Struggling with conﬂict is by no means unique to an adopted status, but something’s happened recently to give me pause to think about this more than I have done previously.
As I’ve described before, as a youth I was very much a ‘put up and shut up’ kind of person- the fear of being a) rejected again and b) found out kept me pretty quiet. For example- if someone were to upset me, that hurt would just get tossed on the pile with the others and I would move on.
(Until such point that I became a teenager and found ways to process some of those feelings self destructively.)
Sadly, that also meant that when I hurt other people, I also couldn’t deal with the guilt and shame that this provoked and it would be handled in the same way.
So: people hurting me= I deserve it and me hurting other people = I shouldn’t have done that, I’m a bad person. The end result always the same, low self worth, shame, self punishment. I didn’t have any mechanisms whereby an adult could take any responsibility and I took far too much.
Conﬂict was terrifying to me- it meant that I was going to end up shouldering all the horrible feelings and having no way to understand what my needs were- like ﬁght or ﬂight, any hint of raised voices or someone feeling annoyed or cross with me (or even just in general) meant I panicked (this didn’t mean that I was such a good girl- I was pretty naughty at times, but I just found creative ways to not get caught out…) and although I have developed resilience and a bit more capacity for emotional regulation (I hope!) it transpires that conﬂict still has a primal effect on me.
My mum has an issue with hoarding- it’s been there for years, as long as I can remember- and it’s getting worse as she gets older. I can understand hoarding behaviour from a psychological perspective, I get that its often about attachment and loss- feelings get tied up in ‘things’ and the ‘things’ take on an unacknowledged value, which then makes it near impossible to part with the objects- whatever they may be.
For my mum it’s mainly newspapers, magazines and containers.
To paint a picture- she isn’t displaying ‘Channel 4 documentary’ hoarding behaviours, crawling through tunnels to get to the living room, but it does have a signiﬁcant impact- it’s a huge ﬁre risk, the dust is so thick that it has its own character and it’s not safe to take my family to her home as the towers of stuff threaten to fall and she feels uncomfortable if the kids touch things. The knock on effect of this is that my children have limited contact with their grandad. It’s very sad.
Now, if anyone knows someone with hoarding issues or obsessive compulsive type traits, they will know how difﬁcult it is to help. For me, any attempt to explore/ question/understand is met with dismissal and denial or my least favourite response, it gets laughed off as a joke.
The conﬂict came as I tried to help my mum start to clear my Nana’s house- an upsetting time you might think, but my mum doesn’t really do overt emotions so, business-like we set about the task- when I offered to remove some of the magazines from 1983 and take them for recycling it was met with a brusque refusal- I felt frustrated, I wanted a way in to try and understand why I couldn’t get rid of some things which (to me) were completely redundant. The more I asked, the more she dug her heels in, until I snapped- I got angry, I dropped an F bomb on my mum- something which for over 30 years I have never dared do (fearing that this is the taboo, unsayable -the thing that will get me sent to live with other people) and we fell out.
Even writing this feels so lame, we fell out, so what? people fall out all the time, but this…this felt monumental- I can’t remember really any times where I have ‘stood up’ to my mum, where I have directly challenged her about herself- which is a risky thing to do with anyone. And here she was in front of me getting visibly upset and clearly not able to cope with the conﬂict either.
I felt I had to leave, I could feel adrenaline surging through me and my heart was pounding, I felt distraught- I had upset her, I had challenged an aspect of her that although as a family we worry and grumble about, never gets directly aired. I had voiced my concerns about her hoarding, about her health ( she is constantly ill with chest related issues- dust maybe?) and broken the seal on something that is kept so well defended that any exploration threatens annihilation.
go. drive. leave.
panic, I set off after a curt goodbye and sobbed for the entire 50 mile journey home. I couldn’t understand why my responses felt so powerful, like they came from a place within me untouched by time and fossilised by separation.
I got home and powered my way through several hours of cleaning and housework (an antidote to the head mess?) and burnt off some of the inexplicable hormones coursing through me, it took hours to come down- days even, such was the impact of the conﬂict.
Fast forward- we are ﬁne now, a few days passed and we both avoided the truth and I apologised.
Returning to a safely avoidant stance, we continue to rub along, trying to keep the peace.