DEAR AMY: My mother is a doormat. For 38 years, I've observed her give in and give in repeatedly in her relationships. It's as if she is always thinking, "If I just give this person what they want today, they will be nice to me tomorrow." Instead, my dad, my grandma and her boss react by just demanding more and more. Because she doesn't stand up for herself, she tries to get what she wants through manipulation. She will make a major decision on her own and later when my dad finds out she will tell him that he wasn't listening when she told him months ago. She will think she is very clever in "tricking" my grandma in a similar way. Because I love my mom and I've observed this cycle of behavior, I try hard to always be gentle, but direct, with her. I've also resisted her attempts to pull me into her doormat-ty ways. It is so hard watching someone you love be constantly walked over by the folks who are supposed to love and support her. Any advice on how I can help her learn to assert herself?
DEAR FED UP: The dynamic you describe is of your mother being walked on, but then retaliating by gaslighting and manipulating the people who dominate her.
This is an understandable coping response. Your mother's passive-aggression is rooted in anger and low self-esteem. She is getting what she wants without risking a confrontation with the people who intimidate her.
You are understandably frustrated, and you are wise to resist this behavior yourself. But you cannot realistically change the way your mother moves through the world.
You don't say whether your mother complains to you (I assume she does). If/when she does, you should tell her, "I don't blame you for being frustrated. But Mom, you basically train people on how to treat you. If you want to be treated differently, you'll have to behave and react differently."
But — and this is huge — she might not want to change the dynamic. THIS is the game she knows how to play.
You (and she) might benefit from reading "8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health)" by Andrea Brandt (2013, W. W Norton & Company).
DEAR AMY: My husband of 34 years was a highly-educated man who could go for years without a drop of alcohol, only to resort to drinking a bottle of vodka every day. He was never verbally or physically abusive, but his behavior caused stress and embarrassment on many occasions. He died of liver failure in November. I was diagnosed with breast cancer the day he went into hospice and he died two days before my surgery. How do I sort out my feelings of disgust, relief, guilt and sadness — and come to terms with my own mortality?
Widow of Jekyll & Hyde
DEAR WIDOW: I am so sorry you are facing these extreme challenges all at once. But here's the thing — these two events happened concurrently, but you don't actually have to deal with them at the same time. It might help you to try to deliberately compartmentalize your world.
Your first priority should be to cope with your own health challenges. Get through every day knowing that you are taking optimal care of yourself.
Your husband had an illness, too. His alcoholism seems to have emerged as extreme and occasional binge-drinking. Every day he didn't drink might have been a hard-fought and private battle for him.
One way to sort out your complicated feelings would be to write about them. If you start the day with a goal to fill two notebook pages with a burst of free-association writing, it might help you to express — and then release — some of these complicated feelings.
You should also seek the comfort and counsel of a group. Al-Anon meetings might help; your local hospice will also host grief groups for survivors. There is no magic solution, but everything you try will likely help you in small and discrete ways.
DEAR AMY: "Desperate Bride" is right to remove her abusive co-worker from her wedding party. To soften the blow and prevent further conflict, I'd suggest she offer to reimburse this woman for any costs she may have incurred from being maid of honor, which can be an expensive duty. I'd suggest reserving the maid of honor duty only for women you've known for most of your life, if possible.
DEAR EXPERIENCED: Great advice!