This is a story about my relationship with my mother, the problems she was experiencing, how I thought to resolve those problems, and what happened in the end. I should start by explaining that although I loved my Mother very much, she was not an easy person to live with. She exhibited all kinds of strange behaviours I didn’t understand at the time, and it was only much later I came to realise those behaviours could be characterised as Neurotic.
I’m not a psychiatrist so that’s not a formal clinical diagnosis, but it was certainly the impression I was left with after living with her for many years. When I (later) looked up the term, I found Neurosis is defined as “a relatively mild mental illness that is not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality” (as distinct from ‘Psychosis’ whereby the sufferer looses the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not).
My mother certainly displayed many of the characteristics of Neurosis listed above. For example, she always seemed to be ill and suffering from a variety of things that could never quite be pinned down, or ever got significantly worse (hypochondria). Likewise much of her behaviour was about controlling her world and ensuring she was always the perceived victim (obsessive behaviour). She was adept at manipulating me and others around by re-interpreting (and even reconstructing) events in a manner that suited her preferred vision. She always managed to cast herself as the poor, weak, (and usually unloved) old woman. She was never happy (depression) and continually complained about how people were inconsiderate of her needs, and even sometimes how they were deliberately ‘out to get’ her (anxiety).
She frequently exhibited a classic symptom described in psychology as the ‘Double Bind’ (as I later learned). This is where two opposing communications are provided at the same time making the recipient confused and uncertain. A simple example of a ‘double bind’ would be when I would ask mother how she was feeling, she would reply, ‘I am fine dear’, but this was said in a feeble and faltering voice indicating she was anything but fine. The double-bind tends to be used as a tacit strategy for keeping others off balance and maintaining control of situations. Many times my mother would say something (verbally) whilst clearly indicating (in a non-verbal manner) she didn’t believe what she was saying (another example was her frequent suggestion after dinner that ‘I’ll do the washing-up today dear’, whilst making it visibly clear she was struggling to lift herself up from her seat). This strategy would make her appear ‘brave and noble’, whilst at the same time making it obvious she was ill and suffering, and I should feel sorry for her.
To be frank my bloody Mother used to drive me up the wall! I spent years of my life trying to help and support her but nothing I did seemed to make any difference. She seemed ‘stuck’ in a time and place in her life, and my role was exclusively to listen to her troubles and take the blame. Don’t get me wrong, as I said I loved my mother very dearly, and all I ever wanted to do was help her and make her life easier, but I couldn’t seem to no matter how hard I tried. If was as if her neurotic behaviour served some purpose and she didn’t want to or didn’t know how to let it go.