Monday, June 4, 2018

Daughters of Emotionally Absent Mothers: Finding Our Voices and Using Them After Years of Silence
A woman recently blasted me over one of the posts I'd written about my experiences as a daughter of an emotionally absent mother. She lambasted me for being critical of my mom, calling me selfish and ungrateful. She told me to get over myself, stop playing the blame game, and get on with my life.

While it's never fun to receive such brutal condemnation, it made me stronger in my resolve to keep telling my story, using it to heal my pain, and connecting with others who've had a similar journey. It also made me appreciate how important it is that we daughters of emotionally absent mothers don't let ourselves get silenced ever again like our mothers did to us as kids. Without a doubt, we need to understand, acknowledge, and articulate our personal histories to become stronger and move forward. While that woman accused me of wallowing in the past, I know the truth: my past is the map I need to propel me to a better future.
The irony of this woman's criticism was she was giving me that same old message my mother had given me as a kid: your emotions don't matter, your opinions don't matter, and you just need to stuff them both. I had done just that most of my life and became a nothing of a person, overeating and taking anti-depressants instead of articulating my thoughts and feelings. I kept silent for so long because I was told what I had to say was either wrong or worthless.
In the news recently, there's been story after story of prominent people getting in trouble for voicing their controversial opinions on Twitter and Facebook. In their bubble of celebrity-hood, these famous folks believe their adoring public want to hear all their rants and ravings on a wide-variety of topics, political and otherwise. They don't express themselves for therapeutic reasons but to feed their egos and garner more attention.

We daughters of emotionally absent mothers are in the opposite position. We grew up with mothers who, for a variety of reasons, couldn't deal with us expressing our emotions and opinions so they shut us down time after time. Then we eventually shut ourselves down, believing we had nothing valuable to contribute. There were decades of my life were I lived isolated from others because I was scared to voice what I felt and believed. I took anti-depressants instead of talking.
Unlike celebrities, we don't have a national platform to let ourselves be heard. Some of us use social media but this often leads to even more isolation and despair so we need to be cautious. The good news is writing doesn't need to be read by anyone else to have a powerful therapeutic effect on us. It doesn't need to be put out in the universe for public consumption but can be kept alone in a journal.

While I temporarily felt like a little girl scolded by her mother when that woman blasted my words, I eventually felt empowered. Who the hell was she to tell me what I can or can't write? Who is she to tell me to get on with my life when she doesn't even know me or the journey I've traveled? Voicing our feelings and opinions, though, means we'll always meet up with that type of person who'll try to suppress us. They may spot a weakness in us—the part from our childhood that feels unworthy—but we need to prove them wrong and voice our truth and never be silenced again.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Why Daughters of Emotionally Absent Mothers Need to Praise Themselves

There's a lot written today about adults who lavish too much praise on children, always telling them how amazing they are, exaggerating their accomplishments, and giving them a trophy or ribbon for every little achievement. Psychologists claim that parents who do this turn their children into “praise junkies,” who need constant validation to feel good about themselves. For us daughters of emotionally absent mothers, however, this current parenting phenomenon is a far cry from our own childhoods when compliments were scarce and criticisms were bountiful.

Pixabay (modified)

Throughout my childhood, my mother always nitpicked my appearance. My internal world—my feelings, hopes, and dreams—were never of interest to her but my looks were and they were never good enough. I was too fat or too thin. My hair was too straight. My skin was too oily. My legs were too thick. During my teen years, there was always a blemish or two on my face for her to point out and make me feel even more self-conscious. As an emotionally absent mother, she never realized what a long-lasting toll this would take on my self-esteem.

Even today, as a middle-aged woman, I struggle to put myself out there in the world, wanting instead to hide my ugly, offensive self behind the safety of my four walls. It's a battle some days for me to leave the house. When I'm talking with people, I often imagine they're having a running commentary in their minds about how unattractive I am, harshly judging each physical flaw just as my mother did.

