The Mother Wound

Dan Jenkins

I like to tell a humorous story about my oldest daughter when she was somewhere between two and three years old. My wife had placed some figurines on a coffee table and she told our daughter not to touch them. I was reading on the couch the next day when I noticed that our daughter was standing in front of the coffee table, staring at the figurines. Her hand was poised, ready to snatch them up. I was about to say, ‘Melissa, don’t touch those,’ when to my surprise I heard her utter the very same words. ‘Don’t touch those.’ She said these words twice out loud and in a soft whisper. I could almost see the battle waging inside her mind when, unfortunately, her hand won the debate and I had to confirm the command to not touch the figurines. But it told me that she had internalized what her mother had said the day before.

Our daughter had internalized the command, even though she chose not to obey it.

Likewise, all children internalize very important aspects of the mother-child relationship. Mothers provide love, nurture, warmth, and the constant attention that all children need. Infants are born with constant recurring needs, and if those basic needs are met they grow up to understand what it means to build relationships based on trust. If the infant’s mother is largely emotionally absent, then the child does not learn to internalize a healthy representation of attachment to his mother, and later in life, to other people.

Picture a small infant, alone in a crib. Before long, the child is going to need attention, but for a variety of possible reasons, mother is not available. Maybe she is too preoccupied with other children, work, drugs, depression, etc., to give the child what he needs at that moment. If this becomes a pattern, the child will develop an internalized representation of mother that has actually been split into two opposite extremes. There will be the ‘Idealized Mother’ who is perfect and can meet all needs. This is an internalized mother image that can save the child from all the pain and anguish that comes from being isolated and alone.

On the other hand, there will also be the ‘Absent Mother.’ From the child’s perspective this other extreme internalized representation personifies all the negative aspects of the mother-child relationship. Mother is untrustworthy, hurtful, and very inconsistent in meeting the child’s needs. A child with this kind of internalized mother wound will grow up to idealize a relationship . . . until the first disruption, and then the idealized person will fall from the pedestal to turn into the person who is always absent.

You can see how a tremendous fear of abandonment would develop in a person with this kind of early attachment deficit.

Many men who have experienced this ‘splitting’ of their first relationship will find it hard to give up on the idea of an idealized woman who could meet all their emotional needs. They often feel cheated by women, who seem to change after the relationship becomes more emotionally intimate. They fail to see that this recurring pattern originates from within themselves rather than other people.

In more specific terms, they fail to see that it is not the woman who has changed as much as their perception of her. A woman who is a stranger can seem ideal, but as her humanity and frailties become known, she seems to become all that is personified in the ‘Absent Mother,’ along with the intolerable states of aloneness and the desire to find something to fill the void. This leaves the man with a deep sense of loss and abandonment, as well as vulnerability to use idealized sexual fantasy as a counterfeit for true attachment.

If the infant’s needs are largely met, then a different scenario unfolds. Around the age of three the child has internalized enough of the mother to start exploring around in the world without her. He may need to frequently return for attention or other needs, but he has internalized enough of the mother to be able to take her with him wherever he goes. He still feels loved even when she’s not in the same room. The good ‘love-object’ is constant and not going to go away. This also contributes to a stable and constant sense of self. It makes it possible to feel good about yourself, even when you fail.

The Hebrew word for ‘weaned’ actually means ‘satisfied.’ You are supposed to have it taken away after you have had enough. Unfortunately, many people have been left unsatisfied and still hungry from early bonding deficits. Searching for that ideal woman who will meet all our needs is a fruitless and hopeless endeavor based solely in a dysfunctional fantasy from the past.

The first woman you fell in love with was your mother. She set the stage for all subsequent relationships. It’s no wonder that those early wounds would impact your perception of women.

Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in San Diego, California. He is also a Professor of Psychology at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Interdependence: Joined at the Heart

Jeff McVay

A few weeks ago, we had a celebration in America. People across the country prepared their grills for barbecue. Pools were cleaned. Firefighters prepared for the fireworks shows (both professional and the amateur) in case anything went wrong. And most importantly, folks unfurled their flags and joined in parades to celebrate the Independence Day of the United States of America.

Of course most countries have a day in which they celebrate the moment that they proclaimed independence from another nation or people and determined to make their own way in the world in the manner that they saw fit.

In the United States, independence is more than just a day that is celebrated. It is a way of life. We are taught to be ‘self made’ people. Some classic phrases that describe this thought are: ‘pull yourself up by your own boot straps,’ ‘if it is to be, it’s up to me,’ and (my favorite) ‘I did it my way.’

In the US, independence is not just about a people group breaking away from another country in order to make a new way of life; it is now about each individual person breaking away from all other people in order to do life their way. Most of us think that we have the right to live the way we want and not have anyone else ‘tell us what to do.’ This concept of individualistic independence has done some good for our society; however, it has also led to great isolation, loneliness and fear as we try to determine our existence without the help of anyone. This loneliness and fear also leads us into many avenues of false intimacy (such as pornography) in an attempt to make us feel better about being alone without really having to deal with the possibility of abandonment by another person.

The reason the loneliness becomes so great is because we are made for real relationships. We were not meant to be alone.

Maybe it is time for us to sign a new declaration; not one of independence but one of Inter-dependence. You may be asking yourself, ‘What is the difference?’ Well, interdependence is the radical notion that we really do need other people in order to survive in this world even after we ‘grow up’ and move out on our own. In fact, I am not sure that total independence even truly exists. Human beings perish without others. Even in subtle ways, we depend on one another. In the words of the writer Thomas Moore, ‘no man is an island’. This does not mean that you cannot do anything yourself or that there is no way to tell ‘Where I end and You begin,’ but that we must find the balance between allowing others to connect with us and help us, and what is the work that we have to do to help ourselves and others.

