Part 3. The Genesis of my C-PTSD: Mother as First Responder

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Mother As First Responder

From The Emotionally Absent Mother (affiliate link)

A very important role that secures Mother in her role as place of attachment is what I call Mother as First Responder. The “first responders” in our modern world are firefighters and police officers, the folks you call when there is an emergency. Imagine your home is on fire and no one comes. How would that affect you in terms of believing help will be there when you need it?

My teenage brothers used to put me on top of the refrigerator when I was a toddler. I screamed to get down. When my mother finally showed up, she was annoyed with me, not them. It is telling that her solution was to wait until I was big enough to climb down to the counter then the kitchen floor without help. I never thought of this as other than an oft-told family joke until a former boyfriend and single father said in response, “One of my kids ever did that to another, it would be the last time.”

Oh.

Cori goes on to note:

It may be hard to remember how your mother responded to you as an infant and small child, but often a telltale clue is how you feel about your needs now. Are you respectful and attentive to your needs, or so ashamed of needing that you try to hide them?”

For years, I denied that I had any needs and our culture tends to expect and reward self-sacrificing women, making it easy to assume the problem was having needs rather than ignoring them. An important step in recovery and healing is to determine legitimate needs and growing the boundaries to protect them.

For those of us with chronic childhood trauma, the failure to have a mother as First Responder was akin to the house burning down with all of our needs and unanswered calls for help or assistance inside.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Next week, Mother as Modulator

Part 2. The Genesis of My C-PTSD – Mother as Place of Attachment

Photo by Emma Frances Logan on Unsplash

I realized that stating “The Genesis of CPTSD” in the title for this series was open to misinterpretation. This is very much about how mine started and so I made that adjustment. Your mileage may vary.

Mother as Place of Attachment

From The Emotionally Absent Mother (affiliate link):

Jasmin Lee Cori writes:

Here we focus not on Mother as the ocean we come from, but as the more immediate place where we are attached….

When you watch securely attached toddlers and young children with their mothers, they are in constant physical contact, climbing over, pulling on, sucking, and hugging the mother’s body.

I don’t remember any contact even approaching that kind of intimacy with my mother. As with her mother, grandmother, and all the female relatives on her side of the family, there was no physical contact. No hugs, no kisses, no leaning up against them. Holding hands was rare, usually a means of yanking us into submission or crossing the street. The only pictures I have of anyone holding me are of my father or brothers. There was always space around my mother in family photos as in real life and there were unpleasant consequences for breaching that space. Not unusual in an incest survivor/victim, but still detrimental for her children. My brothers and I were very affectionate with our own children, having missed out on it growing up.

Attachment for the young child brings the feeling I belong to you. And because I belong to you, I have a place. Without this, we are untethered, adrift well into our adult years.

From The Emotionally Absent Mother

Driftwood is an appropriate metaphor since I grew up near the sea. Floating on unpredictable waves, adrift well into my adult years is a very good description of my experience. The thing about driftwood is that it’s had all the life sucked out of it and lies dormant, lifeless. It took years of work to recover my creativity and sense of fruitfulness.

Photo by Gonz DDL on Unsplash

Next week – First Responder.

Part 1. The Genesis of My C-PTSD – Mother as Source: The Hostile Womb

Photo by Camila Cordeiro on Unsplash

In her book, The Emotionally Absent Mother, Jasmin Lee Cori cites ten faces of a good mother, which I’m considering as I finish writing my trauma memoir. Her list of ten are Source, Place of Attachment, First Responder, Modulator, Nurturer, Mirror, Cheerleader, Mentor, Protector, and Home Base.  Unfortunately, my mother – as her mother and grandmother before her – did not succeed in any of the ten areas. Not even close. As I finish writing my book, I’m going to examine each of these in their own post over the coming weeks, first with Cori’s definition, followed by how I experienced my mother.

Mother as Source

From The Emotionally Absent Mother (affiliate link):

“Mother” is what we come from and what we are made of. In mythology and religion, this source is often depicted as some kind of mother goddess, often an ocean goddess. Just as life is said to have evolved from the ocean, human life evolves from the mother and, more specifically, the womb. Thus, at both the mythological level and the more mundane, the source of life is Mother.

When the child has a positive experience of Mother, he gets the sense, I am of Mommy. I come from her. I’m part of her. I’m like her. This becomes a building block of identity.” (pg 22)

Source was definitely not a positive association for me to the point where the phrase “knit together in my mother’s womb” makes me nauseous. It was not an inviting place and she did not want me. She drove that point home, taking me to tea every month with her abortionist when I was a kid. That behavior even shocked a very experienced trauma therapist.

My mother did not have a warm, nurturing relationship with her mother and so it went back through generations. What happens when you are rejected and humiliated or, in her case, simply not loved by your earthly source? In my family’s case, it meant neglectful and outright abusive behavior. It meant sexual abuse. It meant ridicule and humiliation. It meant a dearth of emotional resources. It meant the kind of chronic trauma that results in Complex PTSD.

I don’t remember ever feeling a sense of pride being her child. When I was 21 or 22, I was visiting my brother and one of his childhood friends said I looked like her. I didn’t understand why he felt the need to insult me other than he was always laughing at someone else’s expense. He knew who she was and the dig was intentional. Appalled and mortified, I replied that I looked like my dad – something everyone else said. That “friend” was the outlier and though he’s been dead for decades, I still hold it against him.

