My relationship with my mother is complicated. It feels like a living thing quite separate from me. A complex, dangerous, unpredictable, delicate and yet tenacious living thing that persists. I’ve written a lot about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and my mother in this space over the last decade. I started this blog in my thirties. I was married with little kids living in the Twin Cities. I can scarcely believe that I’m now divorced, living in the Bay Area, and my youngest daughter is a junior in high school. I remember lying in my bed at night when I was a girl wondering what it would be like to be an adult. I thought that I would feel powerful. I was counting on it actually. To be honest though, I don’t feel powerful. At least not as I had imagined I would when I was pondering what adulthood would afford me.
There was a time when I was not in relationship with my mother, and that was not an easy decision for me to make. I have four daughters. The mother-daughter relationship is laced with complexity particularly if we do no not attend to our own Mother Wound. When our children enter our lives, we are given another chance to experience childhood alongside them with a fresh perspective. As we nurture our children through their successive stages of development, we draw upon the nurturing we received stored up within us, or we dig a fresh well within ourselves in search of the ancestral and human gifts of maternal love and care that women having been bestowing upon their children for thousands of years. But, if we are not mindful, the Mother Wound may wound us a second time, and this can be very painful. Our own child can either become a symbol of pain and grief or a doorway into a renaissance of joy, healing, growth, and family. I think that motherhood is a mélange of both because no childhood is perfect. Every parent experiences loss, pain, and sorrow during their childhood, and almost all of our mothers carry their own Mother Wound in some form. Tragedy and trauma are common to all of us throughout the ages. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but trauma is…normal. We’ve all experienced it in some form, and we are finally now beginning to openly discuss trauma as a society.
For my mother, I became a symbol of lack, and she learned to resent me. She viewed me through a distorted lens, and her own sense of deprivation was cast upon me. She could only criticize me, express jealousy, compete, and, eventually, express an unmitigated rage that would eventually cause me to put space between us. The more I asked her to seek help and healing, the more contempt she expressed. After a few years of separation passed (and numerous letters pleading for me to see her), I relented. I thought that perhaps time and her advancing age might have settled her. She has not aged well. She struggles with multiple chronic health conditions, and, frankly, she lacks the energy to muster the rage that once defined her. Her competitiveness, jealousy, spite, and negativity are all, however, fully intact.
I once said that watching Faye Dunaway play Joan Crawford in the film “Mommie Dearest” is very much like watching my mother in action. My mother was quite beautiful when she was young, and she had this way of charming people around her. Everyone in her sphere of influence is merely playing a part in her narrative. There isn’t a family member or friend who believes that she can be cruel, violent, or homicidal, but my daughters have seen “the look”–an expression that comes over her face when she is about to say or do something villainous. And, they’ve heard the tone in her voice when she decides that the environment needs shifting. The atmosphere must always resonate with her internal state be it peaceful or tumultuous.
The last time I saw my mother was when she and her husband helped me move to the Bay Area. I was reluctant to accept their help, but a small part of me thought that perhaps it would be different this time. I think that all children–no matter their age–have a certain kind of hope about their parents. Maybe their parents will finally be safe, loving, and kind. Trustworthy. It is magical thinking. It is a child’s dream, and I say that because children do not have the experience upon which to base their trust. They simply offer it freely believing that the world and the people in it are good. But, when we arrive at adulthood having grown up with abusive adults, why are we still extending trust to people who have historically abused us? Why did I extend my mother the benefit of the doubt? Because I really wanted to believe that she could change even though there was absolutely no evidence in the forty plus years I’d known her that she could or would. I am her child after all, but…I’m no longer a child. It is too dangerous a thing to believe in magic in these situations.
My mother was true to form. She critiqued my hair, teeth, the skin on my neck, my posture, my choices, and my car all while demanding that we compliment her hair which was de rigueur for her. When my boyfriend arrived to help us move into my apartment, she oozed charm, laughing and fanning herself. It was almost comical. My stepfather, enthralled by him as well, laughed obsequiously at everything he said and insisted on lifting über-heavy boxes by himself in a macho manner. I felt like I had been dropped into an episode of “Arrested Development”. My stepfather turned to me and said, “We thought you were running away from your problems, but now we get it.” I had only just re-established a superficial relationship with them four months prior to this, but the old rules of engagement were quickly put in place. I wanted no part of it.
And here we are, two years later.
Nothing has changed on her part. What have I learned? It’s a question that needs asking because I fought hard to establish boundaries with her, sent packages back to her, spent years in therapy to address the years of abuse, and cried in the basement hoping my daughters wouldn’t hear me–but they did. So, now that I have some distance on this, I must ask again. What have I learned? Have I learned anything?
Well, I am continuing to learn that there is nothing I can do to make my mom love me because her behaviors and words ultimately have nothing to do with me. If I call her, she is unhappy. If I don’t call her, she is unhappy. If I make room in my life for her, she will find fault with me. If I don’t make room in my life for her, she will find fault with me. I will never be able to do anything right. I will never be good enough or perfect enough or …..enough because she has projected her own sense of self onto me. And, her sense of identity is so disjointed and ultimately founded upon self-loathing that she can only see me as an extension of how she experiences herself. This is my Mother Wound. My mother hates me because she hates herself, and that is an extraordinarily painful truth. To be honest, I wish I would have been able to truly internalize this a long time ago. It would have made my journey easier.
I have not always been able to feel compassion for her because she has committed some truly heinous crimes against other people. But, I can see now that her profound rejection and abandonment of herself which manifested in multiple suicide attempts also manifested as multiple extremely violent attacks against family members. Her rage and dissociative identity were the result of her early childhood abuse and the shattering of her budding identity. She has never felt belonging, love, or security. Does this excuse her? Does this excuse the years of almost indescribable abuse? No. My family has been shattered by her actions, but I have a greater understanding of her now than I did twenty years ago. And with that understanding comes insight into how to live in the present and plan for my own future carrying that wound. Because here’s the truth as I can understand it today. I don’t know that we entirely heal from being born to a mother who hates you.
I’ve been in therapy since I was 16. Not the entire time, of course, but it’s been an ongoing process. I treat this process of healing much like I do old injuries. I have to see a chiropractor for an old neck injury when it flares up particularly during cold weather or when I’ve been studying too much. Old, negative core beliefs related to my mother flare up sometimes, too, and I need to talk to my therapist to sort myself out. Sometimes a really good adjustment can provide a deeper and more progressive healing to an old injury than I thought possible, and I can go six months with hardly any neck pain. Ten years ago, that was an impossibility. This is similar to “doing the work” regarding our core emotional wounds. And, maybe the healing today is being able to say that I love my mother and can accept her as she is knowing that she cannot love me back. I also accept that there is deep pain in that reality, but this reality is not and has never been my fault. It is not my job to fix her by being codependent. Besides, giving up my own identity in an attempt to get love or approval from my mother won’t earn me anything from her except more contempt. She simply does not have the capacity to give me what I need and actually deserve. And so we must grieve and come to a place of acceptance.
If you are struggling with a Parent or Caregiver Wound, I would like you to know that you are deeply lovable. I remember holding each of my daughters after they were born. I was overcome with such a profound and immense sense of love and awe. Who would ever grant me the privilege of being someone’s mother? And yet there I was, holding that tiny human, watching her little fingers wrap around mine. You are deserving of love like that, of being beheld like that, of being held close like that. Not because you perform well. Not because you look perfect or meet everyone’s expectations. Simply because. It may not feel true. Your mind may not accept it as true. Yet it is true. Remember that. Write it down. Keep going because one day it will start to feel true even if it doesn’t today.
Never give up.