Have you ever felt powerless or out of control in your relationship with your mother?
Have you felt that you couldn’t get your deep core needs met? That she really wasn’t there for you? Had your back? Or my back in this case.
Very early on in my mom’s life, she was pushed to be a top star as a classical concert pianist. Yes, she was amazing.
But really, how would a young child feel with the serious pressure to perform? Before going on stage, my Mom would be so worried about messing up she would get to the point of vomiting. That doesn’t sound like a child loving what she’s doing. She was scared sh**less with no coping skills to channel her emotions.
So fast-forward, as my mom, how could she be there for me when she hadn’t learned how to take care of herself? How could she really see what I needed when she’d developed a habit of ignoring her own pain?
As a girl, I asked my mom what she enjoyed about performing. She replied, “The accolades, attention and acknowledgement.”
In my eyes she was the paragon of a supreme virtuoso. Seated at the Steinway, she practiced for hours and hours every day. And I danced around the living room, picturing my mom playing to thousands of adoring fans in Carnegie Hall.
But in her heart she always felt nothing she did was good enough. Her standards were stratospherically impossible to achieve.
So how was anything I did ever going to be anywhere near good enough?
Here is how the unhealthy dynamic of never-watching-each-others’-back gets passed from a mother to her daughter.
Since I had zero chance of competing with her in music, I tried to make my mark in the world of ballet.
Because I loved to dance and I wanted ‘accolades, attention and acknowledgment’ too. I wanted to be successful like my mom. What little girl doesn’t? Right? Even if she didn’t think she was successful, I worshipped her.
However, unlike my Mom, I got slammed almost before I got started. In my case, I invested six years to prepare practicing every day. My dream was to float across the stage of the NYC Ballet Company. At the time I was studying at American Ballet Theatre. That didn’t seem good enough to me. At age 12, I auditioned to join the NYC Ballet. But no dice. The director’s assistant told my mom and me that my body wasn’t long and lean enough. I was devastated. How could I face my mom? Here she went on tour as classical soloist across the U.S. and Europe… and I couldn’t get into the NYC Ballet.
My only thoughts were, how was I going to follow in Mom’s footsteps? Where was I going to get my ‘accolades, attention and acknowledgment?’ In other words, would Mom still love me even if I was just an ordinary girl like the other boys and girls in my neighborhood? Not a star like her?
The answers were simple. Yes, I was going to follow in her footsteps. But not to success. Not to glory. I was following her into the mother-daughter world of never-being-good-enough. And my Mom’s love was always going to be conditional which meant neither of us trusted the other.
On top of this, through my parents divorce I became her confidante. Her insecurities and doubts in herself showed up in a big way. So much for a daughter feeling like her mother had her back. I felt like I had her back more than she had mine. I felt ripped off that she wasn’t present for my heartache during their split. I grew angry and resentful. At 13, this was the beginning of the end for feeling like my mom was my rock, stability and guide. This was when I started rebelling.
Over the years, the rebellion, fight and resentment took a toll on my heart and body. Through dedicated self-reflection I recognized that all of the blame and criticism of her was really hurting myself, including my low back. I began to see a pattern in my life. My low back would “freak out” whenever I was going through a major life change, like the whole apple cart was spilling over. I think of these big changes like a structure being disassembled and breaking down. In my case, my low back was indicative of the base support of my spine. Being that throughout my life, I felt powerless and unsupported; it was uncanny how my body reflected this core belief.
The first step to heal my wound was to see the belief and the pattern that was deeply embedded in my nervous system: that I am powerless and unsupported.
I also saw my strategy that enabled the pattern. When I had debilitating back pain, I got support—lots of it. This kind of support and attention was likened to the kind of attention I would get when I got sick. I remember having lots of stomachaches as a child. I feel like they were all about stress and wanting love and support. This is not to say that my pain was bad. Rather, a powerful message my body conveys that needs to be heard.
Over time I have deconstructed the belief that I am powerless and not supported and see the distortion of how I made that assumption. The work was not about getting my mother to change. It was about me reclaiming my power and belief in myself. In being present and with myself rather than ‘going away,’ I have learned to have my own back. To stand up for myself. Love myself and deeply listen to my body’s messages. Whenever my low back seizes up, I know it’s time to check in deeply and pay attention to what is going on inside.
Stay tuned for Part 2, How I Got my Mother Back: 3 Steps to Healing the Mother Daughter Split (link coming soon).
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Ed: Brianna Bemel