Serving the Mother

An image of a mother who emotionally exploits her child in an Oedipal manner.

Mother Enmeshment

She’s okay, I’m okay.

Pleasing my Mom

My mother never got her needs met when she was a child, so like everybody else she went looking to get them met out in the world ( i.e. through other people).

She met my father at a young age and tried to build a connection with him. With him being young and also having a difficult childhood, he also went out into the world looking to get his needs met, primarily through money, success and approval.

So suffice it to say, my mother’s goal of connecting with a man in her life and having a mature relationship failed miserably. Because of both of their pre-existing issues.

Then I was born and my mother’s unconscious saw an opportunity there. It’s not that she was malicious in any way but her unmet need was so powerful that it would’ve made her do anything to get it met. I think we all go to great lengths and do dumb things to get our unmet, childhood needs met (yet we do have responsibility to look closely and not hurt others.)

You see this all the time with celebrities who take drugs and/or drink themselves to death. Some of them even work themselves to the bone, accumulating a vast amount of success that nobody else will ever be able to re-create, and still is not enough for them. All that  effort and energy expended the wrong way.

Us mere mortals do the exact same thing but in different ways. When I was in high school I remember this one kid who took steroids to grow bigger muscles, to impress the girls. It didn’t. It only covered up his insecurity.

Then in university I saw lots of young men go to the gym and push themselves to injury (yours truly included) because they had to be big and strong to offset the feeling of being weak and worthless. I also knew one woman who went under the knife to enhance her appearance even though she got 10 phone numbers/day from interested men. She risked her health by going to a disreputable place and spent thousands of dollars so that she could get a 1% increase in approval from others. Nobody cared.

Everyone’s trying to fill their void, which is the great need that has so much power in our lives.

So much so that will even ruin our lives gladly just to feel wanted, or good enough.

Scene from Hansel and Gretel where the witch represents a narcissistic mother.

Oedipal Mother

Devouring her Children

So here was my mother with her great, unmet need and in front of her was me, a powerless child that she could control and mold into someone who would reflect back to her what she would want to see and feel.

Instead of working on her own issues, or working on a connection with her husband, or working on her relationship with her parents and revisiting the origin of her issues, she decided to use her offspring instead, which had the enormous cost of burying their individuality.

I don’t blame her because back then people were not aware of their psychological issues.

But I am resentful still because it did affect me and now I I’m stuck with the work of untangling it all.

My mother’s biggest weapons were passive aggressiveness and being a victim, or looking like a wounded bird.

When my mother was displeased with my behavior ( and most the time there was nothing wrong with what I was doing) she would pull away emotionally. What she was looking for was for me to smile at her and be positive and upbeat around her most of the time so that she could feel that she is in a relationship with somebody who likes her.

This of course created lots of anxiety in me because a mother who pulls away and is unhappy with you is one who may abandon you. And if that happens then as a child you know that you could die, or at least be in for a life of deprivation. Of course my mother didn’t know this was what I was feeling unconsciously as she was wrapped up and preoccupied with her own issue. But nonetheless that was my experience and it was destabilizing.

She also had a way of looking like a victim or like a wounded bird much of the time. This emotional demeanor served to try to elicit attention and care from the people around her. It didn’t work with many of the adults in her life but it didn’t matter as she now had her children, and it worked on them.

Seeing her this way again was very anxiety provoking. As a child it looked to me like my mother was not doing well and might even die. That couldn’t happen of course because if my mother died then my survival would be at stake once again, and so I looked to appease her to make sure she was okay.

This was automatic and happened without me even knowing what I was doing or what the dynamic was between us. As I got older this type of relationship became more and more cemented into place until it felt like it was completely normal, like this is how everyone has a relationship with their mother, isn’t it?

Painting of a woman who looks like she could be a parent or mom that is unpredictable and maybe prone to violent outbursts.


Behind the Mask

I grew up thinking that my mother was a loving, wonderful mom. On the outside she seemed to be all candy and roses and that’s the way I wanted to see her too.

But if I look back I can actually see a deeper layer. A threat.

The first emotional layer was her calm, nurturing demeanor. This was at the surface and what she portrayed most often.

The second layer that I just discussed above was her victimhood and passive aggressiveness which were used to manipulate and caused lots of anxiety.

The third, and deeper layer to all of them, is a sort of livid, threatening hostility. Picture a cat or an evil snake hissing, threatening its prey, “Give me what I want or I’ll eat you!!”

I think I sensed this in her. On some level I know I must have because I remember being young and having a dream about her. She was coming toward me looking like a witch and her hair started to grow and turn white simultaneously, her eyes turned white and sunk back into their sockets, she showed her teeth and made a horrible sound like she was going to attack and consume me.

Underneath all of the masks that she was wearing, was a hostility so great that she would hurt her own children to satisfy that deep ache that she must’ve felt.

That was much scarier than her passive aggressiveness or her victimhood. This wasn’t just a mother who might abandon me, where I still may have had a chance for life if she did, this was a mother ready to attack if I didn’t give her what she wanted. An attack from a parent is certain death from a child’s point of view.

To have been able to see that as a child would have been too destabilizing and so my brain protected me by only letting me see nonthreatening aspects of her, and by making me adept at reading my mother’s emotional state and responding to it quickly.


The Fallout

The effect that this had on me was profound and caused a bunch of different issues.

One of them was the creation of a codependent me. I learned to scan other people and try my best to mold myself into a person that would meet their needs. What I wanted was not only irrelevant but they were out of my awareness.

I didn’t know that I even had needs and wants of my own. Living this way (in codependence with others)  was just so normal to me.

The only indication that something was wrong in my life, was my growing resentment. I wish that I could have listened to my anger and resentment’s a lot earlier on because they were telling me what I needed, and what I needed to do.

Man with a different face to maipulate others with.

Nice Guy

I was a nice guy full of rage.

Except I didn’t know I was full of rage as that emotion, and anger in general, were off limits to me because people (i.e. my mother) didn’t approve of of it. And if I went ahead and expressed my authentic self anyway, then my earlier, conditioned self kicks in and tells me that these people who don’t approve may abandon or overwhelm me. In other words my survival response gears up and the anxiety is too much to bear..

Again all of this is unconscious so I didn’t know it was going on.

My work now is to create a new relationship with my mother where I act in a way that I want to act and do it knowing that she is going to be angry with me. She’s going to use all of her tricks and it’s going to trigger me massively – because a pattern that so entrenched doesn’t go away on its own.

I have to do this with her and with everybody else in the world that I’m enacting the same dynamic with.

I have to face the anxiety over and over again, a 1000 times over many years, enduring all the discomfort that comes up for me, and accept all the consequences that are to go long with it, until a new pattern is formed.

I do this by listening to my anger as it tells me what I want to say and do.

My relationship with my mother now is getting better. She is not always happy with me and not much has changed on her end, but much has changed on mine and so I am suffering less.

Emotional work is a long, difficult grind.

Sisyphean Struggle

I still have a ways to go with this but it’s getting there.

It’s tough though, but the more I do it the better I feel. I like where it’s heading, even though I still harbor some resentment towards her.



*** 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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