When we didn't get built-up by our parents as kids, we have a shaky foundation as adults. That's why it's so valuable to make a conscious effort to praise ourselves for our accomplishments: both big and small. This is extremely difficult for us daughters of emotionally absent mothers because we believe we're undeserving. We're fabulous at putting ourselves down but horrible at shoring ourselves up. At first, it may seem awkward and even painful to give ourselves compliments, but it gets easier with practice and with time. Then, it becomes something we can't live without because we're now nourishing ourselves with what we were lacking for so long.

Pixabay (modified)

At night before I go to bed, I end on a high note by writing five successes I had over the course of the day. Taking time to notice my achievements is the opposite of how I've lived most of my life, focusing on my failures. These don't have to be big milestones like getting a promotion or having a book published. They can be small everyday accomplishments such as making your teenager laugh, planting tulip bulbs, giving a co-worker some good advice, reading three chapters of a novel, organizing your pantry, or preparing a healthy dinner for your family. What's most important is that these are successes in your estimation and not necessarily anyone else. After a miserable childhood when your mother determined your self-worth, you are now seizing control. You deserve that for long last!

The title of this book speak loudly and clearly to those of us with emotionally absent mothers. Our childhoods, full of criticisms and void of praise, left many of us running on empty. For most of my life, I've felt tired and drained and wondered if I'd ever feel joy. Always feeling exhausted, I fueled myself with food, hoping I'd get energized but never did. When I finally identified myself as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, I felt tremendous relief and I couldn't read enough on the subject. This book is one of my favorites!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

          Emotionally Absent Mothers: The  Invisible Form of Neglect

Emotional neglect doesn't leave any bruises, but it's still incredibly painful.

Unfortunately, many of us don't realize we grew up with an emotionally absent mother until we've suffered from it for decades. We've blamed ourselves, wondering why we couldn't get traction in life, having successful careers and relationships like those around us. We've wondered why we're always running on empty, so tired and defeated. I always wondered why I couldn't get a handle on my overeating, why I had to stuff myself with high-calorie foods and over-indulge in sugary treats. Was I just a pathetic loser with no self-discipline and pride or was there another explanation hidden in my childhood?

The emotional neglect we experienced as kids is something most of us don't recall, but it molded who we are. I had an unhappy childhood, always feeling alone and disconnected from my parents and siblings, but not knowing why. Everything seemed to be in place; we had a nice home in a middle-class neighborhood, attended church on Sundays, and played on sports teams, but I felt so alone and sad.

My mother took me to a child psychologist once when I was a teenager. Even though I was profoundly depressed at that time and probably needed to be put on anti-depressants, she said the psychologist told her to take a step back from my problems and focus on herself. When I think back on this as an adult, I'm 100 percent certain that's not what the psychologist said; that's only what my mom wanted to hear. She was too caught up in our own world to see my suffering and take the time to deal with it. Even today, decades later, she'll mention how I was depressed during high school, and how hard it was on her!

Most moms and dads are attuned with their child's emotions, and the parent-child bond is strengthened because of it. Parents will acknowledge a youngster's feelings with comments such as: I know how frustrating it is to study for a test and then do poorly...I bet it's hurtful when Lily plays with Cassidy and leaves you out...I would be so nervous if I had to audition for a play like you did. It's a beautiful dance of warmth and acceptance, of saying I see you and I love you.

Daughters of emotionally absent mothers, however, don't get to participate in that dance because their moms are cold and disconnected. Instead of acknowledging a daughter's feelings, an emotionally absent mother ignores them. In some cases, she may even shame her daughter for having such emotions, making her feel weak, stupid, and foolish.

While growing up, we had a dog named Arfy with whom I shared a special bond. I'd take him for daily walks after school and teach him a new trick each week. He definitely liked me more than my sister and brothers, and that made me feel great. My mom took him to the vet for his yearly check-up one day while I was at school. She was told that Arfy was getting old and had many costly health problems. She decided to let the vet put him down right then and there. When I came home that day, she explained Arfy's absence in a matter-of-fact manner. When I burst out in tears, she reacted with anger and scolded me for crying. She made herself the victim, saying I had no right to feel bad about the situation because she handled it correctly. She never acknowledged my special relationship with Arfy and the pain I felt at not being able to say goodbye to him.

