Dear Visible Man,
In reading your writings, I’ve been reflecting on my childhood, having a mother who struggled as a single parent while raising me. I turned out okay—I didn’t get pregnant or get involved in drugs. I did go to college and I have been successful in my work in the healthcare industry. I remember the pride my mother had as I received my graduate degree.
My mother has recently passed away and although I am grateful for all she did for me, I continue to harbor feelings of intense anger at her regarding the way she raised me.
My mother was devoutly religious. She strongly believed in Proverbs 13:24:
“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
My mother followed this proverb to the extreme. I remember her whipping me and telling me to stop crying. When I wouldn’t, she would say, “I’ll give you something to cry about.” I would suck in air trying to stop. My lower lip would tremble and I would stop sobbing while the tears rolled down my face.
I would try to please my mother and stay out of trouble, but it always seemed that regardless of what I did or how well I excelled in school, it was never enough. I know she loved me. I never shared with her my feelings of anger. Like others, I was raised to obey my mother without question. Now, she is gone. It is too late and I am left feeling empty, but still full of anger.
What do I do now?
Feeling Stuck, age 25, Seattle, WA
Dear Young Woman,
First, I want to express my deepest sympathy for the loss of your beloved. Second, in responding to your question, “What do I do now?” my suggestion is that you continue to empower the psychological self, which maybe conflicted between the grief you feel and the anger you hold regarding the way you were raised.
Let’s clarify the issues of concern: It is perceivable that understanding the experiences noted, you may be responding to the following issues:
- Unresolved grief regarding the recent loss of your mother
- Unresolved feelings associated with the discipline, lack of nurturing, or warmth by your mother
- Internalized conflict associated with the trauma that has been experienced within the psychological self.
- Questioning regarding conceptualization of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth.
Your words about your mother indicate that she was a person who loved you very much, but was unable to express her love in the way you would have benefited the most– a warm, nurturing and comfortable relationship. There may be a variety of reasons, including the following:
- In her own history, it is possible she may not have been exposed to such a relationship and therefore was unable to model that kind of relationship for you.
- During her child and adolescent development, she may have endured specific types of abuse or traumatic experiences that continue to be unresolved.
- Her current life as a single parent was difficult, so she may have been living in fear that you would have the same or similar life experiences.
Now that your mother has passed on, we will never know the reasoning for her actions. One fact remains that although she has gone to be with her ancestors, you remained here, shouldering intense psychological pain from an open emotional wound. In reality, the wound has been there for many years.
It is possible that you may have found ways to suppress or contain the pain associated with the wound. However, now that your mother has passed on, the internalized conscious and unconscious defenses you have used to defend, obstruct, or redirect the emotional pain are no longer available to you.
There are now “cracks” within the wall, and the emotional pain being held within the dam is slowly weakening the structure. Unless something constructive is done, that dam will come crashing down and the torrents of emotional distress will overcome the psychological self.
It may be that the means or strategies that you used prior to your mother’s passing were unconstructive and therefore, it is essential to identify strategies that will assist you in not only becoming “unstuck”, but will also work towards empowerment of the psychological self.
A strategy that I would suggest is a framework I have designed known as the “Five Stages Of Recovery.” It consists of the components Revelation, Acceptance, The Gift of Apology & Forgiveness, Letting Go, and Moving On.
- Revelation: It is here that you acknowledge the existence and impact of the emotional wound. It is here that you become aware of the trauma and damage that was done to the psychological self.
- Acceptance: It is here that you gain understanding of the impact of the emotional wound. In doing so, you begin the process of healing the wound.
- Gift Of Apology & Forgiveness: It is here that you begin to look within the psychological self, acknowledging remorse and regret. It is here that you come to terms regarding past behaviors of yielding/giving in to the pressures being exerted by your mother to ignore the developing emotional wound. It is here that you seek to extend the “gift of apology” to the psychological self and in return, receive the gift of forgiveness from within.
- Letting Go: It is here that you free the psychological self from the pain associated with the emotional wound. This is done through seeking to balance the dissipation of pain and suffering with gains of inner peace and freedom; this is achieved from the atonement of past behaviors.
- Moving On: Here, you have reached the plateau in which you have accepted the past and you are able to live with those experiences. You are able to balance living in the present as well as creating a vision and hope for the future.
First, whether or not you want to believe that given your mother’s circumstances, she did the best that she could, the reality is that she is no longer among the living. Second, whether you want to forgive her or not is not the focus of this writing.
The focus is on you and what you want for your life. You can continue to hold on to the anger and maintain those internal conflicts, or you can choose to live. If you choose to live, have the willingness to explore your conflicting feelings. If indeed we only have one life to live, then make this life about you. Find acceptance. Extend the apology and seek forgiveness. Have the willingness to let go and move on with your life. Create the determination to rise above and live the life you want, seeking the warm, nurturing relationships that you desire.
“Role models are not only examples of behavior we want to emulate. Role models are also examples of what we ‘want not to be.’ We can focus on loving the self. After achieving this stage, we can then reinforce the self by loving ourselves more.”
The Visible Man