That might not be as easy an answer as you may think, should we have anger or empathy towards a toxic parent? Or another person in our life for that matter who we could consider toxic?
If you would have asked me this question before the recent realizations and subsequent work in dealing with my mother, I would have told you that easily the answer is anger, resentment, and hostility.
There is part of me that struggles a bit with whether I should I feel empathy for her, or not. There’s that damn guilty feeling that I can’t get rid of. It’s not an easy thing to deal with because it presents such a conflict.
So here’s where I am coming from with this. I just finished writing up a letter to my mother that covered two therapy sessions. One of those letters you write but don’t intend to ever send. I could have done it one a letter of this magnitude is not something you rush through. It takes time to sit with the feelings and emotions that run so deep.
In that letter I mention how I am angry, resentful, and hurt by the fact that she told my story of abuse to anyone at all, much less telling more than 1 person. It hurts me that she would share something so private, so personal, so earth-shatteringly terrible, and put me through that.
Whether or not she meant any harm is beside the point. That was my story to tell when I was ready. I mean how can you not have the common sense to keep something like that yourself and realize how hurtful it would be to publicize those tragic events?
I’m angry that she ever found out in the first place, partly because I don’t remember how she found out. Did I tell her, what frame of mind was in and how old was I? Did the therapist I saw back then for a short amount of time tell her, and if so she had ZERO right to do so.
However she found out she should not have shared it! Those are questions I don’t know if I want the answers too now or if I ever will, but I know it fuels some serious rage towards her and that therapist back then. It’s a wonder I ever had the guts to seek out therapy again in early 2015, but I’m glad I did.
I also have anger towards my mother for the invalidation during my years of being bullied, and the lack of a relationship that she had with either of my spouses during those times of marriage. I was always on the defensive in support of myself and my family in the wake of her relentless judgmental attitude.
So I can see where the anger emotion is valid but is there an empathy emotion that I should be exploring instead?
Should I feel empathy and think that she didn’t mean harm to me intentionally by telling however many people she did? Maybe she needed support and someone to talk to since it had to be hard for her finding out that her youngest son was sexually abused by a teenager.
Perhaps she just didn’t (and still doesn’t) realize how much it would hurt me? After all she never physically abused me. Is it better to look at this with that mindset, would that help me heal more efficiently? Feel free to comment, please!
If you knew my mother and thought of her the way so many people do in the church and in her circle of friends, you’d likely gravitate towards the empathy side. I was pretty certain that if I ever spoke of this to my siblings, they would not even remotely believe me.
As it turns out though, having spoken to one of them, I was pleasantly surprised at the validation and understanding that I received.
So why do I have this guilty conscience then so often? Am I really just so nice of a guy that I should just brush this under the rug? Should I just resign myself to the fact that this is just how my mothers is, and move on and not let it bother me?
So many questions that don’t have any cookie cutter answers. After writing this and spending some time reflecting on how I feel, I can tell you that I’m not ready to play the empathy card yet. I don’t know if I ever will, but I suppose I won’t completely rule it out.
Either way, I have to learn to be OK with either decision.
I’m pretty satisfied with feeling this anger and resentment at this point. I’ve never gotten the chance to express and embrace that side of me before in virtually any circumstance. It’s important to spend some time processing the resentment, and understand how it makes me feel.
I have no idea how long it will take until I come to grips with a decision. Either let this go and move on with life, accepting what I can’t change; or hang on to the resentment and build up my boundaries against her to the point of not seeing her at all. At this point, I rarely see her at it is anyways.
The answer will lie in a combination of radical acceptance and healthy boundaries if I’m willing to embrace it.