“I am the captain of my soul.” William Ernest Henley
I am watching and listening and remembering. I was older than you when I discovered that it was within my power to be the person I wanted to be. It had nothing to do with being rich or famous. It had everything to do with understanding that the actions and reactions of other people needn’t define me.
My decision had to do with my mother. I began to recognize myself as an adult teenager. I wanted everything from her that I had always lacked. I wanted her to change and be the mother I had always dreamed of and thought I needed. Involuntarily I spoke out (sometimes audibly and sometimes in my head) in defiance and denial of any good thing said about her.
At the same time, I was playing the role of the dutiful daughter. I would visit her, take her for rides, and do all of the things children do with elderly parents. And I begrudged every minute of it. I was resistant to all of her manipulations and I probably made her pay dearly for each “loving” act of kindness I performed for her. I was not a person I could admire.
It was clarity about who I had become that changed me. I knew that I MUST treat Mom in a way that the person I wanted to be would treat a mother. It wasn’t only because of my love for her but because I wanted to love myself.
It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy. I would visit her for a weekend, be conscious, loving and accepting. I would comfort her insecurities, commiserate with her pain over long past hurts, and listen without defensiveness to her feelings of abandonment. Then I would travel home with tears blurring my vision as if I were driving in the rain without windshield wipers. I would ache with the knowledge of our history as she saw it.
So I acknowledge your pain on this journey. Because your decision to take the high road doesn’t ensure that the difficult relationships in your life will become less difficult. People may still lash out at you. They will judge you through their own filters of your common history. The change in you won’t be clearly visible to everyone. It is a subtle transformation that may take years to be recognized by others.
And the self-talk doesn’t go away. Imaginary conversations continue in your head: justifying your own behavior, crying out for understanding or hoping to badger your nemeses into receptiveness. You want them to feel your compassion through the wall of armor that has protected each of you through the years, but the walls don’t crumble easily.
It will be worth the effort.
In the years before she died I learned to care about Mom and want the best for her. I understood that she loved me as much as she was capable of loving. My acceptance of her allowed her to be my mother at last. My acceptance of her changed me, too.
I can’t guarantee transformation in your relationships. But I can guarantee that you will be successful in changing who you are and how you view your world. You are on your way to becoming a woman who is sure in her ability to be her best self.