A few weeks ago I lost some time. Turns out a child part, Anna, went to session. I didn’t come out until the final few minutes, after the therapist asked for me by name. I had lost a lot of time. I was confused and terrified. I remember standing there, holding tightly to myself, looking around the room in panic. The therapist softly asked me, “Is there anything I can do to help you right now?”
I didn’t respond. I just shook my head and made unintelligible sounds. But I was actually thinking:
Yes! Please hug me! Please hold me so that I don’t explode from the inside out. Please remind me I am real and alive. Please help me!
I did not say that. I didn’t even hint at it. I just took a few deep breaths and left. But I have been thinking about that moment ever since; how scary it was and how frighteningly close I came to verbalizing that need for physical contact.
Which is a surprising need, really. When I am in distress like that, I tend to want the opposite. I want space. I want room to expand. Physical touch is unbearable.
So not only was this need alarming to me, but it was intensely shameful as well. And I have been holding onto the emotion surrounding that moment ever since it happened. I didn’t know how to bring it up.
But today I read her my post from yesterday. As we processed it and talked about needs and expectations and how scary it can be to experience vulnerability, I thought of that moment. So I explained what happened and shared my desire to be held and physically contained in that moment.
She said that, interestingly, she had been trying to do the same, but with words. She said she is working on how to use the space and resources we have available to us in sessions to create that same sense of feeling held. I appreciated the way she talked about it. It felt safe and protective.
Then we talked more about hugs. She said that she envisioned me having a very primal need to be held – something often seen in survivors of child abuse.
I explained that I was not lacking in affection throughout my childhood. I was often hugged, held, rocked, kissed, and told I was loved. But I was also violated and hurt by the same people, so it was very confusing. Physical touch was a source of tremendous anxiety for me.
I have spent my entire life searching for someome to replace that need for primal touch; for the safe, nurturing hug of a mother. I have it now in as much as I possibly can. The woman I now call “Mom” always hugs me when I see her. She holds me and rubs my back. She tells me how absolutely loved and cherished I am. She soothes me. She says, “You are my daughter and I am your Mom.” She says she loves me like her own children.
And I believe her, in as much as that can be true. As I was explaining this in session, the therapist said, “But you don’t have the same history with her as a mother and child…”
Exactly. She is not my mother. And although I have wished for a mother since I was a small child (and specifically for this person to be my mother since I was 16) I know now that I will never be able to replace mine. I spent so much time chasing an idea of Mother. But when I finally got what I wanted, it felt nothing like I’d imagined. The reality does not match the ideal.
Which is not my fault. Or hers. She is lovely and our bond is special. But it will never be able to replace the bond between my biological mother and I. Nothing will.
The therapist acknowledged the heaviness of my grief and said that although the “mother-shaped hole” may never be filled, it is not hopeless. She believes that the ideal I search for is within myself. By reframing the distortions and lies I was fed, I can begin to unravel some of the self-loathing and fill in the space around that hole with self-love.
I need to be the mother I always wished for. I need to love myself wholeheartedly and unconditionally. I need to protect and defend myself. I need to nurture and soothe myself.
And I need to forgive myself for not being loved by my own mother.