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May 04, 2009

Burdening the Victim

By nature and profession, I solve problems, optimize, improve outcomes.  I create options, suggest new perspectives, and -- maybe most importantly when I'm doing it right -- I ask people to hope for higher things.

Most of the time, these things are good.

And sometimes, they're not at all what's wanted or needed.

Sometimes, what's wanted or needed is simple listening.  Or support for a choice I wouldn't have made, myself.  Or some other thing that isn't a suggestion. 

I remember this on occasion.  And not nearly enough.

Today, Carolyn Hax sent me a reminder:


By Carolyn Hax
Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dear Carolyn:

My significant other and I are both in our early 50s. We are very much in love. My future mother-in-law probably suffers from borderline personality disorder and my SO no longer wishes to relate to her.

I can understand why some may classify her as borderline. She didn't nurture her daughter. Instead, family life consisted of complaining, one way or another, that the responsibilities of raising her little daughter ruined her life. When she heard her daughter may have finally met her soul mate (me), her reaction was to complain that my SO was abandoning her.

My future father-in-law spent most of his career traveling and now has Alzheimer's. I have asked my SO to at least be civil and call her family once in a while. Her father may be in la-la land, but perhaps he has some lucid moments when a call from his daughter might be appreciated. But that means her mother will pick up the phone, and my SO is adamant about avoiding her and not feeling guilty about it, and does not need me to resurrect the issue.

Of course I did not have to walk in her shoes growing up, but I see her mother not as an evil witch, but as a pathetic and lonely 82-year-old woman. Any thoughts?

Compassionate Observer

Yes, Compassionate Observer. Please ask yourself: compassionate to whom?

You don't seem to doubt "Sarah" ("SO" is s-o dreary) -- you accept her account of her childhood as true. She was emotionally abused.

And since that's such a detached, clinical description of what your beloved lived through, let's imagine Sarah as a little girl. Now let's tell this little Sarah she's a complete waste of her mother's time.

You say this mother complained of ruin "one way or the other," so, to be accurate, let's also tell our little-girl Sarah that she . . . ruined Mother's figure . . . killed Mother's dreams . . . kept Mother from having any fun . . . cost money that Mother wanted to spend on herself . . . in other words, let's tell Sarah that her feelings, her dreams, her very presence, are worth less than even the most trivial things her mother had to sacrifice for her.

The Sarah I envision is 5 or 6 -- cognizant yet childlike -- but to be even more accurate, let's start calling our little Sarah worthless when she's too young to understand, then pelt her unrelentingly for half a century.

Now, I repeat my question: compassionate to whom?

It is possible, of course, the mother herself was subjected to such abuse. Showing compassion is not a zero-sum game.

However, you made your case to Sarah that the woman she sees as an evil witch is also "a pathetic and lonely 82-year-old woman" -- and that her father (who, by the way, completely failed to protect his own child) would appreciate a call when he's lucid. For Sarah's sake, to help her screen her decision for future guilt or regrets, these were fine arguments to make. Once.

Sarah has not only rejected your (apparently) repeated appeals but also asked you not to "resurrect the issue."

So here's my appeal: Someone who claims the "soul mate" title ought to be gentle with her soul. Stop backing the horse that trampled the person you love.

I hope they won't mind me copying this article in full text.  In case it helps, let me encourage you to click the link which includes a clever cartoon.

12:30 AM | Permalink


you can't imagine how far to the core this reaches and poignantly placed thanks to synchronicity...

Posted by: me | May 6, 2009 10:51:31 PM

thanks for reminding me how much I like Carolyn Hax.

Posted by: Sarah O | May 7, 2009 8:01:58 AM