I don’t write about my mother often. Of all my dysfunctional childhood relationships, my experience with my mother is the most painful. I believe that small children have a disproportionate need for the feminine nurturing energy. When it’s not available, I think the pain runs deeper. I am not suggesting that fathers are not needed. They are desperately needed. And their interactions with their children are critical to shaping that child’s future belief systems and relationships. But for me, the lack of nurturing maternal energy seemed to leave a deeper mark.
I think that some of my angst comes from my core belief that women should be protecting women. If we can’t count on each other, if we can’t come together to fight this battle against gender oppression, do we have a hope of moving society toward equality for all genders? Can we ask our male allies to do the work against gender oppression that we are not willing to do?
But for my mother, this oppression was a way of life. It was all she ever knew. She never had the innocent childhood we expect our children to live. She never had the opportunity to grow up. She was not supported when she spoke up about her abuse. She was not able to escape her abuser. She lived the same childhood that I did. She formed her own ways of coping. Her coping mechanisms were coming from her child’s mind because she never had a chance to develop adult coping mechanisms. Some of her brain development was stunted at a young age because of trauma.
This is what happens to trauma victims. It doesn’t mean there is not development. Trauma survivors can be incredibly smart. But certain areas of the brain become stunted and separate, so there is no balance between logic and emotion. And some parts of the brain may become stuck in fight or flight mode, which leads to bad decisions.
To be fair, she was trying to protect me, but her methods of protection would be considered ridiculous by most. She had two strategies. First, she taught me that I should do whatever men ask. Of course, this included sex with men when I was a small child. She didn’t want me to be raped as a small child. She taught me this because she wanted to keep me alive. She was sure that fighting back would mean death. And honestly, she may have been right. My father had made it clear on many occasions that he was not above killing us if we did not comply.
Her other approach may seem less severe, but had a major impact on my life, and like many bad decisions, it was born of money. She was constantly battling with her lack of financial security. She considered the lack of money as life-threatening as guns and knives. And her lack of money was used against us many times by my abusers. She truly felt that she could not be financially stable without a man, any man, in our lives. So she found any man … and allowed that man to do whatever he wanted.
She made an effort to ensure I was financially self-sufficient, so that I would not be reliant on a man as long as I lived. She discouraged anything I wanted to do with my life if she thought it would not be lucrative. She was vehemently opposed to anything that was artistic and creative. She was convinced that would lead to abject poverty. To her credit, it sometimes does, but almost any career can lead to abject poverty. She wanted me to go in to business. She made it clear that she would not be happy with any other decision.
As a result, I completely lost myself. This was partly because of the trauma, but the impact of my mother’s strong opinions on my decision-making was also dramatic. I didn’t want to work in the business world, but that was the life she chose for me. And it did work. I was financially independent for many years. Ironically, that independence was a significant driver in my decision to break from my family. But I have spent the past six years trying to find out what I really want to do with my life.
I know it may sound as though I am making excuses for my mother. I am not. I spent many years processing a very angry and desperately sad emotional response to my mother’s abusive behavior. Only recently have I come to understand the drivers for her behavior. An understanding is not forgiveness. An understanding does not excuse the behavior. It is simply the ability to look at behavior from an objective perspective. An understanding can relate the behavior to the experiences that helped form the person. What she did is not right. She was wrong. And in her current state of denial, she still is.
But an understanding of why it happens might just keep it from happening in the future … to some child … somewhere.
And that is why I will work so hard to understand it.
And that is why I will write it down.
And my understanding will lead to awareness because some people are brave enough to read it.
And awareness will stop this.
It is the only thing that ever will.