Today’s guest blog is from Dr. Foojan Zeine, who I was lucky enough to meet recently when she visited us in the eHarmony offices. Her new book Life Reset is truly transformational. Below she shares her insight about the parental impact on one’s life. Enjoy.
By Dr. Foojan Zeine
It’s no secret that our relationship with our mother forms a huge part of our identity. After all, we begin life in her womb, so there is an attachment there that begins even before our attachment with our father. From infancy, we are highly sensitive to her manner and ways as a person, especially in her approach to us. Almost any therapeutic work will inevitably focus on our relationship with our mother at some point.
For decades, healing professionals have been examining new aspects of the impact of the mother-child relationship. Allan N. Schore, a psychotherapist and internationally recognized researcher, explains that our experiences from early infancy are received and stored in our right brain, the more intuitive, emotional side. In fact, our mother’s emotional response to life situations is sent from her right brain, so it is really a right-brain-to-right-brain transmission.
To me, these findings provide further evidence that so much of the identity and the personality that we create are established in those first months and years with mom. What her face communicates, and the emotion attached to that state, is something that we take in directly, and we build conclusions on this information. The way we perceive ourselves and the world is formulated in large part by those right-brain receptions.
As an example, if your mother is always smiling and loving while nurturing you, you conclude that the world is a safe and loving place. But if you see her face as constantly anxious, you take in anxiety as a core emotion and a natural response to people and the world.
Or if your mother tells you that she loves you but experiences physical pain while breastfeeding you, something you see in her face, you are likely to interpret her experience as evidence that you cause pain: you are unlovable. If your mother often gets angry, you learn anger from her expression. It’s the same for sadness, grief, or positive emotions such as love.
As an impressionable infant, everything is experienced as either pain or pleasure, comfortable or uncomfortable. Picking up cues from our mother’s experience plays a major part in making those distinctions. Your enhanced awareness of any part of your relationship with your mother will certainly provide you with further opportunities for healing and growth.
Here are 4 questions to ask yourself, and provide written answers to, in order to begin to change your relationship with your mother:
1. What do you think and feel about your mother?
Invite yourself to think about her with fresh eyes. As a human being, what do you think of your mother? Now you can go on to give voice to what you think or have thought of her through the years that may be complimentary but could very well be very harsh and painful.
Write down both positive/pleasurable and negative/unfavorable emotions. Whether it comes from back then or more recent times, let your true feelings have their full expression here.
2. How do you behave toward your mother and what impact does it have on your relationships?
As you reflect on how you act toward her, notice any self-questioning of whether you should be acting differently. Is there some guilt or regret seeping through? Has it affected your own sense of mothering, being with authority, or the way you take care of yourself? Do you generalize your views to all women or all mothers?
3. In your mother’s presence, how do you think and feel about yourself?
Maybe the thought “I’m trying to be the best daughter I know how to be” comes to mind, or “I’m pitiful that I still care so much what she thinks.” Follow your own thoughts and beliefs attached to them. Perhaps you would say, “I feel small,” “I feel helpless,” or “I feel grateful that I’ve finally grown up and can relate to her as an adult.” Give expression to your feelings, whatever they happen to be. Do you suddenly begin acting more anxious, or do you lash out in anger at the slightest provocation and then criticize yourself for acting that way?
4. How does the way that you think, feel, and behave toward yourself around your mother impact your life?
Did you follow some path that was forged by her way of relating to you, and what she believed was best for you? Or have you rebelled and tried to be totally different? If so, how has that process worked for you?
See where your memories will take you. Because of the nature of the mother-child relationship, the memories you will bring up will most likely be the first time you ever felt these emotions. Do not be concerned about whether it seems “accurate,” since you may not consciously remember much from those early years. The memory, and the feelings and beliefs attached to it, is real. It is there for you to embrace and learn from. Soak it in. Pay particular attention to the conclusions you drew from these early and pivotal experiences. Ask yourself whether that conclusion has any basis in reality for you today. Have you been carrying some self-concept forged in infancy that you can now let go of?
As you do this type of work, you will become far less judgmental toward yourself and others. By communicating your real feelings, you can open the door to improved relationships. Your life can move in powerful new directions once you’ve come to a place of healing with your mom.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Foojan Zeine, PsyD, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, international speaker, and author of LIFE RESET (Rowman & Littlefield). From her private practice in Los Angeles, Calif., she treats a multi-cultural and multi-lingual population, and specializes in intimate relations, addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and domestic violence.