Having told you that I wrote my last blog sitting in the hairdressers chair, I am feeling that I can share a little bit more with you about who I am and how I got to do this work. Today is Mothers Day in the UK. For too many years of my life I didn’t have a mother, not because I didn’t have a mother, if you know what I mean, but because my mother had been erased as a mother in my mind by my paternal family. This was not done within the context of a family separation, but was a cross generational coup, in which my paternal grandmother took me for a replacement for the daughter she had lost to miscarriage only a few years before I was born. I lived in Minuchin’s world of role corruption. It took me years to work out that the mother I had been poisoned against was not the wicked witch they all portrayed her to be. But I did it in the end, to the degree where today I will wish my mum a happy mothers day and know, with all the benefit of healing, that I am doing so from the right place in my family line. No longer alienated through the manipulations of others, I am free to experience the good, the bad and the ugly parts of my relationship with my mother. That which is like me and not like me, that which gets ugly at times as we clash in our likeness and that which is, at the end of the day, simply about being the daughter of a woman who married into an unhealthy family. For which those of us not part of that unhealthy drama, all paid the price.
Alienation in children arises from being around psychologically and emotionally unhealthy people. That’s it really. That’s all there is to it. Children born into families where there are cross generational toxicities, where there are secrets and lies and where children’s needs are not put first, are all at risk of alienation. In my family, cross generational toxicity caused the normal attachment processes to collapse so that children in the paternal family did not have a hierarchical experience of being parented. Either you were ‘in’ or you were ‘out’ on the paternal side of the family and if you were ‘in’ you were party to everything, there were no boundaries, information about people within and without flowed like rivers and alliances were built upon pitying those who were outsiders. To be ‘in’ was to feel prized and special, it was also to fear the shunning of those who were ‘out’ and to know that cold rejecting pity was the lot of those who crossed the line. Staying ‘in’ was an important task for all children who were named as being ‘one of us’. Aligning the self to the elders in the family and rejecting those who were seen as threats, was how we achieved our safety.
The paternal side of my family was about as unhealthy as it gets in terms of psychological, emotional and physical safety for children. Survival within that viperous nest meant having perspective as well as so much more taken and broken deliberately. This was done to protect the family secrets, those which had been handed down through the generations for each successive round of children to carry on and carry out. And they did. And but for my drive to understand the psychological world of the family that I lived in, but for my determination to exorcise the ghosts in the nursery and but for (wait for it), feminism, my fate would have been to carry those demons downward and forward into my descendents lives.
Feminism saved me because it helped me to recognise that there was something nasty in the bosom of my paternal family. Unfortunately for too many years feminism also ensured that my split thinking (caused by my paternal family) carried on. Whilst feminism saved me, it also flipped the split thinking in the other direction, meaning for too many years I simply transferred my rejection of my mother to my rejection of my mother AND my father, whilst maintaining my entwinement with my paternal family. But it saved me, there is no doubt in my mind. When I look back now I can see how feminism taught me how to evaluate healthy and unhealthy relationships within the family and eventually, when the tide turned, I was able to see, finally, the truth of what had happened to my mind.
Alienation is not an easy process to recover from and some days as I do the work that I do with children I recognise the stages that I went through. Some days I still find myself learning and still find myself processing the way in which my mind, once broken, was healed. My healing came, as all alienated children’s healing comes, with time spent with my mother and a lot of it. Over the past years I have spent much time with my mother, in lots of different settings as we have recovered those things which were taken from us and understood how it happened. My mother is not perfect. Far from it. She can be fixed in her thinking and fierce and she can appear at times to be cold or angry in turns although she is not those things on the inside. Sometimes my mother is happy and sometimes she is sad, sometimes she is does things which are kind and make me feel good about myself and sometimes she just irritates me. Sometimes I cannot spend too much time with her because I cannot cope with the similarities between us and other times I wonder how I will ever bridge the gap in our way of being in the world. But much of the time now, as we spend time together which is quiet and peaceful, I watch how she tends her garden and how the flowers and plants that she nurtures grow so healthily. I watch her teaching her great grandson to read and I appreciate the sharpness of her mind. A mind which was never stretched the way it should have been, a mind which was far too perceptive for the family she married into. A mind which was silenced in my life by severing its influence on me at a very young age.
My mother told me a joke last week and I laughed out loud because it was funny and the way she told it was funny. And then I put the phone down and realised that at the age of fifty plus I never knew my mother could tell jokes. How sad. What a loss – for me. I never knew my mother could tell jokes. And I said a silent thank you for the gift of recovery of my mind, my perspective and my relationship with my mother. My mother is not perfect but then who is? My life took a great long detour around places it never should have been because my paternal family were deeply unhealthy people who strove to keep their secrets by driving out everyone seen as a threat to exposure. I was taken, abducted, may as well have been kidnapped by aliens, so far from my mother was I removed. I recovered, I am healthy, I know now that people do good things and people do bad things. Most of all I know that those things which they preyed on in my relationship with my mother were not evidence that she was mad/bad or dangerous to know, they were simply the tools that they used to break my perspective and convince me that they were perfect and she was not.
No-one is perfect. Some people are unhealthy. My mum is the first but she is not the latter.
And so for you mum, here it is in all its absolute balanced and integrated honesty.
I love you. Happy Mothers Day.