Turning Passive Into Active
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 5, 2013
Katrina, fifty-five, is tortured, by her account, by her seventy-five year old mother. She feels criticized, judged, and demeaned by every conversation, which occurs daily and Katrina initiates. In turn, Katrina treats her younger sister, Ashley, age fifty, in the same way that her mother treats her. This awareness of turning passive into active gives Katrina unbearable guilt and pain. “I feel worse than when I walked in,” she says, as if I am going to feel guilty about that, in the way that she feels guilty about how she treats Ashley. “Of course, you do,” I say, compassionately understanding that with insight can come pain and self-criticism. “When we don’t think about our behavior, when we deny our impact on others, we avoid guilt,” I say, stating the obvious, yet not obvious in the moment, that self-reflection is not always flattering. The feeling of helplessness and victimization is so paralyzing, that commonly, we, as humans, try to turn the situation around, even if that means we do what we hate is being done to us. The need to be active instead of passive trumps the need to be a compassionate person. Katrina is an empathic person, just not to Ashley, as it has been her pattern, over her lifetime, that to cope with her mother’s dismay, she attacks Ashley. Ashley, in turn, according to Katrina, has low self-esteem, and as such, has “never made much of herself,” leading Katrina feeling responsible for Ashley’s “dismal” existence. Katrina is in a difficult bind. If she accepts her behavior towards Ashley, she “cannot forgive” herself. If she acknowledges the pain her mother causes her, in a way in which she deeply understands her childhood wounds, then she fears resenting her mother, as her mother approaches the end of her life. In response to this dilemma, Katrina lapses into denial and calls her mother daily with the hope that the interaction will be positive, even though it never is. Likewise, she speaks with Ashley, hoping that Ashley will groom herself for a career, but once again, Ashley’s life does not change much. “With understanding can come forgiveness,” I say, reminding her that her bad feelings can be a journey towards repair. “It is too hard,” Katrina says, with a frustrated and unsettled tone. “Yes, it is very hard,” I say, changing the word “too” to “very” with the hope that this important distinction can start her on this challenging climb out of despair.