I wrote this post yesterday then felt ashamed for some reason and took it down. When I do that sort of thing its a sign that the inner critic is on the warpath so today I am posting it.
Much as I feel myself feeling compassion for my Mum lately I am also beginning to feel how empty, painful and lonely it was as a child and even in later life when she just wasn’t really there for me emotionally in any way, could not validate my feelings, told me I should feel differently, ignore and deny certain essential things. Then today when we spoke I told her how I tried to be like her for so long, but realised I wasn’t. That I am often messy, feel lost and confused. Mum then told me she learned to keep good order with everything for her mother told her if she didn’t do things ‘just right’ she would have to do them again. “I had no one there to turn to either, but I don’t blame her”, she said to me.
I was saying to her that there is a difference between blame and accountability and the need to recognise someone’s difficult actions had a very powerful formative affect on you. It is also okay to have feelings about it (that part I did not mention) but I know we weren’t allowed to have certain feelings (or were left carrying her repressed ones) because my Mum denied her own in many ways. This is helping me make sense of the way I tend to rationalise and to feel that I have not ‘got it together’ if things aren’t clear, ordered and tidied away. I can literally spend hours moving things around in my house only to find they have got messed up again and then unconsciously I hear Mum or Nana’s (now the inner critic’s) voice in my head running a ‘not good enough’ commentary over and over and over. Unconsciously I see I am stuck in the old pattern of trying to gain this person’s love, attention and approval.
There was some kind of liberation today in having that conversation with my Mum and it explained why she often finds my own angry outbursts a bit scary, for when I have them I am expressing all the anger she wasn’t allowed to have as a child and then may feel the prohibition against being angry at her own mother. It also occurred to me later, really Mum isn’t the source of all of these painful patterns which stretch so far back.
I can only see now how many years and how much work emotionally separating from a parent can take. There are times I don’t see my mother clearly at all, as I see different sides of her, both the defended hard side and the acutely vulnerable side she had to hide away and cover over years ago. When I feel that side and maybe project my own I move into a caretaker role with my Mum and want to comfort and soothe her. My therapist told me on Thursday that the emotional work I am doing with my Mum is huge. I was discussing my deep resentment towards my mother that has been emerging lately and I cried with how much I don’t want it to limit and poison my life but also how I need the anger to help with self validation and healthy boundary setting.
I also feel my own strong enmeshment with my mother was added to by the fact I lost my father at 23. Due to this in later years when Mum hit the wall emotionally I felt responsible and as some of you know I derailed my independent life in the UK to move back to Australia when she broke her wrist in 2001. I see I have been unconsciously angry about it ever since. It wasn’t also even only her I wanted to heal and protect, it was my older sister who was for years disabled in a home and died a few years ago. At times I have felt this derailment was just too high a price to pay in some ways, but in others just another necessary step on my own unconscious enmeshment pathway of healing. As my therapist often points out we only gain consciousness when we are past mid way through life if our wounds and emotional blind spots have been deep.
All this enmeshment dynamic reached a head when I went for a townhouse at auction back in March. Mum ended up buying it after I realised I had made a mistake and had chosen out of what her ideal may be for me and my life, rather than my own. Lately she has been trying to coax me to move into it, thinking it will be less work for me, and due to the fact my house is very very cold in winter. She thinks to make things easier for me will help me, but will it? When I look at the new place it doesn’t have a lot of the heart and soul of my old cottage. And then I remember how important it is that at times I struggle and don’t always look for the easier softer way. Having a soft place to fall is good sometimes but at other times it can be counterproductive if this attitude gets me to give up a thing of real beauty that still has flaws which seem to be tough at times but never the less give me joy. To quote Leonard Cohen again ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s the way the light gets in’.
I am not making any moves for a while. I am not going to let my hand be forced. I still have the tooth removal hanging over my head and its still making me queasy due to the fact that I know I would never be going through this if I hadn’t at one point been the focus of my Mum’s self improvement project by proxy. I am powerless over it. But having no front teeth is a profound metaphor for me and not a good one, its a bitter pill I have to swallow, the wound I will carry to my death. I just don’t want it to poison the rest of my life in resentment.
And the deeper sadder truth is that what I needed emotionally as a child I never got and that wound has dogged me and caused massive repercussions. In the end I destroyed relationships and even my own attempts to break away into and independent life but then even as I write this I see the critic is still giving me a hard time. I was on the path of working through so much from my past and often partners wanted me to be over it, before I had done the necessary work and so those relationships had to end so I could grow to psychological maturity while holding my inner child’s hand and recognising the grief of deeper emotional abandonment in her life.
My story and life is so far from over though, so there is hope over the horizon. Lately new friendships seem to be coming to me, ones that are more genuine and authentic, ones with people who like me for exactly who I am warts and all and don’t mind me being real and messy. So all is not lost but its been a fucking painful and hard journey knowing how different my life could have been had I had the emotional support I really needed in childhood and growing up. Yet I must accept that reality and see how much I have learned about myself and human nature along the way.