Is your own mother jealous of you? Do you ever feel like she doesn't want you to succeed?
The journey begins with the mother’s struggles to survive. She is often a single mother, due to divorce, death of a partner or deadbeat dads—with or without marriage. These mothers have to juggle caring for children and working long hours in multiple jobs or stretching unemployment or welfare checks just to make ends meet. They’re lonely and tired and pessimistic about life. Their hard luck makes the daughters over-empathize—and vow never to live like that.
As these daughters grow up, they tend to get good education and training so they can land a good job. Mom seems happy—at first. Soon, the daughter senses a resentful tone in her mother. It’s there when her mother rolls her eyes when the daughter describes hosting a celebrity event or when the mother makes a snide comment or snort as the daughter talks about meeting so-and-so or getting a promotion.
If the daughter is wise, she knows her mother is broadcasting a message about her feelings of loss. Collectively, these messages go like this: “Who do you think you are—have you forgotten where you came from?” Or, “What—so you’re too good to live in this neighborhood anymore?”
And then it hits the daughter: She feels guilty for leaving her mother in the dust. I call this feeling “Surpasser’s Guilt.” Like the American Express slogan, the daughter feels that she didn’t have permission to leave home without becoming like her mother.
The daughters hoped that her accomplishments would make their mothers proud—and, importantly, would insulate them from living their mother’s hard knocks lifestyle. But now it seems that their mothers experience their daughters’ achievements as a rejection of the mother’s choices and plight.
And just when these successful, independent daughters believe they’re out of the woods and on the right path after all, they fall in love with immature, problematic men or have out of wedlock babies with deadbeat dads.
“How did this happen to me? To me?” they wonder. The abbreviated explanation is that these women harbor a submerged, barely known identification with their mother. The daughter’s empathy and respect for her mother facilitates this identity. As one of my clients said, “It’s like there was this demon of doom and failure all along in me that I didn’t know about.”
Few of the women connected their poor choice of partner with identifying with their mother, so you are not alone if you are surprised, too, with the lack of success in your love life. It’s hard, after all, to really leave home completely, and becoming even a little like your mother is one way of keeping her close.
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