I feel like I have lost connection to "the cosmos" or to God or the "Sage" as Carol Anthony calls the higher power in her phenomenal book A Guide to the I Ching.
Why? As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I am living in Florida for the winter with my 84 year old mother. I am not around people who live the spirit here. Most of the people in this "Village" where my Mom lives are practical midwesterners. Most of them attend christian churches in the area and would consider themselves connected to God, I expect. But that is different from the "Spiritual, but not religious" option that Match.com lists.
My mom claims to believe in something but I can't figure out what that belief is. Today she couldn't find some papers she wanted to take to a meeting. I suggested she pray to St. Anthony. She said she hadn't tried that yet so would, then she says, "St. Anthony, I need to find these papers." That's a prayer? No, it is a demand or a statement. However, maybe that doesn't matter to St. Anthony. I would like to think that God/St. Anthony is compassionate enough that he/she/it can hear and respond to people if they are doing the best they can do. I sincerely doubt my Mom is able to do much better than a demand or a statement. To pray is to show vulnerability. It is to ask for help. My Mom has a dreadfully hard time doing that. She is pretty well armored.
Living with my Mom is going well but on this level it is challenging. Though I have grown and matured and am not as affected by most of her stuff, I am getting to look at what I was raised with. It is striking to me this difference in our faith and connectedness. On a certain level I have always been connected, even as a small child. As I have matured – especially in the years out away from my family (about 2500 miles away!) – I have been able to live my connectedness. It just is. It is a main part of the fabric of my life. Now, living back with my Mom I feel like I have lost the connection. It is hard to keep that vulnerability near the surface in the face of my Mom's constant disparaging remarks about faith and God.
Is that what is going on here or is it that I armor myself in order to protect myself from her sarcasm? She is painfully sarcastic. She learned sarcasm on the knee of her father. He was the most sarcastic and critical person I have ever known. Brilliant yes. But so very angry at the world. I know it was his defense against all the hardness of his childhood, just as it is my mother's defense against the hardness in her own life. (Her father was extremely abusive in addition to being sarcastic, and critical.)
The power of sarcasm cannot be underrated. John Gottman PhD., a researcher at the University of Washington, labels sarcasm "Contempt". He calls it the most "corrosive" of the four factors he has found that can predict divorce. Gottman has made a career of studying marital interactions. He claims to be
able to predict with 95% accuracy which couples will eventually divorce. He calls the four factors that can predict divorce the
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for marriage.1 They are:
2) defensiveness (reacting to certain subjects by denying responsibility, or refusing to discuss an issue the spouse regards as important)
3) contempt (making sarcastic or cutting remarks)
4) withdrawal (also called "stonewalling": showing no reaction, having a blank look, or ceasing to care)
"You would think that criticism would be the worst," Gottman
says, "because criticism is a global condemnation of a person's
character. Yet contempt is qualitatively different from criticism. With
criticism I might say to my wife, 'You never listen, you are really
selfish and insensitive.' Well, she's going to respond defensively to
that. That's not very good for our problem solving and interaction. But
if I speak from a superior plane, that's far more damaging, and
contempt is any statement made from a higher level. A lot of the time
it's an insult: 'You are a bitch. You're scum.' It's trying to put that
person on a lower plane than you. It's hierarchical."
Gottman has found, in fact, that the presence of contempt in a
marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or a
wife gets; in other words, having someone you love express contempt
toward you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of
your immune system. "Contempt is closely related to disgust, and what
disgust and contempt are about is completely rejecting and excluding
someone from the community.3
I think the part about the "how many colds" a person gets is especially interesting and telling. I definitely catch more flu/colds when I am around my Mom. She is fairly boastful about how she doesn't get sick. Yes, but her sarcasm may be making others around her sick.
If sarcasm / contempt can contribute to the number of colds a person gets, it definitely can have an effect on how connected a person feels to the source. Just as sarcasm eats away at a persons immune system it also eats away at a persons heart connection to a higher power.
Now to be fair to my Mom, I truly do not think she knows how to talk in an un-sarcastic way. I was fortunate enough to live in a community of friends who understood that I did not know how to say things differently so they worked with me on it. They would say, "Jane, a better way to have said that would be . . . " I can remember the shocks I felt when I started realizing that people were not out to get me and started seeing how twisted my thinking/feelings were.
I have begun to work with Mom on the sarcasm issue in the same way that friends worked with me. For instance, a while back we were sitting at the kitchen table and she said "I know you can see without any light but I can't." I responded with, "Mom, a better way to have said that is "Could you please turn on the light?" " and then I reached back and turned on the light. Every time since then she has nicely asked me to turn on the light. (The switch is behind my chair.) And, in turn, I am remembering to turn it on more frequently. What a difference it makes to have someone ask nicely! It, in turn, makes me want to remember to turn on the light to help her out. When she says it sarcastically, as above, it feels like I would be buying into her accusation to turn it on for her. So I block out any thought of the light because the light & light switch have bad connotations attached to it.
So, back to the beginning of this post . . . how does that sort of negativity affect me such that I close off to my connectedness? I think it is defense, just as it is above. For me to be connected I need to be open and vulnerable. That is hard to do if I am also feeling the need to protect myself from something/someone at the same time.
There is more going on here too. I think I am also protecting myself from feeling I have about the bigger picture of why I am here. Yes, I am here to help out my Mom and she needs me here. But this also was a life bouy for me. I needed to come here as a transition between the TBI and reentering the working world. Whether I will be able to handle full time work is a subject for a different post. In fact, all the feelings and thoughts about living here in a retirement community in SW Florida is fodder for a future blog post. Instead, here I will keep it in relation to my Mom and me, and to the feeling that I have gotten distant from my connection to God and to God's help.
There is tension around me being here. There is my own tension around my self esteem, further adjustment to the remaining effects of the TBI, and to my financial situation (which is another blog post waiting to happen). Then there is tension from my Mom around her own difficulty with the reality of her aging and being at the point that she needs someone here.
An interesting quote from Carol Anthony's guide to the I Ching is "A great part of the work of self-development is to . . . regain our lost self-esteem, and to re-establish our Cosmic credibility."4 I threw the Ching that contains that quote in regards to staying here in Florida with Mom.
There is more to say on the topic, but this post has gotten long enough!
- John Gottman Phd, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, (New York, New York, U.S.A. Three Rivers Press 2000)
- Dilbert is drawn and written by Scott Adams. Scott has a great blog – which I just discovered upon researching the information for this footnote.
- Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, (Back Bay Books, April 3, 2007)
- Carol Anthony, A Guide to the I Ching, (Anthony Publishing Company; 3 Revised edition (December 31, 1988)