One of the first questions I ask women when they tell me about the troubled relationship they have with their mother is…
How do you want to feel?
A lot of times the answer is: “I want to feel neutral.”
When I ask, “why neutral?” the response is usually…
Because I’m tried of feeling angry, sad, defensive, frustrated, annoyed, guilty, ashamed…[insert the “negative” emotion of your choice here].
They want to know if I can help them feel neutral.
I could try, but “neutral” isn’t an emotion. It’s a lack of emotion like indifference or apathy.** I understand why you might want to feel this way because I used to want to feel neutral in regards to my mother.
But when I dug a little deeper, I realized the reason I wanted to feel neutral is because I was afraid to feel “positive” in relation to her. I thought my “negative” emotions protected me from her, that she didn’t deserve a “positive” emotion from me, and that, if I felt a “positive” emotion, she’d take advantage of me.
In other words, I didn’t have any boundaries.
Because negative emotions aren’t boundaries.
Negative emotions don’t “do” anything other than make you feel…chronically bad. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you should never feel anger or sadness or any other emotion. I am asking how you want to feel on a regular basis, knowing that how you feel is going to inform how you show up – not just in your relationship with her – but in the rest of your life.
What I CAN help you do is feel confident so you can set healthy boundaries with her. I can help you feel powerful. I can help you feel assertive.
And when you have healthy boundaries, you get to feel all kinds of other amazing emotions like calm, relief, autonomy, equanimity, joy, pride, love, and compassion.
And your mother won’t be taking advantage of you because you will have healthy, appropriate boundaries that feel good.
So, no, I won’t help you feel neutral because you’ve got an amazing life to live and “neutral” won’t help you get there. Confident, powerful, and assertive will.
Much, much love,
(**Additional clarification: thoughts and feelings are so closely intertwined and they inform and influence each other. Perception of emotion is our brain interpreting what the body feels, so perception is thought, not emotion. In my writing I like to distinguish between the emotion itself (with its literal feeling in the body) and the action taken in response to the literal feeling in the body. I am not saying neutrality is bad or that we can’t or shouldn’t cultivate it, but I believe it to be more of a state of mind than a state of emotion.)