Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Excavating A Wounded Child with a Mother Complex November 4, 2019

Here’s another oldie, but goodie, from a few years back. Enjoy.

child-walking-on-beachMy parents have rented a vacation cabin on Lake Michigan. I’m playing by the shore and realize it’s getting dark. I look around. I’m alone. I begin walking along the water’s edge toward a distant pinpoint of light. Could that be my mother looking for me? How could she lose me? Will she find me? Will anyone find me? Will I have to live with a stranger?  Will they feed me? Could something bad happen to me? After what feels like an eternity, Daddy and Jimmy come up behind me. Daddy explains. He and Mama left the beach separately, each believing I was with the other one. I’m safe, but I want Mama! Why didn’t she come for me? Doesn’t she know how afraid I’ve been?  That I’d want her to look for me? 

This is my earliest memory, described in more depth in my book, The Bridge to Wholeness. I was three. Something new was set into motion that evening. I had become conscious of my separate existence in a very big, dark, and scary world. In their book, Into the Heart of the Feminine, Jungian analysts Massimilla and Bud Harris write:

“…early infancy is the time when the world of the family begins imprinting itself on our tiny psyches, and this is a critical time in our emotional development.  We know by now that much of a baby’s view of the world is filtered through the mother’s body and the emotional attitudes her body reflects. Of course this means that the child of a mother who is overly anxious or is resentful of the birth will feel out of adjustment psychologically, and such feelings will be the beginning of a negative mother complex.  When we grow up this way, our personality will be founded on a deep sense of anxiety, scarcity, and a mistrust of the world.  In contrast, if our mother is sufficiently gentle, loving, and emotionally secure, she will help us develop a basic sense of trust in life and in our place in the world.”

This memory resurfaced after last week’s post in which I described an example of how my mother complex influenced a relationship. Since practically everyone has mother issues of some sort—whether positive or negative, recognized or not—it seems appropriate to share more of what I’ve learned.

Every child experiences anxiety when it becomes aware of its individuality and vulnerability, and mothers vary in their ability to assuage this, our earliest wound. Good mothers are naturally gentle, patient, good-natured, affectionate, reassuring and loving. They make their children feel confident, safe and secure. Mothering can be more difficult for well-meaning women with mother complexes, jobs, other external stressors, or undeveloped “maternal instincts.”  Nonetheless, a well-intentioned woman with a powerful desire to provide loving care and ongoing reassurance can be good enough at meeting her child’s basic physical and psychological needs.

Unfortunately, many mothers are too wounded, stressed, narcissistic or oblivious to give their children enough basic nurturance.  Some are angry, jealous or resentful. Some are unstable, mentally ill or abusive. Some are not there.

My mother was more than good enough. Although anxious and emotionally fragile, she was kind, gentle and loving. I admired her, loved her, and felt loved in return. She tried hard to provide me with a safe and comfortable life, and I did feel safe until she and Daddy divorced and then he died. But when she was pregnant with me and throughout my childhood, Daddy was rarely home because he was having an affair. The strain of this plus her full-time job left her with little energy for me, physical or emotional.

I wasn’t neglected. Mama boarded women students from the nearby university in exchange for minimal rent and baby-sitting. But she was rarely available during my waking hours…and I missed her. As I grew older it got easier to lower my expectations and ignore my need for her. By the time Daddy died, I was proud of my independence and saw my ability to hide my hurt as a strength. But deep within, a three-year-old child still felt sad, lonely, deprived, and sorry for herself.

Me at 5, recovering from the measles.

Me at 5, recovering from the measles.

It’s taken years of digging through layers of rationalization and denial to see her. Besides feeling the aforementioned emotions, she tends to (1) project Mother onto self-confident and accomplished men and women she admires, (2) feel deeply disappointed and unforgiving when they fail to measure up to her ideals, and, most insidious of all, (3) assume she’s unworthy and unloveable.

