NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Becoming the Mother You Wish You Had

Donald Winnicott, a well-respected British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, introduced the idea of the "good enough mother" (see my article: Books: Tea With Winnicott at 87 Chester Square).

Becoming the Mother You Wish You Had

Thousands of British mothers listened to his BBC broadcasts from 1943-1962 during which he spoke about motherhood and infant development in ordinary terms without using psychoanalytic jargon.

He dispelled the idea that mothers had to be perfect--they only needed to be good enough, which was a relief to most mothers (see my article: Perfect vs. Good Enough).

Winnicott's message is as true and valuable today as it was back then because many new mothers fear that they're going to be inadequate, especially women who had mothers who were abusive or neglectful.  This is also true for women who didn't grow up with a mother.

Their fears are that they will make the same mistakes that their mothers made with emotionally damaging effects to their new babies (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes).

The following fictional vignette illustrates these points:

When Agnes found out that she was pregnant, after trying to conceive for a few years, she and her husband were elated.

Becoming the Mother You Wish You Had

Although Agnes was thrilled beyond words, she also developed an overwhelming fear that she would become like her mother--cold, emotionally withholding and critical.

Even though her husband attempted to alleviate Agnes' concerns, telling her that she was nothing like her mother, her fears became more intense over time.

She was flooded with memories of frequently being left alone and lonely (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).

Whenever, as a child, Agnes attempted to get her mother's attention, her mother treated her like she was a nuisance.

Her father was frequently away on business trips, and when he was home, he secluded himself in his study, so Agnes spent most of her time alone.

As an only child, Agnes was left on her own to play and keep herself entertained.  She would often pretend that she had a kind guardian angel, who loved her, watched over her and kept her safe.

After a while, as the pregnancy progressed, Agnes realized that she needed to get help because her fear of being like her mother began to overwhelm her, so she sought a recommendation from her doctor, who referred Agnes to therapy.

Initially, Agnes had many worries about being in therapy.  She worried that she "wouldn't do it right" or that she would be a disappointment to her therapist (see my article: Fear of Being a Disappointment to Your Therapist).

Her therapist explained the concept of transference in therapy and that many psychotherapy clients,  especially clients who had emotionally withholding and critical parents, had similar fears (see my article: Psychotherapy and the Effects of Parental Transference).

Over time, Agnes began to distinguish her childhood fears from her current relationship with her therapist, who was warm and nonjudgmental (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now."

Agnes never realized that the emotional neglect that she experienced as a child was traumatic (see my article:  What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?).

She always thought of childhood trauma as being related to physical abuse (see my article: Psychotherapy to Overcome Past Childhood Trauma).

However, as she and her therapist worked together, Agnes understood how damaging it was not feel loved when she was growing up and how much she longed for that as a child (see my article: What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later on as an Adult?)

Agnes was also able to work through much of the childhood trauma in therapy.  She mourned for what she wanted from her parents and didn't get.  As part of working through these issues, Agnes learned to nurture and appreciate the child part of herself (as known as inner child).

She also realized that she could be the mother that she wished she had had as a child.  She made distinctions between herself and her mother, and she felt deep down that she was very different from her mother.

As her husband had told her all along, Agnes realized that she was a warm, nurturing person and she wouldn't be cold, withholding or critical.  The difference between her husband telling her and Agnes working it through for herself in therapy was that Agnes actually felt it in therapy.

Over time, Agnes also realized that, even though she would make mistakes because no one is perfect, she didn't have to be a perfect mother--she just needed to be good enough.

Getting Help in Therapy
For many women, who were not fortunate enough to have nurturing, loving mothers, their fear that they will become their mothers is strong.

Although family members and friends can be emotionally supportive and try to convince these women that they're nothing like their mothers, often these are experienced as only words.

Working in therapy to overcome unresolved childhood trauma and work through these fears can make all the difference between being an anxious, self doubting mother and being more self assured.

If the vignette in this article resonates with you, whether you're a mother-to-be or a father-to-be with the same fears, you're not alone.

Getting help from a skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome these fears so that you and your family can have a more fulfilling lives.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.