My relationship with my mum, like everyone’s, is complicated. So all the mother’s day propaganda has been irritating me in the past week. I hate these commercial holidays at the best of times, with the saccharine advertising and the hyper real happiness of the stereotypical families they force down our throats. At the moment, when my family feels fractured, I don’t want to see that stuff. I’m intelligent enough to know it’s not realistic, but it still serves as a reminder of what my life isn’t.
In a therapy session with J this week, I spoke about attachment again. She asked what triggers me in our sessions. I told her that discussing our relationship makes me incredibly anxious, so she said it was a good place to start. I immediately regretted sharing that.
J asked me who I think I project onto her. Without hesitation, I said, ‘my mum’. Aside from her age, and her nurturing nature, J has very little in common with my mum. But she asked me what the similarities are. I wasn’t sure, because I don’t see her as filling my mum’s shoes, it’s more like she’s how I wish my mum would be. She’s grounded and sure of herself and I feel as though she can handle whatever I say to her without getting upset. I don’t have to worry about her, and in turn, that makes me feel safe.
Growing up, I always worried about my mum. It wasn’t that she was overtly vulnerable. She seemed capable enough, I just had this unsettling sense that I needed to make her happy. I was over attached to her. I got anxious when we were apart, and I had no confidence to do things alone. If anything bad happened, I would automatically take the role of cheering everyone in the family up. Most of all, I had a desperate need for my mum to be happy.
A lot of that behaviour was tied up with the sexual abuse I suffered. I felt like if I acted OK, things would be OK. I knew the discovery had hit my mum really hard and I assumed that because it was partly my fault, I had to somehow fix it. I know now, that I spent the next 20 years of my life doing just that. Running around desperately trying to manage everyone’s feelings but my own. Working so hard to fill the void in my childhood with successes and achievements and being the funny bubbly one.
After doing various forms of therapy and taking a lot of time to question my core beliefs, I realise how unhealthy this behaviour was. I know how unsustainable it is to ignore your feelings and deny your own experience. I’ve just begun to actually connect with my truth, for the first time.
This means I am renegotiating my relationship with my mum. I’m setting boundaries and I’m changing my role. It isn’t easy, because when you don’t behave how people expect you to, they don’t like it. But I’m sticking with it, I’m being stubborn about keeping myself safe and finding some space for my own needs.
So this mother’s day, I’m relaxing at home with my wife. It’s breaking the habit of a lifetime, but it is what’s good for me.