All my life, I knew something was wrong. My mother never nurtured me, held me, or comforted me, that I could remember. Oh yes, we always gave each other the perfunctory hug, as a greeting or a good-bye, but it had no real warmth or closeness. She had no empathy for what I was going through, ever. I remember one day, as a teenager, I was in my bedroom crying quietly. With an angry tone she inquired, “What are you crying about this time–some boy?”
I explained to her that I was crying because my best friend, Jennifer, was moving away. From the time I started school, we had moved from place to place, and until I reached my sophomore year of high school, I don’t think I’d ever been in one school for more than a year. So friends were important to me, and losing this one was painful. But as usual, she had no compassion, and just dismissed it casually–no, not casually–coldly.
Aren’t mothers supposed to mother? And if so, what is wrong with me that my mother didn’t show me a maternal love? (I have come to find out, that it was something very wrong deep inside her heart, and it wasn’t me.)
Recently, I wrote her a letter, and said that I always felt like I was the mother. Later, my husband asked me what I meant by that. It was difficult to put into words, but it was the truth. Then I found a wonderful book, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing The Daughters Of Narcissistic Mothers.” It was written by Karyl McBride, Ph.D. The minute I read the title, I knew that I had to have it. And yes, it put into words all the things that I knew were true for so many years. And I realized that in order to be healed, I would have to understand why this woman, (who never encouraged me to call her mom or momma, so I called her by her first name) did not mother me.
It’s interesting-a fellow blogger friend was recalling all the wonderful details of the love and affection that his mother had shown him through the years. She had recently died, and he was remembering so many of the things that made her so special to him. And part of that, I could tell was that she made him feel so special. She kissed him and hugged him, whenever she saw him. (Not an obligatory hug, but a heartfelt, loving welcome.) She let him know that he was a treasure to her. I told him that I was deeply touched by his memories of their relationship, and yet at the same time, saddened. I felt that we were going through the grieving process together, but for very different reasons.
I wrote to him:
For very different reasons, we are both going through a similar journey. I also make motions, but my heart is far from the reality. I am questioning many things–my past, my childhood, my entire existence, really. Trying to make some sense of it, in a way that doesn’t completely invalidate all of it. But I find upon reflection, that I was genuine always, in the midst of great heartbreak. More sensitive than this world can accommodate, experiencing deep sorrow, as well as great joy.
But always genuine…
Perhaps indeed, this may be the greatest time of both of our lives. I am not ready to die–there is so much more to be experienced and savoured. More to understand, more knowledge to gain, more love to give and receive. Perhaps it was required that we each walk this road, to find the revelation that lies around the bend. I approach the bend in the road, with great expectations, as I hope you soon will also.
And he answered:
You and I are both grieving for the same character-Mine passed away and you need yours to be removed from you……..in a way that is also death. In effect, we are both grieving. When I read some of your words, I got confused because I couldn’t identify what, but you just put this in perspective and now it all makes sense to me…….you are grieving for the Mother you never had, and I am grieving for the Mother that I had. How terribly ironic can it be for you?
And Sparkle, that is why you are living your life so much like me….its a hallmark condition of grieving. I think dumb-dumb here will have many new suggestions that probably will help you, the next time I read your blog.
Thank you always for visiting me. I’m so glad I came to you that first time.
My best to you–May God watch over you.
And there is one phrase there that hit the nail on the head (so to speak), and it is this:
“…….you are grieving for the Mother you never had, and I am grieving for the Mother that I had.”
Yes, I am grieving for “the mother I never had.” And sure enough there in the book (unbeknownst to me was a passage called, “Grieving the Mother You Never Had.” (This was more than chance.) It started off with:
“Every little girl deserves to have a mother who is crazy about her.”
Yes, in fact, every little child deserves to be the focus of their parent, in those growing years (and even after.) Truth is, we always need our mother to be a mother, don’t we? And when she is not, it affects us for the rest of our lives. When we do not feel celebrated, we wonder what is wrong with us. Being nurtured is so much more than food, clothing and shelter. It is what makes us feel secure, confident, and most of all, loved. When we don’t receive that kind of love, we will forever be trying, and trying, and trying, till the day she dies (or we do) to win her love and approval. We will jump through hoops continually, deny our own happiness, and dance as fast as we can always, in hopes of someday being able to please her. But we never can.
But if she can’t accept us for who we are, (not what we do) how can we ever grow into healthy women? If she insists that we exist for her pleasure–to be a reflection of her, and to fulfill her needs, then we don’t receive the nurturing, security, or confidence that we need. And it becomes all about her, and it always will be, if she is a narcissist, as my mother is. And we can jump and dance forever and a day, but we will never obtain the one thing that we desire–unconditional love and acceptance. My mother purposely withheld that from me, choosing instead to make me think, that the only approval I was worthy of, (and that was quite temporary) was the approval I earned. It was all performance based, but even the things that I was sure would please her, often times didn’t. And I could never figure out how to play this game. Her love and acceptance always seemed out of reach to me.
I knew this couldn’t be right, but I had little to compare it to, except for the love of my grandmother. Thank God, for the unconditional love that she showered on me, when I lived with her from the ages of about 2 to almost 7. I believe that any healthy image that I have of love, came from her. She was very demonstrative and warm, and very nurturing. Leaving her, tore away every shred of security that I ever had.
When my mom threatened to kill herself, soon after she took me away from my grandparents (when I was somewhere around 6 or almost 7), if I did not get along with her then boyfriend, I was so frightened, that the next time he came to our apartment door, I buried my face in his jacket, jumped into his arms, and hugged him as tightly as I could. (It’s not that I really disliked him, but I needed some time alone with my mother, for her to first be a mother, before she brought men into our lives. But there were already two men, by the time she came back to get me.) This one, later became my step-father. Hugging him tightly (regardless of my feelings) meant not losing my mother, and I can still smell the leather of his coat.
What kind of mother would do something like that to a little girl? It’s emotional abuse of the worst kind. After that, I always feared abandonment, and determined to try not to make her unhappy or mad. But little girls are children, and no one can be good all the time, but I surely tried. If I didn’t please her, she would call me names, like “jealous”, “high strung”, or “too sensitive.” I have since read that narcissists project their feelings about themselves onto you. It is called “projection.” She tried to shame me, if I cried out for her attention, or didn’t always act like a grown-up. So I became an adult, and lost my childhood forever. I would “mother my mother” and that would remain our way of relating to this day. Her physical and emotional needs would always be predominat. She would receive all the compassion (and I would never receive any.) I would take up for her, (even fight her battles, if necessary), but as for me, I was on my own. I could never find solace in the warmth of her arms, never find rest on her shoulder, or understanding emanating from her heart. She was never there for me with emotional support. Never. In fact, many times she criticized me, when I was hurting the most, telling me that she just “didn’t understand.” (And sadly, I realized as an adult, that she never would, because she wasn’t going to even try.)
No, it’s not physical abuse, but the scars run just as deep, and if you look closely, you’ll see them–just behind my eyes where the hurt and rejection reside, and there in my aching heart, where there is always a sadness.
I remember so clearly every Mother’s Day, searching for an appropriate card, and thinking, “Why is this always so difficult?” (It had never been hard choosing a card for my beloved grandmother.) And I realized that my mother was really not a mother, so how could I extol all the virtues of her unselfish love? (I couldn’t.)
I will continue pursuing these thoughts, as I gain more understanding of the situation, and how to be healed. (And my God will heal and comfort me. Of this I am sure.) But first, I have to acknowledge the problem, and no longer push it down into the recesses of my soul, pretending that everything was alright. It wasn’t, and I always knew it…
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