Time Traveler’s Oath, Part II: no one tells me things are OK anymore

(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.


6 Replies to “Time Traveler’s Oath, Part II: no one tells me things are OK anymore”

  1. You ARE okay, ya know.

    I quite envy you your previous relationship with your mom on several levels. While it’ll never be the same again… I bet, if there is enough time, you could end up with something pretty interesting in the way of mother/daughter.

    Then again, what a hypocrite I am. I have a shit relationship with my mom, in just about every meaningful way to measure. Have a hard time letting go of some pretty crappy things she’s done. Have a hard time wanting to be around her, other than the most superficial ways… small talk at Thanksgiving, a gift for her Birthday etc…

    And the crappy things she’s done? relatively petty. I think. I actually don’t know how bad they are on the scale of familial infractions. I just know they have left me feeling windy in my midsection. Bereft.

    Mother daughter stuff feels complicated, and that makes me sad when I consider my own daughters growing up and giving me the emotional silent treatment. Bleah.

  2. great shirt, but my opinion really should not matter 😉
    I am reading Brene Brown right now and I am struggling but enjoying the struggle.
    Thanks for the update!

  3. Thank you, Susan. What a lovely idea!


    Jenny – Hahaha, thanks! Me too 🙂


    dear bon,

    Thank you for the good thoughts. Rightbackatcha on hugs and good thoughts for you about your mom. What you said about not knowing how ‘bad’ the crappy things are gets me right in the gut. I tend to think what my mom did was not so bad, but at the same time, it was bad enough I’m pissed about it years later. What really scares me is this clip I remember seeing with Michael Jackson talking about getting beaten by his father, and how it wasn’t really that bad, another brother got it worse, and the dad probably didn’t realize the kids were scared. As the viewer, I thought, how can he not realize getting beaten with an electrical cord or being so scared you throw up is squarely in the abuse category? But I think it must be a common thing, to not know. After all, kids are wired to rely on adults for survival, so maybe it’s just hard to get past the basic operating instructions.

    What you said about mother-daughter stuff SCARES THE SHIT out of me. I’m working up to posting about it, but tl;dr — how am I going to bear facing up to my own mistakes? This is on my Top 5 list of long-term fears, the other slots filled with stuff like dying too early or getting dementia.


    Hi Anna,

    Aw, thanks! Me learning to be self-sufficient =/= your opinion doesn’t matter!! 🙂 Thanks for the Brene Brown heads-up, and thank you for being here for me.

  4. You have done SO WELL, holy crap. I am admiring you from a distance so damn hard right now.

    I have similar worries about my kids too. Not so much with the things that are clearly, obviously, me being awful to them. I just hate myself for those, know I’ve messed up my poor kids for life, I try not to do those things again, and I move on!

    But with the in between stuff it’s really hard sometimes. The things where I know I’m allowed to ask them for some alone time to relax, or I know it’s okay for me to be a bit angry that they haven’t done (whatever task) that I asked them clearly to do. My feelings are valid, yeah, but what if they’re feeling like shit about something that I haven’t noticed, and that Scars Them For Life (TM) because their mother didn’t even NOTICE they were upset about whatever it was? What if they have a learning disability or hearing problems that I’m not even aware of, and I’m making it even harder for them to cope with this and they feel stupid for making me mad? What if I’m really being unreasonable by expecting X from my mildly autistic daughter at the same level as I expect it from the other two? What if I’m being unreasonable to the other two by letting her off something BECAUSE she’s autistic?

    I remember things with my mother, that on looking back, I can see were her being entirely reasonable but I took it the wrong way (e.g. she made a comment about grief when our cat died, re me, and I thought it was a shot at me but I think it wasn’t intended that way at all). Or she was angry but I felt like I deserved it, and later on I compared that thing mentally to other families I’m aware of and realised that what she did as punishment was actually quite freaking severe.

    There were many times when I know she felt justified in being angry at me / punishing me, and I had no damn clue. I don’t mean the times when I was a bit wilfully blind (“I want you to offer to make dinner” vs “I’ll do it if you ask me to!”). I mean the times when she went off her head at me and I honestly hadn’t realised that I was doing something wrong / was not doing something that I was supposed to be doing.

    I fret like ANYTHING about that re my kids. Because I feel like I’m being reasonably consistent and open with them, but what if I’m not? What if they truly have no clue sometimes?

    Gee it’s fun being a parent.

    I am really damn impressed with you for following through on this really damn hard thing you’ve done, and finding a way to be okay with other people not excommunicating those relatives. It was obviously, *obviously* the right decision for you.

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