Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"I'm Sorry You Feel That Way" and Other Things My Mother Said That Sent Me Into Therapy

Maybe I'm just a sensitive soul, but I seriously think that when you're fourteen and your mother tells you that when you walk it looks like "two goats trying to fight their way out of a gunnysack," you have a bit of a reason to take it rather personally.

Another fantastic line my mother used to throw out was, "I'm sorry you feel that way." I didn't realize until much later in life that this was not an apology. This was actually the ultimate non-apology. Saying, "I'm sorry you feel that way" is a way of fulfilling the obligatory apology due someone when you've made them feel bad, without accepting any of the responsibility for your part in it. Damn, she was good.

As insecure teenage girls often do, I would put an outfit on before school and ask my mother, "What do you think? Does this look good?" She would, without fail, give one of two responses. Number one: "Do you like it? Because if you like it, that's all that counts." In psycho language, this translates as, "I hate it, but if you want to leave the house looking like that, then go for it."

Number two: "It looks nice, but you need a scarf. Or, maybe a brooch." I'm not exactly sure what this translates to. All I've ever been able to figure out is that she wanted to see something tied securely around my neck and wanted me to get my ass kicked at school for wearing something called a brooch.

These were the more subtle jabs in her repertoire. One of my favorites...and by favorites I mean one that still affects me to this day and which I've spent an obscene amount of time in therapy discussing, is this one:

Me (In my newly purchased miniskirt and top): "Do you think this looks good? Do you think I look okay in it?" (spinning around for her to see)
Mother (thoughtfully selecting her words): " thing's for sure. You wouldn't blow over in a stiff wind."


Cake anyone?


Jennie................ said...

I used to get "buffalo butt","thunder thighs" and my oh-so-favorite - "the Dope of America"! Oh that one! How does a teen at 5ft5in 120lbs have a buffalo butt and thunder thighs. Lord...the things our parents say...(these were my dads favorites - often parroted by his lovely son).

markdw said...

Now that I think of it, I can't remember anything that siblings called me except "little shit", which was fair, because that is what I was.

Amy said...

Yes, order to keep people from breaking down and sobbing into their shirtsleeves while reading this, I had to omit comments made by my father and siblings.

My mother just has a way of completely tearing you down without you knowing it until later, at which point you stand there with your mouth hanging open thinking, "Damn!"

Bob said...

From my perspective as a clod, your Mother sounds incredibly thoughtful and careful in choosing words that wouldn't (shouldn't) hurt.

I told my kids that if they did (or didn't do) something, I'd rip their arm off and beat them with the bloody stub.

Obviously, the things your Mother said were hurtful to you because of other dynamics going on, because as an outsider, knowing nothing of your situation, her words sound very innocent and normal.

I wish you didn't hurt so much, but I can promise you that you are truly loved by the people in our family, Mr. Right's family, etc.

Amy said...


You're a clod.



lakeviewer said...

You had a mother that smarted you. And you needed something else. We all remember mothers' and fathers' smarting us, making us feel bad and ashamed, and not complete.

We remember, but we can't erase, the way we can erase a comment before we send. We do and say things in the moment, without much thinking. We hope people take the smart out, and accept the love only. Because, there is always love, though it was dressed in smarts.

Amy said...

Love dressed in smarts. That's an interesting take on it!

Unfortunately, sometimes by the time we're old enough to realize that there was love buried beneath the criticism, the scars have already formed. But, scars mean the wounds have healed and all that's left is acceptance and compassion for Self.