It is always happening whenever I talk to my mother.
She’ll say something petty and ungrateful. Someone will have done something nice for her. Something that was clearly well intended. Came from a good place. But because the gesture wasn’t perfect, wasn’t what she would have envisioned in the best of all possible worlds, she’ll mock it. Say the person shouldn’t have even bothered. That the gesture was worse than nothing at all.
If someone buys her a present that isn’t quite exactly what she’d buy herself.
Or sends her a card and she doesn’t like what they wrote inside.
It never seems to matter to her that the person cares about her or made an effort. It’s always about what’s wrong with the effort.
This is truly difficult and made her a difficult parent to please because her primary love language is gifts. And it’s not like she tells you what she wants to get. You mostly have to learn by listening to her be nasty and talk smack about how other people did a bad job. Then you read between the lines and figure out what she actually would have wanted by what aggressively nasty things she says about what the other person gave her.
There are many reasons why we don’t have the best relationship. But stuff like this can make it very stressful to even talk to her. If you’re not currently being directly tested somehow, you’re being presented with a reminder of what she does when other people fail her unvoiced, unspoken tests. You know you will be tested again soon yourself. That you may very well fail. And that others will hear a litany about you when you do.
I Tend to Give Advice That Targets Pleasing Reasonable People But Only Managing Difficult People
I give a lot of advice on my blog and as a self-help author. And I basically have come to terms with a reality: A lot of my advice actually works. It can help you have better relationships.
But there’s a limit to what it can do. And a limit, frankly, to what any advice can do.
There really is no pleasing some people, not without living in misery and/or sacrificing part of your soul anyway. I’ve found with difficult people, the best you can happily do is manage them and manage those relationships. (Unhappily, sure, you can do a lot that is questionable to appease them.)
However, there’s a lot you can try. A lot you can do. And with reasonable people, it will typically be enough. But with unreasonable people, it will not be enough. With the most difficult people, it will never be enough.
Most of what I’ve had to learn over the years isn’t the magical fix for any situation (because there isn’t one). Instead, I’ve had to learn how to troubleshoot conflicts so that I can know that I tried hard enough to resolve them or at least manage or tolerate them. And that I did enough to differentiate between a workable situation with reasonable people versus an unworkable situation or one with unreasonable people.
It may not sound like a lot. But to me, it’s everything. It’s a huge difference. Sometimes it enables me to work through troubling situations and fix problems. Other times it lets me know that I did enough when I walk away from something that isn’t serving me.
Both are important. Both have their place.
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