I grew up with a mother who never showed any emotion and never responded to my emotions. I hated how distant she was and how she made me feel bad by default for expressing feelings. I’m 25 now, and I still don’t feel close to her. I’m jealous of friends who are tight with their moms. I feel like my mother’s lack of emotion has negatively impacted me in my dating relationships, too. I’ve gone to therapy and it helped a little but I still feel like my mother’s emotionlessness keeps me stuck. Moving away from my family hasn’t helped. Do you have any advice?
Cut the umbilical cord. Your mother’s emotional distance is painful now because you are preoccupied with it. When you were a child, her responses were likely confusing, frustrating and hurtful. You suffered because you did not receive everything you longed for from her. It would have been lovely if you did. But you are no longer a child. Why continue to relate to your mother as if you are small?
It’s impossible to know for certain whether your life would have been a breeze if your mother had expressed herself as you think best. Have you considered not judging her harshly? Grant yourself the freedom to accept her. She is who she is. You can’t change her. You do have the power to be less wounded in the world. Why not choose that for yourself?
Begin by changing the way you label your mother. Embrace other possibilities. Think of her as stoic, able to bear everything that life lobs her way. Or see her as having an even keel. Try labeling her as emotionally neutral rather than emotionless. Visualize accepting her as she is. Embrace yourself as you are. Notice that there is enough room in the world for both of you. By seeing your mother as a whole person, you will see yourself as less limited, too.
Here’s another way to open your mind and heart: Name at least three gifts, skills or talents you possess as a result of being your mother’s daughter. It may be a difficult exercise because you have embedded so much of yourself in a story of loss. Here’s a nudge: Did your mother’s emotional distance give you space to invest more of yourself in other relationships? Perhaps you grew especially close to a sibling, or developed an intimate relationship with art, writing or nature. Can you celebrate the good things that resulted from not having the mom you wish for?
More than anything, your situation is an invitation into emotional adulthood. You’re standing at the doorway to a stage of life where we accept that not everyone is like us nor should they be. So even though emotions rank highly on your personal value system, you acknowledge that other people have the right to design their own hierarchy of values. At that point, you will stop wallowing in an unhappy past. You won’t need your mother as an emotional twin, either. You’ll be too busy reveling in the joy of fully-expressed emotions to be concerned about what she does or doesn’t do.