When I think back to the earliest memories I have of my mother, the most accurate description of the emotional terrain I found myself in would be sadness. My Mother, from a relatively young age, was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder — which was expressed through intense bouts of manic energy, usually followed by long periods of deep lethargy and depression.
Looking back as an adult, it is clear that my mother struggled deeply with her mental health her entire life. When I search my mind for positive memories of my mother’s state, I cannot recall many that were not coloured by anxiety, anger or fear.
My mother was always a mystery to me. I struggled to understand why she would change so quickly from one extreme state to another. This was confusing for me as a child. My grandparents would often step in and take me when my mother’s mental health would begin to decline.
When my mother was in states of temporary psychosis, I would suffer from anxiety. My young mind would be in a state of hyper (almost manic) awareness. I was awash with stress hormones; I believed the world was not a safe place for me. This resulted in a state of hyper diligence in which I was constantly “on guard” scanning the environment for signs of danger.
he origin of this anxiety has its roots in my early childhood experience. During this time, I suffered from asthma attacks. One afternoon, my mother found me behind the couch —my face black and blue; not breathing. My Mother and Grandmother rushed me to the hospital where I had to stay overnight for further observation. I remember my mother visiting me that night, where she briefly held me, then put me down in the cage-like crib and walked out of the room. I can still remember that event like it was yesterday — my mother slowly walking out of the Children’s Ward and out of the hospital, while I cried, feeling helpless and full of fear without her.
This event happened when I was too young to speak. I was not able to fully communicate my emotions to my family. By the time I was old enough to articulate what had happened and what it meant to me, I had already internalized this experience with my mother as a core-truth about the world. That core-truth was that the world is unsafe, insecure, and harsh. In attachment theory terms, I developed an insecure anxious-avoidant attachment style.
This wounding stuck with me as I grew older. For most of my life, I have been unsure if a woman would ever be trustworthy enough to meet my needs. Given that my world had proven itself to be unsafe, insecure, and harsh — I believed that I alone was responsible for meeting my needs, and that nobody would ever be able to sufficiently support me or fill that gap.
Looking back, it is clear now that I was traumatized. My mind had become like an engine on the red-line, only the brake pedal was stuck at the same time. My mind revved, but I was stuck, unable to discharge my emotional energy. I carried this trauma in an unconscious way. It remained primarily within my body for most of my adult life. My heart rate would increase when I was around women, especially when I felt there was potential for a romantic relationship. I would become anxious, hyper-aware of my surroundings, and unable to relax. The potential for an intimate connection would throw me back into my infancy, mirroring the painful experience of separation from my mother.
I believe now that the unconscious meaning I derived from these early childhood experience was that the world of emotional attachment was an unsafe place to inhabit. So, for the first part of my young adulthood, I set myself the task for learning what it meant to be completely self-reliant. Without realizing it at the time, this was an antidote for the anxiety that relational intimacy caused me to experience.
For me, this self-reliance meant avoiding a deep intimate relationship with a woman until I had all of my survival needs covered. I needed to feel completely safe, but this safety was my responsibility, and mine alone. This meant that in my mind, until I had a lot of money, I was not worthy enough to receive the love and support of a woman. I avoided intimate relationships because the potential (in my mind) to repeat the loss and abandonment I felt with my mother when I was young simply was not worth it.
I had projected the notion of acceptance and love onto the idea of success. In a nutshell, I had taken those jarring early childhood experiences and made them about me. I thought that my mother had left me alone because there was something wrong with me. The therapeutic term for this error in thinking is personalization. Personalization is when we interpret or justify events in the world as having to do with us. Much of my healing work has simply been learning to return my mind to the reality that not all external experiences are about me. It is about noticing when my reactivity is triggered, taking a few breaths, and returning to my centre.
I do not blame my mother for what happened when I was so young. It was normal to separate babies from their mother’s if they were having health related complications. Nonetheless, this pattern of trauma was stored in my body and mind. As humans tend to do, I went about acting out this trauma with women, unconsciously, throughout most of my adult life.
