How often do you find yourself repeating relationship patterns and regretting later the choices you’ve made? Mothers and Daughters offers insights into how and why we do this and here I share with you details relating to my work with daughters who are in conflict with their husbands, significant others, bosses, co-workers and friends, it is often interesting to note, that when I ask the question, ‘who does this person remind you of’, they surprise themselves and say ‘he/she is just like my mother!.'
Instead of detaching from our mothers through natural separation, a daughter may find herself projecting her co-dependency, unmet needs and expectations onto the adults she comes into contact with. Unconsciously, she selects partners who respond to her in the way her mother did. We don’t always consciously choose relationships with others, who are like our mothers, but subconsciously we may choose someone whose character, behaviour traits and demeanour is similar.
The concept of a daughter’s relationship with her mother, determining subsequent relationships is not a new one. Freud in his 1931 essay Female Sexuality, wrote ‘‘We see then that the later phase of exclusive attachment to the mother...is far more important in the woman than it can claim to be for men...Many a woman who takes her father as the model for her choice of husband...repeats with her husband her bad relationships with her mother...The mother-relation was the original one, upon which the father-relation was built up.’’
What we aren’t able to resolve in our childhood relationships, we may find ourselves projecting into our adult relationships by searching for the validation we never received from our mothers and going the extra mile to win the praise, affection and attention missing in our childhood. The feelings we have towards our mothers are often the same feelings we have towards our partners. Some questions to pose at this point are:
What did you want from your mother which you never received?
How many of your unmet needs from childhood are you are trying to find in your current relationship?
How often have you projected your unmet childhood needs onto your partner to fulfil?
What happens when your partner can’t meet your needs, how do you respond?
How often do you find yourself reacting to your partner in the same way you react to your mother?
Who in your current or past relationships reminds you of your mother?
Do you have your own identity outside of your relationship with your mother or significant other? If no, what are the consequences of not having your own identity independent of another?
How well do you know yourself, who you are and what you like and dislike etc?
When our mothers have not been emotionally available or had an inability to provide for our needs, it may mean we go into relationships wearing blinkers. The unconscious drive and the aim of our relationships is to see what we can get from the other person and we find ourselves reaching out to replicate either the connection we had with our mothers, or one we wished we had, in an attempt to receive the nurturing elsewhere.
Our desire for the ideal mother is the driving force behind our choices. We hope our selection of partner will fulfil this ideal though in reality, we are faced with those needs being ignored time and time again. On the rare occasion they are satisfied, we do not believe what is on offer and will question if the love will last.
A daughter without the secure foundation of a constant, positive and loving base in childhood, may find herself desperate in relationships and likely to settle for unsuitable partners. If she feels “second rate” it’s likely she will choose “second rate” partners if her underlying belief is that she deserves no better. Many daughters go on to date men who abuse them physically or emotionally as their mothers have done, not believing themselves worthy of better treatment. A daughter’s yearning for love outweighs any rational thinking.
For daughters who have experienced domineering mothers of the kind who say ‘‘no one will ever love you as much as I do’’, this may set up a self-fulfilling prophecy and so no one quite measures up to mother! They may go on to choose possessive, arrogant and jealous partners who remind them of being swamped by mum. When this becomes too much to bear, the daughter will want to run away and rebel as the relationship reminds her too much of her dominating mother.
Take note too that for many daughters not in a relationship, it may be because this feels safer than being in one. We may find ourselves having brief relationships, which we end ourselves, before we can be abandoned. If we have experienced a lack of mothering in childhood whether physically or emotionally, the fear of being deserted again gets carried into your adult relationships. There may be underlying fears connected with relationships not lasting and not putting your trust in someone, when you’ve been previously let down.
If we’ve learnt to survive independently as children, we might close off our needs and our message to the world is ‘I don’t need anyone’, ‘I’m fine on my own’, ‘I’m capable of managing my own life’ or ‘keep your distance’ and ‘I don’t trust you’. We could come across as cold, distant, controlling, intimidating and aggressive. Although a relationship might be desired at a deeper level, some daughters avoid relationships altogether, as the thought of losing love all over again is too great to bear.
Real life is far from the fairy tale of a knight in shining armour or the fairy godmother rescuing us from our distress; we can do this for ourselves, once we understand why and how we make the wrong choices.
If you’ve experienced trauma growing up or had any negative beliefs about being unlovable reinforced, the chances are you might still believe you’re unworthy of love and a loving relationship. You may go on to devalue yourself, sabotage yourself and your relationships, as well as continue the pattern of choosing relationships which are hurtful and unhealthy. It is important to do the inner work and use the processes shared in Chapter Six, to make positive and lasting change.
Jayne‘s Words of Wisdom - Case Study
‘‘The one thing I wish my mother could have given me is an example of a woman in a healthy loving relationship with a man. I saw instead a woman who loved a man who did not love her back; she tried as hard as she could but never received the love she desired. In many ways, my own relationship experience reflects hers. I keep choosing partners who, for whatever reason, just can’t love me in the way I need to be loved.’’
To recognise whether you are falling into a pattern of repeated behaviour, consider that to do something once is an event, twice a coincidence and three times a behaviour.