That was just one example out of dozens when she shut me down and shamed me for my feelings. I learned at an early age to keep my emotions in check, bottled up, and in control. Having an emotionally absent mother fundamentally changed who I was meant to be. I went from being an outgoing child into an isolated adult who didn't trust people and no longer enjoyed socializing.

When I finally realized I was the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, I started to make changes in my life. I saw how I was becoming like my mother, dismissing people's feelings and acting cold. I sometimes even shamed my sons when they expressed their emotions to me. I knew that had to stop.

Today, I am a more compassionate person because I'm taking care of myself and healing the pain from my childhood. Ironically, my mother is now in her late 70's and I listen to her a lot, complaining about her aches and pains and telling me how hard it is to get old. My heart is now open to all she says because I've forgiven her and, by doing that, I've freed myself to embrace all the good that life has to offer. I finally feel free and hopeful.

The title of this book perfectly describes how many of us daughters of emotionally absent mothers have felt all our lives. I always felt tired, drained, and depleted even in my teens and twenties. From reading this book, I realized that this is a common symptom of emotional neglect. I always believed I was  heavily flawed and blamed myself for all my shortcomings. This book helped me see that the neglect I had known as a child hurt me immensely but that I could overcome it.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Why Daughters of Emotionally Absent Mothers Should Start Gratitude Journals

As daughters of emotionally absent mothers, it's easy for us to fell into the negativity trap, focusing on what we don't have—the warm, loving connection between parent and child. We blame all our problems—divorces, failed romances, job losses, low self-esteem, overeating, drug addictions—on our moms. We have pity parties where we mourn our role as victims. We behave in self-destructive ways in a futile attempt to punish our moms or make them take notice. But, the inescapable truth is we're just hurting ourselves.

Write 5 Things You're Grateful for in Your Gratitude Journal Every Day

That's why we daughters of emotionally absent mothers must make a conscious lifelong commitment to prioritize ourselves. That's tough for many of us because we weren't given love and respect as kids, and we don't think we deserve it now as adults. Many of us just don't know how to treat ourselves right so we need to start by taking baby steps. When I was in the pit of depression and self-hatred, I began my gradual climb out by following Oprah Winfrey's advice and keeping a gratitude journal. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I still remember so clearly that morning two years ago when I chose to take a positive first step toward my recovery by going to my neighborhood drug store and splurging on a gorgeous floral journal with lined paper. I also bought some colored pencils so my writing would look extra beautiful. I felt like a kid in elementary school, thrilled to have new supplies at the beginning of the year.

When I got home, I placed my purchases in a magazine rack by our fireplace—the special cozy location I'd chosen for sitting and writing in my journal each night. After tucking my sons into bed, I sat by the warmth of the glow and thought about what I was thankful for that day and jotted down 5 things. I've been keeping that ritual for the past two years without fail.

Whenever I'm feeling a little low, I read my journal and remember all the things that have brought me peace and joy—things both big and small. Buying that journal was a very tiny step on a long journey to living a life of gratitude and shedding my identity as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother. Now I see myself as a grateful person who celebrates the wonders all around me and that has made all the difference.

Move away from your identify as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother and start treating yourself with love and respect. Buying yourself a lovely gratitude journal is a great place to start. This one has lines for you to write on and also prompts and quotes to inspire you. It makes a wonderful gift for yourself or a friends who needs a pick-me-up.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Emotionally Absent Mother in Times of Crisis

Many daughters never realize their mothers are emotionally absent until faced with a major crisis in their lives—a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, the death of a child—and their moms don't show up in any supportive way. It's this life-changing event that makes a woman stop and look at her mom in cold, hard truth. She's no longer able to overlook or explain away her mom's profound lack of emotion and empathy. While she's always suspected something was missing within her mom, she never knew for certain until that moment.

Many women have opened up to me through the years about when they finally determined their mother was emotionally absent. While many suspected for years (and even decades), it took a major crisis for them to finally see the reality. It's hard at first but eventually it leads to acceptance and understanding.

