I EVER put my emotional needs on my kids? Heck, NO! Would I ever dismiss their experience, leave them to fend for themselves emotionally, or have anything but a supportive attitude toward their suffering? No way. Putting myself in my kids’ shoes is what knocked my out of the narcissistic mother park I was raised in. I wouldn’t want my kids to feel responsible for me – EVER. I dealt with a ton of anger associated with it – hence my horror journal.

    Hope it helps a little. Keep going through it….and freedom will be yours.
    Big hugs and applause to you.

  5. Daylily…My heart aches for you and your pain. May I say that you are NOT a bad daughter. You had bad things happen to you and have huge voids because of it.

    My mom also lived her life based on her needs. She ignored all the signs of my abuse and hotly denied it when I tried to tell her as an adult.

    I estranged myself from my parents for 12 years and I only recently saw her for the first time since July 2000. It was an amazing process and we both had considerable healing from it. But….she is still the same person and after our meeting, she cannot hear anything negative I have to say. It’s always got to be about what’s fun, new, happy and good.

    It is painful each time I speak truth. It’s bittersweet when she does listen because of all the times she didn’t. Oh the complications! I wish you peace and comfort as you work through this phase with your mom.

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