In my last blog entry, Betrayal by a Mother Figure, I shared the story of how I felt incredibly betrayed by my mother-in-law (MIL) after she overreacted to a simple situation. I had embraced her as a mother figure – as a replacement mother for the one who abused me – and her betrayal ran very deep. I could not get past it, and quite honestly, never even tried.
Since my MIL passed away in 2008, I have worked on forgiving her for being human. I strongly suspect that she was a fellow child abuse survivor and that she was reacting from a state of being triggered, but even that knowledge was not enough to get me back to a place of trusting her again. My mother of birth betrayed and abused me, and then my mother through marriage emotionally betrayed me as well. I was “done” with risking my heart with mothers.
However, I still carried around an ache from my unmet needs for a mother’s love. My relationship with my MIL had filled those empty places in part, but then her betrayal just made those holes feel like they were gaping twice as big. I really wrestled with how to meet those needs within myself while, at the same time, being unwilling/unable to try to bond with a third older woman to serve as a mother figure (if I could even find one who was interested).
I went through a phase of considering “adopting” a mother. Perhaps I could choose an older woman from my church to serve as my mother figure. My therapist advised against this, pointing out that all people have flaws and a certain level of dysfunction. He was concerned about me setting my expectations too high and then having a third betrayal by a mother figure.
I finally reached a place of filling some of those needs myself and then filling some of those needs through my friendships with other women my own age. For myself, I created a “good mother” alter part who still comes out whenever I really need a mom. For example, when I had Norovirus last year, that alter part came out spontaneously to talk me through some of the worst stomach distress I have ever experienced in my life. When I am trying to heal a wounded child part, I will visualize the good mother alter part holding and rocking her. I still cannot looking someone in the eye when they say something loving to me, but I have practiced this skill with the good mother alter part, maintaining eye contact as she says, “I love you.” It is a very powerful visualization for me.
As for my friends, they also meet many of my “mother needs,” such as helping me out when I need childcare for my kid or checking in on me when I feel sick. They are my “safe place to fall” when I am very triggered and need to cry on someone’s shoulder. So, even though they are the same age as me and are not “mothers” in the sense that I thought I needed, they can still fill some of those gaps inside of me.
I do know some child abuse survivors who have “adopted” an older woman to serve as a mother figure with success. For me, this was not necessary for me to get my needs met.
Photo credit: Hekatekris