I have held a grudge against my biological mother for a long time. Wait, not a grudge… I’ve been indifferent to her. She didn’t hit me… no more than the typical spankings that most kids got in Arkansas in the 70’s and 80’s. I don’t have any harsh memories of her spankings. The last time she tried spanking me I remember I just stood there as she wailed on me with a measly fly-swatter, trying to elicit a reaction from me. I just stood there and took it, not feeling it. That was her last time. Her spankings always paled in comparison to my dad’s. His brought Old Testament fear. He rarely had to follow through on his threat of a spanking. He was a “one warning” guy.
Mom was a manipulator. I watch on the television as comedians make stereotypes of the Jewish mother that lays guilt upon her hard-working comedian son. It is a caricature and intended as a joke. My mom wasn’t like this. She was a sledgehammer some days, or a slow painful poison other days. She’d pick at your defenses. She’d let all things be well and then bring her trap down upon you. If you watched Roos Bolton toy with Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, that was her, only without the physical torture.
I’ve tried to remember a time that I felt comforted by her, when I knew she was truly comforting me and not setting me up. The last time I can remember is when I was in the third grade. At her behest to be bold I marched into another class at school and gave the prettiest girl in school some candy for Valentines Day. She was nice, but by lunch she chose another boy instead. It broke my heart and I remember sitting in the couch, crying, and mom comforting me. This is the last thing I remember. I know, or hope, there is more, when she wasn’t acting, but I cannot remember them.
I had some issues growing up as a kid. I was a bit different in some respects of which I am still greatly ashamed of. Mom had a big part in that shame. She cultivated it. But I will not say that I was abused. I had it lucky. I had books and toys and a farm to grow up on and explore. Christmas was never lacking for me, we did trips as a family, and more. I reject any notion that I was an abused kid. I had a great dad. But for decades I have harbored no love for my mom. No hatred either… Just an utter indifference to her plight. People who know me are surprised to hear this. I’m not sure how to answer, but I think it is where my attention to character comes from. To this day I will not waste my energy on people of poor character. My mother is such a person. She is dishonest, manipulative, hateful, and more.
Many times over the past 20 years I’ve wondered about sitting down and writing a letter to her. But I never do. I simply do not care. I had no desire to offer her anything, positive or negative. Why waste time on someone for whom I hold no regard? I knew what the great spiritual traditions taught, about forgiveness, and I searched inside myself for just such a motive. Nothing.
I have a couple of sides within me. There is one side that is the cultivated soldier. I can bring out great violence, if needed. That side of me is a cold, hard side. I am very intimate with it. There is another side where I am political. This side comes out often in the world around me where I often challenge the BS around me, especially in areas of racism, sexism, or some other cause for equality. I offend many people often as I loudly call out bullshit when I see it.
There is another side that was much stronger in the 90’s. I lost touch with it for a while but it is coming back, thanks to Stoicism and meditation. This side is a more clinical, yet humanistic, self. It is this self that, in the 90’s in college, I was questioning how to get treatment to pedophiles before they committed their acts. I thought that if we psychologists could show a more caring front we might invite more people to seek our treatment beforehand. Shame, I believed, only served to push people away. Love, or as Rogers referred to as positive regard, doesn’t mean acceptance of the act. This insight is, perhaps, a result of the lessons in shame that my mom gave me.
The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.
I have been growing as a person; therapy, marathons, Crossfit, good friends, good and meaningful work, pets, philosophy, psychology, a mustang, zen and meditation, and stoicism have helped in this. I am often reminded of something…
Begin each day by telling yourself : Today I will be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness–all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and what is evil.
A point made by the Stoics, and other philosophers, is that nobody does evil intentionally. This would take more time to explain, so I’ll refer you to this here. This is a cornerstone of Stoicism, and it is something that I’ve sorta believed at a shallow level since I first came upon it in some of Descartes writings over a decade ago when he discusses freedom and constraint of action as one learns more. It was a fascinating read. Still, as I get read Carl Rogers and positive regard These ideas are not incompatible. In fact, they have formed into a foundation for me. While I am vociferous in politics, inwardly as a philosopher and psychologist I am cultivating love and compassion. Instead of seeing Ted Cruz as the idiot it is so easy to see him as, I see him as a human with wants and needs and fears and etched pathways of emotional experiences. I wonder how Marcus Aurelius would meet him, or Ann Coulter, or Trump. Remembering the Stoic belief in the Logos and how sin is not living within this, or the idea that they don’t actually choose to be a putz (they are merely ignorant, not evil), I find myself with more patience with them.
Back to my mom. I was driving along in the Oregon sunshine and contemplating some thoughts along Stoicusn. A Beatles song came over my iPod, and I remembered my mom loved the Beatles. I could remember her sitting on the floor next to her big Fingerhut stereo, headphones on, listening to a Beatles album. And for a moment, in the theater of my mind, I did not see my mom. Instead I saw a young woman who was clueless about a great many things that I have learned through 10 years of college and 6 or 7 trips around the world. She was from a small town in Arkansas, with a past of her own, a human need to love and feel love, and here she was, seeking some comfort in a Beatles song. And for a moment I looked upon her memory in my mind with love. Not the love of a son, but the love of a human that recognizes another human, bruises and all. In that moment I forgave her for not being perfect, for teaching me about the landscape of shame and self-doubt.
Recently she has had a stroke and she, being old and poor health, for being an all around spiteful person adds years to ones body, she has had to retire and move into an assisted living home in Mississippi. I have a desire now to ensure that she has a record player and some Beatles albums. Perhaps she can, again, find some small solace. For I’m sure that for her it’s been a hard day’s night.