They can’t help it

Annette Cardoza
11 min readJun 2, 2022


Or can they?

Sometimes people only thrive in chaos because well, ‘they just do.’ And if life is too peaceful and calm around them, they will usually find a way to stir things up to create some drama. Does this sound a little bit crazy? It’s because it kinda is.

Why must one be so discontented to be peaceful and calm, you might ask? That just seems so disruptive and dysfunctional. Well, that’s actually a really good question. One reason someone may disrupt the peace is because it’s a good way to get attention. If things are too quiet in their spirit, then they will want to stir up the pot to create some drama. Drama gets a reaction and thus more attention. This wasn’t what I personally did as a child, but I watched my mother do it. I became very intuitive to this specific type of behavior in other people.

I’ve always been an observer of people, probably because I’ve wanted to understand my own childhood dynamics better. I got the sense that the attention seekers needlessly stay busy because they are rushing to fill an empty gap in their troubled soul. It’s a restlessness that seems to loom within them, an angst. Someone that needs chaos in order to function seems to get comfort from upheaval. They are always unhappy about something. If you’ve ever been around someone that creates arguments for sake of arguing then you have probably noticed that if things are running smoothly, they will manage to find a reason to stay discontent with life. And if they stay needlessly busy, this might help to distract them from the troubles within and falsely fills a need to feel in control. This is actually a thing. And there is a name for it. Be very aware if you ever hear the words: “I’m not the problem, You are!” Those are some serious accusations and should clue you in that this may be a 1 way street. By the way, relationships are not one sided, it’s always a two way street. There are two people with two opinions and always two different thoughts. As long as I was the one to apologize to my mom then we had a decent relationship. Of course, nothing was ever her fault, it was always me. And as long as I was the one who apologized then she would accept me back into her circle.

My mother would always remind us she was the middle child and would tell us her mother didn’t like her much and she said she never felt special and her siblings always seemed to get the extra praises. Apparently she didn’t get much attention, she said if she did, it was the wrong kind. I’m sure this brought her much insecurity.

As a young girl, I hadn’t known the difference (kids usually don’t — why would they). This is actually a thing. I was just a young child and what I had is what I had. I didn’t know it could be any different. In fact, I recently heard a child psychologist say that “kids are born believing in their parents-regardless of the parent,” Furthermore, kids innately believe their parents are their heros. This might seem really special and I think so too unless the parent is a complete Ass and then it’s just really sad. The psychologist went on to say that since the parent is the hero and if a parent messes up then the kid will automatically think it’s his or her fault. So imagine the kid loves their parent at all costs, even a parent that is abusive and neglectful. I’ve seen old adults turn into scared little children when their around their elderly abusive parent. It’s quite a balance of life that we’re in.

There was a time in my life that my mom and I hadn’t spoken to each other for over a year. It might sound harsh and maybe it was, but it was a hard line I had to draw and when we reconnected a year later, things were better, but not perfect by far. There were a few other breaks over the years. The boundaries between us are slightly better and if she still decides to be childish and call me names, she knows I will walk away.

Decades later and with much observation of life, I have learned that being emotionally labile is actually a thing. And there is therapy for this. I’m not going to put labels on it (just yet), though a psychiatrist might, and since I don’t have any official degrees with big titles after my name I will settle with my current credentials of being a life observer of 61 years on this earth with lots of people experience. I think I’ve earned it. I was married nearly 40 years with 4 adult children and 7 grandchildren. As a nurse of 42 years, I have literally seen and cared for thousands of people. I’ve worked in lots of different medical places and went into multiple homes to care for patients needing home health and hospice. I witnessed multiple different scenarios. The rich and poor, young and old, kind and cruel, obese and fragile, clean and dirty, lazy and innovative, smart and not, and I came up with one conclusion. They are all people like you and me. We all have the same basic needs. Food, shelter, water, air and love. But when it comes to personalities, that’s a whole different story. I am hoping that by sharing my own experiences it can be helpful for others to learn how to process their own thoughts and scenarios.

