Trigger warning: child abuse, narcissistic parents, emotional abuse
I’ve had a pretty crap 24 hours or so, and was going to write about it. But instead, i’m going to talk about this topic of ‘mummy issues’ thanks to a tweet by @Lads_Like_Us who are doing so much to start difficult conversations around sexual abuse and other ACEs (Adverse Childhood Events).
The tweet was about how to manage relationships with women when you’ve got ‘mummy issues’. I was crafting a reply and realised I needed about 10 tweets to do it, so here comes a blog post instead.
I left home to go to University at the age of 18, nearly 20 years ago. I met my wife in the first week and we never looked back. I think there is a relevance here that i’m afraid to fully address.
I missed my parents terribly at the start, despite everything i’ve written on this blog. Looking back now, I was a babe. I had been kept under close watch for my entire life until then, and hadn’t been allowed to grow. Of course, I wasn’t the only one, but that was my starting point.
I really had no skills of my own. I couldn’t cook, wash my clothes or do anything that my mum had been doing for me. Yes, I was a ‘mummy’s boy’ and you probably read this now, or look at young adults who lack the same skills, and think I was lazy or spoilt. Maybe there’s some envy there, of someone who had too much love from their parents. Oh boo hoo…Well, maybe I was a bit lazy or spoilt, but looking back now, it’s hard to blame me.
I was kept under such control at home. I wasn’t allowed out unless it was playing football nearby. I didn’t go out in the evenings, ever. I had to pretty much beg to be able to go to my leavers’ party. My mum’s idea of showing love was to smother us, keep us close and ‘safe’ and to provide – meals, clean clothes, things we didn’t need.
It was not, and never had been, to allow us to grow into young men. It was never to offer emotional support or to discuss anything with us as young adults. I have often felt we were locked in a time warp, where our parents thought we were aged 9 or 10 for the rest of our lives. That’s how they treated us.
Perhaps there is some logic to this. One of the key traumatic memories I have is from the age of about 9 or 10, when my parents were at the point of divorce (again). They were having a huge row and my brother and I got called into it. With my brother being only 6 or 7, I was the spokesperson. My mum asked me to choose which parent to stay.
Maybe my answer was the biggest mistake of my life? Perhaps I condemned myself and my brother to decades of torment at that moment?
I remember my Dad’s face. He was upset, I didn’t want him to leave. I think I knew deep down that if I chose him, they would stay together. And what 9 year old wouldn’t choose that? I also remember being scared, by head scrambled.
But I chose him, Daddy. My mum left. She came back later, but only physically. That day, a big part of her left the room and never returned.
Before that moment, our mum had protected us against our Dad, most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, she was no angel, and when she got angry with us it was terrifying. Kicking, punching, throwing us across the room. Spiteful things too, that I don’t want to go into.
But at least, when our Dad was always going at us, she would shelter us. Most days he was angry with us and she was the protective barrier. But that all stopped after that day.
Instead of protecting us, she sometimes joined in. But the majority of the time, she just stood by and watched. She wouldn’t walk away, she would stand or sit by, almost pretending she wasn’t there. I wonder what went through her head? I often wonder whether she just bore a lifelong grudge for me choosing incorrectly, or if she decided her marriage was the most important thing from then on?
I think after that, she showed her love by doing the stuff I described earlier. So, I always thought she looked after us. I was frustrated that she (and our dad) wouldn’t let us have any choice over our clothes, haircuts, appearance, where we went or who with. Things like buying us birthday and Christmas presents we didn’t ask for, or want, was a classic example. Instead of asking me what I actually wanted, she decided. And God help us if we didn’t convince her it was the best thing we ever owned. That did upset me a lot at times. But I still thought I had a loving mother.
I want to clarify that, we were not a well-off family. My parents were both unemployed since I was 8 or 9 and lived off benefits. We had no money, lived in rented accommodation, and were always told we couldn’t afford to do things. This was despite my mum’s pathological spending on crap. I once received a title deed for land on Mars, for Christmas. Yep. It cost £30, a massive sum to spend.
