Adoptee Rage! This blog is written exclusively for the 38% of Abused and Neglected Adopted Children. The U.S. HHSA Identifies #1 Risk: Maltreatment, Child Abuse and Risk for Death In Adopted children. Childhood domination, Coping compensation. Research in Adoption Psychology, Developmental Trauma"The Adoption Paradox". By Rainstorm Red-Smith
About Adoptee Rage
Statistics Identify large populations of Adoptees in prisons, mental hospitals and committed suicide.
Fifty years of scientific studies on child adoption resulting in psychological harm to the child and
poor outcomes for a child's future.
Medical and psychological attempts to heal the broken bonds of adoption, promote reunions of biological parents and adult children. The other half of attempting to repair a severed Identity is counselling therapy to rebuild the self.
Article: Maternal Narcissism and Adoption
I told my Swedish boyfriend I was adopted, he said "but your not black", It was the last thing I expected to hear.
But then I learned why. In Sweden, tremendous support is given to mothers and extended families in general, regardless of their age, social or marital status. It means that very few adoptions occur inside the country, because most babies stay with their mothers, or at the very least their extended family if the mother/parents are in difficulty. Other families in the community are recruited to lend a hand with guardianship once or twice a week. There are not many adoptions and if there are, they come from developing countries. Whilst I do not support adoption as a construct, I recognize that children whose families are killed or torn apart by war may be better off growing up in a more structured and loving environment.
However in more developed countries, adoption has taken on a different face. In England where I was born, a strong sense of shame, sex-negativity, strict protestant ethos and negative politeness culture has generated a paradigm where children are less worthy for having been born on the ‘wrong side of the sheets’ (not to mention their mothers). Adoptees are objects handed over to parents (mothers) who much of the time, are not adopting because it is their first choice, but because they cannot have the biological children they so desire.
But why do women desire children? Is it a biological imperative? A desire to nurture? A expectation forced on them by society1? Fear of loneliness? A need to heal childhood wounds?
Maybe all of the above. And all of those for better or for worse, are a part of our society and our humanity.
But a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests that a larger than proportional percentage of mothers who adopt2, adopt to satisfy their own needs of narcissism.
Maternal narcissism is a set of traits on a sliding scale. It is characterized by the mother’s view of a child as an object which serves to enhance or otherwise add value to the mother’s own self-image. For adoptees it results in emotional abuse, and even greater difficulties of attachment which severely impact all their relationships over their lifetime.
Maternal narcissism is extraordinarily difficult to identify because
It can appear to outsiders that the goals and expectations set for the child by the mother are ‘what is best for the child’
To other parties the maternal narcissist does not operate in the same way (only towards the child)
The child does not exhibit any characteristic form of rebellion or abuse markers (like the Stockholm syndrome)
It is a disorder characterized by a total absence of self-awareness of the mother (she will never be able to admit it and always be able to justify her behaviour)
A maternal narcissist with several children may choose only one to be the scapegoat and therefore has ‘proof by contradiction’ that she is not the one at fault
In adoptees, it is doubly difficult to identify because the child has existing attachment difficulties to the mother due to the primal wound, that occur even if the mother is not a narcissist. In fact, the only way to identify the presence of maternal narcissism is the eventual impacts of this narcissism on the child’s personality and behaviour. Impacts which may also stem from several others sources.
But picture this. A woman who longs to have a biological child, who goes through trauma time and again in order to conceive. Who is belittled by society for not being able to ‘be a real woman’. Who has a fundamental human need to love unconditionally, and be loved unconditionally (even though she herself is in many cases not). Who year after year thinks ‘if only I could have a child, I would be complete.’ The idea of a having a child is all-consuming. The faceless child becomes the object which will make everything right. They serve only to fill the void.
And so the woman turns towards adoption as her only remaining choice. Finally she will be happy. Finally she will have the validation she needs to be a ‘real woman’. Finally she will have a child who satisfies all those needs in her to be seen as the perfect mother. The adopted child is objectified to satisfy her vanity, her hopes and her dreams. Does it really matter which child it might be? No. And does she care anymore? No. Because any child will do.
Then what? For a while the child is compliant and satisfies those needs. She has to, in order to survive. But should the child turn out to be an actual person, with a will and a mind of it’s own, the narcissist will lash out against the object who has ‘failed’ to meet her needs. She will become an abusive parent. She does not love her adopted child. She needs it as a form of narcissistic supply. 3
There is already much evidence to suggest that non-biological offspring are at greater risk of violent abuse. In fact a study in 1988 of child homicides in the US concluded that children were approximately 100 times more likely to be killed by a “non-biological parent”4. However the study only examined the actions of step-parents, co-habitees, or boyfriend/girlfriend of a biological parent. And these actions may equally well stem from motivators such as possession, entitlement, competition or jealousy (to name but a few). But the same study suggests that humans will invest more in their genetic offspring than they will in their non-biological offspring which means that adopted children should fall squarely inside this theoretical framework.
Violence can be (unfortunately) proved. There is external evidence. Emotional abuse through narcissism, cannot (not even within biologically related families). And quite possibly, as is often the case with adoptees, the behavioral impact may greater on them than on their biological counterparts. An adopted child has already lost one mother. (S)he will most likely make a greater effort to diminish her own sense of self, and feed into the narcissist’s desires just in order to avoid being rejected by the second. It is a matter of survival.
So if the abuse cannot be identified and the consequences cannot be diagnosed, what’s the solution?
Change the paradigm. Acknowledge that women who do not want babies have the right to abort (yes, I said it). Do not encourage the creation of unwanted children to satisfy the needs of childless parents. Introduce support and encouragement for women to keep their children within the extended family. Destigmatize those women who expresses a human desire to connect through sex so they are not forced or coerced to give up their children. Get rid of this ridiculous notion that children born outside of marriage are in any way unworthy or inferior. And vet all prospective parents for the insidious nature of narcissism because a narcissistic mother is the last person who should be bringing up a baby already suffering from trauma.
Stop setting adoption up as the solution to society’s ‘unwanted’ children because nowadays trading babies more of a business than it is an altruist act to ‘save’ an orphan. And recognize that the fact adoption exists as a business4at all, is the single biggest reason why children are given up in the first place.
