The Mother wound and relational styles
A man’s relationship with his mother is unquestioningly the most important relationship of his life. From the moment of conception through adolescence and into adulthood, the mother is the person a man spends most of his time with. The importance of this relationship is undeniable lies upon the foundation of biology.
A man will inherit his mother’s central nervous system. What does this mean? If the mother of a child is anxious throughout her life her child will likely inherit those same emotional pathways.
This does not mean that the son will suffer from anxiety, it indicates that the central nervous system will be primed for that stimulus response. This increases the likelihood that this person will have an avoidant relational style and tend to be an introvert.
This was the case in my life, my mother has always struggled with anxiety and some of my earliest memories of her getting up 3 am and starting her day because she could not sleep.
This is not an absolute truth as the human brain can be effectively rewired, through hard work, dedication and luck, but this statement certainly described the path of how my personality developed.
For most men, this relationship sets the pattern for their relationship to their own mind, and how they relate to the female mind writ large. “By female write large” I mean everything that man associates with feminine energy in his mind.
This refers to how men perceive women in their mind on a symbolic level. The perception is always tied to their primary care taker. This relationship is often overlooked or just glossed over in the process of getting to know oneself.
Looking back on my relationship with my mother, it was clear to me at an early age that she was a very sensitive person. She carried with her generational trauma that she was not able to work through which, I believe exacerbated her mental illness.
During my early years I was mostly cared for by my mother, but I often was passed off to my grandmother when my mother was struggling with her mental health. This lead to me develop an insecure attachment to my mother. I was always uncomfortable expressing my need for love to my mother, despite this I knew deep down inside that she loved me.
I formed a core belief that women were not safe, and I avoided intimate relationship for a long time. Whenever I did dip my toes into the murky waters of relationships, I would be immensely hurt when the women started to pull away, which happened to me frequently.
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 minds and do our best to work on it.
My state of fear was so powerful that I would not be able to act, I would usually just freeze which would soon be accompanied by running away. During most of my twenties I was generally confused as to why the women I would date were pulling away. On the surface I believed I was a great choice, I was hardworking, loyal, loving and kind. This was true, but what I could not see was there was a part of me that was terrified to go to a deeper level of intimacy.
Going to a deeper level of intimacy would have meant trusting my partner more than I trust my mother. For a long time I would not let myself go there, this was to avoid the potential pain of separation. I spent most of my twenties avoiding most women, and the women I did associate with I would unconsciously steer away from intimacy at all costs.
As a child, my developing mind was not always sure who to trust more, I have a love for both of them but I gravitated toward my Grandmother as my mother was not always psychologically stable.
My Grandmother was the matriarch of the family, she sat on top of the pyramid of power in my family system. This position of power was under guarded by Grandfather, who supported her in her decisions. Her position of leadership lead to resentment from many members of the family, including me.
Looking back at my young psyche, my resentment was born out of my own power drive, that is the need that all people go through on their journey to individuation.
Individuation is the process all people go through in bringing to conscious awareness more and more ares's of their psyche. My anger toward my Grandmother was simply because she was the leader in our family system, and part of me was not accepting of her authority for the simple reason of in my young egoistic mind, I wanted to be the leader. I thought I could do things “better”
This environment was the birthplace of my arrogance-the idea that I knew better than others. This rebellion is what drove me to differentiate myself from my family system, my grandmother believed in God, I became an atheist. My grandmother was very loving and kind, I became angry and suspicious.
This is not to say that “anger and suspicion” was who I am at the core of my being it is just to say that those were the traits that I developed in reaction to the personality of my grandmother.
A part of the individuation process for a boy is separated from his mother figure, precisely for the reason that he is a boy. This process is not good or bad-it just is, the key is to become aware of these patterns.
My resentment was no different than that of many people feel toward figures of authority and I think that the nature of the resentment is ambivalent, that is to say it can go both ways within the psyche. It can become disowned and show up as a projection. For me this showed up in the form as problems with authority, the constant analyzing and criticism of people in power, or it can be directed inwards, toward the self, and its own innate drive for power.