It became apparent after I left for Uni, that my parents had accrued some £60k of debt. It was a joy to receive a phone call from my Dad in my second year at Uni, presumably after this revelation, demanding a sum of £1165 be paid to them immediately. Apparently I owed this money by virtue of having existed. Suffice it to say I didn’t have that money.
As i’ve said before, it’s only now, in my late 30s, that I understand the damage that was done by my Mum. The fact she gave me no emotional support after the age of 9, has damaged me almost to the point of no return. I didn’t need crap toys, or an Xbox or Sky TV in the house. I needed to be able to manage my pain, my rage, to feel safe and supported. I needed to go out and make friends and develop relationships properly and enjoy the fullness that life has to offer for a fit, physically healthy young man.
But I didn’t have any of that. Things improved massively at University. I was in at the deep end though. I still remember microwaving a ‘pasta ‘n’ sauce’ packet in a teapot, washing my clothes after 7 weeks and drying them by laying them out on the floor (yes, the floor) of my room at college. My wife, on the whole, helped me to improve much of this. It’s stuff I look back on now and laugh about, though it has an undertone of sadness.
But emotionally, I didn’t catch up. I sucked my thumb until I was in my late 20s. Not many people know that. I told my therapist and she said it is common in people with maternal abandonment issues. Hearing that sent another ice dagger into my spine. I was now in the big wide world on my own, a child in a man’s body, with the emotional development of a 10 year old.
I latched on to almost the first female I met. My wife. I don’t think there’s a coincidence that she shares some features with my mum, certainly when my mum was younger. But did I just latch on for emotional support? It’s something I have asked myself a thousand times. We had some wonderful time together at Uni, and then over the years afterwards. But today, I am scared to dig into the foundations of our relationship.
We waited some 13 years before getting engaged. In that time, we went through a lot. It was a terrible wrench to go home in the holidays, and it was wonderful to meet up again. We had to spend a lot of time apart, with her staying at Uni for a postgrad year, while I went back to home at the other end of the country. Then she lived near London to train and work while I lived in the South West to do my PhD.
After being together, at a distance largely, for 8 years, we moved in together. Then 6 years later we got married. I think in that time I learned to love her, and my emotional intelligence improved thanks to being away from home and actually, thanks to being away from her, for long periods of time. It forced me to meet a lot more people and to socialise with them, become more rounded. It meant that when we lived together again, I appreciated her much more, and for a few years I genuinely knew I loved her, and we had a wonderful time together. We were meant to be, after all.
And then of course, when our daughter came along I realised once more how little emotional intelligence I had. Now, we feel like different people. I for one have grown enormously in the last 18 months, but am in the midst of trauma recovery that is extremely taxing on me, and our relationship. My wife has PTSD, and she is working extremely hard to recover and change as well. My worry is that, as we grow individually, we grow apart.
I don’t want that to happen. But I do want us both to grow out of our old selves and become better versions of ourselves. Personally, I want to emerge from the darkness, be my own man and not rely on someone else to give me self-worth. Wouldn’t it be incredible if I could become the man I want to be, and to find that my wife is the partner I wanted and needed all along?
I am happy we have stayed together so long. My wife is largely the reason for this. I feel bad for all the times when I was unable to reciprocate her affection. She deserved much better. I have, for most of my adult life, lacked the full range of emotions. A lot of this is the absence of emotions other than hatred and rage in my house (need I explain that my Dad didn’t fill the emotional void left by my mum??), and a part of this is due to needing to protect myself from pain. Now, I experience a lot more emotion, and it is very hard to cope with, although I know it is for the best.
Ours could easily have been another relationship ruined by ‘mummy issues’. It may yet go that way. One this is for certain, no matter what happens to our relationship, we WILL be emotionally available for our daughter. That, is a promise.
Thanks for reading and take care.
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