Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have a question for you. If you had a daughter that had a hysterectomy at an early age due to a tumor and she can no longer bear her own children before she’s even had the chance to marry or have kids, would you constantly bring up other women who are pregnant or who have had babies to her – unless it was absolutely necessary? If this young lady also had the misfortune of dealing with kidney disease, would you also mention everyone you knew that was on dialysis to her as well? This is the case of my good friend who sought my advice asking if her mom was being sadistic or just unaware that such news might be tough to hear for someone who can’t have kids and fears going on dialysis. Her mother is aware, by the way, of the hysterectomy and the renal disease. I wanted to tell her mom’s being impolite but I decided not to, standing by the rule “If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all.” What is your take? Do you think her mom’s a sadist or perhaps just totally clueless? Any advice or perspective you could offer would be appreciated. I read your article in the West New York Reporter, by the way, which is how I found you.
Dr. Norquist responds:
I like the restraint you showed in your response to your friend. We can only truly know the motivation and understanding behind someone else’s behavior to the degree that they are able and willing to share it with us. Assuming the worst breeds negativity where it may not have existed. This negativity will only serve to bring your friend down. It will not better the situation. It is possible that your friend’s mother is consciously being mean in her comments, but I would tend to not think this way unless there is proof.
The fact that she asks a friend, rather than talking directly to her mother, says a lot. It suggests that she is not comfortable letting her mother know that these comments are hurtful to her. Is her mother unapproachable in this regard? If not, discussing this with her could serve as an opportunity to heal this misunderstanding and reverse the growing distance between them.
It is possible that her mother is upset about those conditions in her daughter’s life and has not been able to consciously process her feelings about it, so it is coming out in these unconscious comments. As I said before, we can only guess at the reasons for her behavior. If she discovers for certain that her mother is consciously intending to do harm with her comments then your friend needs to take steps to protect herself emotionally and not give this negativity any substantiating ground in her own internal emotional state.
Thank you for writing. Please write again if you have further questions.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (N.J. #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics including relationships, life’s stresses and difficulties, or managing stress. Previous columns can be found at www.chaitanya.com. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services.