1.As the childfree-by-choice movement gains traction, there are an increasing amount of women who state their boundaries around having children. Critics say that there is something wrong with them. I say, thank goodness that there are women self-aware enough to make a choice about their lives and their bodies. Because the ability to make this choice (as difficult as it is with society’s expectations and criticisms), means that there may be less babies given up for adoption because their mothers simply weren’t ready or willing to be mothers.↩
5.Adoption is over a 13 billion dollar a year industry by anyone’s best approximation. Just like actual adoption statistics, there is not one governing body that oversees adoption practices. Most of us have to base the numbers off of a study done in 1999 that had actual numbers and an estimated growth rate. http://www.adoptionbirthmothers.com/adoption-industry-13-billion-in-profits/↩
Through Dehumanization & Objectification of adopted children, The Adoption Industry Thrives to Satisfy the Desires of Demanding Individuals
In western materialistic society the pro-adoption society uses dehumanization tactics to objectify adopted children. Through social intimidation and invalidation tactics to keep adult adoptee's living in silence, unable to socially challenge the status quote of adoption practices.
Dehumanization or dehumanisation describes the denial of "humanness" to other people. It is theorized to take on two forms: animalistic dehumanization, which is employed on a largely intergroup basis, and mechanistic dehumanization, which is employed on a largely interpersonal basis.Dehumanization can occur discursively (e.g., idiomatic language that likens certain human beings to non-human animals, verbal abuse, erasing one's voice from discourse), symbolically (e.g., imagery), or physically (e.g., chattel slavery, refusing eye contact). Dehumanization often ignores the target's individuality (i.e., the creative and interesting aspects of their personality) and prevents one from showing compassion towards stigmatized groups.
Dehumanization may be carried out by a social institution, such as in The Adoption Industry, the state, school, or family, interpersonally, or even within the self. Dehumanization can be unintentional, especially on the part of individuals, as with some types of de facto racism. State-organized dehumanization has historically been directed against perceived political, racial, ethnic, national, religious or adopted child or adult adoptee minority groups.
Other minoritized and marginalized individuals and groups (based on sexual orientation, gender, disability, class, or some other organizing principle) are also susceptible to various forms of dehumanization. The concept of dehumanization has received empirical attention in the psychological literature. It is conceptually related to infrahumanization, deligitimization, moral exclusion and objectification.
Dehumanization occurs across several domains; is facilitated by status, power, and social connection; and results in behaviors like exclusion, violence, and support for violence against others.
In Herbert Kelman's work on dehumanization, humanness has two features: "identity" (i.e., a perception of the person "as an individual, independent and distinguishable from others, capable of making choices") and "community" (i.e., a perception of the person as "part of an interconnected network of individuals who care for each other"). When a target's agency and community embeddedness are denied, they no longer elicit compassion or other moral responses, and may suffer violence as a result.
Animalistic versus mechanistic
In Nick Haslam's review of dehumanization, he differentiates between uniquely human (UH) characteristics, which distinguish humans from other animals, and human nature (HN), characteristics that are typical of or central to human beings. His model suggests that different types of dehumanization arise from the denial of one sense of humanness or the other. Language, higher order cognition, refined emotions, civility, and morality are uniquely human characteristics (i.e., traits humans have that non-human animals do not). Cognitive flexibility, emotionality, vital agency, and warmth are central to human nature. Characteristics of human nature are perceived to be widely shared among groups (i.e., every human has these traits), while uniquely human characteristics (e.g., civility, morality) are thought to vary between groups.
According to Haslam, the animalistic form of dehumanization occurs when uniquely human characteristics (e.g., refinement, moral sensibility) are denied to an outgroup. People that suffer animalistic dehumanization are seen as amoral, unintelligent, and lacking self-control, and they are likened to animals. This has happened with Black Americans in the United States, Jews during The Holocaust, and the Tutsi ethnic group during the Rwandan Genocide. While usually employed on an intergroup basis, animalistic dehumanization can occur on an interpersonal basis as well.
The mechanistic form occurs when features of human nature (e.g., cognitive flexibility, warmth, agency) are denied to targets. Targets of mechanistic dehumanization are seen as cold, rigid, interchangeable, lacking agency, and likened to machines or objects. Mechanistic dehumanization is usually employed on an interpersonal basis (e.g., when a person is seen as a means to another's end).
Related psychological processes
Several lines of psychological research relate to the concept of dehumanization. Infrahumanization suggests that individuals think of and treat outgroup members as "less human" and more like animals; while Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeld uses the term pseudo-speciation to imply that the dehumanized person or persons are being regarded as not members of the human species. Specifically, individuals associate secondary emotions (which are seen as uniquely human) more with the ingroup than with the outgroup. Primary emotions (those that are experienced by all sentient beings, both humans and other animals) and are found to be more associated with the outgroup. Dehumanization is intrinsically connected with violence(cite?). For the most part, one cannot do serious injury to another without first dehumanizing him or her in one’s mind(cite?) . Military training is, among other things, a systematic desensitization and dehumanization of the other, and servicemen and women find it psychologically necessary to refer to the enemy contemptuously with animal or other non-human names. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has shown that without such desensitization it would be difficult, if not impossible for men to kill, even in combat, even under threat to their own lives.
Delegitimization is the "categorization of groups into extreme negative social categories which are excluded from human groups that are considered as acting within the limits of acceptable norms and/or values.
Moral exclusion occurs when outgroups are subject to a different set of moral values, rules, and fairness than are used in social relations with ingroup members. When individuals dehumanize others, they no longer experience distress when they treat them poorly. Moral exclusion is used to explain extreme behaviors like genocide, harsh immigration policies, and eugenics, but can also happen on a more regular, everyday discriminatory level. In laboratory studies, people who are portrayed as lacking human qualities have been found to be treated in a particularly harsh and violent manner.
Martha Nussbaum (1999) identified seven components of objectification: "instrumentality", "ownership", "denial of autonomy", "inertness", "fungibility", "violability", and "denial of subjectivity",
While social distance from the outgroup target is a necessary condition for dehumanization, some research suggests that it is not sufficient. Psychological research has identified high status, power, and social connection as additional factors that influence whether dehumanization will occur. If being an outgroup member was all that was required to be dehumanized, dehumanization would be far more prevalent. However, only members of high status groups associate humanity more with ingroup than the outgroup. Members of low status groups exhibit no differences in associations with humanity. Having high status makes one more likely to dehumanize others. Low status groups are more associated with human nature traits (warmth, emotionality) than uniquely human traits, implying that they are closer to animals than humans because these traits are typical of humans but can be seen in other species. In addition, another line of work found that individuals in a position of power were more likely to objectify their subordinates, treating them as a means to one's own end rather than focusing on their essentially human qualities. Finally, social connection, thinking about a close other or being in the actual presence of a close other, enables dehumanization by reducing attribution of human mental states, increasing support for treating targets like animals, and increasing willingness to endorse harsh interrogation tactics. This is surprising because social connection has documented benefits for personal health and well-being but appears to impair intergroup relations.