I’m sharing the causes and effects of my mother complex to help others excavate theirs. Mine doesn’t compare to ones that were shaped by rejection or abuse, but this doesn’t mean I should deny my honest feelings. It’s too easy to fall into that insidious trap. Conventional wisdom urges us to toughen up, ignore our pain, and stay on the “sunny side of the street.” It advises against “self-absorbed navel-gazing” and “blaming your parents for your problems,” leading us to equate acceptance with blame.

This isn’t wisdom.  It’s escapist rationalization. I know the pain of assuming I don’t deserve to live my own life, that I must hide my true self. And I’ve experienced the exhilaration of escaping that dark prison. We can’t become the mature individuals we yearn to be until we make peace with the inner forces that made us who we are.

Image Source:  Google Images, Flickr.com. 

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her newest book, the Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

 

Excavating A Wounded Child with a Mother Complex September 22, 2015

child-walking-on-beachMy parents have rented a vacation cabin on Lake Michigan. I’m playing by the shore and realize it’s getting dark. I look around. I’m alone. I begin walking along the water’s edge toward a distant pinpoint of light. Could that be my mother looking for me? How could she lose me? Will she find me? Will anyone find me? Will I have to live with a stranger?  Will they feed me? Could something bad happen to me? After what feels like an eternity, Daddy and Jimmy come up behind me. Daddy explains. He and Mama left the beach separately, each believing I was with the other one. I’m safe, but I want Mama! Why didn’t she come for me? Doesn’t she know how afraid I’ve been?  That I’d want her to look for me? 

This is my earliest memory, described in more depth in my book, The Bridge to Wholeness. I was three. Something new was set into motion that evening. I had become conscious of my separate existence in a very big, dark, and scary world. In their book, Into the Heart of the Feminine, Jungian analysts Massimilla and Bud Harris write:

“…early infancy is the time when the world of the family begins imprinting itself on our tiny psyches, and this is a critical time in our emotional development.  We know by now that much of a baby’s view of the world is filtered through the mother’s body and the emotional attitudes her body reflects. Of course this means that the child of a mother who is overly anxious or is resentful of the birth will feel out of adjustment psychologically, and such feelings will be the beginning of a negative mother complex.  When we grow up this way, our personality will be founded on a deep sense of anxiety, scarcity, and a mistrust of the world.  In contrast, if our mother is sufficiently gentle, loving, and emotionally secure, she will help us develop a basic sense of trust in life and in our place in the world.”

This memory resurfaced after last week’s post in which I described an example of how my mother complex influenced a relationship. Since practically everyone has mother issues of some sort—whether positive or negative, recognized or not—it seems appropriate to share more of what I’ve learned.

Every child experiences anxiety when it becomes aware of its individuality and vulnerability, and mothers vary in their ability to assuage this, our earliest wound. Good mothers are naturally gentle, patient, good-natured, affectionate, reassuring and loving. They make their children feel confident, safe and secure. Mothering can be more difficult for well-meaning women with mother complexes, jobs, other external stressors, or undeveloped “maternal instincts.”  Nonetheless, a well-intentioned woman with a powerful desire to provide loving care and ongoing reassurance can be good enough at meeting her child’s basic physical and psychological needs.

Unfortunately, many mothers are too wounded, stressed, narcissistic or oblivious to give their children enough basic nurturance.  Some are angry, jealous or resentful. Some are unstable, mentally ill or abusive. Some are not there.

My mother was more than good enough. Although anxious and emotionally fragile, she was kind, gentle and loving. I admired her, loved her, and felt loved in return. She tried hard to provide me with a safe and comfortable life, and I did feel safe until she and Daddy divorced and then he died. But when she was pregnant with me and throughout my childhood, Daddy was rarely home because he was having an affair. The strain of this plus her full-time job left her with little energy for me, physical or emotional.

I wasn’t neglected. Mama boarded women students from the nearby university in exchange for minimal rent and baby-sitting. But she was rarely available during my waking hours…and I missed her. As I grew older it got easier to lower my expectations and ignore my need for her. By the time Daddy died, I was proud of my independence and saw my ability to hide my hurt as a strength. But deep within, a three-year-old child still felt sad, lonely, deprived, and sorry for herself.

