Friday, March 21, 2008

Ideas from "My Mother, My Self" by Nancy Friday

I started reading this book yesterday, and was struck by a number of passages and ideas. One is that we learn about love from our relationship with our mothers, and we repeat that pattern with anyone we love. We try to turn them into our mothers, we can only recieve love that comes in the same form. For example, I was always trying to earn my mother's love, and in relationships I could only feel loved when it came as a response to something I did for another person. We can't feel love if it comes in a different form than we know.

Another interesting idea is that boredom is actually a mask for anxiety. I've never heard that before, and it's worth exploring.

Friday says that mothers teach their daughters not to take pleasure in praise. This sets us up to never be able to take pride in ourselves, enjoy our accomplishments or recieve compliments. When mothers are praised for having a good daughter, we learn that everything we do is for her, not for ourselves.

I've been thinking a lot about the theories of childhood I've been reading lately, including books by Mark Epstein. There's this idea that if the child has to attend to the needs of the parent, they fail to develop a "self". My therapist and I talked about this and how it applied to me, feeling like I had to stay out of the way, not ask for things, not be annoying, not be needy, etc. because my mother was struggling. It definitely takes energy away from exploring who you really are when you are always checking to see if whatever you think or do will bother someone else. I felt like whatever I did had to be a secret. This has come back to haunt me in some major ways - I have problems being myself around anyone in authority. I am hypervigilent and startle easily and violently, always afraid someone is going to walk in on me and "catch me" doing something unacceptable, being myself, doing something just for me because I like it. I don't feel I have the right to do things just because I like to, I have to have some good reason, some product, that I can show for it. "Look, this is why". Everything else is a "waste of time", a cardinal sin, for some reason I haven't figured out yet. Basically, enjoying your life takes a back seat to productivity - this is a value I somehow integrated.

Another thing that struck me hard was the idea that men can be romantic with you, and the next morning get up and go to work to pursue his "real interests"...i.e. not think of you all day. Friday contends that men are conditioned to seek self-esteem and gratification from activities. Women (as I mentioned above) can't get pleasure no matter how great they are at accomplishing things, only from their relationships. So we end up constantly seeking connection, and feel abandonned that our man isn't also pining over us all day at work. I thought, you know, that is it! Men take love as one part of life, not more or less important than anything else. Women see love as the be all and end all of everything, priority #1. And it makes us crazy. I want to be able to enjoy a relationship but not have it take over. Be able to stay separate, and be able to be passionate about more than one thing. To be able to be in a relationship without it colouring everything else in life. This is the thing - I always checked to make sure what I did didn't hurt my mother, and I do the same thing with men - I refer to them in all my decision-making. I can't just live my life and trust they will keep loving me as I make decisions for myself. Maybe I use others as an excuse not to do what I want, but this is where it comes from. Anxiety, anxiety. Never feeling sure.

Going back to the idea of not developing a "self", I have been thinking, "but I DID have a self". Before the divorce, I was a very happy, outgoing kid. I wasn't self-conscious, I did what I liked without thinking about whether it was "right". I trusted the world. I was not ashamed. Things were not perfect - I annoyed my father, I wanted more love from my mother but didn't know how to ask so I put water on my face when I went to bed, so if she came and checked on me she might see I was crying (which I often did before bed). But I was strong, resilient even. Then the rug was ripped out from under me, with no warning, and I haven't been able to trust anyone or anything since. I squashed myself, became super-self-conscious, ashamed. I don't remember ever thinking the divorce was my fault, but I acted like it was my responsibility. Everything after that became my responsibility. Don't make mommy feel worse. I started hiding from all adults, and developed a sweet, polite false self to put on whenever I was around one. I said very little, held my "self" in check. Literally, I have spent years physically holding myself together with muscle tension (bracing), in case something exuberant, shameful, embarrassing, and authentic slipped out. I still do it today. The fear of getting "caught" is the fear of being caught not monitoring myself for things of which other people might disapprove. It is utterly paralyzing. I've almost literally stopped doing anything.

And my creativity is the biggest loss, the first victim. Because I am not allowed to play. I am not allowed to "waste time", to indulge myself, to do something just for me. I have so many ideas, and I let them fade away because I feel I can't justify making them reality. It took me until this year to even see my emotional healing as valid "work". To be able to say, "look, I can't just BE better. I have to do all of this stuff, go through this process. That's just the way it is, and it is going to take time." I kept hoping (expecting?) like everyone else that one day I would wake up and be normal and be able to go on with life. I have accepted that is not going to happen and started the long road of recovery. I still feel guilty about it, that people won't understand why I have to do this instead of what normal people do - go to work, look for a mate, raise kids. I can't do anything until I am much better. Otherwise everything I do turns to shit. This is a fact.

I think I am done for now, my body hurts and I need to lie down.

A Series of Dreams about Love

I debated whether or not to publish this online, since it is quite personal, but I'm pretty sure no one will ever read it except possibly my cousin and my therapist, and that's okay. I've had a series of dreams in the last week starring a person who we'll say represents an "ideal" person of the opposite sex. It's embarrassing to say who it really is, but I'll just say this is not a person I actually know. I won't give the full details of the dreams, only important parts.

Dream #1
I have a history with this man, but he's broken it off with me. We are in some underground cave (think Indiana Jones), and I have to save him from danger. When I do, he re-considers the break-up.

Dream #2
I stand all night in a cold winter, waiting for him. The next morning, I am cold, exhausted, and bleeding profusely between the legs. I stumble through the snow to where he and some others are looking for me. As he leads me to the back of an ambulance, I say weakly, "Is this enough? Can you love me now?"

Dream #3
We are sleeping in the same bed - we have been dating for awhile. One morning I wake up and he won't talk to me. Later on in the day we look at each other and he gives me the coldest stare, like he doesn't know me and he doesn't like me. His feelings have just shut off like a light switch, with no warning or precipitating event. I walked outside and my legs gave out on me - I sunk to the ground sobbing. He came out and picked me up by the shoulders, then took me to his parents' house for some reason. Obviously things are not completely over, but I have no idea where I stand, and am totally disconnected from him, trying to put on a sweet face for his folks.

I think the first two dreams are about me not feeling "good enough", having to prove myself worthy of the love of this "ideal" person. The third dream is about my fear of abandonnment, coming out of nowhere (like my parents' divorce) with no warning. These dreams are showing me my issues regarding relationships, but I have no idea what to do about them.

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I sometimes write things that I don't really mean or believe. These are not to be taken literally, nor as definitive statements about me or my beliefs. Thoughts and emotions are transient, and I reserve the right to change my mind, generalize, exaggerate, give strong opinions, or write other possibly offensive statements. I don't lie, but I may say something that's not true to check whether I believe it or not, or to make a point. Call it creative license. This is my blog, and do have the right to say what I want. I'm using it in creatively therapeutic ways. Whatever the reader may think of me and my words, please believe that my core intentions are always good and I never willingly hurt anyone.