Neuroimaging studies have discovered that the medial prefrontal cortex—a brain region distinctively involved in attributing mental states to others—shows diminished activation to extremely dehumanized targets (i.e., those rated, according to the stereotype content model as low-warmth and low-competence, such as drug addicts or homeless people).
Race and ethnicity
Dehumanization often occurs as a result of conflict in an intergroup context. Ethnic and racial others are often represented as animals in popular culture and scholarship. There is evidence that this representation persists in the American context with Black Americans implicitly associated with apes. To the extent that an individual has this dehumanizing implicit association, they are more likely to support violence against Black Americans (e.g., jury decisions to execute defendants). Historically, dehumanization is frequently connected to genocidal conflicts in that ideologies before and during the conflict link victims to rodents/vermin. Immigrants are also dehumanized in this manner.
Fredrickson and Roberts argued that the sexual objectification of women extends beyond pornography (which emphasizes women's bodies over their uniquely human mental and emotional characteristics) to society generally. There is a normative emphasis on female appearance that causes women to take a third-person perspective on their bodies. The psychological distance women may feel from their bodies might cause them to dehumanize themselves. Some research has indicated that women and men exhibit a "sexual body part recognition bias", in which women's sexual body parts are better recognized when presented in isolation than in the context of their entire bodies, whereas men's sexual body parts are better recognized in the context of their entire bodies than in isolation. Men who dehumanize women as either animals or objects are more liable to rape and sexually harass women and display more negative attitudes toward female rape victim.
The Adopted Child's Fear of Speaking Brings Silent Rage
When the adopted child is afraid to speak, the driving force behind the fear is the repressed anger that we hold inside like a big gulp of stagnate air when going under water. It feels like it is going to rupture our lungs with that vile smell and disgusting taste that does not sustain us for even a moment. As we swallow our anger, injustice and contempt for our cruel and unloving caregiver, we are usually struck in the face for the truth that is evidence in our expression of how we really feel at that moment, although we said nothing.
I never looked at or into my adoptive mother's eyes as she asked me circular questions and expected her scripted answers. I would habitually be looking out the car window with no room for escape from her long arm and clinched right fist that would strike me for having a "bad attitude" even though I said nothing and did not show my obvious contempt or fear of her that is always written on my face.
When you are adopted by a narcissistic selfish and vain adoptive mother where appearances and secrets & deception are her "values and Morals". The game is imperative to her in keeping up the public charade of selfless adoptive mother and her grateful "pet" adopted daughter.
What went on in public verses the chronic dysfunctional home, are two completely different worlds that at some point collide into a catastrophic drama when the bar party moves on at 2 am and is brought into the anything goes home.
Except where the adopted child is concerned, this rigid, suffocating and injustice environment is dominated by punishing the scapegoat that is responsible for all of the family's problems to be put on public display for the benefit of the self proclaimed martyr adoptive mother.
Sitting in a counselling session with the adoptive mother glaring at you with loathing hatred. I become filled with such anxiety and fear when asked to speak. If I say anything that is true I will be punished, If I lie I will be punished, I can't win because I am not allowed to talk. I can't even think with her in the room glaring at me, as her cruel frown says everything to me about remaining silent.
It is ironic that this mother has no idea what is wrong with me. Though my insides are screaming with anger at her, radiating hate, loathing and contempt at her domination of my body, mind and spirit. I am not allowed to talk, if I do talk, what I say will be ignored or she will scream "NO" at me. Say that I am too dramatic, too sensitive, invalidate my feelings and create some new punishment to torment me for being a troublemaker.
The behavior that I endured in childhood did not end when I escaped, it morphed into an on-again, off-again one way street without any dialog that psychologically healthy adults use in their attempts to understand one another.
I entered the adult world with child-like reasoning which has been a lifelong disaster. I learned nothing from my childhood torment except to run far away from conflict. No matter where I am, if I hear harsh tones, angry exchanges or an argument I begin to shake, anxiety fills me and want to flee.
The roots of all of my anger stem from my childhood pain of not being wanted, not being worthy and not being acceptable as who I am. As a result I played the adopted child role in silence but always wanted to escape when I was capable to leave.
Being unwanted is my core belief but knowing that I could escape this cruel person gave me hope of a better life without the cruel remarks, invalidation and ignoring my words were solely connected to one person.
Yet the triangulation, guilt and betrayal of the family are connected to what the adoptive mother allowed, encouraged and was the primary participant in my psychological manipulation. Outside of this prison I feel good about myself and happy, but inside this group I am invisible, I am invalid and I am nobody worth listening to.......I choose happy.
The Root of Passive Aggressive Behavior
At one pole of communication stands passivity: not speaking out for fear of adverse consequences. At the other end stands aggressiveness: voicing negative sentiments without restraint or regard for their effect on others. In between passivity and aggression lies the golden mean: asserting one's thoughts and feelings, wants and needs, while at the same time showing appreciation and respect for the other's viewpoint.
Assertiveness, the ideal compromise between the extremes of passivity and aggression, is part of our natural endowment–our "universal personality," as it were. When we first come into the world, and even before we become verbal and can articulate what's going on inside us, we possess the rudimentary ability to communicate. Innately, we know how and when to smile, to yawn, to express surprise, anger or trepidation and, indeed, to convey a broad variety of emotional distress through crying–even wailing (as many a parent can woefully testify). We're not yet able to employ language to identify our particular frustrations, or consider the likely reactions of our caretakers, but we're unconstrained in letting our feelings be known.
If we grew up, however, in a family that couldn't, or wouldn't, attach much value to our basic needs and wants, our natural impulse to assert ourselves became suppressed. If when we talked directly to our parents about our desires, we were derided as selfish, of thinking only of ourselves, we learned that it simply wasn't acceptable to want what we wanted, need what we needed. Similarly, when we repeatedly received the message that we were a burden (or "just another mouth to feed"), we learned that if we voiced our wishes we were endangering a parental bond already experienced as tenuous.
The same is true when we received the message that we were an inconvenience, or too demanding, or didn't deserve whatever it was we were requesting. And if our parents were outright angry with us, yelling at us whenever we straightforwardly expressed our wants, the very thought of continuing to voice them may have filled us with anxiety. Moreover, if we communicated our anger at their denial and their reaction to such assertiveness was scary or punishing, we would have learned to keep our anger strongly bolted inside, afraid to express that which would surely come back to haunt us.
We therefore may have felt required to cultivate a certain attitude of passivity and acquiesce to whatever lesser role our caretakers chose to assign us. After all, as children we all struggle in one way or another to experience our bond with our parents as secure. Any behavior felt to threaten this bond would need somehow to be eradicated. Of necessity, then, we'd have to renounce many of our basic wants and needs. How could this not be the case when we felt criticized, attacked, maybe even rejected almost every time we asserted ourselves? It would likely have seemed that we had no choice but to give up what we wanted–or maybe even teach ourselves not to want whatever regularly led to our parents' denial or disapproval.
