How to make others understand your pain

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Q. My mother is chronically depressed. As I was growing up, she made many suicide attempts and was in and out of the hospital all the time. My dad left her, but didn't take us kids with him. My growing up was a mess. Recently an aunt was visiting. She said that before depression was in my mom's life, she was a caring and attentive mom. I wanted to kick her. She has no idea about what I went through. How can I make her understand that my mom is a selfish witch who doesn't care about anyone but herself?

A. What a lot you have been through. It made you angry to think your aunt didn't get it: your life was made miserable by the way mental illness influenced your mom.

Sounds like depression turned your mom's thoughts away from you as a child. How awful it must have been to be a child, just wanting to be loved and cared for, and have depression take away your mom's ability to be there for anything but depression. And then there is the upheaval depression caused your dad leaving, and the things that happen for a child when a parent attempts suicide. It is not your fault that depression influenced your mom, but likely you were profoundly affected by it.

There are a number of ways to approach this with your aunt. Telling your aunt that she is full of baloney will likely only make her mad. She will stop listening, and she can't understand your point of view unless she is listening. Something like, "That was not my experience of her," or "That's what people tell me," will let your aunt know that you see things differently. It invites her to ask you more about how things were for you.

Another approach is to ask your aunt why she wanted you to know that. To do this, first recognize the anger within you. It is deep. You feel what you feel, and no one can take that away from you.

Imagine holding the intensity of that anger at bay for a bit, just long enough for you to find out the purpose of your aunt's comment. Maybe she really doesn't get it. Some people do have terminal blindness when it comes to the suffering of others.

Is it possible that she wants you to have another view of your mother: who she was before depression took over her life? Is she trying to tell you that you were a child loved by her mother before depression took over? Maybe she can't bear the thought of how depression has changed your mom. Without asking, you won't know.

Nothing can change the selfish and hurtful things that your mom has said or done, or the harsh realities of your life. And at the same time, your aunt may have seen her as a caring mom. Both of these realities, as diverse as they are, may exist at the same time. It does not make one more right than the other.

It is kind of like a person being blindfolded and being asked to describe an elephant. If they are at the trunk, they feel the trunk and know the elephant as that. If they are at a leg, they feel the leg and think that as what an elephant is. Both perspectives are correct. An elephant includes both aspects, and so much more, as well.

Approach your aunt with some curiosity about why she made that comment. If she doesn't get it would she like to? If she does get it, it's important to know that.

This is intense stuff. Notice how you react to it. Does it bring up more anger than you are comfortable with? Is it affecting your life? If talking with friends or other relatives does not relieve this, it may be helpful to consult a professional counsellor.

Depression hurts the person it is influencing, as well their family. It has hurt you. You deserve to feel better.

Consult a Counsellor is provided by the Registered Clinical Counsellors who own and operate Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Lynore Harrington and Leslie Wells.