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Mama Drama: Invitation to an Encounter

I could sense all the old feelings come up inside me. She was about to guilt me into dropping the point altogether, and I wanted her to know I wasn’t backing down.

“This is why we never talked when you were alive,” I pressed on. “Here I am trying to talk to you about how I feel, and all you can do is think of how hurt you are. That was the trap. If I tried to explain what was going on for me, it all of a sudden became all about you, and I was out of the loop. Then it wasn’t about how I felt, but about how I was hurting you with what I was saying.

“We never got to talk about this stuff,” I continued. “If you felt you were going to be hurt, you just got angry and that was the end of it. You got angry, and that was supposed to make me feel so guilty for bringing it up that I didn’t bring it up again for a long, long time.”

“Danny, what do you want from me?” she asked.

“I don’t even know,” I said, considering my words, “but I feel as though I’m like you in a lot of ways, and I can’t stand it.”

“So you want me to help you be less like me?” she said with a sarcastic tone.

“I guess I just want to understand what is going on. On the outside it feels as if I can handle things. I love Nancy and Devon, I have good friends, and I like the kind of work I do. But I feel I am always ready to be angry. I feel resentment when I think I am giving out too much and others aren’t giving back enough,” I said surprising myself.

“What makes you so angry?” she asked.

“I don’t know!” I said as I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess I was hoping you would help me with that!”

“How would I know what is making you angry?” she said, throwing her hands up.

“When I get like this it doesn’t feel like me, it doesn’t feel as though these feelings belong to me. It feels like your stuff,” I said groping my way through these new ideas.

“That’s ridiculous! How could my anger and resentment be yours? I don’t understand that,” she said.

“I don’t know. All I know is that I get a feeling inside of me as if I want to protect something. If I can get angry enough, I can protect myself from something.”

“Me?” she questioned.

“No. You’re dead,” I said as soon as I got back in my chair. “ I don’t feel as though I have to protect myself from you any longer. But maybe I’m afraid I’ll become like you if I let those feelings out as you did.”

I stayed in my chair trying to absorb the words I’d just said to her. After a moment I went over to sit on the couch and answered as I thought she would.

“So you’re not afraid of me; you’re afraid you’ll become like me if you get angry like I did, is that it?” she clarified.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Why would it be so bad to be me?” she asked.

“You didn’t even like yourself! You had no friends, and you seemed to have no joy in your life. You treated your own daughter terribly. You made unrealistic demands on Donna {my sister}all the time. She had her own family, her own business, and you demanded she do things for you that took up an enormous amount of time, and you barely acknowledged what she did for you,” I said raising my voice.

“Everybody thought your father was the good guy, and that I was the maniac. Well, let me tell you, your father was no saint,” she said, pointing her finger.

“You see, here we are talking about stuff that you do, or did, and you want to change the subject to shift the blame elsewhere. I wasn’t talking about Dad. I was talking about you. I never said he was a saint,” I said, challenging her.

“But that’s the way it always comes out. He was Mr. Nice Guy, and I was the shrew. It wasn’t fair that I had to do all the discipline with you; I had to make you be responsible for yourself. He could just come home from work and be the good guy. It isn’t easy competing with a saint.”

“My point, Mom, was that you pushed everybody away. Even your best friend, Roxanne. She was the sweetest woman in the world and remained your friend even when you treated her horribly, and I don’t think you ever realized how hard she tried to be close to you. Everybody else just let you stew in your own juices.”

Mom knew I was right about that, and I sat on the couch as her for a moment before answering.

“What do you want me to do?” she finally said.

“I don’t know. I guess it’s like what you said before. If I have the same angry, resentful feelings you had, I’ll become like you, but if I try not to have them—that just makes me worse.”

It was time to sit in my chair for a moment. I was trying to let the words I’d just spoken sink in. It was mind-boggling to realize what I was doing. I was having a full-tilt argument with my dead mother, out loud, and moving around from chair to couch to play both parts. This wouldn’t be easy to explain to the neighbors. Eventually I got up and sat on the couch again.

“So, it isn’t really me you are afraid of becoming,” she said. “You’re afraid of having feelings that are like the ones I used to have. You saw what they did to me, and you dedicated yourself to not having them,” she clarified.

“Isn’t that the same thing?” I asked. “What’s the difference if I become like you, or have the same feelings as you?”

There would have been a smugness on her face; I could feel it as I sat on the couch and became her. It was one of those rare times when my mother wasn’t just being argumentative; she had something important to say, and she knew she was right about it. Her gel-blue eyes would have become electrified, and she would have burned her point home.

“You’re the one who brought up the fact that I’m dead. Everything you are dealing with is inside of you.”

Mama Drama: Invitation to an Encounter

Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D.

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Mama Drama: Invitation to an Encounter. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.