The crisis in my life that convinced me my mom was emotionally absent happened when my son got diagnosed with autism. Her reaction was one of anger, not sadness about her grandson's condition or compassion for the pain I was enduring. Her fury was unexpected and jarring and made me look back at her pattern of reacting with aggravation and avoidance at emotionally-charged situations. Whether it was my father's death, my sister's divorce, or my own teenage battles with depression, she had always gotten furious and frustrated. It became crystal clear to me that I had been expecting her to give something that she just didn't have. I wanted her to be that wise, loving, and empathetic maternal archetype I knew from TV and movies, but she didn't have it in her.

Unfortunately, many younger women have not reached the point of realizing and accepting their mom's emotional limitations. I was recently talking with my hairdresser, Kelsey, who had been in a terrible motorcycle accident the month prior. She was riding on the back of her boyfriend's bike when an SUV turned right in front of him. He crashed into the car and Kelsey went flying over it, landing on the street and skidding for 30 feet. She was left with a concussion, bruises up and down her body, a broken rib, and an achy back and shoulders.
As Kelsey detailed her mother's reaction (or lack of reaction) to the accident, it sounded all too familiar. I knew she was describing an emotionally absent mom. It was also obvious that Kelsey was far more hurt by her mom's lack of love and support during this time than any of her many injuries. Two weeks after the accident, her mother called Kelsey to ask why she wasn't at the apartment to help her move. Kelsey was taken aback and reminded her mom she was on bed rest ordered by the doctor. She wasn't supposed to drive and, most certainly, shouldn't be lifting heavy boxes. Her mom acted like this was all news to her even though Kelsey had already explained it. Then her mom told her how disappointed she was and abruptly hung up.

For Kelsey, this was the beginning point of understanding her mother's emotional shallowness. While extremely painful, it will eventually lead to acceptance and peace. Accepting that reality is inevitable and important and leads to a better life for us daughters of emotionally absent mothers.

Here's the book that began my healing:

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Emotionally Absent Mother and the Parentified Daughter

Throughout my childhood, but especially during the teen years, my mother and I reversed roles. Convinced my father was having an affair with a co-worker, she turned to me for comfort and advice. Although I had no experience with romantic relationships (let alone marriage), I become her personal on-the-spot therapist. I took on the grownup role – doling out wise words and offering constant support – while she became the confused kid who didn't know what to do or where to turn. It's only recently in reading about narcissistic parents that I come across the term for what happened to me during these years; I was parentified.

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It's amazing how having a name for something brings much relief. Finally, I wasn't alone, knowing that other daughters (and sons) get parentified by moms and dads who are self-absorbed, depressed, or mentally ill. Parents who are troubled – going through a divorce, supporting a family by themselves, struggling at a job – turn to a child to help them cope. At the time this happened to me, I was flattered to be placed in such an esteemed role. After all, I was just a kid with little life experience and here was my mother coming to me for counsel. It was heady stuff but had powerful negative consequences for my future.

Now, in my fifties, I understand how extremely damaging being parentified was to my development. It separated me from my peers and the normal activities that teens do: going to football games, dating, hanging out with friends, getting a part-time job, discovering what I wanted to do with my life. Without the benefits of a carefree childhood, I grew up to be an adult who struggled with social anxiety and depression. I found it hard to build and keep relationships.

According to Dr. Samuel Lopez De Victoria, a psychotherapist, my reaction to being parentified is typical. He explains that many of us also suffer from intense anger. That was certainly true in my case. My clinical depression stemmed from the rage and frustration I had pushed down within me. Now I understand that my anger came from not having a joyful childhood and getting burdened with my mother's issues. It came, too, from feeling used by my mother. When I became a parent myself and no longer had the time and energy to listen to all her problems, she dumped me and found someone else to play the therapist role.

Now that I identify myself as a someone who was parentified, I understand my choices so much better. I see how I've avoided relationships because I didn't want to get put in another care-taking situation, feeling helpless and used. I only want healthy reciprocal friendships in my life. Knowing this intellectually hasn't yet given me the impetus to start building new relationships, but it's a first step in a long journey.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Emotionally Absent Mother and Narcissism

Many of our emotionally absent mother are narcissists to one degree or another. Current research shows that narcissism is not a black or white thing like we once believed but rather something that exists on a spectrum from mild to extreme and everything in between. I now clearly see that my mother falls somewhere in the middle of the continuum and this contributes greatly to her inability to connect with her kids and grand-kids. Here are three traits of a narcissist that my mom exhibits and your emotionally absent mother may as well.

