Tuesday, May 6, 2014

If it's not one thing… it's your mother.

Mothers (and all parents) do the best they can, given their individual circumstances and temperaments. Despite their best efforts and good intentions, mothers may still adversely affect their kids. The way we are mothered impacts our relationship to ourselves, which in turn influences disordered eating.   When we are unable to “mother” ourselves, to be nurturing and supportive, we may turn to (or from) food as a way of coping with painful and upsetting situations.

The following are common types of mothers:

Intrusive:  (there's a reason the word "mother" is part of the word "smother"):  Mothers who read diaries, who demand to know what their kids are doing or thinking.  This kind of mothering is often identified with anorexia, which can be seen as a way of symbolically keeping OUT intrusive questions, or dealing with boundary violations.  

Mini Me Syndrome:  These are mothers who want their children to reflect them, to live up to their own expectations of who their kids should be, instead of being interested in their individuality.  This type of mother conveys the idea that something wrong if their daughters or sons don't share their mother's mind.

For instance, a young woman who wanted to learn how to play the drums was told by her mother, "Don't be ridiculous.  I like the piano, not drums."

Another mother told her daughter, "You can't vote Republican.  We're Democrats."

These mothers could not fathom the idea that their daughters had separate wishes, ideas and beliefs. Often the only way to assert yourself is by controlling the one area that your mother cannot directly influence:  your weight.   Whether you are restricting or bingeing, this may be a way of saying, "This is my life and my body.  You can't control MY body."

Indifferent:  There are many reasons why mothers are indifferent.  Depressed mothers are incapable of summoning the kind of energy necessary to be interested and invested in their children.  Mothers who were themselves raised by indifferent parents may also be indifferent.  Mothers who had intrusive parents might swing the pendulum too far the other way, giving their kids too much space and seeming indifferent.

If your mother did not show enough interest or curiosity, you may yearn for a level of connection and mothering that is unavailable.  That emptiness may be filled with food, to provide a temporary fulfillment.

If you felt deprived of nurturing, you may also express that deprivation by restricting.  Anorexia can be a silent way of communicating your emptiness and deprivation. 

If you have ambivalence about your wish for maternal care, you may fill up on food as a way of expressing your wish for loving fulfillment, but then purge it as a way of getting rid of the humiliation of longing.

Little Girl Mothers:  These mothers pull for you to take care of them.  They often share their problems, ask for your opinions, and elicit your concern and care about their well-being.  When you are mothering your mother, however, nobody is mothering you.  That leads to a deprivation that can be expressed with restriction, or resolved by bingeing and filling an internal emptiness.

Intrusive AND indifferent:  These mothers are overly invested in certain aspects of your life, and then neglect other areas of your life, often those that need the most attention.  This inconsistency can be very confusing and may lead someone to turn away from relationships (and often, from food) or towards bulimia, which replicates the experience of being pushed in upon and then deprived.

Nurturing:  mothers who consistently show an appropriate amount of curiosity and care about their child's emotional and physical well-being, who allow their kids to have their own identities.  Whatever kind of actual mother you had, the goal is to cultivate a nurturing response to yourself.

What kind of mothering did you experience?

How did it impact your relationship to yourself?

How do you relate to your friends?  Pets?

Do you treat yourself the way you were mothered?  

Do you treat other people the way you would like to have been mothered?

Keep in mind there are two mothers; the actual mom who raised us, and the mother that we internalize.  When you can find a way to nurture, accept and support yourself, you will be less likely to use food to cope with sadness, emptiness, frustration, loneliness, or any other painful or upsetting state.

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