Between Being Loved and Feeling Loved
It feels a terribly ungrateful thing to say but I struggle to feel comfortable and relaxed with my parents. I have never known what I do or did or what it is about me that means I haven’t ever felt the intense caring, love and closeness I see between others and their parents. My sister is much keener than I to ring or escape home in times of stress. These are precisely the times I definitely don’t want contact, not wanting anything to perpetuate that I am somehow not likeable, or at worst difficult.
We communicate through weekly pre-arranged phone calls. Without this structure I would struggle to muster the desire to call, though I feel duty-bound to do so – so the suggested form of contact works for me. On the weekly calls – which always revolve around their topic of choice, work – my Mum often says very little. I wonder often if she is still there.
Nothing seems to cut through the feeling that somehow I am flawed. I sense my parents don’t seem to truly like me that much – why would anyone else? Often quoted is the Philip Larkin poem This Be The Verse – reminding me regularly ‘get out early as you can, and don’t have children yourself’. I have carefully hidden from them any parts of me I expect they would find difficult, or shameful. I do as I do at work; edit, edit, edit.
I came to therapy – and wish I had sooner – having made it through one of my lowest points – another relationship with an entirely unsuitable man – and wanting to break the pattern. What I have come to realise is how all the unhealthy people in my life offer a dysfunctional – not obvious to the low and depressed me – offer of being loved, cared for, wanted and needed. Things I subconsciously longed for from my parents.
I have come to better understand the impact of the context of my birth, of my relationship between my parents and their parents and of my mothers own mental health. The realisation is now sinking in that how my parents relate to me – for whatever reason – is not defined wholly by me. I learnt to be self-sufficient out of need rather than choice.
A particularly revealing – if painful - book, that in parts I found helpful was The Emotionally Absent Mother by Jasmin Le Cori.- Seeing what had been missing – and potential reasons why – was the first step to accepting that I am not inherently flawed, rather I am under-nourished. Also important was the articulation of the mysterious feeling I had of ‘being’ loved (and having everything provided for me) but not ‘feeling’ loved. Two very different things.
Therapy breaks have been surprisingly difficult given I thought I was self-sufficient. I am now more aware of the chain of thoughts - 'I want to give up therapy, I don’t want to see you anymore, what’s the point, I am fine, I need to be fine'. The first returning session I feel extremely anxious and nervous – wanting to see my therapist very much but also wanting to tell them I don’t want to see them. This – I now understand – is really my feeling towards my mother. I have always feared she will not want me so have struggled to have confidence that you, my therapist, won’t too want to distance yourself from me. At the end of this break I am looking forward to seeing my therapist and don’t fear the return quite as strongly as last time.