It’s All About the Parents

by Loolwa Khazzoom • June 26, 2010 • Family Secrets

Both of my parents, each in their own way, have a tendency to make stuff all about them. And it’s twisted, because their distress is often wrapped around their supposed concern for my well-being – which, ironically, itself compromises my well-being.

I end up distracted from taking care of myself, because I’m busy taking care of them. Or I end up even more stressed out than I was initially, because on top of everything else, I actively have to push back against their smothering or controlling behavior.

My parents need me to need them. In the case of my father, he needs me to need exactly what he offers, the way he offers it, regardless of whether it’s even in the ball park of what might actually help me. Heaven forbid I politely decline his offer of assistance. Then I have to deal with all his anger and drama and misery, because he feels personally rejected.

Let’s not even get into whether he will ever once respond favorably to what I actually need from him.

In the case of my mother, if she is not able to give me what I need at the time I need it, heaven forbid I should hang up the phone and take care of my needs elsewhere. Suddenly she’s all red alert, as if I need to be put on suicide watch. It is off the hook. What ends up happening is that I not only have to deal with whatever I am dealing with, but I also have to take care of my mom’s freak-out.

For starters, the dynamic triggers an emotional reaction to years of her crazy behavior, when I was upset and needing space as a kid. I would run to my room and lock the door. My mom would come pounding after me. She would stand on the other side of the door, screaming and wailing and coming damn near close to banging down the door. She would alternate that behavior with writing and slipping 10-20 notes underneath, begging me to let her in. Of course, the more she went at it, the more I needed to hide.

In addition to triggering old stuff, my mom’s freak-out crosses my boundaries in present time. In the case where I’m upset at something my mom said or did, the last thing I want to do is have to assure her that everything is OK. But if I don’t call and do that, my mom’s freak-out will escalate. I will get multiple emails, text messages, and/or home phone messages.

The more my mom’s freak-out will escalate, the more my own stress will escalate, because I will be poignantly aware of her distress. I will get reminders every which way I turn. I acutely and physically will feel what she is going through. Rather than focusing on what I need to do to take care of myself, I will end up worrying about her worrying about me. It will take over my consciousness.

So when my mom crosses my boundaries, it’s less of an energy drain and violation to just do what she wants – ie, call her — and get it over with. It’s a setup.

My mom always has said that when I was six, she could have dropped me in the middle of Manhattan, and I was so smart and resourceful that I would have been fine on my own. Her behavior, however, regularly indicates that if she doesn’t run to my rescue, something horrific will happen. Talk about interfering with someone’s mojo. I actively have to protect myself from her inadvertently psyching me out or jinxing me.

Today I was experiencing some generalized existential angst. I called my mom, and when she answered, it was clear she had been sleeping. My mom sleeps on and off throughout the day and night, so there are no right and wrong times to contact her. For general conversations, I don’t mind speaking with her when she is sleepy, but in this particular instance, I needed her to be fully alert for the conversation.

So when she confirmed that she had been sleeping, I said that I would talk to her later. I promptly hung up, without waiting for her to respond, because I knew she was going to get into a protracted protest about wanting to “be there for me,” despite the fact that I had not even said why I had called. I didn’t want to subject myself to that behavior. Sure enough, I heard my mom pleading, “No, no, I can talk!” as I got off the phone.

Being that just a couple of days earlier, we had our umpteenth, yet this time seemingly effective, conversation about how my mom needs to stop getting all OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) on me, I had hoped that maybe on this occasion, my mom would just let things be. But she called me back right away on my cell (I didn’t answer), and when I got home, there was a message waiting on my home phone: “I know that you don’t want me to call, but you called me from your cell, and given the circumstances, I think this call is justified and not an instance of being paranoid.”

Circumstances? What circumstances? That I called from my cell? That she could hear in my voice that I was upset? Ergo, send the cavalry?

The ridiculous thing about all this is that my mom’s worry is completely ineffective at responding to anything if it were in fact happening. The other night, for example, I called my mom because my heart was in pain (literally), and I was feeling frightened. I had already gone to the doctor, who had informed me that the only thing that could be done was a stress test – which essentially would check out my heart during exercise. Since my heart has been hurting around the clock – ie, when I’m not exercising — that seems kind of pointless to me.

Anyhow, so I was sharing with my mom that I think my heart pain has been caused by the skyrocketed stress I’ve been feeling with regards to some recent drama my dad pulled on me. My mom’s response made me feel worse, so I told her I wanted to go. She said OK, and I hung up the phone. When I woke up the next day, there were three messages on my voicemail, a text on my cell phone, and one or more emails, all from my mom. I deleted them all without reading or listening, and just straightaway texted my mom that I was ok.

As it turned out, my mom hadn’t gotten back to sleep that night, because she was all worried about me. But here’s the thing: If the situation was in fact dire enough to be that concerned, why not do something about it – like call the police or an ambulance? Aside from which, being that I calmly said, “I’m going to go now,” how was that in any way an indication that something horrific had happened or was going to happen? Why must I stay on the phone as long as my mom wants, or leave a conversation the way she wants, for her not to go into crisis mode? It’s disconnected from the reality of what is actually going on for me.

In writing this, I realize that the reason I don’t just let my mom suffer from an extended anxiety attack (ie, give her some “tough love” and refuse to call back) is not just because of compassion but because of concern that she might work herself into such a tizzy that she’ll end up with a heart attack or not pay attention to what she’s doing and, as a result, injure herself. I recognize that my response to my mom in a way parallels her response to me. Perhaps it’s just bad training that I got from her.

Or perhaps, being that my mom has severe ADD and an anxiety disorder, and being that at these times, it is clear that she is very actively going nutso with distress (ie, I’m not just imagining the possibility), it’s a highly realistic scenario. I certainly don’t want to take that chance and let her worry herself into the grave. So I feel trapped.

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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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