But, of course, fundamental needs and wants–whether for comforting, encouragement, support, or some material item that might at least symbolize our importance to our parents–never really disappear. They simply go into hiding. Fearing the repercussions of making our needs known, we keep them tucked away, secret from those who might be disgruntled by our asserting them. While feeling compelled to censor their expression, however, we may nonetheless feel this deprivation keenly. But at least as frequently, we go from suppressing the expression of these needs to repressing them entirely. Because experiencing these wants and needs can itself get connected in our minds with parental disapproval or rejection, we may well feel obliged to obliterate even the awareness that they exist.
Passivity–or non-expressiveness–is the inevitable result. Tragically, we may forfeit all consciousness of our most basic needs just to avoid the anxiety linked to them. After all, when we're young, asserting anything that might threaten our dependency on our parents would, almost literally, feel hazardous to our survival. And as children we intuitively grasp our profound inability, independent of our caretakers, to care for ourselves. On our own, we would surely die. So we have no choice, if we are to secure this most vital connection, but to adapt to their preferences–and repress our own.
Yet our needs–however unattended to, and however unaware we may train ourselves to be of them–persist. And somewhere inside us there is anger that our parents do not loveus enough to make these needs the priority they can't help but be for us. For nine months in the womb all our basic needs were addressed–automatically. How, then, could we not have entered the world with a certain sense of entitlement? So deep inside us we rage for that which we now feel deprived of. Although we may have repeatedly received the message that we didn't deserve whatever it was we longed for, somewhere inside us we felt we did deserve it.
The (Pseudo-) Solution
So how does this unrelenting frustration–and this inexpressible rage–get resolved? As children, how can we safely discharge these powerful feelings of being denied what our infant self must feel is its birthright–in a sense, as entitled to as mother's milk, made for its own nurturance?
Obviously, it's not safe to vent such rage directly. We'd be called selfish, bad, out of control. And we'd likely be yelled at, or even punished physically–another reminder that our bond with our parents was fragile and easily ruptured by any blunt expression of anger. It's only reasonable that we'd be afraid to overtly let our frustrations be known. For it's way too anxiety-producing to take what feels like our survival into our own hands, to offend those on whom we most depend.
And so–and all of this could be unconscious–we're emotionally desperate to find a viable way of letting out our frustrations, our hurt and indignation that our needs have been slighted or dismissed by those responsible for our care. Because it's impossible to annihilate our anger, the felt urgency to release it only gets stronger over time, even as we endeavor to suppress it. Periodically, we must find a way of alleviating this negative emotional build-up without causing serious damage to a relationship already perceived as precarious.
This is where the loss of personal integrity–in a word, lying–enters the picture. And we lie to ourselves, as well as to our parents. In essence, this is what passive-aggression is all about: "acting out" our grievances, behaviorally protesting what is experienced as unfair, while yet contriving to protect the relationship we really can't afford to jeopardize. Surreptitiously, we find ways to sabotage, undermine, deceive, betray. In a way, we retaliate against our caretakers by doing to them much of what we feel they've done to us. We disappoint, withhold, disengage, make up excuses, and blame others for our own mistakes and misbehaviors. In multiple ways we resist cooperating with our parents' directives. We deny what they need--but always with an explanation that (at least partially) gets us off the parental hook. "We just forgot," "we didn't mean to," "we really didn't understand what was asked of us," "we had no idea it'd turn out that way, "it was just an accident," "it really wasn't our fault," and on and on and on.
Beyond this–unless our passive-aggression is a lot more passive than aggressive–we manipulate. Oh, how we manipulate! Like con-artists in training, we look for all the possible ways to address our needs and desires without coming out and requesting them directly. We become masters of indirection and subterfuge. Feeling so powerless in our relationship with our parents, we attempt to "grab" this power passive-aggressively. We might, for instance, sneak money from our father's wallet to buy the school lunch wewanted, tossing into the garbage the dried-out baloney sandwich our mother prepared for us earlier .
At some point we may have to pay a price for our various "accidental" errors and misdeeds. But if we've covered our tracks reasonably well, our parents can't be entirely sure just what happened, or what our actual motives were. So any punishment we receive is likely to be substantially less than had we been honest in the first place.
In effect, our parents–in their inability, or unwillingness, to adequately take care of our dependency needs–unwittingly taught us to become manipulators and liars. Had we, alternatively, learned from them that being assertive and direct would more effectively address our needs, it's likely we would not have devised such an unhealthy arsenal of devious tactics. Additionally, if our self-interested machinations were clever enough (or unconscious enough), we may end up fooling ourselves just as much as we fooled them. In this case, we never have to acknowledge our vindictive motives of rebellion or retaliation. For having to acknowledge such acting out of our frustrations and resentments might cause us to become more anxious (and possibly guilty as well).
Present-Day Defenses--and the Challenges We Face
By way of qualification, I'd like to emphasize that what I've been describing is to some degree exaggerated. I've wanted to illuminate what I see as a universal personality phenomenon–that is, I think all of us, in various ways, display certain passive-aggressive tendencies. In addition, only rarely are parents so unsupportive and withholding that we end up as adults with full-blown passive-aggressive personality disorders. Still, I believe it's useful to suggest that many of the barriers that prevent so many of us from taking full responsibility for our behavior, as well as from communicating our needs and wants directly, derive from old (and no longer appropriate) childhood "survival programs."
If, for instance, we became at some point hyper-sensitive to our parents' negative evaluations, we're likely as adults to want to blame others for problems that may be primarily of our own doing. In this way, we circumvent the criticism we might otherwise receive–and the associated anxiety such blame might re-awaken in us.
Our avoidant tendencies, too, may have originated from our past when we learned to do whatever was necessary to avert conflict. Dependent as we were on our parents, it may have felt too dangerous to risk antagonizing them. So to keep our anxiety manageable, we endeavored to minimize angry confrontations. Given our parents' unreliability in meeting our needs, we probably didn't want to depend on them at all. But since we had to, we also had to restrain ourselves in our dealings with them. And so--again as adults–we may reveal a self-defeating tendency to avoid any problematic discussion that, to us, might become distressingly contentious.
