Mothers Day and Being an Emotional Orphan in Long Island, New York

Names and identifying features have been changed to protect the privacy of clients. This particular case is not about a specific client. Jenna’s story is quite common, and portrays a combination of many different people’s general experiences.

Hi Jenna Can you see me alright?

Yes Esther, I see you alright. Thank god we’re connecting now. I don’t know what's going on but it feels like its a good day for a session. 

Alright then, I’m happy we are connecting then, too. Let’s see how we can help you today.

I do have to say, this virtual thing, its’ rough. I wish I was sitting on your couch today. 

I look at her sympathetically. I get it. I wish you were sitting in the office with me too.  Coronavirus has pushed us to alter the way we do life, and the way we do counseling too. I get it.

We talk a bit about how her week has been and as she speaks, I sense there’s something weighing her energy down, almost like there’s a weight on her heart. But I’m not sure, and as therapists, we aren't meant to assume, but to pick up on what we are sensing and check with the client {who is the expert on themselves } as it is often a doorway to something important.

Jenna, I say gently. Can we take a slow breath together, I ask. 

Yes, let’s do that. 

I slowly gesture my right hand and put it on my heart . “Will you do this with me?” Let’s just place our hand on our heart and let's breath.

If there's anything that comes up, simply notice it and breath. Ok. We take a few deep inhales and exhales. 

I notice Jenna begins to fidget a bit.

I’m wondering how you’re doing right now in this moment, Jenna.

I don't know Esther, I’m breathing but it's like there's something stuck in my throat...and my whole chest feels heavy.

I encourage Jenna to stay with the sensation as we know from somatic psychotherapy that our bodies are always communicating with us nonverbally and often, sensation, such as tension, pressure, heat, coldness, numbness, tingling or dizziness simply come up to help us process something important. 

She stays with the pressure and her eyes begin to well up.

Ugh….. I think it’s Mother’s Day. All these emotions. 

My friends all delight in this thing called mother’s day and it’s been the topic of conversation all week. They’re planning where to buy arrangements for their mom, how to plan a socially distant event or how to thank their moms and I just don't feel in the spirit. It’s not that I don't want to, I just can’t focus on it.

To me, that day feels numb.

I look at her as she speaks with an exasperated look on her face.

I'm numb. I'm here, but I'm feeling numb.

Can you check inside for a moment and check if there's a place where the numbness begins, where it may generate from- I wonder out loud, inviting her to deepen her somatic awareness  

Oh, hmm,  she says, as she breathes in. My heart,  yes, it's my heart.

Mother’s day. You know. My mom. I love her. But I am also sad. 

I feel bad saying this, but I’ve been thinking about what a mothers’ role is and I don’t feel like my mother has been a mother to me in some of the ways I’ve really needed her to be.

Tears slowly well up in her eyes.

As she speaks, I see her energy slowly come back to her. The numbness is lessening. This often happens when we uncover the emotions that are beneath the numbing. This usually offers some relief to the mind and body.

In our work together, Jenna and I had done some work on her “mother wound” she carries. In her life,  though her mother tried really hard to the best of her ability, Jenna often felt misunderstood and disconnected from her mom. It was hard for Jenna to acknowledge the disappointment and disconnect in the relationship with her mom, and she often avoided looking at it. Her wish was that if she ignored this relationships’ impact, she would feel better. 

 

But, the pain had been bubbling up for some time, and so Jenna decided to look at the sadness she carried, because  she felt worse not acknowledging  the hurt her heart carried. 

When our bodies tell the story of our life, we need to listen.

When our psyche and body carry a  weight for years, it takes a toll. It impacts how present we can be in our lives, it impacts our beliefs about ourselves and how connected or disconnected we are, from ourselves, and others.

Owning your narrative solidifies the platform which you build your life on.

By giving  our experiences{both the good ones and the challenging ones} a narrative, and how we’ve been impacted, we create a space  for not just feeling emotions, but for the shifting and for healing to take place. This isn’t about feeling the pain to be sad and stay stuck in the sadness.

It’s about tapping into the experience, feel it and move past it. This way you’ll have more energy to face your life and release the stuck burden.

For Jenna, giving her painful dynamic with her mom a name {mother wound} almost felt like a permission slip for her to have pain and to better understand her needs as an adult. 

She looks up at me, and I see a small tear slowly crawl down her plush cheek. 

“Esther, it’s the orphan inside of me. Remember, when I said I feel like an orphan you mentioned the term  emotional orphan. And, I felt like that term coins  exactly how I sometimes feel.

I know my mom..she has always done her best but she doesn't really know me in the ways I wished she could. So for me,  buying her cards and calling her with a semi-fake smile pasted on my face makes me feel like I’m forced to pretend.

It’s not that I don’t love her, it’s just that it’s complicated.  

