I really enjoy your posts and I think you are doing a wonderful job.
There’s something that I’ve been struggling with and would really appreciate your advice. My mom claims that she can feel the spirits of people who have passed away and travel with them in a sort of elevated state of being. She knows I don’t believe in anything supernatural, yet I know she will be hurt if I tell her that I think she is wrong. My goal is not to change her beliefs, but for her to accept the fact that I am not willing sit there and listen to her make claims that insult my sense of reason.
Good for you for wanting to be gentle.
Since your mother already knows that you don’t believe in anything supernatural, she also already knows that you think she is wrong. Both of you know that both of you know this, but both of you have a tacit agreement to not say it out loud.
This is a common game in families called “Don’t say the truth we both know.” Depending on the importance of the unspoken truth, the problems this game can cause range from mild to severe, and even fatal. The extreme version of this game is sometimes called “Ignoring the Elephant in the Room,” as in a family with an addicted member.
It’s essentially a trade-off. By pretending to not know what everyone knows that everyone knows, The short term gain is that someone’s feelings are spared something like humiliation, or sadness, or anxiety, and a confrontation is avoided. The long term loss is that things that need attending to are neglected.
In your case the only consequences seem to be that you have some tension and loss of closeness in your relationship with your mother. That is a sad thing, but so far it has been worth it to both of you to avoid the other emotions that might come up if you both were frank and open about your opinions.
Consider three possible reasons why your mom is attracted to believing that she can sense or communicate with the dead and travel with them:
1. It reassures her that there is an afterlife where her own consciousness will be preserved after her death, and she might be able to commune with the living, including you.
2. It makes her feel special and important to have an ability that most people don’t claim to have.
3. It can be exciting in what may be an otherwise boring, limited daily life that is getting more limited as she gets older.
You might be the only person with whom she feels safe to talk about these things. Since necromancy and astral projection are generally frowned upon by most religious people, there’s a risk that anyone else would openly criticize her for delving into the “occult,” or would just spread gossip that she’s crazy. I don’t think she is crazy, by the way. She just believes in odd things. Many, many people do.
However, I don’t think that these considerations mean that you must passively sit there when she starts talking about these odd things. You can respond in two ways:
The first is to suggest and promote activities that might better fulfill some of her needs. Compliment her on things she does well that make her special and important to you and others, and encourage her to do more of those things. Help her feel appreciated for her real world talents. If she tends to be isolated, encourage her to get out more and socialize. She might not be a self-starter in that regard, so perhaps you can help her get started by driving her or accompanying her to social venues where she can find companionship with people who will come to like her for her more earthly skills. If she is also able to find a few people who are comfortable with her ideas about sensing spirits, so much the better. Then you won’t be the only one with whom she feels safe to talk about it.
She probably won’t completely discard these beliefs you have described, but hopefully she’ll have other things to talk about, other gifts and abilities to offer the world of the living, other relationships that give her present life meaning, and other people who will listen to her besides you and the dead.
At the same time that these healthier outlets are developing, you can do the second thing, which is to gently assert yourself about your own comfort. Whenever she starts talking to you about her contacts and travels with ghosts, you can quietly say, “Mom, I’m not comfortable talking about this stuff with you.” If that’s too serious a tone, you might try a lighter version with a chuckle and a smile, “Oh come on, Mom, that stuff is too weird for me.” Either way, you’re telling the truth because you’re not comfortable talking about it, yet it’s not the more brutal statement, “You’re wrong about all that nonsense,” that you’re afraid would hurt her feelings. Always have in your pocket a list of preselected topics of conversation that you can immediately bring up as an alternative. “Hey, what do you think about…”
If she persists, your last resort is to politely excuse yourself and leave. Something like, “Uh huh. Mom I have to go now, I’ll see you later. Love ya.” will probably suffice. After a while of losing your company whenever she brings this topic up, she might either consciously or unconsciously decide to talk to you about something else.
The results will probably be slow and subtle, but hopefully your relationship with her will become closer and more relaxed because you both will have set aside the “Don’t say the truth we both know” game. You’ll have other truths to share openly, such as your mutual affection, your mutual interests, and your mutual experiences of life in the here and now.