Even acknowledging the idea that I desire love and acceptance of a women was frightening to me. Just the thought of intimacy would return me to the somatic experience of my early abandonment. It wasn’t until I was about thirty years old that I began to gain some significant awareness around the nature of my wounding.
The knowledge of this core-wound does not mean that it has not stayed with me. It was not an easy wound to uncover and accept, and if I am being honest, it remains with me to this day. It took me years to stay present and to hold my centre in an intimate relationship. To acknowledge and accept that not all the things that my partner says or does are a reflection of me and my worth in the relationship.
I also uncovered the value of moving toward my own pain, to leaning in and feeling that pain fully, in an effort to better understand it and its origin. Underneath much of the grief I’ve grown up feeling has been profound self-realization and knowledge.
We all carry wounding of some sort, whether we’re able to acknowledge it or not. It is up to us to take this wounding, explore it (so we may understand it better), and work to transform it. All animals feel pain, but most are not burdened with the promethean task of making meaning out of it — that’s left to us humans...
For many years I was ashamed of the fear I would experience around women. I thought there was something deeply wrong with me. It wasn’t until I was in my late-twenties that I was able to identify that my fear response was directly connected to my early childhood relationship with my mother.
Over time, the pain and loneliness caused by avoiding intimate relationships finally became greater than my resistance to seriously doing some inner-work.
Through many therapy, coaching, and group-work sessions, I can say that I am much more capable at navigating the terrain of intimate relationships. I am able to witness the rise of my own anxiety without becoming caught in the trap of chronic reactivity and personalization. As a result, I have more love in my life. I now have a supportive partner with whom I share the best intimate relationship I have ever experienced.
But the healing has not been limited to romantic relationships exclusively. The work done to heal my core-wounding with my mother has also opened the doors to more close and trusting friendships with men in my life.
As I continue to walk this healing path, my relationship with my mother had shifted. I am able now to see here as the person she is. It is still difficult to be around her sometimes, but the reactivity I felt around her in times past has all but melted away.
Trauma in the form of intergenerational psychological wounding has been shown — through epigenetic research — to be passed on from parents to children. We can positively impact the psychological health of our entire family system if we can come to recognize the truth that we do not exist in a vacuum - that we are all immersed in a much bigger story. This realization helped me to assign a positive meaning to my mother’s life.
Every wound healed is a powerful medicine that we can use. Our wounding is there to be resolved —it yearns to be resolved. And that very resolution will drive us forward in life.
Being witnessed in my process within a men’s group has also been profoundly healing for me. Resolving my wounding with my father primarily what opened the door for me to explore the wounding I had also experience with my mother. In many ways, I had to resolve my father wound, in order to access the deeper wounding with the feminine. Now that I have access to that wounding, I can relate from a place of deeper truth within my intimate relationships.
Within each man is the dependence of the child, the need for belonging, nurturing and safety. These profound needs never leave us. The power of these needs can exert a strong pull on the psyche of a man.
As I continue to walk along this path, I am constantly reminded that my work is never done. Life constantly presents challenges, teachings and humbling lessons. As I mature, my work seemingly is to let go and trust more.
When we are faced with unresolved wounding that has an impact on our relationships, we always have two choices: blame the other and run - or discover where we may be lacking accountability for our own mind and do our best to work on it.
I feel this is summed up well in The 14 Point Code by point number
13: “Stay in Relationship”. My greatest healing has taken place within the context of relationship. Relationship is truly one of the constants of life. We come into the world in relationship, and when we leave it all that is left of us will still alive within those relationships.
As men, we all began life as incredibly delicate, powerless and reliant upon our mother for everything. This first relationship defines us when we are young, but it is part of our journey as men to heal and integrate all the lessons of relationship. My healing work has been to take on full responsibility for my healing and only within this responsibility for relationship I have found a much greater degree of freedom.