The sting of invalidation

Today a photo of my Mum came up on my twitter feed. She is involved in something in the local community and a public figure I follow had ‘liked’ it. It was a bit of a shock seeing her, and brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings that I am glad I will have the opportunity of sharing and processing with K tomorrow in my session. She is smiling. She looks happy. She looks ‘normal’. She looks like my Mum. I know that underneath it all she isn’t ‘fine’ and never has been, but she does look like a regular person. It makes me question why I don’t see her, how it can have been that bad, whether I made it all up. And it makes me feel sad that she is living and getting on with her life, even though she doesn’t see me or Nina anymore. I know this is illogical – I don’t want her to be hurting and hiding away from the world, I don’t want her to have not accepted my decision and to be hounding me to reconsider or trying to get at Nina in other ways, I don’t want her to be suffering. It still hurts, though, because she has let me go. I am her daughter and she has let me go. I know if she hadn’t, if she was trying to get in touch, it would have been completely horrific, and I know it’s so much more complex than being because she doesn’t care, but it still hurts that she let us both go. I guess part of her knows how bad it was for me and how awful and confusing her behaviour was for Nina, even as her denial weaves a tight and almost-impenetrable barrier around her.

It is sunny today. Spring-like. Aside from the uneasy knowledge that seems to sit with me nearly all the time now that we are heading for climate change apocalypse (we have 11 years to avoid the worst affects now), it is nice to have sunshine and warmth. It helped give me energy and avoid  falling into a hole. Or pulled me out of a hole I guess as the past 5 days have been really hard and energy has been in short supply. I went out on my bike – the first hilly ride of the year and it was beautiful. I felt strong and like I could have gone for miles (which is a change from how cycling usually is at this time of year because I’ve been going to cycling classes at the gym this winter and doing HIIT and virtual trips in front of the big screen) and it has shifted things definitely and given me some perspective. Cycling outside in the countryside when it is sunny always boosts me. I love it so much and if I could I would cycle all day every day.

The worst part was I stopped off to get my Dad to look at something that was rubbing on my bike. I stupidly told him about seeing the photo of my Mum (when will I learn not to turn to him when I am vulnerable?) and he actually said ‘ah, whatevs’. I mean, really!! How is that anything that a parent should be? It stings. It invalidates. It minimises. It makes me feel small and invisible and ashamed and not entitled to have feelings at all. His contempt pours down around me at moments like that. I will never stop seeing my Dad, but seeing clearly how he is now really enables me to see how the combination of both my parents well and truly fucked me up when it comes to being able to feel emotions without dissociating and feeling like a totally worthless person for feeling anything at all. Even excitement has always been met with contempt and ‘foreboding joy’ where he pours dampener over everything good and warns me things will probably go wrong. The combination of my Mum’s abuse instilling intolerable feelings in me which were then met with ridicule, silence or contempt by my Dad is a fucking toxic mixture.

As I said, I will always see my Dad, and I definitely share so much less with him now than I did when I started therapy, but I will be glad when he is less involved in my life because Nina is older, because I rarely leave any interaction with him feeling good about myself. It still baffles me that he would be completely unable to even see that it might be painful for me to see my Mum out of the blue and know she is just getting on with her life. He painted her as a monster decades ago now and has nothing but impatience and contempt for her, but the reality is so much more complicated than that. She is damaged and hurting and mentally ill. And even if she was a complete monster with no humanity at all – it would still hurt that she is my Mum. I get that he can’t understand, that he is limited as a human being because he has almost no cognitive or affective empathy, and so he doesn’t hurt me or invalidate me intentionally. It is just hard seeing how limited he is, how lacking in compassion he is – for me and her. My sister and I often say how if both of our Dad’s (we’re half sisters) had been a little kinder and more understanding of her she may have been able to get help before it was too late.

Anyway, I am glad I can write this out, that I can understand now what happens to me when he behaves like that and how it taps into all the old hurt. And I can understand how complex the thoughts and feelings are around my Mum now and I don’t need to act on them. The worst part is thinking I am crazy for not seeing her and having to go back to all the awful times over the first 34 years of my life to prove to myself I am not and that there was really no alternative but complete estrangement. Looking back hurts but sometimes it is the only way of validating myself and the future I have chosen for Nina and I.

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