Me at 5, recovering from the measles.

Me at 5, recovering from the measles.

It’s taken years of digging through layers of rationalization and denial to see her. Besides feeling the aforementioned emotions, she tends to (1) project Mother onto self-confident and accomplished men and women she admires, (2) feel deeply disappointed and unforgiving when they fail to measure up to her ideals, and, most insidious of all, (3) assume she’s unworthy and unloveable.

I’m sharing the causes and effects of my mother complex to help others excavate theirs. Mine doesn’t compare to ones that were shaped by rejection or abuse, but this doesn’t mean I should deny my honest feelings. It’s too easy to fall into that insidious trap. Conventional wisdom urges us to toughen up, ignore our pain, and stay on the “sunny side of the street.” It advises against “self-absorbed navel-gazing” and “blaming your parents for your problems,” leading us to equate acceptance with blame.

This isn’t wisdom.  It’s escapist rationalization. I know the pain of assuming I don’t deserve to live my own life, that I must hide my true self. And I’ve experienced the exhilaration of escaping that dark prison. We can’t become the mature individuals we yearn to be until we make peace with the inner forces that made us who we are.

Image Source:  Google Images, Flickr.com. 

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Shadow or Self: Who’s in Charge? September 15, 2015

Unknown-1“What should I do?” I asked my husband.  “This feels like a test about choosing between courage and cowardice.  Or is it between my noble and selfish selves?” We were talking about a relationship issue that was brought to my attention by a timely and bizarre synchronicity. The odds against this coincidence occurring must have been millions to one.  Because of the wild improbability I knew there was a lesson in it for me.  But what was it?

Which part of me should I act on:  the part that could see this objectively, laugh it off and let it go, or the part that took it personally, felt betrayed, and wanted to let the other know? I couldn’t tell. My habit of suppressing my truths to avoid conflicts or hurting people was still too strong. As a child and young woman, I’d seen this as a noble trait, but I was learning that keeping my mouth shut wasn’t always the right choice. Sometimes it was merely ‘settling.’ Sometimes it was not believing enough in my basic worth to draw firm boundaries and stand up for myself. At the very least it was a lack of authenticity.

Over the years a recurring dream has addressed this issue: I’m in a social situation with a mouth full of sticky mush that I have to remove and dispose of so I can talk. No matter how much I take out, there’s always more. Having people around me is uncomfortable and embarrassing. When I finally understood this was a metaphor for being afraid to use my own voice, I became determined to heal this wound that has its roots in my earliest childhood.

I grew up believing I must protect my mother from agitation or conflict. Something told me she’d had too much pain in her life and I shouldn’t add to it;  for example, by arguing with her, or expressing my disappointment that she didn’t attend my theatrical and musical performances, or begging her to drive me anywhere, or expecting special attention or praise from her.  It was too risky.  I realize now that this is symptomatic of a mother complex.

The part of me that wanted to reclaim my voice believed that expressing my truths in the current situation was the right response. But knowing it could be hurtful to the other party held me back and caused me to question my true motivation. Was there something in me that wanted to hurt this person? The thought that there probably was made me deeply uncomfortable.  So what was I to do? Suppress my truths yet again or take the risk of exposing my secret thoughts? Beneath this was a bigger question:  Which side of my dilemma represented my shadow and which the Self?

UnknownI asked my husband to help me clarify this issue, then made my decision. But we both still had misgivings.  So I asked my daughter. I should tell you she’s a level-headed person with a doctorate in marriage and family counseling. I trusted her response to be truthful and objective. After describing the situation and how I’d decided to handle it, I immediately sensed her hesitation.  “What?”  I asked. “Is this bogus?  Am I being childish?”

