I’ve heard from so many unloved daughters that they wish they’d understood the dynamics of their relationships to their mothers years ago, and that they regret the wasted time. I thought I’d address that in this letter from the perspective of someone now in her sixth decade of life. Age doesn’t necessarily make you wiser—I know people who are no wiser at this age than at 22 and some who have learned nothing from life—but the passage of time can give you perspective. I am in my early 20s in this photograph but the struggle to deal with my mother lasted until I was 38. My father died when I was 15 so my mother was my only parent. I had no living grandparents and my aunt lived an ocean away. I divorced my mother when I learned I was pregnant with a daughter, and became a mother one month short of my 39th birthday.
There are few things that might help you in the day-to-day and even in the long-term. These are thoughts gleaned from the experience of living long past where you find yourself now.
- You need to acknowledge your pain
I understand why you don’t want to talk about your family and specifically your mother but if you don’t acknowledge your pain openly, you can’t begin to process it. Yes, going into therapy has been a good first step but you still cover up your feelings, even with close friends. Not acknowledging your pain isn’t a sign of strength as you think it is; instead, it just facilitates your going back to the well, trying to wrest love from your mother which, trust me, will never happen. You’re afraid people will think less of you if you tell them that you hurt. You happen to be wrong. I understand the need to fit in but this is a big deal and it’s going to get in your way big-time.
- Stop looking over your shoulder
I admire your competitive spirit which is a good thing but you need to realize that it just doesn’t matter what other people are doing; all that matters, in the end, is what you are doing and whether it’s right for you. It’s good that you’re not envious of people and their achievements—that’s a lesson you learned from your jealous-of-everyone mother—but, at the same time, your worry that you’ll fall short in a comparison to someone else isn’t good for you. Be the best you you can be.
- You have to love yourself first
You keep looking for someone to love you, to fill the hole in your heart, but the men you’re drawn to are men who make you look good on the outside, instead of feeling good about yourself on the inside. You’re looking to men to validate your worth—to show the world that you’re as together, smart and with it as you look, and not damaged or in pain—but no man can do that. No person can do that. Your mother’s lack of love robbed you of a sense of belonging but you can’t fix that by belonging to someone else. You have to belong to you first. And, by the way, the guys you’re choosing are all men you have to wrest love from. You toss the givers away and stay with the men who aren’t emotionally available and make you feel sad about yourself. See the pattern? I know you don’t but I sure wish you did now, instead of later.
- Be kinder
That brash and funny exterior you’ve cultivated to hide the hurt —yes, your wit can be quite dazzling at times—doesn’t always serve you, you know. It’s another way of keeping the nice people who might actually make you feel more comfortable in your skin at bay and it attracts all those pretty guys in sport cars you tend to collect. I’m not saying you’re mean because you’re not but you are armored and that’s not a good thing. And, speaking of kindness, how about being kinder to yourself? All of that self-criticism—and worrying about all the ways you could possibly be failing—aren’t helping. You need to start loving yourself, flaws and all.
- Sometimes you have to give up
I know that you believe that your doggedness is a part of your success and, trust me, you are right; the future will prove that in spades, at least some of the time. But one of your greatest flaws—and, guess what? It’s not one your mother has ever mentioned—is your inability to let things go. Instead, you think and re-think in ways that keep your head spinning and you on an emotional merry-go-round. Take your relationship to your mother who has made it clear that there is nothing wrong with her and everything wrong with you. You sit in your apartment and you convince yourself that there has to be a way of getting her to acknowledge the truth. You think “why not?”—you have an excellent command of the language and you’re smart—without realizing that the only person who has to acknowledge the truth is you. You need to let it go.
I have the benefit of hindsight, dear younger Peg, which you don’t and the truth be known, many—but not all—of these issues will be addressed and answered in time. And, yes, the hole in your heart will get smaller once you understand what needs to be done.
Photograph copyright Carl T. Burton
This post was inspired by The Journal Project on my Facebook page:http://www.Facebook.com/PegStreepAuthor
For tips on how to use journaling, read https://blogs.psychcentral.com/knotted/2016/03/6-tips-for-using-journaling-as-a-path-to-healing/