I became a relationship coach to help understand and accept my own relationship hang-ups, most of which can be traced back to my relationship with my mother.
Infants need lots of touch and holding in order to develop what psychologists call "secure attachment." I was one of those children who was deprived of that. While it is true that Mom (now deceased) was one of the sweetest, most supportive mothers I know, she was also shy about her body and uncomfortable with physical touch.
Since I didn't get that nurturing touch from Mom, I grew up feeling like I always wanted "more" in my relationships with men. I think a lot of us feel something like this—a deep inner sense that something is missing, that either you're somehow lacking or your partner is.
By the time I was 35, I had pretty much come to terms with my insecure attachment—except for one thing. I realized that something was still missing in my adult relationship with my mother. There was a vague sort of awkwardness and distance between us—like there were things left unsaid.
Many personal development paths—such as Landmark, Gestalt, Getting Real and Radical Honesty—recommend that in order to become free of your past unfinished emotional business, you must "complete" your relationship with your parents. When I first learned that many people feel more empowered and confident after doing a "completion process" with a parent, I knew I had to try this—first with Mom and maybe later with Dad.
So I called Mom, who was already quite elderly and frail, saying I wanted to come for a visit (a five-hour airplane ride) to discuss some feelings and insights I wanted to share about our relationship.
"I think if we can talk together about the things in our early relationship that were painful or frustrating, we will probably wind up feeling closer," I said.
She agreed that this would be a good thing. Then, she added with a touch of humor, "Are you going to tell me off?" I reassured her that it wasn't my intention, but that I expected we'd both feel some discomfort, because we were used to always being nice.
When the day came for our meeting, I started by re-stating that I wanted to clear the air so we could feel more relaxed and close, to share some feelings I was carrying so I could get over them. She seemed to be listening, but she looked skeptical…maybe even afraid. I couldn't tell which. I reassured her, saying that I appreciated her for being so open. "I'd like to just talk uninterrupted for a little bit," I said. "And then when I'm done, I'd like to hear anything you want to say."
"I'm feeling a mixture of fear and happiness," I began.
"I remember times we'd be sitting next to one another and I would put my hand on you or try to snuggle up to you—just for some touch, some contact—and you would push me away. That hurt," I continued, my mind drifting back to my childhood. "One specific memory is coming back to me. We were driving somewhere. I was in the passenger seat and you were driving. I was about six. I had the impulse to reach over and touch you—for comfort, I guess. So I laid my hand on your thigh. And you immediately picked my hand up off your thigh and put it over on the seat a few inches away from you."
"My first emotion was anger," I said. "But right underneath the anger was a thought and a sad feeling, 'Why doesn't she want to be close to me? Am I a bother to her? Does she want me to go away?' I feel very sad as I say this. I felt sad like this a lot. I think this type of thing might have happened also when I was a tiny infant. I know you told me I slept an awful lot as a baby. Well, I can kind of remember just lying in my crib feeling this same sort of sadness and confusion. If I could put words to it, the words would've been, 'Why doesn't anyone want to come to me when I cry?' Then I would just cry myself to sleep."
My mother was silent.
"So as an adult, in my relationships with men, I have had a hard time reaching out for what I want, making requests. I've been working on it, but we have a joke, my husband and I. The joke is, 'Susan has no needs.' That's what he says to me. And he tells me it's frustrating to him."
By the time I finished, Mom was shrinking in her chair. I was afraid I had hurt her or sent her into a place where she couldn't speak. We were both quiet for several moments. Then she said quietly, "I resent my mother for not touching me when I was little." A few tears came down her cheeks. We hugged and we cried together.
I felt so close to her. She said she had never said those words before, but somehow they brought her relief. We spoke more about her childhood and mine that day—and about how depressed she was when I was an infant and how guilty she felt about that. I told her I completely forgave her and the barriers between us seemed to dissolve. This was the beginning of a new level of friendship between us.Comment