“Yes,” she said smiling gently. “I think it’s coming from your mother complex. Your wounded child feels neglected and wants attention and revenge.”  The undeniable truth of this resonated, a dark cavern in my unconscious was flooded with light, and a weight I didn’t know I was carrying vanished. It explained so much about parts of my shadow I’d been struggling so long to understand. A few nights later a vivid dream confirmed the truth. In it, an intelligent and accomplished young Asian woman went to her hotel room after making an important presentation, and I heard her screaming for her absent mother in anguish and anger. The youthful, ambitious, perfectionistic achiever in me still wanted her mother’s affirmation.

“In each of us there is another whom we do not know.  [S]He speaks to us in dreams.” `Carl Jung

Carl Jung believed complexes are perfectly normal. As I recall, he once said he had 13.  No matter how hard we try to think and act wisely, everyone has clusters of attitudes, feelings and beliefs that can impersonate wisdom and shadow our judgment. And when our ego is swamped by a shadow complex, it’s very good at justifying its self-serving motives. So how can we discern the truth and make the best choice?

We can bring the True Self into the picture by asking it to observe our conflict as we follow this 7-step process:

(1) Name both sides of the conflict.

(2) Listen carefully as each side expresses itself fully.

(3) Examine the beliefs, emotions and motives of both sides with objectivity and compassion.

(4) Forgive both sides for being human.

(5) Grieve our hurt fully.

(6) Create an original work wherein our ego, shadow and Self invent their own meaningful sacred dance.

(7) Ask for help if we’re still in the dark.

Then we can choose to step toward the light. Life is too precious to waste in the shadows.

Image credits:  Google Images

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, IncHer new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

 

Dream About A Mother Complex June 2, 2015

Note:  The International Association for the study of Dreams will have its annual Conference in Virginia Beach this weekend. As some of you know, I’ll be presenting Friday night’s keynote speech. Since I’m still polishing it, I don’t have the time to write a new post, so this is one from a few years ago.  Interestingly, last month I wrote a post about the mother complex and several of you wanted to know more. Then last week I wrote about a friend’s dream of killing Lance Armstrong that received more comments than any other post I’ve written.  So it feels especially appropriate to repeat this one which features both themes.  I’m looking forward to meeting some of you at the conference this weekend.

A friend recently sent me this dream. I want to share it with you, as it brings to mind the very interesting topic of the mother complex.

An old lady is beating up a boy. She is beating him up really badly, he has a bloody face. When she is done, she comes towards me, moving to my right. I go to the left to see if the boy is still alive. I fear he is not. She comes at me, and I kick her in the stomach and she goes flying backwards, off a cliff.

She comments: “This was not a positive dream. Kind of freaked me out a bit, had a hard time going back to sleep. Was wondering what you thought, if you have time.”

My initial response: “Think of the waking life context a day or two before you had this dream. Did anything happen that gave you the same feeling you had in the dream? Were you angry or worried about something? An older woman in your life? An uncomfortable awareness of your own aging? A memory of something hurtful involving an older woman?”

She responded: “This dream came right before I played in my first big tennis tournament. In retrospect, I was the oldest lady on the courts I played, all my opponents were at least half my age. I think it had something to do with that, being something I was worried about. The older feminine who squelched my ambition and drive in waking life was my mom. Since her death I have finally come into my own. This dream seems like a significant one.”

Being the oldest woman on the courts may have triggered emotions which activated the ancient Great Mother. In her positive aspect this archetype creates and nurtures new life. In her negative aspect she smothers and destroys it. The way we see her depends to a certain degree on our experiences with our personal mothers although other factors can enter in as well.

In this dream she’s a mean old lady trying to kill a boy. I’d see him as my growing Animus, associated with my drive to individuate. He’s the part of me that wants to rise up from my unconscious bath in the maternal matrix wherein I just float along enjoying being taken care of and respond to discomfort by blaming outer circumstances while remaining innocent of all personal responsibility. He wants me to light my own fire, forge my own identity, prove myself through tests of my own choosing, accept responsibility for my own behavior, and assume my own authority.

