Was your mother hurtful?
As a therapist, I hear a lot about your mothers. I hear about mothers who were kind, compassionate and caring. Mothers who took care of your needs when you were little and mothers who encouraged you as you grew. These are the mothers I often hear about when patients come in for grief counseling after their mothers have passed. I’m happy to know these mothers actually do exist.
But as a therapist who works with complex post traumatic stress, I generally hear the opposite. I hear from adult clients who present with symptoms of anxiety, depression and dissociative disorders. They have problems with their sexuality, relationships and often have an inability to connect with others. Sound like you?
While you may think you have a mental illness that can be treated by medication and traditional talk therapy, more often than not, these presenting issues can be traced back to your origins. Yes, I’m referring to the original relationship you had or didn’t have with your mother. This primary relationship and the effects it had on your body actually started nine months before you were born. Studies now show that the care your mother provided in utero is important both to your physical as well as your emotional well being.
When an infant’s needs are met, they will have what is called secure attachment. As adults, they feel safe in their bodies and have a “felt sense” of being okay in the world. Sure, they will encounter difficulties, but they posses an innate ability to work through challenges. On the other hand, if they had a mother who was unable to meet their needs as an infant, their body carries stress that they were too young to process but nevertheless exists. Of course, developmental trauma generally continues well past infancy and toddler years. It can then result in complex post traumatic disorder, commonly known as CPTSD.
As an adult, these stored emotions stay with you and are very often the root cause of the symptoms that bring you to therapy. Many of you have some pretty horrific memories of how your mother treated you growing up:
- Mothers who were physically abusive in all kinds of ways.
- Mothers who verbally put you down by yelling, cursing or were just plain being mean.
- Mothers who were unsupportive of your interests or pursuits.
- Mothers who didn’t believe you when you told them their boyfriends or husbands were sexually molesting you.
- Mothers who robbed you of your childhood by over-burdening you with chores and/or taking care of younger siblings.
- Mothers who treated you like an adult, when you were just a kid.
- Mothers who ‘over shared’, complained, and placed too much responsibility on you.
- Mothers who simply weren’t there because they left you to be raised by their own mothers, grandmothers or siblings.
These are just a few examples of the kind of moms I label as ‘hurtful’.
Whatever your traumas, big or small, the way you were taken care of early on is sure to effect your self esteem and self confidence as an adult. It also effects the way you navigate your current relationships including your partner, your friends and even your boss.
I bet your mother expects you to take care of her now that you’re an adult living your own life. Your mother may guilt you into taking care of her because she feels entitled as your mother. Family tradition and societal mores will validate your mother’s wishes and you may resentfully give in and let her into your own home. This leaves you feeling resentful, stuck and depressed.
Did you know that you have choice? You can choose to take care of yourself first and foremost. You can learn what it is to form healthy relationships with people who love and respect you for who you are. You can choose to rid yourself of toxic people who bring you down. One of those toxic people just might be your own mother.
It’s time to re-evaluate the relationship you had with the woman who brought you into this world. Did she take care of your needs physically? Emotionally? Respect you during your formative years and now as an adult? Your mental health symptoms most likely developed the day you were born. You can stop blaming yourself and carrying shame. It’s time to embrace who you are and live your best life right in this moment.
- Jackie A. Castro, LMFT