Not identifying with her as Source meant feeling adrift growing up. I never had a strong sense of belonging in my immediate family. I suppose it’s fertile ground for the creative life, but at a cost. My strongest sense of family came from the theater, film, and my great escape was books. Victor Hugo’s Paris, Edgar Allen Poe’s colored rooms, and Thoreau’s Walden Pond were far more real to me than the house I grew up in. Books, art, music, theater, and film became my Source, along with the ocean. Staring out at the ocean I was lucky enough to have nearby was a balm in a way my family never was.

Photo by Camila Cordeiro on Unsplash

Next week, Place of Attachment.

New piece up at The Manifest-Station

Big thanks to Jen Pastiloff and The Manifest-Station for publishing my latest piece, The Inedible Footnote of Child Abuse.

Please go pre-order Jen’s book, On Being Human. From Penguin Books:

ABOUT ON BEING HUMAN
An inspirational memoir about how Jennifer Pastiloff’s years of waitressing taught her to seek out unexpected beauty, how hearing loss taught her to listen fiercely, how being vulnerable allowed her to find love, and how imperfections can lead to a life full of wild happiness. 

Centered around the touchstone stories Jen tells in her popular workshops, On Being Human is the story of how a starved person grew into the exuberant woman she was meant to be all along by battling the demons within and winning.

Jen did not intend to become a yoga teacher, but when she was given the opportunity to host her own retreats, she left her thirteen-year waitressing job and said “yes,” despite crippling fears of her inexperience and her own potential. After years of feeling depressed, anxious, and hopeless, in a life that seemed to have no escape, she healed her own heart by caring for others. She has learned to fiercely listen despite being nearly deaf, to banish shame attached to a body mass index, and to rebuild a family after the debilitating loss of her father when she was eight. Through her journey, Jen conveys the experience most of us are missing in our lives: being heard and being told, “I got you.”   

Exuberant, triumphantly messy, and brave, On Being Human is a celebration of happiness and self-realization over darkness and doubt. Her complicated yet imperfectly perfect life path is an inspiration to live outside the box and to reject the all-too-common belief of “I am not enough.” Jen will help readers find, accept, and embrace their own vulnerability, bravery, and humanness.

A pause

Last week I received the news that a dear friend had a stroke and was not found for days. This morning I learned that she passed away peacefully yesterday afternoon. So, a pause here and hopefully I can resume posting next week. But for now I grieve.

If you are so inclined, please pray for the repose of Pam Rushman’s soul. Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she they rest in peace. Amen.

Breaking Generational Cycles: Stop it!

Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

When my kids were little and we went to the local park to play, there were almost always mothers who allowed their children, notably sons, to hit them. Oh, they’re only two or three years old, what’s the harm? The harm is patterns. The harm is not setting boundaries. The harm is allowing bad behavior to continue. There was recently a question in an online forum about how to stop a kindergartner from coming into the bathroom while the mom was doing her business. When she shut the child out, the child got mad.

If you want to break generational cycles, you need to pay attention to the things that don’t seem directly related. Now if your three-year-old son is hitting you and there is a generational cycle of domestic violence whether or not it is in your current household, allowing him to hit you is perpetuating that cycle. That is a direct connection.

The bathroom behavior is indirect. It’s not directly about abuse. It is, however, about boundaries and privacy. Those are big issues if you want to break cycles. Another is making sure that “No” is respected. Does your child keep going with obnoxious behavior when a sibling or friend has asked them to stop? They need to learn to respect the limits of others. No means No. If you have boundary issues, read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townshend. Teach your children to treat others the way that they want to be treated.

You may have this all to yourself!

Worried that your child will be mad at you? So what?! They will get over it and so will you. Having a kid mad at you is not the worst thing in the world. It’s not pleasant, but it won’t last forever and it says something about your tolerance for unpleasant emotions. Think of that tolerance as a muscle to build up in order to change unhealthy patterns. Your job is to break the cycle, teach them personal boundaries, to not hurt other people, and a sense of privacy. This can be done gently and with kindness. You don’t break unhealthy patterns by yelling or losing patience. Chances are you were not allowed your anger and it turned into rage, often stored in your body. Allow your child healthy anger. It won’t consume them or you. Get help to build up your tolerance or if you have problems controlling anger.

The other situation is learning to recognize when others are abusing your child. For this, you need to come to terms with who people are in your family. No more denial. Did a narcissist raise you? Their behavior was not only about you. When they speak to your child the same way they did to you, it may be time for limited contact and if they do not respect your boundaries, consider going no contact. Here are affirmations for that process. Again, you will likely need an impartial third party for guidance and support, which is why a good trauma therapist is so important to ending the cycle.

You and your partner (if you have one) need to be on the same page. You don’t need pages of rules, but you do need some. Sit down and write out 6-10 household rules for everyone (adults included).

It’s not easy being consistent and if that’s difficult, please ask for support from a counselor, parent group, therapist, grandparents. See what resources are available through your child’s school. Take parenting classes. There are lots of resources available in person and online. It will be worth all of the effort.

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