I’ve cultivated anger against the way I was brought up by my adoptive mother and against her for so long that I’ve come to live with it. But I have reached a place in my life where it no longer serves me and indeed threatens to harm my children and my future. I want to forgive. I don’t want to be the victim. But I don’t know how not to be…
'Why can’t you stop being angry then?’ said my boyfriend. ‘Just decide not to be.’
That’s all very well for him to say. I am never angry on a day to day basis. I don’t feel angry when I think about her. Most of the time I feel nothing. In fact I’ve forgotten about the anger. Or so I thought. But when my daughter was born my adoptive mother contacted me after 7 years of mutually agreed silence.
It was an email of one line to offer me money for my daughter's savings account. But there are strings, always strings. And I felt them lay their clammy fronds over me, despite her denial.
‘If you have a fund for your daughter, I would like to contribute to it. It need not entail you having to see me. Think about it.’
I didn't need to think about it. The idea of seeing her could not have horrified me more. And so what followed was a flurry of victim-persecutor emails between us awakening anger and hurt I hadn’t experienced in – well – 7 years. Feelings that I had felt before off and on 27 years. Buried but once awoken, as fresh as the day they had been born.
I was still angry. I was still a victim. And the only one capable of changing this was me. So I speak to myself in the mirror. And words come out of my mouth that I don’t expect.
‘Don’t be angry Louisa. It’s ok to let it go now. It’s safe to let it go.’
And then I realise why I haven’t been able to let go of it… I am afraid to let it go. I need it; it's part of my identity.
Anger is a great tool the mind has for justifying the ‘rightness’ of its position. Anger has been my shield against delving into the hurt that I experienced as a child. It’s been my protection and my justification. My mind has decided that I was right …and she was wrong. And because she so strongly feels that she is right (and I am wrong) I am ferociously angry with her. Is it not her fault I felt hurt? Lonely? Insecure? Never good enough? If not hers, then whose? It can’t be mine, I was a child. She HAS to be wrong. I want an admission of guilt. A realization of the damage she caused me. A heartfelt apology.
My journey to self awareness will never be finished, but I have made enough of a journey to know (at least for where I am now) that there is no right or wrong. There are only acts and consequences. And in most other areas of my life I apply this rule. And not just theoretically. I feel this rule. But the exception is my relationship with my adoptive mother. If she is neither right nor wrong, then I am also neither right nor wrong. There is no fault and no blame which means that I cannot blame my mother for what I feel.
It’s a big one. Because if I cannot blame my mother for how I feel, I must take responsibility for those feelings. That must mean I must be responsible for feeling hurt. Lonely. Insecure. But even as I write this, my mind is screaming with anger at me.
‘You stupid fool, how can you take responsibility for the pain you experienced as child? A child is innocent. She was the guilty party.’
I had no resources to act other than in the way I did. There’s nothing shameful in admitting that I played the victim (we do it all the time), nor that as I grew older, she played the victim and I took on the role of persecutor. But I am not that child any longer. I am a grown woman. A grown woman who wants to own her feelings. And those feelings of loneliness, insecurity and hurt are in the now. I choose not to feel them and because I choose not to feel them, I am no longer angry. Why?
Because the anger I feel is generated by my mind wanting to be right and blame someone for the feelings.
If I remove right and wrong from the equation, my mind has no power. And thus no possibility of anger. It is deflated like last month’s party balloon. (Anger is a gift. It is a sign that your mind is fighting to be right about something.)
My mother did plenty of stuff that society would condemn. Our entire society is after all built on a system that is supposed to dictate ‘right and wrong’. But she also had no resources to act other than in the way she did. How must she have been shaped to act the way she did? Put it another way, she acted according to her state of awareness at that time. To her best ability. As I did. And as I do.
But in her state of awareness now, she may not see or understand it the same way. Owning one’s feelings then, also means no-one else has to support your position. She doesn’t agree with what I believe and she doesn't have to for me to forgive her. If I needed to be right, that would make me angry. Instead, I smile at her for the first time in my mind’s eye. She was part of my journey.
She brought me the most marvellous gifts and so instead I find that I can now thank her; because she gave me the gifts I needed to become who I am today. And I can breathe again.
The Maternal Narcissism Trail
Growing up with a maternal narcissist - a mother who views you as an extension of herself - teaches you to suppress your sense of self in order to be loved. It warps you, stunts you, in such a way as you may never recover. It makes you insecure, hypervigilant and highly susceptible to abusive relationships in adult life. It's horrific, but there is hope, recovery and validation together with others who have experienced it. There's far too many of us.