Whatever passive-aggressive traits we may have are strikingly akin to what is known in psychology as hostile dependency–and both terms are similarly oxymoronic. Since we could never trust that our parents would respond positively to our needs, now grown up we're still not comfortable being in situations of dependency. But if, nonetheless, we're saddled with unmet dependency needs from the past, we inevitably bring these needs–as well as our ambivalence about these needs–to all our close relationships. So if we give mixed messages to those we're involved with (ultimately leaving them hurt, confused, or even outraged by our hostile-dependent reactions to them), it's because we've never resolved our internal conflict about being dependent in the first place.
It's important to realize that passive-aggression is not necessarily less aggressive simply because it's passive. Essentially, passive-aggression is an indirect form of aggression–not necessarily a milder form of aggression. Consequently, even as our unmet dependency needs from childhood may compel us toward relationships that offer us thehope of being comfortably dependent on another, our un-discharged anger toward our parents (who frustrated these needs initially) may prompt us to dump these still unresolved feelings on anyone who might actually be disposed to care for us. But whether or not we're empathic enough to be aware of it, being late for a date (or breaking it at the last minute) with some lame excuse can still be extremely hurtful to another–as can a sarcastic remark thinly masked as an attempt at humor. In both instances, we might claim innocent intent, but we've nonetheless managed to draw blood. And finally our innocence must be seen as questionable.
Assuming we're willing to take responsibility for whatever predisposition we may have toward passive-aggressive behavior, we need to make peace with whatever we felt deprived of when we were growing up. We need to find ways (with or without professional intervention) to release and resolve old anger and resentment. We need to finally accept that our parents, given their own particular resources and limitations, gave us as much as they could. And we need to recognize that in our lives as adults we can't continue to punish others for what they failed to give us. We need to solicit, and carefully attend to, feedback from those who've reached out to us–and, indirectly, been rebuffed in return. And we need to locate, confront and overcome the deep-seated anxiety that created our tremendous ambivalence about close relationships in the first place.
If, finally, we are to evolve into better, more compassionate human beings, we need to develop for others precisely the empathy and understanding we ourselves never received in growing up.
The Adopted Child's Non-existent Boundary
The Individual's Boundaries:
The physical, emotional and childhood boundaries
are personally defined concepts that are distinctive, separate and constitute the individual's unique and difference in their personality.
The individuals truth, reality and their perception in how they view living. Each individual is defined by their emotions, feelings and physical sensations that tell them how they feel living in their body. The individual's feelings reflect how they view the world, how they relate to others and what they like, dislike, fear, enjoy and loathe.
The most important part of the person's boundaries is that they constitute who the "INDIVIDUAL" is like a map of their personality diagrammed through their emotional awareness.
In childhood boundaries for the individual infant, young childhood, older child and teenager change with developmental milestones, age appropriate changes and cognitive growth and mastery. The individual child needs age appropriate freedom to explore and discover their environment without the parent's irrational fears, psychological needs or narcissistic control that destroy the child's normal healthy development.
Inappropriate parental domination will arrest normal development, cognition, psychological growth and retard the most important aspect of child's natural drive in thriving self-identity.
Children begin to assert their own boundaries in infancy and childhood. Throughout childhood it begins simply and become more complex as the child ages.
As the infant begins to push the parent away, refuses their bottle, want to eat by themselves and want privacy in the bathroom. When parents resist the child's need for independence and psychologically immature parents assign meaning beyond these normal stages, they chip away at the child's individual self and growing self-esteem. When parents burden children with age inappropriate concepts or manipulate information to achieve their own needs and desires by the selfish parent, they are destroying the child's psychological freedom to achieve dependence and mental slavery in the form of parental guilt and blackmail. The child becomes the psychological hostage giving the parent the false sense of compliance with scripted dialog that is not genuine or by the child's spontaneous choice but is the product of fear in avoiding the wrath of the parent's anger or punishment.
THE ADOPTED CHILD HOSTAGE
From the adoption beginning, the adopted child is not allowed to have any boundaries due to the adoptive parent's need to maintain control of her narrow, acceptable perception that places her in a specific public view only, that is missing all reality.
The adoptive mother refuses to acknowledge the reality of what she has done to two people (mother and child) to fulfill her own selfish needs.
The normal psychological guilt that the adoptive mother should feel but is refused, discarded and avoided to be replaced by "social appreciation", social acceptance and the social perception of the adoptive mother's "selfless charity"
not feel the adoption related guilt in the reality of what the adoptive mother has intentionally forced on the biological mother: stealing her child; What the adoptive mother has forced on the child: stealing the child from the child's Identity, family & heritage; The truth that the adopted child is providing for the adoptive mother's physical and psychological needs, and not the other way around, as society assumes in all adoption circumstances.
By refusing to see or allow the truth the adoptive mother can live happily in her falsely created reality
world. Even ignoring the reality that the adopted child's responses are scripted and designed by the adoptive mother to please her and are not genuine
or true contribute to her fantasy world. The adopted child is enabling the adoptive mother through force to continue to exist in a false reality.
WHEN BOUNDARIES ARE ESTABLISHED
The adult adopted child begins to see the enabling as a burden to their own truth, they begin to stop. When the adoptee's action of not continuing the adopted child role's by not engaging anymore in the charade
to boast the adoptive mother's bruised ego, it is seen as an attack on her. The adoptive mother reacts to the loss of her compliant adopted child as a war to retrieve the confused child back into her fantasy world.
The adult adoptee begins to set more boundaries in the interactions with the adoptive mother, and each boundary one by one is violated with great purpose to teach the non-compliant child a lesson in respect for your elders, respect for the adoptive mother that saved you from yourself, and you are nothing without the adoptive mother's influence.
The narcissistic hostility grows into an impasse for the adult adoptee as living the lie or living free? The adoptive mother only wants you back as her submissive adopted child or she wants no relationship at all with you! To give up your freedom to exist within the chain bonds of her fantasy. Be her submissive adopted child forever or be gone to the freedom of dignity in knowing who you really are. Some boundaries bring changes people do not want or expect. With boundaries we get pieces of our dignity back, pieces of ourselves and those pieces do come together to form a dignified human identity.
Now Allowed to Have Personal Emotions
Most psychologically maltreated adopted children were not allowed to express their emotions, know what their emotions feel like and were forced to suppress their emotional feelings to be submissive.
When an adopted child has done what is expected of them...to be the compliant adopted child.
The adoptive parent's expectation that the adopted child act in a certain manner and produce the "illusion of gratefulness", costs the adopted child current and future emotional well-being.
By swallowing their emotions throughout childhood, the silence that stood in place of the screams still remains alive within us and is transferred to a new form. The energy that it takes to hold in these loud screams from adopted childhood violations, injustice and humiliation that is directed inside of our psyche, destroying our ego...To finally render the adopted child's spontaneous childlike ways defeated, over thrown and all hope is disarmed. As the divine spark of humanity that only a child can possess, becomes soiled, used up and aged long before their little bodies can grow up.
