Part 10. The Genesis of My CPTSD: Mother As Home Base

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from Jasmin Lee Cori:

The message associated with this is “I’m here for you.” When you really take that in, then even in adulthood you will reference Mother as the place you can always come back to for refueling, comfort, or support. When the world beats you down, when your marriage falls apart, when your feelings are hurt, you can always turn to Mother.

and this:

If Mother is not consistently available, is self-absorbed or absorbed elsewhere, is erratic and unstable or unable to be emotionally present for the child, then we don’t experience her as home base. There is no Mother’s lap. This may show up in adulthood as difficulty establishing a sense of home.

from The Emotionally Absent Mother

There’s nothing easy about having a narcissist for a mother. Probably no picnic for her either. We never lived up to her expectations or filled the void inside of her.

There was no mother’s lap in our house. If she was sitting, she was knitting or doing other handwork that was not to be disturbed under any circumstances. The only sentient creature allowed in her lap was a miniature dachshund.

The last time my late brother saw her, he drove nine hours out of his way to visit, bringing his son along. After ten minutes of her not saying a word to them, he got up, took his son and left. When she was dying, I asked if she wanted me to call either of her sons. The answer was no. After decades with her children having no sense of a place for “refueling, comfort, or support” she knew they were unlikely to come in any case. We always think we need to point out others’ flaws and limitations. In almost every case, people know their failings very well.

It was lonely for her partners and children and lonely for her. No home base leads to wandering through cities, countries, relationships. For years, I found my sense of home either on sets or stages or on the road. I felt most myself while traveling. A sense of possibility opened up. Sets and stages provide a temporary sense of family, sometimes functional, sometimes not.

I was able to give my children the home base I did not have and in turn experienced a sense of reparenting. It is yet another piece of how to break toxic generational cycles. If you have or suspect you have Complex PTSD, please read Pete Walker’s book about it. Consider the innocence of your child self without the shame and blame around abuse and then embrace them and give yourself the sense of home you did not have growing up. As Walker says in one of his other books, The Tao of Fully Feeling, “Many survivors suffer intensely from a lack of love without knowing that it is lovelessness that causes them so much pain.”

Every child deserves to have this kind of joy:

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That’s all for this series. I haven’t forgotten about my father’s role in all of this, but that is still in process. I am preparing to launch into a new phase in a new city as I finish up a book, so posting may be light for now. Thank you for your support, especially on Patreon. [books links above are affiliate links]

Part 8. The Genesis of My CPTSD: Mother as Mentor

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From Jasmin Lee Cori:

Here Mother is teacher not simply of some isolated subject but of a much bigger curriculum. She orients the child to successfully living in the world. She teaches her child how to get along with others, how to make good decisions, and how to manage time, meet responsibilities, and pursue goals. Mother is in this sense the first “life skills coach.” Each of these capacities is huge, and any particular woman may be better at teaching some of them than others.

from The Emotionally Absent Mother [affiliate link]

It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that the woman who hissed “Saggy Tits” and “Chicken Chest” at my increasingly slumped teenage shoulders was perhaps not the best mentor on how to make my way in the world.

My mother had good skills for nursing, household tasks, as well as all kinds of handwork, including counted cross-stitch, crewel embroidery, and knitting. Self-worth, managing emotions, navigating interpersonal situations? Not her strong suit. The three of us cringed, muscles tensed, faces carefully neutral, on the rare occasions we dropped something on her antiseptic kitchen linoleum. There were no mistakes, only catastrophes that made her mouth form a tight line and her pale eyes harden.

Between the outright neglect during the decade of her Valium addiction to the general absence of verbal assurance, she was not equipped to teach anyone how to hold a conversation, pursue goals, or make good decisions. Time management meant two things: never be late and work without ceasing. The first has served me well. And I do have a strong work ethic, but it took me decades to feel okay about time off and relaxation.

Photo by Kim Gorga on Unsplash

Two incidents were a revelation that there were other ways to live. The first was when I was 12. A friend’s parents drove us home from the movies and interrupted my normal staring out the window reverie to ask me what I’d thought of the movie as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I tentatively offered my opinion and held my breath. The dad agreed and elaborated as in an actual conversation. I exhaled. Years later when I saw Little Man Tate, I was equally amazed that the mother (played by Jodie Foster) did not berate her son for spilling his milk. She was more concerned with him than the mess. She gave me a new model to break old patterns.

Part of breaking these multi-generational cycles has been learning some of these life skills and passing them on. At a round table, my kids and I shared dinner conversations, working out problems, being silly, learning from each other. Sometimes we solved the world’s problems, though they had to pick up navigating office politics on their own. We all have our limits. It’s about opening up more than we were allowed to with progress, not perfection. They’ll do even more for their future children.

Next week: Mother as Protector

Part 7. The Genesis of my CPTSD: Mother as Cheerleader

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Mother As Cheerleader

From Jasmin Lee Cori:

A mother may have difficulty cheerleading for several reasons. She may be so undermothered and unsupported herself that she doesn’t know about cheerleading, she may be more focused on her own needs for support, she may be unaware of her child’s needs, or she may be threatened by her child’s achievements and growing autonomy. She also may be too harried or depressed to have the energy to cheerlead.

from The Emotionally Absent Mother [affiliate link]

My mother had no capacity to cheer anyone else on, including herself. She sought healing most of her life to no avail. She was definitely undermothered and certainly unsupported when she tried to get help against her stepfather’s rapes. She responded to her own children with abuse and neglect, continuing the generational cycle. She swung between feeling threatened and betrayed by any autonomy shown by her children and being too depressed to leave her bed. When her two sons left home, she took it as a personal betrayal.

Here’s one small example of my mother’s version of cheerleading: when I was 12 or 13, I was practicing in the backyard because I couldn’t do the splits or a cartwheel. I was frustrated that I couldn’t seem to make progress. She responded by doing a bunch of cartwheels around me, mocking and denigrating me the entire time. It felt like the opposite of cheerleading. She did not pause to teach, much less encourage me, and I gave up.

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Feeling unsupported is lonely.

Decades later, I learned that it’s not unusual for abuse victims to have tight hips. All the trauma and emotion is stored in the body. The body remembers everything. Thanks to the work of Peter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, Pat Ogden and others we’re finally learning the importance of discharging old trauma stored in the body. Learning to do so is one more tool in healing from abuse and breaking familial cycles.

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

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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.

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Next week – First Responder.