Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 120: The Critical Point

Mom (Me): Good morning, girls.

Bloom (The Survivor): G’morning Mom!

Ivy (The Companion): Good morning.

Mom: I don’t see the two of you together very often.

Bloom: We haven’t had a chance to hang out much! I wanted to catch up with my big sis.

Ivy: It’s kind of nice to be reminded of the boundless energy I had when I was her age. Besides, we’re family.

Bloom (satisfied): Yeah we are.

Mom (smiling): It’s nice to see you two getting along.

Bloom: Not that we ever *didn’t* get along.

Ivy: Are you still bringing us things to process with you?

Mom (pensive): I am, yes… Though I feel like I’ll be moving on soon.

Ivy (worried): Moving on… From us?

Mom (reassuring): No no, not at all! It just feels like I’ve been chipping away at an issue I haven’t fully identified yet. It’ll be time for a change soon… As soon as I figure out that issue is..

Bloom: You’ll share it once you know, right?

Mom: Of course, dearest.

Ivy: So what did you want to discuss with us today?

Mom: Criticism… Or rather, dealing with criticism.

Ivy (hesitant): Oh. I’m… I’m not sure I can help you with that.

Mom: What do you mean?

Ivy: I mean I struggled a lot with criticism in my time. I got a lot of it, after all — I feel like our partner can be critical of a lot of the things we do. But I get it, we could have done better in a lot of different areas, and I was eager to become a better partner besides. I still think that as long as we’re willing to learn and grow, that’d be okay.

Mom (pained): Oh, sweetheart. I almost forgot I used to think that way.

Ivy (surprised): What do you mean? What’s wrong with wanting to learn and grow?

Mom: Nothing, but thinking you have to keep learning because you’re constantly being criticized… That’s a lot.

Ivy (confused): But I am constantly being criticized. There’s always something to improve — that’s just life.

Mom: You’re constantly evaluating yourself, maybe. Which is okay to a degree: I think that’s a good way to keep ourselves grounded. But constant criticism is harmful.

Ivy: So are you saying our partner is hurting us?

Mom (reluctant): I’m not… I admit that this took me an embarrassingly long time to realize, but our partner isn’t constantly criticizing us.

Ivy (skeptical): I don’t follow… She’s always telling us how things we do or situations we have power over make her uncomfortable.

Mom: She’s sharing her feelings about those things. She wants to share her feelings with us because she needs to feel heard.

Ivy: But if she’s unhappy with how things are going, she must want us to make changes. Why else would she be talking about them?

Mom (patient): Because she wants emotional support. Sometimes she’s looking for emotional repair too; she’d like to take ownership over our own actions and goals so she doesn’t feel like we’re blaming her. And sure, occasionally she *does* want us to make changes.

Ivy (animated): But if something is within our power to change, we should change it regardless of whether she’s asking us for it!

Mom: I disagree. Sometimes she doesn’t want us to change anything, she really just wants emotional support. To be honest, she’s told us she finds it frustrating when we immediately jump to the conclusion that something needs to change.

Ivy (shocked): Frustrated!? Why?

Mom (calm): First, because that often isn’t what she wants, or we decide to change something that she didn’t think was a problem, and then she feels partially responsible for whatever we did. And second, regardless of whether our changes are beneficial, jumping right into suggesting changes means we didn’t take any time to validate and support her emotions. In fact, it means the opposite happened — we would feel like a failure for whatever we thought we were being criticized for, and she ends up having to support our feelings.

Ivy (agitated): But that’s… I can’t fix things that are clearly wrong, but I’m not allowed to feel any feelings about them either?

Mom: You *are* allowed to feel things, just not at the expense of her feelings. You can have your feelings without centering yourself.

Ivy: Then how will I talk about what needs to change!? How am I supposed to know when to make changes and when not to?

Mom: She’ll tell us! Once we stop assuming everything is criticism, it’s pretty easy to tell, honestly. She’s really explicit about it.

Ivy (exasperated): But… You’re me. Future me, sure, but still me! How can this be so easy for you when it feels impossible to me?

Bloom: Honestly, I agree with you, Ivy. This doesn’t seem simple at all.

Ivy: Bloom! I… I forgot you were there for a moment, sorry.

Bloom: It’s okay, I was happy to listen.

Ivy (calmer): Now that I think about it, it makes sense that you’d feel the same way. You’re past me, and my struggles had to come from somewhere.

Mom: They do, but Bloom never had a partner to worry about… She didn’t even have a girlfriend.

Bloom (hurt): Thanks for reminding me, Mom.

Mom (apologetic): I’m sorry dear, that was unkind — I could have worded my point better.

Bloom: It’s okay, Mom.

Ivy: I think she has a point though. If you’re not trying to meet a partner’s needs, whose needs are you trying to meet?

(Bloom takes a moment to consider the question.)

Bloom (pensive): Honestly, I think it was my parents. It must have been, right?

Mom (surprised): That follows, actually…

Bloom: I mean, trying to figure out what my parents wanted was a big part of my life. I’d get some signal that I was doing something wrong — usually my mom’s discomfort — and I’d have to figure out what it was so I could change it.

Ivy: That feels familiar…

Bloom (bitter): Or, you know, accept that I was a screw-up and that things weren’t going to change.

Mom (sad): That’s something we got very used to.

Ivy: But that *was* criticism, back then. Oftentimes that’s how we found out we were doing something wrong; by reading our parents’ emotions.

Mom: And I think that’s why I still struggle with identifying criticism today.

Ivy (annoyed): I thought you said it was easy to tell!

Mom: It is, when I can get out of my own head and remember what I told you. That’s the benefit of plurality, right? One of us can learn to hold that understanding in mind while another of us works our way through our feelings. But the idea that any discomfort or negative outcome represents criticism is so deeply ingrained that we all carry it… And I don’t think we’re equipped to manage it on our own.

Bloom: Should I get my sisters then? Maybe one of them can help.

Mom: I think you’re right, but maybe not in the way you expect. Bloom, go ahead and tell your sisters — we need to have a family meeting.