As the end of my Christmas break neared, I found myself increasingly pulled into Peg Streep’s latest book, Daughter Detox.
Earlier I wrote about my reflections from Part One, with focused on discovering the power of attachment and maternal power.
Chapter three focuses on the first part of stage two: Discernment.
Discernment relates to the way in which the unloved daughter can consider her family’s relational patterns, and chapter three looks specifically at family ripple effects…how did her parents interact? What was the relationship with her siblings like? Did she have any supportive people in her life?Again, as I read through this chapter and took my notes, it was so amazing to realize that many of my thoughts and actions are predictable enough to be written about in a book.
Two years ago, I sought professional guidance from an absolutely amazing therapist. She is so wonderful. With her help…her constant acceptance and care…I have been able to identify many of the topics that these two chapters on discernment discuss. In fact, one of my main problems?
I have been stuck in the discernment phase! I can tell you why, when, and how I act. My problem is moving past it.
One of my biggest struggles comes between what I KNOW and what I FEEL. Many times, I know something is dysfunctional or unhealthy. Cognitively, I can identify and acknowledge that. Emotionally, however, it is much, much harder. There is an automaticity to the way I act…because, I have come to accept certain beliefs as normal.
For example…if I upset someone, it feels pretty normal for me to assume that they will find a way to teach me a lesson. Imagine my surprise when, one day, I shared with my therapist that I feared she was less available to me in order to teach me a lesson. In order for her to teach me not to need her so much.
She looked at me with a sad look on her face and said, I would never do that…
It surprised me. The sad look on her face surprised me the most…it made me sit back and think: Wait…you mean most people don’t do this? It isn’t normal?
Peg Streep writes, “The bad is stronger than the good.” All those bad things that happened to me as a child? The trauma–big and little–it made a huge impact on my little mind.
The good stuff that happened? It was important…but sadly, research suggests that we are shaped far more by those bad things…whether real or perceived.
Chapter 3 in the book spends time focusing on the dynamics within a family and I am going to break it down into my own experiences.
Mom’s Relationship with Dad: According to family legend, I was the child that was conceived to try to “save” my parents’ marriage. My mother, young, pregnant, and 17, married my father at the age of 19. They struggled together, fighting poverty and addictions, while trying to raise my older sibling.
Then I came along…and, according to my mother, I was not an easy baby. Colicky, sensitive, and sick, I was far from the child they hoped might bring more happiness to the marriage.
They separated. They talked badly about one another, and there was never any visible signs of love seen between them, or any other partner my mother took on.
My father’s role: Pretty much immediately, my mom moved in with a new boyfriend (who, sadly, turned out to be abusive and seriously unhealthy), and my father floated from house to house and job to job. He did not love me. He called me, from a young age, “His whiny little bitch,” and made it well-known that taking me for the weekend was nothing but a bunch of work. He enjoyed my older brother…they had common interests…but me? Not so much.
Years later, after my mother moved in with the man who would later become my adoptive father, we moved several miles away. At that point, my real father pretty much lost all contact with us. From age 11 to 17, I spoke to him one time.
My mother remarried when I entered middle school. Her marriage was always full of strife…lots of arguing, especially over the children (stepchildren were now in the picture) and money, but her new husband was pretty argumentative himself. They seemed happy to be unhappy. My stepdad, did however, put out an effort to me. Ever the pleaser, ever wanting to be accepted, I tried to show him the love he did not feel from his own children. He rewarded me with adoption…and I accepted thinking, finally, someone WANTS me.
It wasn’t perfect. Or easy. But, I suppose, it did provide some kind of buffer. Unfortunately, as I hit my teenage years and my mother and I began to argue and battle, she always managed to find a way to make me a liar…for her, he HAD to be on her side. I was the child after all…I couldn’t possibly remember what really happened because I was so dramatic and sensitive. He always joined Team Mom…convincing me that again, I had done something to deserve my mother’s treatment or, perhaps, I was really the crazy one–not her.
Sibling relationships: Peg Streep spends some time discussing the relationships between the unloved daughter and her siblings (or, the relationship of the only child). Sadly, I never developed a sense of connection or closeness with my siblings, either. For years, I have thought this odd; I have seen other sisters, or brothers, and grieved at their relationships. A good friend of mine has two older sisters who she talks to constantly. They watch each others’ kids, they talk, they go on vacation together. How nice would it be to have a built in best friend?
Alas…that is not my story. I have two biological siblings–a brother and a sister–and a few step-siblings. Not a one of us are close.
We lead parallel lives. We might see each other on holidays. Talk on Facebook. But there is no connection. I would not say any one of us was necessarily my mother’s “favorite;” rather, we were all subject to her ups and downs and manipulation. What is different between us, however, is our loyalty to her. I have been able to set up some boundaries and have, at certain times, attempted to talk about her manipulative behavior with my brother and sister. It did not go well!! To them, you cannot talk badly about your family…even if it is honest.
Safe Havens and Islands of Security: I have always believed that much of my resilience–my ability to overcome trauma and poverty and seek out education–was a direct result to discovering supportive people at specific times. My therapist always refers to them as my “life preservers”–something, or someone, I could grab onto for a little while to help keep me afloat.
In first and second grade, it was my grandparents. When we were removed from my mother’s care, we moved in with grandma and grandpa for a few years. It was here, really, that I blossomed and felt comfortable, cherished, and safe for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, as I’ve written, it was short-lived. We had to move back in with my mother and that is when all of my anxiety and IBS symptoms became drastically worse.
After that? My support people were teachers. Specifically, my fifth grade teacher and my high school english teacher. They made a difference. They believed in me. They helped me believe in me. I still had LOTS of issues…chronic over-achiever…pleaser…anxiety, etc. But they did help me see myself differently, making believe I could succeed in college and elsewhere.
Living with my mother was something in and of itself. But the effects of her personality and behavior were not isolated. They rippled through our whole family…unloved, disconnected, dysfunctional.
The next chapter will deal not with the way my mother treated me…but the way I adapted to her treatment.
..Stay tuned. 🙂