The root of the adopted child's psychological insult is perpetual, created and recreated daily by the domination of the adoptive mother's narcissistic ego.
All of a childhood's paced out changes are arrested by the adoptive parent's need to control their environment, of which the adopted child is an unfortunate pawn, always in the way and has the extreme potential to annoy, anger and embarrass the parent within their safe controlled environment.
Due to the non-existence of the adopted child's birth, the adoptive parent does not experience the adoptee as a child, nor will the adopted child grow into an adult, only being seen through the eyes of the adoptive mother is crippling to the adopted child's psychological health. The adopted child will never experience age appropriate freedoms, challenges, milestones or stages in childhood changes, nor will the adoptive mother acknowledge these stages of human development.
The expectations of the adoptive mother is her personal choice of life continuity. To have her desires, wants and needs met when she demands actions, performance, comforting, ego stroking and inflating. The adoptive mother demands a great cost to the adopted child for her deliberate charitable involvement in adopting a child. Due to the costs to her financially, privacy, happiness and energy she expects to be paid back with interest in the form of owning the child's body, soul and mind. Due to the excessive costs to the adopting mother, she demands silence, compliance and submission from her charge.
She expects to be made to feel good, to be served and to be worshiped by the adopted child that she bought and paid for.
The Adopted Child Is Strategically Isolated From Mentally & Physically From Their Biological Family
Forms of emotional abuse: ISOLATION– Physical confinement; limiting freedom within a person’s own environment. The adoptive parent says it is for your own good and that it will teach you life skills, but for the adopted child it is an emotional horror show. The emotions that you feel are not allowed. Being singled out in a group, publicly labelled as a loser too stupid to follow the rules, the subject of derisive and degrading attention, isolated, even terrorized by the psychological horror, you’d be traumatized for a long period of time, maybe for life. And this would be true even if the group you were in was relatively supportive. Even if they downplayed the social isolation and public shaming, you’d still feel it at a deep level. We are social beings after all and as the great Robert Merton said, we get our self image in part by the way others see us. And if we think others are seeing us as some stupid loser (which is actually the intent of socially isolating someone in this fashion) then that is how we are going to see ourselves. And that can’t help but have a negative, disturbing, impact on us.
Forms of emotional abuse: DEGRADATION– The “adoptive family” you happen to be in isn’t so supportive. Your adoptive parent has isolated you and degraded you in front of the adoptive family, and they are likely to do the same. Human beings, children, adults, learn what is modeled to them, so if an authority figures models isolation, degradation, and abuse, chances are that the people watching are going to do it to. Sadly even when you leave the confines of the family, even when you leave isolation and re-enter the social fabric, degradation is going to follow you. This means that the deep psychological, emotional, even spiritual trauma of the initial event is going to be revisited on you over, and over, and over again. If this sounds like hell on Earth, you’d be right. Even adults buckle and break under the abuse of degradation. And its just gotten worse. Adults model emotional abuse to children, and children take the hammer and bring it down even harder. New social media like Facebook has made emotional and psychological terror a ubiquitous, and, sadly, inescapable, phenomena.
Forms of emotional abuse: REJECTION– Refusing to acknowledge a person’s presence, value or worth; communicating (by word, deed, or example) to a person that she or he is useless or inferior; devaluing her/his thoughts and feelings. Of course the sad thing is, it is a lot worse than just your own personal feelings about it. The reality is most groups would not be supportive. A lot of psychological research in the sixties showed very clearly just how ugly it can get for people who are publicly separated and isolated. People, even close friends and family, turn on you when an authority figure labels, isolates, and rejects. There can be a snow ball effect. First you sit in the middle of the room and feel bad, while the authority figures treats you with derision and disrepect. Then the people around you start to treat you differently. They laugh and point fingers and find other ways to isolate and exclude you. They avoid you at recess/coffee break, talk behind your back, titter and laugh and generally extend the boundaries created by the initial isolation. Pretty soon you become a bonafied social pariah, avoided by all and excluded by many. Of course from a social control perspective the whole things works very well because having experienced that kind of trauma once, you’ll never want to go through it again, and so for sure you’ll jump into line and tap along with the tune provided (either that or you’ll confirm to the anti-authoritarian stereotype). But of course once you’ve been labelled and humiliated, rejected and degraded the long term emotional damage is done and all that left to do is find a good therapist.
The Adopted Child's Emotional Injury of Distorted Boundaries By Selfish Adoptive Parents
Many times an adopted child's abandonment issues are fused and doubled with distorted, confused, and non-existent personal boundaries. We experience abandonment when adoptive parents have a distorted sense of boundaries, their boundaries and ours. They want us to like what they like, dress like they dress, feel as they do and be like them of which we are NOT. If we in any way express the truth of our differences from our adoptive parents, or naturally make different choices than they would, we invoke their intolerance, anger, and run the real risk of rejection again.
How many of us attended colleges that our parents chose for us? How many of us married who we did or when we did because that was expected or desired by our parents? Having done what our parents expected, wanted, or demanded does not mean that it was the wrong thing to do. It just means that the decision was never totally ours.
Certainly, many people do exactly what their parents don't want them to do. Often this is an attempt to be a separate person. We choose to marry the person they would like the least, or simply choose to not attend college at all. It is not the outcome that is the issue as much as it is the decision making process. Instead of choosing freely, we make a reactive decision based in anger or contempt.
When parents hold children responsible for what should be their responsibility, they are expecting something impossible of a child. In effect, they are telling children that they have more power than they truly have, setting them up to experience futility, inadequacy and failure.
Many times parents develop relationships with their children in which they are their friends, their peers, their equals. In doing so, they share information that is not age-appropriate for a child. Inappropriate information often creates a sense of burden, or even guilt, for children. That is not fair.
(EXAMPLE: My adoptive mother was intolerant of my relationship bond with her sister, my aunt and intentionally kept us apart throughout my childhood. My adoptive mother would tell me of my aunt's financial problems, bad money decisions and consequences in an attempt to make me see my aunt as poor, irresponsible and included adult concepts of bankruptcy that was to my adoptive parents socially humiliating and morally unacceptable. I was encouraged to dislike my aunt and uncle based on their financial problems, which has nothing to do with loving a person for who they are. The irony was that all the chronic negative and condemning gossip by my adoptive mother about her sister, only made me love my aunt and uncle more and I still and always wanted to see them and be with them, which pissed my adoptive mother off more.)