The fact that the dreamer kicks the woman off the cliff suggests a mythical motif Jung called “The Sacrifice.” Jungian analyst June Singer writes about “the child’s sacrifice of the paradise of the early and rewarding unity with the mother” that “All children have to work it out with their own mothers or mother-surrogates in the process of moving toward maturity.” Why?  Because until they do, they will struggle with a host of debilitating issues and emotions which prevent the fuller development of their unique and creative selves. This is essentially what is meant by having “a negative mother complex.”

While the imagery of this dream may be shocking to a waking ego which does not see itself as a raging killer of little old ladies, there’s a deeper metaphorical meaning. In my projection, the mean old lady represents her negative mother complex:  the factors that have stood in the way of her individuation.

This dream seems to say that the dreamer has acquired the psychological strength and self-awareness to acknowledge the wounding she received from her mother.  No longer dependent on or controlled by her mother’s opinions of her, she is ready to empower herself, even if it means sacrificing her unrealistic fantasy of uniting with Mother in an innocent blissful paradise.  This creative and courageous act has freed her dammed-up libido, (the positive aspect of the Great Mother, the divine creative force of nature), to be used toward protecting and manifesting her truer, fuller self.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Dream About A Mother Complex August 7, 2012

A friend recently sent me this dream. I want to share it with you, as it brings to mind the very interesting topic of the mother complex.

An old lady is beating up a boy. She is beating him up really badly, he has a bloody face. When she is done, she comes towards me, moving to my right. I go to the left to see if the boy is still alive. I fear he is not. She comes at me, and I kick her in the stomach and she goes flying backwards, off a cliff.

She comments: “This was not a positive dream. Kind of freaked me out a bit, had a hard time going back to sleep. Was wondering what you thought, if you have time.”

My initial response: “Think of the waking life context a day or two before you had this dream. Did anything happen that gave you the same feeling you had in the dream? Were you angry or worried about something? An older woman in your life? An uncomfortable awareness of your own aging? A memory of something hurtful involving an older woman?”

She responded: “This dream came right before I played in my first big tennis tournament. In retrospect, I was the oldest lady on the courts I played, all my opponents were at least half my age. I think it had something to do with that, being something I was worried about. The older feminine who squelched my ambition and drive in waking life was my mom. Since her death I have finally come into my own. This dream seems like a significant one.”

Being the oldest woman on the courts may have triggered emotions which activated the ancient Great Mother. In her positive aspect this archetype creates and nurtures new life. In her negative aspect she smothers and destroys it. The way we see her depends on our experiences with our personal mothers. In this dream she’s a mean old lady trying to kill a boy. I’d see him as my growing Animus, associated with my drive to individuate. He’s the part of me that wants to rise up from my unconscious bath in the maternal matrix wherein I just float along enjoying being taken care of and respond to discomfort by blaming outer circumstances while remaining innocent of all personal responsibility. He wants me to light my own fire, forge my own identity, prove myself through tests of my own choosing, accept responsibility for my own behavior, and assume my own authority.

The fact that the dreamer kicks the woman off the cliff suggests a mythical motif Jung called “The Sacrifice.” Jungian analyst June Singer writes about “the child’s sacrifice of the paradise of the early and rewarding unity with the mother” that “All children have to work it out with their own mothers or mother-surrogates in the process of moving toward maturity.” Why?  Because until they do, they will struggle with a host of debilitating issues and emotions which will prevent the fuller development of their unique and creative selves. This is what is meant by having “a mother complex.”

While the imagery of this dream may be shocking to a waking ego which does not see itself as a raging killer of little old ladies, there’s a far deeper metaphorical meaning. The dreamer, who has worked on her dreams for many years, has acquired the psychological strength and self-awareness to release her habitual, unhealthy responses to the unconscious conditioning of her wounding mother.  This has freed her dammed-up libido, (the divine creative force of nature), to be used toward protecting and manifesting her truer, fuller self.  I agree with my friend. This dream seems significant!

 

 
%d bloggers like this: