The day after I graduated from high school I got a huge shock. My father sat me down (I could hear my mom sobbing hysterically in the bathroom) and told me that he was gay. He said that he had known it for several years, but wanted to wait until I was out of high school before changing his life. A week later, he packed and left the house. My mother has been insane ever since. She wants to talk to me all the time about how my father betrayed her. It’s more than I can bear. I am going away to college in the fall, but I feel like I’m going to go crazy before I can get away from her. I love my mom and I love my dad. I told my mom that she should go to counseling, but she says she would rather talk to me. I feel guilty for not being able to listen to her anymore, but I can’t. What should I do?
Let me offer you some story medicine, a parable from One Minute Wisdom by Anthony DeMello: “To a distressed person who came to him for help the Master said, ‘Do you really want a cure?’
‘If I did not, would I bother to come?’ the distressed person asked.
‘Oh yes. Most people do.’
‘Not for a cure. That’s painful. For relief.’ To his disciples the Master said, ‘People who want a cure, provided they can have it without pain, are like those who favor progress, provided they can have it without change.’”
Your mother may feel some relief after conversations with you. Engaging a competent counselor would mean real change and that can be painful (before it becomes pleasurable). Be firm and direct in telling her that you will not listen to complaints about your father. Then stick with your decision. Notice, too, whether you sense her trying to force you to take her side against him. That may be the real sore spot between you.
Of course, you could also practice listening to her. Be careful not to offer a response. No nodding. No tortured facial expressions and no reassuring ones, either. Nothing. Let yourself really hear her words, not what your mind is saying about them. It’s not your job to try to soothe her or take away her pain. That’s the problem, you know. You believe that you must absolve your mother of her suffering. Not true. Listening is enough. It will allow her to talk herself out of words (at least for the moment) or into a solution to what she perceives as a problem. If she finds your behavior disconcerting and asks (or demands) a response from you, tell her to engage a professional therapist. That way, when you pack for college you can leave the guilt behind.
Self-esteem is a real issue for me. I thought I was good, healthy, talented and worthy of love, but that thought passed away. I thought that I was bad, boring, dull-witted, uninspired and unworthy of friendship, but those thoughts passed away, too. How can I know that I am good and valuable? How can I truly believe in myself, one small light burning on a planet of six billion candles?
Uncover the ways in which being boring, dull-witted, uninspired and unworthy of friendship have served you. Then, when those feelings arise again, you will greet them as
honored teachers. As you begin to appreciate yourself, you will find self-trust easier. And as you trust yourself, you will begin to believe in yourself. At that juncture, you will understand that one small candle can burn as bright as six billion, if you have the eyes to see it.