During one of my psych rotations in nursing school back in the day, I remember a fabulous instructor of mine, and one day in class I asked her why some people are crazier than others, and she said, some have inherited personality disorders, while others were caused from their environments as children. It broke my heart to think that someone might have had a healthier personality in a better environment. Naturally, when I hear this I think of my big brother. But then again, that is the past. And we can’t change the past correct? Yes, however, if we look at the past to learn from it, then there is a better chance we can help our future. But if we refuse to look at our past then it’s less likely we will learn to change.

If we can make our future just a little bit better than why wouldn’t we do that?

Selfishness? pride? Perhaps yes, all of those things. I totally get it. I’m learning and growing constantly. Is it hard to grow and change? You bet it is. Change is absolutely the hardest thing to do. Especially when we are looking at old habits of thinking. Some old learned behaviors are extremely difficult to change but not impossible. It takes a lot of intentionality and patience with oneself. When we finally figure out how to change and when we do the hard stuff in life. It is hopefully because we don’t want to pass on certain attitudes to our kids, unless of course, it’s the positive attributes and habits that we learned, and then we take those things and run with our football of lessons and pass it on to the next generation.

You know that even starting out as babies, those tiny ones can feel our body language. They feel when we are tense, nervous and anxious. Mad, happy and sad. At least as adults we are aware of the concept of processing emotions, but a child is just learning about their feelings. They need our help to show them how to identify and process emotion. Babies can bounce and coo but that’s about it. They are totally dependent on us to care for them and comfort them. To show them the way. It’s what will shape their trust in humans.

When kids have trauma, 3 things happen: They either realize it later and learn to cope but don’t get help because they think they have ‘’figured it out on their own’’ (Not). Or they are in complete denial and they don’t think that they need any help at all (when actually they do). OR, they know they need help to heal so they can be a better version of themself, for them and their family and for those around them.

Consider that either way, if the people around them All seem to be struggling with ‘Them’, then maybe it’s not necessarily you, maybe it’s ‘Them’. This is something I learned the hard way (a story for another day).

My mother was my mother. She was the only mother I had and the only mother I knew. I loved her. I still do. But as children, we adapt to our environment, it’s what our life looks like for us. That is what shapes us and becomes our normal. We all do it, good or bad. It’s what we were given. In my case, that was what I had and the deck I was dealt. As I got older I realized there were a lot of right things I had instilled in me and there were also some wrong things with my childhood dynamics. I knew as a parent I didn’t want to pass this on. Unfortunately, as well meaning as that is, it is one thing to actually want it and to say you want it, but it’s a completely different thing to actually WORK ON IT and try and change it. Meaning, finding the right books to read, meeting with the right friends (the ones you trust and that love you). Taking time to be alone and to reflect and journal, to go on long walks. Don’t hide from what’s inside you, it might get buried and lost in there and it will be harder to find later.

My mother was never diagnosed with any type of “personality disorder” but she also never went to a counselor. And going once or twice doesn’t really count. As a 61 year old woman with a now 96 year old mother, I am pretty sure that she has varying displays of mood disorders and some borderline personality disorder with narcissism, maybe even some dissociation along with extremely low self esteem and poor communication skills. I’ll now ask her a million questions without being offended (finally), because in the past when she called me names like; ‘A rotten brat’ or ‘the devil’, I believed her, she was my mother, it must be true and my own self esteem tanked. But somehow even then I knew a lot of those words weren’t right. And now decades later, I am aware that it’s just her reacting from something deep within herself. And when I feel badly for her, let’s be clear, I feel much worse for those around her. The unfortunate caregivers and various friends and family that are still putting up with her verbal abuse and unending need to control everyone and everything simply comes from her own poor self esteem and deep insecurity.