This is especially so when it comes to the addictive struggles that people may have. Addictions tend to isolate us from anyone who might find out what it is we struggle with. In fact Patrick Carnes says that the core beliefs of a person struggling with an addiction are ‘1) I am basically a bad, unworthy person, therefore 2) no one will love me as I am. 3) My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others and 4) whatever the addiction is: it is my greatest need.’

All of these beliefs foster an atmosphere of isolation. If I am a bad person and no one will love me, then I must face the world alone and I cannot rely on anyone to help. In that isolation I begin to look for something that will always relieve my pain. An addiction becomes that one thing that will always but temporarily relieve the pain. The addiction, however, becomes a source of embarrassment which leads to a greater need to isolate and repeat the cycle. Those that love us the most (family, spouses, children and friends) are usually the ones that we push away the most and who feel the greatest effects of both the addiction and the isolation that it creates.

How can a ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ help someone in this situation? It is only in coming out of isolation and being willing to let someone else speak into your life that anyone can begin a road to recovery. Remember that from the very beginning God declared, ‘It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.’ We need one another. In beginning the recovery process we cannot do it on our own. We need to be interdependent on others who have the same desire to change behavior so that heart change or faulty core belief change can happen. This is probably the reason that the first 5 steps in a 12 step program deal with opening ourselves up to God and to other people as the beginning of behavior change.

Think of it this way. Pretend that there are absolutely no mirrors or reflective surfaces in the world at all. How would you know what you look like? There would be no way for you to know unless someone else could tell you. The isolation brought on by addiction and the faulty core beliefs that encourage them take away our abilities to see our own reflection.

The purpose of interdependence is to allow someone else to tell us what we look like. God tells us that we are loved enough to die for. Other people can talk about the good things that they see in us that we have forgotten or never seen due to addictive isolation. When we grasp how much we are loved and have a greater sense of who we are and whose we are then and only then is recovery a road that is opened up to us. This road joins us to the heart of God who calls us His sons and daughters, and to the heart of others who walk with us on this road all the way home. Maybe today can be the beginning of your own celebration. The day that you signed your ‘Declaration of Interdependence’!

For help with alcohol or drug addiction, please call our Resource Center at (800) 639-5433.
For help with sexual integrity, please see Every Man’s Battle.

Shame vs. True Conviction: Knowing the Difference at the Heart of the Battle

Jim Grimes

Shame and true conviction are very difficult concepts to grasp for shame can easily masquerade itself as true conviction. In addition, both produce very strong emotional reactions that result in changed behavior. So what are the definitions of shame and conviction? Shame is a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment, while true conviction is a firmly held belief or opinion. Knowing the difference is at the heart of the battle in dealing successfully with sexual addiction. Let’s take a look at where the resulting behaviors that come out of shame and true conviction lead.

On a recent visit to the discovery science center with my family, we spent some time at the sand and water exhibit learning about the effects of erosion. In reflection, this exhibit is a visual picture of destruction that shame can cause, and the devastating effects of shame on the spiritual health of men.

To begin with, the interactive exhibit allows you to construct a dam using sand, thereby backing up the water behind. Once the water accumulates, it literally tears away the walls of the dam, creating a small canyon for the water to escape through. Observing this phenomenon I was struck with how it reflects the effects of shame when dealing with addiction, and was reminded of Matthew 7:26 where the foolish man built his house on the sand.

Shame is sand when it comes to building relationships with ourselves and others. When the storms of life such as stress, problems at work, or conflict with your spouse arise, the coping abilities you possess can crumble because addiction provides you with a false sense of mastery. This is sinking sand because it produces shame. These strong negative emotions can lead to isolation, hiding, denial, division of the self, depression, decreased self-esteem, and feelings of anger towards oneself and others.

In Philippians 3:18-19 Paul speaks of people who are ‘enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.’

Shame focuses on the here and now, just like in the sand and water analogy of the exhibit. Once a breech was created, we had to focus our attention towards that one area, and we found that considerable effort was required in order for us to seal the breech and restore the dam.

Having seen that shame erodes away the very fabric of relationships with self and others, what are the results of true conviction? First off, a person receives numerous blessings from living out a life based on true conviction. Where shame led to the destruction of relationships, true conviction leads to strengthened relationships and community, openness, acceptance, union of the self, joy/happiness, healing, and increased self-esteem.

Living through true conviction is like building your house upon the rock. The storms of life will come and rage against you, but you will stand because you have built wisely. Proverbs 28:13 states, ‘he who conceals his transgression will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.’ 1 John 1:9 says that ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Within a humble man, true conviction leads to confession. In confession, you find compassion, and in compassion, healing and restoration.

This week, I challenge you to spend some time engaging in an object lesson: create a dam in your backyard using dirt and a garden hose, and observe the devastation that transpires when a small break is formed in the dam you built. As you do this, train your mind to listen to and respond to true conviction rather than to shame. Shame works to destroy your inner life and your sense of self, just like water quickly erodes away a dam once it’s broken. Instead, stop the break and erosion. Rebuild your life and character by responding to the true conviction of the Holy Spirit through confession, openly taking responsibility for your actions, and choosing to build your house upon the Rock.

For more help on this subject, see Every Man’s Battle.