Angry boundaries – A matter of respect

So I’m angry again. It happens sometimes, so don’t be surprised.

This time around, I am angry with my mother. Again, it happens sometimes, so don’t be surprised. Recently we had a gathering of family members to celebrate the combined birthdays of three of us. It’s something I find quite hard to get out of because my birthday get’s wrapped up in theirs. I generally don’t celebrate the year of my birth – it’s not that important and seems a bit self aggrandising. If I’m going to celebrate something, I would far rather celebrate something like when I met my fiancée. That is something worth celebrating. I realise that some people like to celebrate my birth, so I don’t begrudge that.

To avoid the hassles of my birthday, I generally obfuscate it. I pick a different date each year and pass that off as the threshold for when I get older. It’s generally in July, but also sometimes it is in June. This year is a June transition, mostly prompted by family members.

There are three things that I ask my mother not to do. They are all serious for me. One is to not use negative emotional manipulation to control me. I would far rather a positive interaction than one based in negative emotions. This is a real challenge for her and she has been doing this pretty well for a couple of years now. It took a bit to re-train her from her usual patterns, but I must say I’m pretty stoked with how well we have been interacting.

The other two are information based. Don’t reveal my birth name and don’t reveal the actual date of my birth. In 2000 I changed my name from what I was given close to birth to something that I chose. Partly I had never felt comfortable with my birth name, and partly I wanted to symbolise the transition from the horrible adult I had become to the adult I choose to be. As such, I would like people to know me for who I am now, not who I was. Giving them two sets of names just confuses people. Often people see me as the not-the-old-name, or they try to subtract what they see now from what was. I am not a difference, I am not a lesser entity. If anything, I am an improved model. See me for who I am and don’t get me confused.

My mother stated my birth name the other day. Seems like a trivial matter, I know. But I have worked hard to be the new me, not the old me. I don’t mind if the name gets mentioned in front of my fiancée or my child. They know all of my history. It’s our history. However my fiancée’s family don’t need to know, nor do my friends, work associates etc. My mother spilled the beans to my extended family. Again.

Last time she revealed my actual date of birth. I was pretty furious and went to great lengths to remind her, again, why I don’t like that, why it doesn’t respect my boundaries, and why it is very important to me. I ensured she knew the three things that I ask of her. This time around I’m not sure what to do. To give her some credit, she very quickly caught on to what she had done and apologised.

I understand her impulsiveness. We are pretty elite in our family. We like to prove our intelligence and our knowledge. So of course when the opportunity came to tell people something they didn’t know, she leapt on it before her brain could fire to say “no – not that”. The gods know I have screwed up a number of times in the past along similar lines.

That doesn’t stop my anger. My first impulse is to think up some way of hurting her the same way that she has hurt me. This is a very human reaction and I am observing it with interest. Your first reactions to non life threatening situations should always be observed, because they tell you a great deal about yourself. Once you have observed them, it is time to start thinking and choose an action. I am happy to report that my next reaction upon thinking of things that would equal or surpass the hurt was recognition that this was the wrong course of action to take and this was just a simple lashing out reaction. That also tells you a great deal about me.

I’m up to the thinking part now. Generally I don’t take this long to choose a course of action, but I’m pretty caught up emotionally with this, so I need to be very careful about the value system that I am using to make decisions. Emotions have two major effects on us, one is information and the other is a detraction from thinking clearly. In this case the information that I am learning from the anger is that my boundary has been crossed – my trust has been damaged, the cat is out of the bag. You can’t take back that knowledge from those who have heard it. My decisions are based on what I value and I am aware that my values are currently messed up due to my anger. If I can, I need to wait until my anger dies down and I return to a normal value system. I can then take the knowledge from the emotion that I have felt to inform my decisions. While I am still caught up in the emotion, my value system is out of balance and cannot be truly trusted.

One of my options is to do nothing. I could also talk to her all over again. I may choose not to include her in anything beyond central family functions – that is, beyond my fiancée and daughter. I could also just walk away and have nothing to do with her. These seem to be the spectrum of decisions that I can choose to act on.

Michael Abrash, a computer programmer from the old days, said that the best optimiser is in your head. First look at the problem and see if there are different ways of seeing the problem and thus applying a solution before you try to make the standard solutions faster. That sounds pretty esoteric, but consider this, the solution you may be trying to implement may be crap. If you perfect crap, you still have crap. Perhaps looking at the problem in a different light may give you a better solution, which you can then perfect.

Looking at this problem another way, I know that my boundary has been crossed. Do I deal with the one who crossed it, or should I also look at the boundary and consider whether this boundary is fair and reasonable? Let’s take another look at these three things I have asked of my mother.

1) Treat with me positively instead of using negative emotional manipulation. I really can’t see that this should change in any way. I believe the value of this is sound, fair and reasonable.

2) Don’t reveal my birth date. This is a personal thing that most don’t share. Is it any wonder that those who do know it find it hard not to mention it when the opportunity arises? Yet there are a few people who I know who know it and they don’t spill the beans. I think this says more about how much they value me as a person that they honour this odd request than it does about the request. I think this is the issue I have with my mother.

3) Don’t reveal my birth name. Most people who have changed their names or personalities would get this. We want to live in the present and the future, not be tied down by the past we have chosen to move past. Yet while my mother has changed last names a few times, these were for mostly commonly accepted social reasons. Marriage, re-marriage and convenience. There was no big symbolic change. For her, there is no issue with people know who she was, because to all intents and purposes she is the same person, just older, while I have changed radically and would rather people knew me now because I’m fairly confident they wouldn’t have liked me then. So again, this is not something she can really comprehend.

Additionally my current name is made up of [Name my father wanted me to have][Name my mother wanted me to have][Name comprised of the father I knew], she feels under represented and probably rejected. So there may be a level of anger towards my choice. Despite the number of times I have tried to explain to her the how and why of my choices, and how there is honour to both of my parents there, she really does not understand it. She just feels slighted.

So is my anger justified? I know my mother doesn’t understand me. I know she is hurt by my choices. I know these things aren’t important to her. She just blindly does as I ask without understanding, and sooner or later her elitist habit will prompt her to muck up.

So the boundary that is crossed is not to do with what I originally thought it was, it is actually a different boundary. Respect. I feel hurt because my mother doesn’t respect me, mainly because she doesn’t understand me. She actually reminds me of my grandmother in this. She also didn’t understand her daughter and just went along with my mothers wants, blindly hoping she got it right. I am hurt by the lack of understanding my mother has, and feel alone because she doesn’t get it .Doesn’t get me. And she never will.

So what will I do?

Nothing. The problem isn’t with her, any more than a rock has a problem being a rock. This is her nature, and it is mine. There is no solution. I will keep a bit of distance until my emotion settles down and then return to the status quo and hope that I can adjust my expectations down.