“I was never good enough and I knew it- she made sure I knew it. The harder I tried, the worse it got.”
My friend was anxious, tugging at her scarlet scarf and only occasionally sipping her hazelnut latte. We were meeting at the coffee shop around the corner from my house. She had texted me in a chaotic cry for help the night before. Her future mother-in-law was a strong personality- demanding, opinionated and cold- at least to my friend. But as we sat in the quiet café lit only by the dusty beams of mid-morning light, she was making a connection. This relationship was not new. It was, in fact, an old one come ’round again.
“It feels exactly the same, Danielle. This relationship with Tim’s mother feels exactly like the one with my old boss. They even look alike.”
I took a sip of my coffee and smiled. This was something with which I was very familiar. Try as we might to outrun the difficult relationships in our life, they come back around until they have taught us what we need to learn. “So how did the relationship with your boss end? How did you leave it?” I asked.
She almost laughed at the recollection. “I quit,” she said. “My boyfriend at the time told me I should ask to speak to her- to sit her down and explain how her behaviour was affecting me. I couldn’t imagine it, Danielle. The woman dismissed every word that came out of my mouth. My vulnerability disgusted her. To her, softness equalled weakness.”
“You couldn’t be yourself with her.”
My friend wound her blonde waves around her finger as she replied, “Exactly. My very presence put her on guard. She’d make snide remarks under her breath- that I was insecure, lacked confidence and gumption. As if her pointing out my shortcomings was going to lead to some great epiphany on my part. ‘Oh gee, Sheila! I had never thought about that before! And you being so passive aggressive about it has really made me stop and think!'”
I had to laugh. “Honey, you know, of course, that people who call others insecure or whatever, battle the very same demon within. ‘You spot it, you got it’, as they say.”
“Yes, I know. But this was my boss- someone I was supposed to look up to and want to do a good job for. It was such a toxic environment. I quit after six months without ever confronting her.”
I nodded. “And now here we are, five years later and the same lessons are in your face again- except this time, she’s family.”
My friend groaned. “Ugh, I know.”
I smiled and sat up, leaning toward her. “So the wedding is in six months. This gives you time to work up the courage to talk to her, set some boundaries.”
“What am I even going to say? It’s the same old story. She thinks I’m weak, a pushover.”
Sitting with her words for a moment, I mulled them over, focusing on what her heart was trying to say. Something occurred to me. “You think those things. You think your vulnerability makes you weak and a pushover.”
She blinked at me wordlessly.
“These women are reflecting back to you your own judgments about yourself, honey.” The waitress came by and refilled my coffee. “I bet if you worked on accepting and forgiving yourself, you may not even have to have that talk with Tim’s mom. I bet you could naturally start to set those boundaries on your own and, if met with a difficult situation with her, you would know what to say…how to handle it.”
My friend sat back in her chair, uncrossed and re-crossed her legs. “OK, but how do I do that?”
“By paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. Anytime you catch yourself judging yourself, or feeling shameful or guilty about something you’ve done or said- stop and look at it. Question it. Be willing to accept that this is just you being you. Ask for help with that. You have a Higher Power, right?” She nodded. “Ask your Higher Power to help you see the Truth of who you are. And then just be willing to witness that- be willing to follow whatever gentle guidance you receive.”
She made a face at me, unwilling to believe it was so easy. “Just like that?”
I took a swig of my coffee. “No, no. Not ‘just like that’. It takes time. Every interaction you have, every judgment- they are all opportunities to accept yourself as you are without needing any outside approval. It would never, ever be enough.”
“That makes sense. I can work with that. Just wish there was some magic pill I could take to get it all done right now.”
I laughed again. “That’s what the world is selling all the time! Cars, homes, vacations, clothes… they’re all the ‘magic pill’. But they don’t work. God works.”
My friend smiled and moved the conversation to her honeymoon. I was content to listen to a woman in love being thrilled about an aspect of her future. The only thing I knew for sure was that I don’t really know anything. But I loved my friend. And in this moment, that love was enough.