Understanding your limiting beliefs and why they have been in place up till now, will give your new relationships the opportunity to flourish.
If we believe we have lacked love in our early years, had an experience where love is confused (physical, sexual or emotional abuse), or if our relationships have been narcissistic, or we experienced love as being conditional, then we have no healthy blueprint for unconditional love. The good news is, that with awareness, we can change our behaviours, perceptions and beliefs and in doing so have healthier relationships.
Alice Miller, shares in For Your Own Good, how those who have felt victimised are not fully able to understand their past sufferings and may try to hurt themselves or others again. They indirectly repeat the hurt they were made to endure. Frequently, those wounded in childhood, demonstrate destructive repetitions of behaviours. In a misguided way, they act out their past experiences in an effort to heal past hurts.
Carrying anger and resentment from your past experiences, may mean you unwittingly attract a person who also needs aspects of their past to be healed. Two needy people with unresolved issues in a relationship can be a recipe for disaster and you may find yourself playing out your childhood unmet needs. Another aspect to consider is how we might take on our mother’s role in relationships – either copying her parenting style or doing the opposite.
Daughters who find they constantly give to others, acting out what they believe to be the ‘ideal mother role’ may feel used when little comes back in return. Better to practice self nurturance and self care, giving love to ourselves first and foremost. Trying to find our ideal mother in our partner is not advised. When an external source of love is not available, we are no longer thrown back into the ‘needy child’ part of ourselves and instead, we are able to meet our own needs, regardless. Working with our inner child in this way has so many benefits.
Although it is in many ways deemed acceptable for a woman to depend on a man, or for a man to need a mother figure to care for him, the same underlying compulsions are at hand. If we have found ourselves taking on the parental role at a young age, we might look to our partners to care for us to make up for this. Or, once again, we become “the fixer” in relationships and find our partners have the same expectations towards us as our mothers.
Daughters who have been fixers or whose mothers have been unavailable may go on to work in caring professions where they give to others the nurturance, time and care they never received as children. Such professions may include nursing, animal care, teaching, therapy, care workers, healing professions, emergency services staff etc. Although these roles can be rewarding, all daughters who find themselves in caring roles, also benefit from making time for themselves.
Liz Case Study
Liz came to me for support in improving ‘significant other’ relationships with men
Liz repeatedly chose men who were uncommunicative, emotionally and physically distant and who criticised her looks, job, the way she spoke, how she ate, as well as criticising her friends etc. She felt she could never say or do the right thing. In our work together, Liz came to realise she was choosing partners who represented her mother. In both actions, words and deeds, she was re-living her childhood all over again in these unhealthy relationships. In her search for validation, recognition and love she had lost her identity and didn’t know who she was outside of the relationship. Using The Spotlight Process (Chapter Six) Liz was able to redefine the kind of relationship she wanted and was able to recognise straight away if any potential partner reminded her of what was familiar to her from childhood. She chose not to take those relationships further and instead, spent time, getting to know someone before she became intimate with them. She opened herself up to being treated with respect, love and care and eventually went on to value herself and the new relationship experiences she was having. Bumping into Liz recently, she shared that she is now happy and settled in a loving relationship and is pleased to have left the ghosts of her past behind.
The refusal to mourn the disappointments and losses of childhood, to bury them once and for all, condemns us to live in their shadows - Sheldon. B. Kopp
Self-love is the healing road to recovery. When we are able to let go of our need for our mother’s love, approval, acceptance and acknowledgement, we stop looking for her in potential partners. Instead of looking outside ourselves for love, we look inside.
Whether self-care and self-love is making time to take a bubble bath, listening to our favourite music, reading a book, spending time in nature or going for a run, when we can give ourselves love, time and care, we become richer for the experience. For you, self-love might be connecting with friends, going to a dance or exercise class, seeing a movie or stage play, treating yourself to a spa day or a beautiful outfit. You could also try simply looking in the mirror every morning and saying to yourself ‘I am enough’.
Think about those things which make you feel loved, special and cherished and give them to yourself. Self-love doesn’t mean you aren’t taking responsibility to fulfil other areas of your life. Balance is important and making time for you as well as others, creates a healthy balance. You might have a family, a career and other commitments which take your time, but making quality time for you, will be time well invested. You are the only one who can change your current reality. This begins with self-awareness, self-respect and that all important self-love.
Present day relationships, including those with your own children, siblings, significant others, colleagues, friends and lovers are defined by your past relationship experiences. If your relationships aren’t working then it’s worth exploring, in depth your beliefs about relationships and work towards updating those beliefs to better serve you.
Something good can come out of your suffering. When you have the awareness of what you don’t want for yourself, your children and your personal relationships, you can turn those “don’t wants” into “do wants” communicating clearly and assertively your ideals (see Chapter Five) The Beginning of You, and the section Who Am I, What Do I Want? By breaking the loop and ending the repeating patterns and behaviours which no longer serve us, we create something entirely new.
You’re going to go through tough times - that’s life. But I say ‘Nothing happens to you, it happens for you’. Joel Osteen