I notice, as Jenna processes the emotions beneath the numbing, her shoulders slowly start to come up and she seems to have more color in her face.

I hate feeling feelings, Esther. They’re just dumb. I wish I didn’t need to feel

I chuckle as she says that. It’s so normal to feel tired of feeling. And at the same time, and when we actually take the time to feel the “feels”, it passes a lot quicker than if we shove it down.

I guess I just feel the pain, longing and need to feel understood and I guess today I feel it a bit stronger, Jenna says, as she releases a deep exhale.

 

You can hold two realities at once. Pain and possibility can exist at the same time.

 In our work that day, Jenna needed the space to process the emotions that were bubbling up, Towards the end of that day’s session, Jenna was finding a place in her heart to hold both, the grief of the relationship she had with her mom as well as the ability to own her reality and do her best to show up in a way that felt authentic and real to her.

Of course, if her mother was abusive or harmful, the work would have been to keep a different kind of boundary, but here, the pain was in the needing to “pretend” and we helped her find a way to drop the burden of pretending so she could show up in a way that felt right to her.

When we own our voices and realities, we don’t need to self abandon to show up for others.

Orphans are those who have lost parents due to death. and emotional orphans are those who have parents who are alive, but who, due to their own emotional wounds, traumas or pain, are not able to be emotionally present and nurturing parents. Children of emotionally unavailable parents often feel misunderstood by their experience as they didn’t “lose” a parent, though they are lacking some primal emotional needs which their hearts and bodies feel. 

The difference between physical and emotional orphans

 

Orphans lose their parents physically and emotionally to death, and emotional orphans have their physical parents but are orphans to the emotional nurture they hunger for

If you're a child of an emotionally absent mom this mother's day…

You may be feeling a gaping hole, a feeling of numbness or intense emotions around mothers day. If you're a child of an emotionally absent mom this mother's day, it's normal to be feeling sensitive, sad, confused, left out or alone.  This is a time that bubbles to the surface the nurtures in  our lives and it's only natural that the person who was or is in the role of nurturing will come up. 

So, my dear friend, if you're reading this and are feeling the rumblings of some kind of emotions or sensations, know you are not alone.

There are many people out there who don’t have mothers {or fathers} due to alcoholism, abuse, trauma, dissociation, being distracted with a family crisis, a bad marriage, suffer with a personality disorders, neglect, are faced with poverty or other intentional or unintentional reasons as to why these adults cannot show up for their kids.

Wherever your emotions fall on the “mothers day spectrum”, your reality is valid.

Knowing you’re not alone isn’t going to take away the pain, but I hope it can help you know your reality is real, is valid and wherever you fall on the spectrum of mother’s day “feels”, you are seen here.

Your heart may be heavy

You may be yearning for more

You may be wishes to speak up and ask for what you have never been given

You may want to pretend you don't have a mother

You may want to erase this day on the calendar

 

You may want to run to your mother's arms

You may want to repair all the hurt

You may feel love and pain at the same time

You may not know how you feel and that's ok too

Just know, if you are feeling something, it is normal.

it may be wise to take some time to sit with what is going on inside so it can be felt, held, processed and given space. Big emotions {and numbness is often covering big emotions} can and will move through you when given the space.  

Know that the day will come and go.

You may enjoy it deeply and feel loved and find it nourishing, 

Or you may feel the need to distract 

You may want to ignore what it's like for you

Or you may feel inspired to heal your mother wounds

Wherever you fall, you are seen.

 

I am here sending you much much love and care on this day of mothering. 

If you want some tips on how to tap into self nurturing and self nourishing at the time like this, click here.

And if you are inspired or motivated to offer yourself some healing within yourself, or work on some of your struggles you may have from your family of origin and are looking to feel more at ease next year this time or as the weeks roll out, know there are many therapists available to help you feel better. 

For today, sending strength.

Until next time,

Esther

 

*originally posted on integrativepsych.co

 

Esther Goldstein LCSW is psychotherapist and trauma specialist who runs a private practice called Integrative Psychotherapist in Cedarhurst, NY. At Integrative Psychotherapy we are passionate about helping adults reduce anxiety and find a richer way of living, loving and "being" that promotes joy and connection. Our therapists use science based methods and modalities such as psychodynamic psychotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (somatic), Expressive Arts and Parts work (Ego State Work) to help clients feel relief that last way beyond their time on the therapy couch.

Specialties include treating anxiety, trauma survivors, relationships issues, family-of-origin work, Inner-Child work, Attachment focused Therapies, Healing for Complex PTSD And Dissociative Disorder Treatment.

We also offer Trauma Informed Consultation To Therapists Committed To Improving Their Trauma-Informed Practice And Attachment Focused EMDR Consultation To Therapist Attaining Hours Towards EMDRIA Certification.

Website: Integrativepsych.Co