(I spent the morning searching my archives for my post(s) about the hardest part of excommunicating The Exes – how it damaged my relationship with my mom. I’m pretty sure there was at least one post about how desperate I became for someone to tell me I was OK, but I can’t seem to find it now. However, this post is in response to that…. apparently non-existing one. You’re welcome!)
Growing up, (and holy crap, I guess ‘growing up’ in this circumstance means from birth until my late thirties) my mom was the person who assured me things were OK. I would tell her all my fears and dejections, my worries and hopes, and she would help me sort them out and assure me that win or lose, she was proud of me. It was the best feeling in the world. In the whole, wide, chaotic universe, someone saw the real me, and approved.
When I cut out The Exes, I knew I couldn’t ever ask my mom’s approval again. And that’s because I realized I trusted her more than I trusted myself.
Does this shirt look good? What do you think about this paint color for the bathroom? Did I make the right decision about putting my toddler in daycare for so many hours? My kid’s outwitted me in this minor parenting situation and I could really use some advice.
Not that I was above going against her suggestions, only that having a second opinion on everything gave me a sense of solidarity.
When I told her my reasons for cutting The Exes out, my mother didn’t seem to understand any of them. She couldn’t apply the general (I never want to see them again) to specific future events (I don’t want to see them for holidays, for funerals, or in six months when ‘this all blows over.’) She had a hard time understanding why her sympathetic retelling of The Exes’ childhoods didn’t change my decision. A chasm opened up between us, in which I could no longer trust her judgment (And Holyfuckeroonies, the HORROR of realizing I’d been trusting her judgment, and it was totally fucked-up flawed, and I’d trusted it, and OMIGOD), and she couldn’t accept mine.
On my side, I couldn’t separate out that just because I never wanted to see The Exes again, my mother was entitled to continue her relationship with them. I was enraged at her betrayal of inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner two months after I’d cut them out. We’re talking Daffy Duck, shit-shouting, red-faced and falling to the floor whilst kicking my feet. Classy, I know.
With time, (and honestly, with several people saying in concerned/disbelieving tones, ‘Hey Natalie, you can’t control what other people do… you know that, right?’) I quit my banshee wailing, accepted I might have a boundary issue with my mom, and stopped demanding everyone excommunicate The Exes just because I did. Lesson learned! … over a period of perhaps eighteen months, ten sessions with a therapist, and after being righteously (but secretly) pissed for a good long while even after I said I was over it.
And here we are, finally, at the update for people tracking the continuing +/- of excommunicating relatives:
I had about six months in which I had near-physical cravings for approval. This was co-morbid with a deep fear and suspicion of ever relying on anyone else’s approval again. My husband found this CHARMING. Just kidding. I imagine he found my seething insecurity quite annoying. But hey, I didn’t come with a warranty, so he was pretty much stuck with me.
This followed with another six months of anxiety and depression, and the general fear that I lived an invisible, unexamined and therefore kind of meaningless life.
On the plus side, I’ve felt increasingly less anxious over time. Constantly seeking approval is also to constantly invite anxiety. Always asking if I’m good enough risks discovering I’m not. It’s not that I’ve learned to tell myself I’m good enough so much as I’ve just stopped asking. Good or not, I am what I am, and this is what I’m doing. It does feel less examined, and difficult to understand the whole of my life in the context of the everyday.
And wow, that’s pretty abstract. To illustrate, I might think, “Does this shirt look good?” and I honestly don’t know the answer, and there’s no one to ask. But I’ve got to wear something, and this shirt is here. So on it goes, and we are done with that question.
Two years ago, I might have fretted all day, uncomfortable in the risk of wearing something potentially ugly-assed or ill fitting, even if I were reasonably reassured by my own judgment it was fine. Conversely, I’d likely be brought to waves of glowing happiness by a stranger’s compliment. I’m not sure how to explain how it is now, except there’s a lack of anxiety and also perhaps a lack of growth: I may never get a sense of whether any of the shirts look good, but hey: It’s a shirt. If you don’t like it, there’ll be another one tomorrow.
Hey, you like my shirt?
LOL, just kidding. I like this shirt.