When parents are disrespectful of their children's boundaries and violate them, the message given is that they don't value the child as a person. That message becomes internalized as "I am not of value. I am not worthy." When parents don't acknowledge children's boundaries, the message they give is "You are here to meet my needs," and/or "I am more important than you," and/or "It is not okay to be your own person with individual feelings, desires, or needs." When children experience chronic abandonment with distorted boundaries, they live in fear and doubt about their worth. The greater the clarity a child has around boundaries, understanding who is responsible for what, and the greater a child's self-esteem, the more likely a child will be able to reject, rather than internalize, shameful behaviors and messages.
As children we cannot reject parents, because they are so desperately needed. Instead, we take on the burden of being wrong or bad. In doing this, we purge parents of being wrong or hurtful, which reinforces a sense of security. In essence, outer safety is purchased at the price of inner security.
What we must understand now is that our abandonment experiences and boundary violations were in no way indictments of our innate goodness and value. Instead, they revealed the flawed thinking, false beliefs, and impaired behaviors of those who hurt us. Still, the wounds were struck deep in our young hearts and minds, and the very real pain can still be felt today. The causes of our emotional injury need to be understood and accepted so we can heal. Until we do, the pain will stay with us, becoming a driving force in our adult lives.
The Intolerant Adoptive Mother's Indifference
In the article below lists eight types of toxic mother daughter relationships, and are usually based on a mother's biological offspring. To the adopted child, the quagmire lies in the fact that this is not your biological mother, and your biological mother was taken away from you by force. The adoptive mother can not relate the adopted child or the reality of trying to assume control over another mother's child.
In my own experience, from infancy I was avoided, sent away or ignored. As I grew into adolescence my adoptive mother began to smother me, not letting me out of her sight, I took this as a punishment and hated the loss of my motherless freedom. Growing up without knowing what a mother is, was advantageous to my adopted childhood, then to be smothered by her domination was like living daily in a prison. In the lists below, I identify many of the bad adoptive mother patterns within each of the eight titles. As an older adult of 47, I now personally Identify most all mothering behaviors as provoking my anxiety that create resentment and anger within me. I fear this non-existent mother that i haven't spoken to in years, yet is ever lurking in my grown up fears. I can never escape my childhood neglect or maltreatment, it is never quite enough time or distance to forget the plague that was forced on me at birth.
It’s true enough that all adopted daughters of critical, cruel, unloving, indifferent and especially "unattuned" adoptive mothers have common negative lifelong experiences; the lack of maternal warmth, nurturing and validation warps their sense of self, makes them lack confidence in themselves and are wary of close emotional connection, that shapes them in ways that are both seen and unseen. The ever present peculiarity and perpetual attempts to define what it is inherently wrong with the adopted child, or what it is that the adopted daughter is missing?
Quote by Judith Viorst, as her description of what an "attuned mother" communicates through gaze, gesture, and word is pitch is classic:
“'You are what you are. You are what you are feeling.’ Allowing us to believe in our own reality. Persuading us that it is safe to expose our early fragile beginning-to-grow true self.”
The Unattuned Mother:
The unloved daughter hears something very different, and takes away another lesson entirely. Unlike the daughter of an attuned mother who grows in reflected light, the unloved daughter is diminished by the connection.
Yet, despite the broad strokes of this shared and painful experience, the pattern of connection—how the mother interacts "with and to" her daughter— varies significantly from one mother-daughter pair to another and these different behaviors affect daughters in specific ways. I’ve compiled a list of these patterns, drawn from both my own experiences and those of the many daughters I’ve spoken to over the years since I first began researching Mean Mothers. Since I’m neither a therapist nor a psychologist, the names I’ve given them aren’t scientific and chosen for clarity. But differentiating these patterns in broad terms can help daughters recognize, understand, sort through, and ultimately begin to manage these very problematic and painful mother-daughter interactions. These behaviors aren’t mutually exclusive, of course; my own mother was dismissive, combative, unreliable and self-involved by turns.
“My mother ignored me,” Gwen, 47, confides. “If I did something that I thought would make her proud, she would either dismiss it as insignificant or undercut it in some other way and I believed her for the longest time.
” Daughters raised by dismissive mothers doubt the validity of their own emotional needs. They feel unworthy of attention and experience deep, gut-wrenching self-doubt, all the while feeling intense longing for love and validation. Here’s how one daughter described it: “My mother literally didn’t listen to me or hear me. She’d ask if I were hungry and if I said I wasn’t, she’d put food in front of me as if I’d said nothing. She would ask what I wanted to do over the weekend or summer, ignore my answer, and then make plans for me. What clothes did I want? The same thing. But that wasn’t the central part: she never asked me how I was feeling or what I was thinking. She made it clear that I was largely irrelevant to her.”
Dismissive behavior, as reported by daughters, occurs across a spectrum, and can become combative if the mother actively and aggressively turns dismissal into rejection. Human offspring are hardwired to need and seek proximity to their mothers, and therein lies the problem: the daughter’s need for her mother’s attention and love isn’t diminished by the mother’s dismissal, In fact, from my own personal experience, I know that it can amp up the need, thrusting the daughter into an active pattern of demand (“Why don’t you care about me/ love me, Mom?” or “Why do you ignore me?”) or a plan to “fix” the situation (“I’ll get all A’s in school or win a prize, and then she’ll love me for sure!”). The response, alas, is inevitably the mother’s further withdrawal, often accompanied by complete denial about what took place.
In many ways, this is another form of the dismissive interaction although it presents very differently; the key link is that the controlling mother doesn’t acknowledge her daughter any more than the dismissive one does. These mothers micromanage their daughters, actively refuse to acknowledge the validity of their words or choices, and instill a terrific sense of insecurity and helplessness in their offspring. Most of this behavior is done under the guise of being for the child’s “own good;” the message is, effectively, that the daughter is inadequate, cannot be trusted to exercise good judgment, and would simply flounder and fail without her mother’s guidance.
Emotionally unavailable mothers, those who actively withdraw at a daughter’s approach or who withhold love from one child while smothering love on to another, inflict a different kind of damage. Keep in mind, as you read, that all children—thanks to evolution—are hardwired to rely on their mothers. “My mother wasn’t mean,” one daughter writes, “But she was emotionally disconnected from me and still is.” These behaviors can include lack of physical contact (no hugging, no comforting); unresponsiveness to a child’s cries or displays of emotion, and her articulated needs as she gets older; and, of course, literal abandonment.
Literal abandonment leaves its own special scars, especially in a culture which believes in the automatic nature of mother love and instinctual behavior. In addition to being excruciatingly painful, it is also bewildering. That was true for Eileen, 39, who has sorted through many of these issues and, as a mother herself, now has limited contact with her mother. Eileen’s parents divorced when she was four and she lived with her mother until she was six when her mother decided that her father was the “appropriate” parent after all. It was devastating for the six-year-old, particularly since her father remarried and had already had a first child in his new marriage. There would be two more. But the big question for Eileen was this: “I could never understand why my Mom didn’t want to be around. I felt a huge part was missing in my life and that only my Mom could fill it.”