Afterall every young child is tyrannical about their needs. The child does not simply want the world to meet its needs, it expects those needs to be met. If those needs are chronically unmet, it is (in the child’s mind) a profound betrayal. if a need is chronically unmet the child will get that message and do one of two things. Ignore (repress) or act out in an extravagant way.
I was not conscious of this resentment it was however lurking below the surface and would show itself when I was getting close to women. This resentment would manifest in me as intense anxiety around women, especially if the possibility of intimacy was on the table. Intimacy for me represented a symbolic trip back to childhood, where I was a scared, powerless boy with a mother who seemed distant.
Within each man is the dependence of the child, the need for belonging, nurturance and safety, these profound needs never leave us, the power of these needs can exert a powerful force. For young men, everything in their culture tells him he should separate from that.
I think all men feel the need to make this separation, but they are not sure how, just as I was, and often act out. This acting out is their anger coming out sideways, this can show up as addiction, depression, overly aggressive or violent behavior.
This is the origin of “Toxic Masculinity” it is negative behavior rooted in a lack of healthy masculine identity and over identification with the mother. It is then compounded by a lack of healthy male mentorship and a lack of men modelling healthy male/female relationships to children.
In Canada, single parent households have been increasing with 289,000 in 1976 to 698,000 in 2014.This statistic does not accurately reflect the amount of fathers that are truly absent, but it does reflect a trend in a certain direction.
This over-identification with the mother may not be conscious within the psyche of the man. He may just see the world as being inherently unfair to women or he may also see women continually being unfair to him. Or as was the case for me, he may just see men as evil, and come to view a part of himself as irredeemable.
Even though I knew rationally my mother’s lack of mental well-being had nothing to do with me, I had internalized responsibility for it.
In men I have noticed three main relational styles that characterize how men will relate to the feminine.
Control, this relational style characterized men who relate to the feminine by trying to control or contain it. They may at their core be distrustful of women and this distrust will flood their reality. This can show up in uncontrolled anger directed at women, or towards men who they perceive as too feminine.
Anytime they feel like they are going into unknown emotional territory- they will do whatever it takes to wrestle back control over their emotions. By anything, I mean anything. This behavior pattern is why the term “sociopath” gets used by so many women describing the behavior of their partners. The truth is that your man is not pure evil, his consciousness is so caught up in controlling the situation, that morality temporarily goes out the window. The reason this happens is because survival needs come before morality, and when this man is threatened with a loss of control he is pushed back in his mind to that helpless place in childhood, where he first began to develop that relational strategy to make sure he did not lose the love of his primary caregiver.
The pleasing relational strategy is very common among men. This behavior does not need much description because it is self-explanatory. This relational style develops when the boy realizes that he can appease his mother or father by being “nice”.
A man with this relational style will go to any length to gain the approval of the feminine, typically these lengths will involve self-deprecation and self-denial. This denial can get so extreme that the man will feel muted around women. Certainly he will have difficulty finding his “true” voice around women, that is a voice that does come from a place of fear.
A man with this relational style may have a hard time acting, because he fears deep down that making the wrong decision and offending someone will result in a loss of love.
The avoidant relational style is characterized by a retreat to inner life when emotional relating gets serious or heavy. This pattern certainly characterizes my relational style to the feminine, and in a deep sense is what motivates to write articles like this.
Men who have this relational style to the feminine are always running away in one way or another. This was certainly true in my case, as I would do almost anything to avoid relational intimacy. It took a great deal of effort and courage on my part to push forward on the path of relationship. Prior to doing this inner work, part of me thought that a rewarding relationship with a woman was impossible.
I wrote this article with the intention of helping anyone who can relate to my story on a deep level. To be clear the human mind is infinitely complex and the relational categories of control, please and avoid are not absolute. They just represent for me the ways that men tend to relate to more feminine aspects within themselves.