As in her case, I am very aware of her own childhood traumas. Again, it is so sad and I feel very badly for what happened to her, but if the fine balance of being super co-dependent easily rubs off on me then the classic domino effect begins down the line of co-dependency. I will often remind myself that my 96 year old mother is an adult and these are her own issues not mine. It’s never ok to hurt others. And the famous quote here is, hurt people hurt people. Just because somebody we know and love can manipulate or try and control a situation doesn’t mean we have to remain under their spell, it means for us to be aware and draw a line. It’s a hard line of love. And sometimes this is a good opportunity to suggest that our hurting loved one seek out some good counsel. If we love and value ourself, then we won’t be afraid to say this to them. And by the way, this is where I would like to say be careful not to take on somebody else’s pain. It’s called co-dependency. Find the balance.

Sometimes my sister will ask me how I can love mom. We both decided years ago that we needed to watch our backs with mom. Generally my older sister and my brother got the same intense verbal treatment from mom, and honestly my sister being the oldest got it much worse than me. My brother being the only male didn’t have it any better since my mom generally had a chip on her shoulder against men. Truth be told, it was my brother that deeply suffered. So my sister asks a fair question. And I tell her that it’s not always easy to love mom and the real freedom came for me years ago when I was able to finally separate myself from the verbal toxicities. I’ve had to say some very pointed and direct things to my mom (which I didn’t have the courage to say as a child), and I have taught myself not to be attached to her like I was. Detaching has helped me learn how to put a healthy distance between us. I recently told my mom that I am extremely thankful to her for many things. I told her I’m thankful she gave birth to me and that if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be here. We joked about it and laughed together. I’ve been brave enough to tell her that just because she gave birth to me doesn’t mean she’s entitled to manipulate me into doing everything for her, and it certainly doesn’t mean I owe her anything. She knows that it doesn’t give her the right to control me. Though she still gives it a good try.

I have found my own value within myself and that’s made it easier for me to say no to her and walk away.

The other day I felt badly that my 96 year old mother seems to feel stuck in her facility as she sits in a wheelchair in a tiny stuffy room watching TV evangelists all day. So I went over there and got someone to help get her into my truck. I decided to take her on a drive to our old neighborhood in south east Portland. This kind of empathy for her has gotten me into trouble in the past. She has used it against me and I’ve gotten verbally and emotionally trapped by it. So I knew our time together is was limited.

When we found our old house we pulled up in front and the owner happened to be standing out on the front porch. In a friendly manner he came out to talk with us and it was such a great conversation. He genuinely stayed and talked with us for over an hour. He listened patiently as mom reminisced old memories about the neighborhood. I held my breath that she wouldn’t share all the old negative stories with this nice man. As we thanked him for his time and left, I thought to myself, “what a nice afternoon mom must be having” (or so I thought-always remaining guarded). As we left our old house we started heading over to see our old church we had attended as a family. We were having trouble finding it and it was getting late, I felt the tension grow and the negativity starting up, it was like a ticking time bomb. I knew I couldn’t get her back to her place fast enough, unfortunately it was another 20 minutes back on the freeway in the truck together. She starting asking why I hadn’t tried harder to find the church and why I was driving so slow, then attempted to tell me that I wasted her whole day. She could have been back in her room watching the stuffy TV evangelists. Oh boy. The lesson here is that sympathy with strong boundaries isn’t always a good combination. It was a long trip.

By the way, if I am giving anyone the impression that I have this life stuff figured out then please accept my apologies. These are just my humble observations from my own walks of life. I only share my own observations and experiences if it could be helpful for somebody else. Also, I have found that journaling and writing is very therapeutic while trying to process all the emotional stuff that can be mentally fatiguing. BPD with PTSD is likely what my mother had but never diagnosed. The purpose in diagnosing is not just to label but like any other physical disease, if we know specifically what the problem is then it’s easier to target to specific therapies so people can be helped.

Taking care of You helps you be better for them!



Annette Cardoza

I was a hospice nurse and transitioning into procuring plants. I no longer care for the sick. I’m now taking care of me. Learning to live amongst the living.