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1. Craves Narcissistic Supply From Strangers, Not Family

Narcissistic supply is the term used to describe the approval, attention, and admiration that pump up a narcissist's ego. While some narcissists search for this adulation from those in their inner circle (spouse, children, parents, co-workers), others such as my mom seek it from complete strangers. Wanting the stamp of approval from people she doesn't know is something I've noticed about my mother since I was a little girl. But it was only when I reached adulthood that I understood it was part of her narcissism. As a kid, I internalized it. I thought I was boring and unworthy while others were far more interesting and deserving. This led to feelings of shame and self-loathing that I still struggle with today.

A good example of my mom craving narcissistic supply from strangers occurs when my family goes out to eat with her. Without fail, she'll immediately scan the restaurant looking for someone to interact with while ignoring the rest of us at the table. She'll catch someone's eye, smile at them, and continue to stare, eventually getting up and walking over to where they are and starting a conversation. She'll lay on the compliments: “You two make such a cute couple...Your children are so well-mannered...You're such a beautiful family.” She's beyond thrilled when the diners give her compliments in return, eating up every word like a dog gobbling up its kibble.

Her reaction to compliments from strangers is completely different from most of us who don't take them too seriously. If someone we don't know likes our outfit or lauds our ability to tell a joke, it makes us feel good for a minute or two but that's it. A narcissistic such as my mother, though, takes these throw-away comments to heart. She thinks about them for days to come, repeating them to family and friends and ruminating about their deep significance. She feels validated by the words of strangers as if they these people appreciate how truly amazing she is.

 2. Enthralled With Her Own Life Story

When we're teenagers, most of us are self-focused. We think about our friends, dates, social lives, grades, and appearance. But, as we grow older and mature, we begin to look outward and realize that everyone has a unique life story that shapes who they are. We look at a homeless person on the street, for instance, and think: I wonder what events transpired in her life that made her end up here – alcoholism? depression? divorce? mental illness? If we're decent, compassionate individuals, we don't dismiss this person with a comment such as: ”What a loser! I'd never let that happen to me!”

Narcissists, however, often never evolve to the point where they appreciate that every individual has her own powerful life story. They're still stuck in an adolescent mindset with the world revolving around them. Their life story is the only one that matters. It's compelling beyond belief while everybody else has a mundane tale to tell.

My mom grew up with an alcoholic mother who abandoned her. Even though she's now in her late seventies, this story still defines every day of her life. When my siblings and I were kids, she never had compassion for our problems. In her mind, our lives were perfect because we had a mom at home. She thought that was sufficient, regardless of whether she was emotionally available to us or not.

Many Narcissists Are Enthralled With Their Own Life Story

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    3. Lacks Empathy

A lack of empathy is one of the characteristics of a narcissist listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder. How I wish someone had explained this to me when I was a kid! Instead, I wasted so much time and energy during my childhood (and early adulthood) trying to get my mom to care about my pain, but she never could. My suffering as a teenager – severe depression and social anxiety – didn't mean a thing to her. She found it mildly annoying because it made her look like a bad parent, but not enough to take me to a doctor for treatment.

At an early age, I played the role of therapist to my mother because it was the only way to get her attention. I listened and advised her about her marital problems with my father even though I was a kid and had no experience in that arena. When I became a parent myself and had a child with autism, I finally saw how cold and indifferent my mother was. She couldn't relate to my suffering mother-to-mother. If I expressed sadness about my son's condition, she'd get angry at me. I now understand that I was asking her to give me something – empathy – that wasn't inside of her. She got frustrated because she didn't know how to relate to me on an emotional level.

Now I understand my mom's limitations and never expect any close bond with her. Our relationship is superficial because that's all she can manage and I get it. If I want more than that, I turn to my husband, mother-in-law, and close friends. If a pond is shallow, I wouldn't dive into it. The same can be said for a narcissistic mother.