“All forward motion disappoints someone.” ~ Seth Godin
Question from a reader re Why Rehashing The Past Doesn’t Work:
“What if my mother doesn’t understand that I am moving on from the dynamic and her feelings are hurt? It’s hard to choose myself.”
So often we put ourselves in a painful no-win, either/or scenario:
EITHER you give in and do what she wants and feel angry and resentful, OR you do what you want (choose yourself) and feel guilty and regretful.
What else might be true?
- Choosing yourself doesn’t (have to) mean rejecting your mother.
- Choosing yourself is a loving thing to do and by their very nature, loving things can’t be hateful, mean, nasty things.
There’s a big difference between, for example, saying, “I’m not rehashing the past with you because you’re petty and it’s beneath me” (name calling, dehumanizing, shaming) and choosing yourself and establishing a healthy boundary, which may result in her feeling disappointed because of thoughts she has about herself.
AND? I’m not going to lie…it can feel pretty shitty to know someone else is disappointed in you or that their feelings are hurt.
You have a nervous system that perceives that it might be dangerous if your mother is disappointed.
Enter people-pleasing (also known as Fawn, the fourth “F” in the “Fight, Flight, Freeze” sequence) as a way to avoid FODO.
“Fawn is a trauma response, based in cortisol and/or adrenaline, in which our own needs might be abandoned in order to lessen the impact the perceived threat or stress. … someone with a fawn response tends towards self-abandonment to keep themselves safe.“ ~ Lindsay Braman in How We Fight, Flight, Freeze & Fawn in Difficult Conversations: Adapting A Learning Mindset.
This means that people-pleasing isn’t something you intentionally or consciously decide to do. It’s not a personality flaw.
Even so, we tend to shame ourselves for our trauma responses.
Even more effective is simply to love herself because she’s scared.
It reminded me of two not-so-distant situations of my own: #1 the time my dentist told me I needed to get a root canal and I went to a root canal specialist and I cried because I was so terrified, and #2 the time my orthopedist told me I needed a cortisone shot in my shoulder and I cried because I was so terrified.
So we did it together:
Old story: I’m being ridiculous (and see how innocent that sounds?)
The new story isn’t that I am unafraid of root canals or cortisone shots, or that she is unafraid to get the COVID-19 test.
The new story is that neither of us were ridiculous to begin with.
You are not ridiculous. You’re human.
So, how can you choose yourself and move on from dynamics or behavior you no longer want to be involved in?
Be willing to let her be disappointed. You can love yourself, and you can love her (if you want to), no matter what she thinks or feels.
Much, much love,
Reveal patterns. Heal shame. Honor boundaries. Transform legacies.
P.S. In the Mother Lode, we work on increasing the capacity/regulation of your nervous system using simple, doable techniques that don’t require a lot of time (I’m talking 15 seconds to five minutes). It’s not about never being triggered, it’s about creating resources and the knowledge that you are far from alone if you find yourself experiencing one of the Four Fs.
NOTE: If you are processing significant, current emotional or physical trauma, you’re better served working with a trauma specialist or therapist.