All of these behaviors leave daughters emotionally hungry and sometimes desperately needy. The luckiest daughters will find another family member—a father, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle—to step into the emotional breach which helps but doesn’t heal; many don’t. These insecurely attached daughters often become clingy in adult relationships, needing constant reassurance, from friends and lovers alike.
While the first two types of behaviors describe mothers who distance themselves from their children, enmeshment is the opposite: these mothers do not acknowledge any kind of boundary between them, their definition of self, and their children. In this case, the daughter’s need for love and attention facilitates a maternal chokehold, exploiting human nature in the service of another goal. These women are classic “stage mothers” and live through their children’s achievements which they both demand and encourage; while they have a long history—the mothers of Gypsy Rose Lee, Judy Garland, and Frances Farmer come immediately to mind—they now have especial renown (and no shame) thanks to reality television. Vivian Gornick’s memoir Fierce Attachments should be required reading for any daughter who grew up with a mother like this.
While the daughter of a dismissive or unavailable mother “disappears” because of inattention and under-parenting, the enmeshed daughter’s sense of self is swallowed whole. Untangling enmeshment—the term alone conveys the difficulty—is another road entirely because of the absence of boundaries. A healthy and attuned maternal relationship offers security and freedom to roam at once—the infant is released from her mother’s arms to crawl, the adolescent counseled but listened to and respected—and this pattern does not. That’s all missing in the enmeshed relationship.
“Open” warfare characterizes this kind of interaction, though I have put “open” in quotation marks for a reason. These mothers never acknowledge their behaviors, and they are usually quite careful about displaying them in public. Included in this group are the mothers who actively denigrate their daughters, are hypercritical, or intensely jealous of or competitive with their offspring. Yes, this is mean mother territory because the mother takes advantage of the power play. I know—the words “power play” and “mother” seem incongruous combined in a single sentence—but I leave you in the capable hands of Deborah Tannen, with a quotation I use often because I simply can’t phrase it better or with her authority:
“This, in the end, may be the crux of a parent’s power over a child: not only to create the world the child lives in but also to dictate how that world is to be interpreted.”
A child is no match for this warrior queen and, more dangerously, will internalize the messages communicated by her. Many daughters report that the pain of feeling responsible somehow—the belief that they “made or caused" their mothers react, or that they are unworthy—is as crippling as the lack of maternal love. Blame and shame was usually this mother’s weapons of choice.
The combative mother uses verbal and emotional abuse to “win” but can resort to physical force as well. She rationalizes her behaviors as being necessary because of defects in her daughter’s character or behavior especially true for the adopted daughter. This is dangerous territory.
This is, in many ways, the hardest behavior for a daughter to cope with because she never knows if the “good mommy” or the “bad mommy” will show up. Because all children form mental images of what relationships in the real world look like based on their connections to their mothers, these daughters understand emotional connection to be fraught, precarious, and even dangerous. In an interview for Mean Mothers, “Jeanne” (a pseudonym) said: “I trace my own lack of self-confidence back to my mother. She was emotionally unreliable—horribly critical of me one day, dismissive the next, and then, out of nowhere, smiling and fussing over me. I now realize that the smiley mom thing usually happened in front of other people who were her audience. Anyway, I never knew what to expect. She could be intolerably present, inexplicably absent, and then playing a part. I assumed I’d done something to make her treat me the way she did. Now, I know she did what she felt like, without any thought of me, but I still hear her voice in my head especially when life gets difficult or I feel insecure.”
Yes, you can call her a narcissist if you wish but the bottom line is that she sees her daughter—if she sees her at all—as an extension of herself and nothing more. Unlike the enmeshed mother who is intently and smotheringly focused on her child, this mother carefully controls her involvement as it suits her own self-reflection. A power player, she’s incapable of empathy but very concerned with appearances and the opinions of others. Her emotional connection to her daughter is superficial—although she would fiercely deny that if you asked—because her focus is on herself. The tactics she uses to manipulate and control her daughter permit her to self-aggrandize and feel good about herself.
These mothers often look great from the outside—they are usually attractive and charming when you meet them, take great care of their homes, and may have admirable talents and careers—which serves to confuse and isolate the unloved daughter even more. It is, alas, easier to recognize that you are playing the role of Cinderella (and it was an evil mom, not a stepmother, until the Grimm Brothers cleaned up the tale) when you are living in the cellar and everyone knows your mother is a hag.
Anecdotally, this is the pattern of maternal interaction I hear about the least—the scenario in which the daughter, even at a young age, becomes the helper, the caretaker, or even “the mother” to her own mother. Sometimes, this pattern emerges when the mother has children very young and more of them than she can actually handle. That was true for Jenna, now in her late thirties, who reported that, "By the time my Mom was 26, she had four kids, little money, and no support. I was the oldest and by the time I was five, I was her helper. I learned to cook, do laundry, and clean. As I got older, the dynamic stayed the same, only more so. She called me her ‘Rock’ but she never paid attention to me, just to my younger siblings. Now that I’m an adult, she still doesn’t mother me but acts more like a very critical, older friend. I think she robbed me of my childhood.” More famously, but in the same vein, Mary Karr’s memoir The Liar’s Club depicts both Mary and her older sister stepping in to mother themselves or to mother their mother.
Daughters of alcoholic mothers or those who suffer from untreated depressionmay also find themselves in the caretaker role, regardless of their age. That may include mothering not just their mothers but their siblings as well. There are “fragile” mothers who also interact in this way, claiming health or other issues. Ironically, these mothers may love their daughters but lack the capacity to turn on their feelings. While these behaviors are hurtful, with therapy or intervention, many daughters report reconciliation in adulthood as well as understanding.
A few thoughts in closing: Despite what we prefer to believe, the female of our species isn’t hardwired to love her offspring; it is the child, not the mother, whom evolution has equipped with a powerful need as an aid to survival. It’s estimated that half of us, plus or minus, hit the Mother Jackpot and have mothers who range from “great” to “good enough.” This is not to say that these mothers are “perfect”—human beings, by definition, make mistakes—or that they don’t sometimes, at one moment or another, exhibit this kind of interaction. It happens, but it doesn’t constitute a pattern.
But for those of us who didn’t fare as well in the Mother Lottery, there is hope and healing. To those who have trouble understanding, please listen and don’t put these daughters on trial because they challenge what you would like to believe about mothering and motherhood.