I know I just wrote about this a few posts back but I’ve got another angle to process it from.
Living to make her Happy
Growing up my mind was never fully centered on what I was feeling or on what I wanted. There was a threat in my environment that I had to constantly keep my eyes on – mother and father. When you have all of your attention on the predator you are in a fight or flight, anxious mode where the only thing that matters is managing that threat.
That means that your attention is almost always focused on the danger. Where is the predator now, what is the likelihood that the predator will attack, what do we do now that the predator is interacting with us etc.?
So much outward focus to manage anxiety that taps into my survival instinct.
My mother was a smiley and calm woman on the outside but underneath she was passive-aggressive. If she wasn’t happy for any reason with what or who I was at the time then she would let me know in a very subtle, but powerful way and that was for her to pull away emotionally.
That to me was scary as hell. I know it doesn’t sound like much from the description but when I was a child, having my mother pull away for me was akin to my lifeline being taken away. I, like most children, instinctively knew that my lifelines were my parents and if anything happened to the security of those lifelines that I would be in big trouble.
So when my mother threatened to pull away, it was like one of my lifelines destabilized and that was very threatening. So I had to find a way (adapt) to rectify the situation and I learned quickly that if she was pleased, that she would metaphorically pat me on the head with approval and I would feel safe.
That was the Oedipal dance being formed right there and then. A way of relating between us that locked us into that specific dynamic for many years to come.
My environment had a predator or threat in it and I constantly felt a lot of anxiety about that. To cope with this anxiety I decided to appease or placate that threat. That meant some part of me had to be constantly monitoring for the threat and be ready to “do for her.”
What I had to do was usually smile, or reflect something positive back to her. Act in a way that made it so I was best friends with her, and put her first before anybody else. I also had to give her attention when she needed it and seem very happy to accommodate whatever she wanted.
She would never tell me explicitly what she wanted but hoped (and deep down new) that I would pick up on her signals and materialize whatever situation she was hoping for. Then she would smile and light up like a Christmas tree saying, “thank you thank you! This is so wonderful and you’re a great son to have.”
Her reaction was my reward for picking up on what she wanted me to do and doing it.
For example she used to like receiving gifts at Christmas but always told everybody that it wasn’t necessary to bring gifts. She would say and repeat that many times and most listened and didn’t bring anything for her. But on a deeper level she really wanted me to bring her something and unconsciously knew that I would. After all we had a special relationship which she needed in order to feel good about herself.
If I didn’t bring her a gift I would feel anxious because I knew that underneath all of that she would be angry and express it once again by pulling away in some subtle, passive aggressive manner. Nobody else would ever notice as she was astute enough to understand that other people can easily pick up on things like that and so she was covert, even from herself – meaning it was unconscious for her, sort of. She wasn’t aware but also didn’t want to be aware.
So here I am, a grown adult and stuck with this pattern of anxiety, outward focus to please others and resentment at having to do it. It really blows my mind how other people seem to have no issue whatsoever with doing and saying whatever they want and not caring one bit what other people do or think about that.
I guess it’s because they don’t feel that survival anxiety to make them feel that they are in danger most of the time. They never had the same upbringing and/or perhaps they have a different issue.
Another one of my roles that I had with my mother was to carry her or take care of her emotionally again. This is sort of the same thing that I explained above except in this case she is broadcasting one low level, continuous signal of victim hood or helplessness, as opposed to random signals here and there to get something specific she wants from me.
That signal of helplessness elicited in me a strong response to save her when I was a child because again if my lifeline is in trouble in any way then so was I. This “saving her” emotionally was just another way that she could get someone else’s attention and care continuously. Something she likely didn’t get enough of when she was a child which is sad, but doesn’t obviously justify her getting her needs met from a two-year-old instead of from her husband and friends etc.
I remember being young and always wondering how my mother was. Worrying about if she was okay, if she needed anything etc., and most the time she didn’t but I think unconsciously she broadcasted those signals enough so that she had someone give her that continuous attention in some way.
I was basically set up to be a supply for her.
Another way of saying this is that I was carrying her emotionally and it was exhausting. It never ended as her needs were perpetual and so I never got a break. I never got to look inward and see how I was feeling, how I was doing or what I even wanted.
After a while of this, resentment started to build up within me even though I wasn’t aware of it. It wasn’t until I started therapy that I became aware of my disowned rage toward her. I remember telling my therapist that I just wanted my mother to let go of me.
What I needed to realize was that it was me who needed to let go. I simply needed to stop engaging in the relationship through the old lens, and instead relate with her in a more mature, and honest way.
It’s easy to say but very difficult to do. It’s hard because whenever I think about disengaging or actually doing and saying things which start the process of disengagement, that old, overwhelming survival anxiety kicks in and I feel that it’s too much to handle. Actually I feel like something really bad is going to happen if she gets mad, hence survival anxiety.
“This action may result in death.”
I know intellectually that I won’t die if I separate from my mother, but emotionally I do believe it will be disastrous if I did as the anxiety takes over, floods me, and all reason goes out the window.
But I have to do anyway.
From what I understand this process is to be undertaken in baby steps over a five-year period. Unfortunately it does take that long to break the old dynamic but it’s also the most important thing I have to do right now.
Nothing else in my life will go well unless I fix this first. The anxiety and resentment will continue to sabotage my life and make me make decisions that are not in my best interest.
So I’ve decided to talk with her regularly, on a schedule, and be as honest with her as I can to create a new pattern which will replace the old. A new relationship basically. It isn’t easy. I feel more anxiety doing this than ever but it’s my current version of facing my fear.
I’m also committing to trying to be as honest as I can (in other words be myself) with everyone else in my life as part of this psychological individuation or separation. It’s not easy once again. I cave a lot, I’m unaware of what I should have said or should have done etc., but then I realize what my mistakes were and get right back on the horse vowing to do better the next time. And most of the time I do. Baby steps.
I’m about three years into this five year process, I hope it will take less than five years but I’ll be ready for it to take more. I can see now that nothing else matters if I want to have my own life, a good life for the rest of the years that I do have left.
*** If you’re going through something similar then I hope this helped. If you are, I invite you to share it with me and everybody else who visits here by typing it up and emailing it over. I’ll post it on the blog which would benefit everyone; you for writing it up – which gets you in touch with your unconscious more and with this issue of yours specifically – and us for relating with it and perhaps seeing our own issue from a different angle
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