The Two Mothers

 

 

Every man has a tone
& it sits on his lap
even when he's standing
except when some rope, cord, or band
constrains his belly
& ties him to a boy
who thinks in soprano
& has to be nice--or wait
for a lucky break
while he prays
to a god who lives up in the air


Then his tone has been lost
& singing to women isn't the answer
--she doesn't have what he's looking for
his missing tone alone can bring
out the tune he needs to sing

 

--excerpt from "Tonus, Tone, or Tune" by GR.

 

 

When a man has lost his"tone," feels deficient, and has lost touch
with his sense of inner strength, singing to women isn't the answer.
(Neither is abusing, or attempting to dominate women). And though
the key to a man's missing strength--his "wild man"--may at times
(as in the fairy tale Iron John) lie under the mother's pillow, still,
what a man is looking for isn't going to be found as long as he's
looking to find it in or from a woman--"she doesn't have what he's
looking for."

And often what a man is looking for is to have his grandiosity
stroked and applauded by women. Women have known this for
centuries, often seeing as one of their relational responsibilities that
of "building up the(ir) man's ego."

By the same token, there's a problem in feminine psychology, or at
least in the psychology of many women. And its so prevalent we can
find it almost everywhere--in myths, in fairy tales, in our own
relationships--and thus, in "the neurosis of everyday life"--and yet it
hasn't often been spoken of, though it contributes a fair share of the
un-necessary gender suffering between men and women.

 

There seems to be something in women that often wants to get their
missing"it" from men. This "it" can be validation, a sense of self-worth,
attention, the sense of being nurtured, loved, or cared for. Or "it" might be
support for her narcissism that she might hope to gain from the association
with a man who seems in some way "bigger than life," as if an increase in
self-worth might arise from basking in the glow of another's glory. And
sometimes, when any of these are the prevailing trend, no matter how much
a woman might get from the man or men in their lives, "it" may never seem
enough. She may be left with a sense of deficiency, a hole, a wound that has
never healed.

Here, a woman may find herself blaming a man for what he's not
providing, may blame him for the lack of fulfillment in her life, or for
what she has given up in order to be in the relationship, may blame
him for what he cannot possibly provide --because what is missing is
not his to give.


This is a painful realm to visit, let alone live in--a kind of
underworld, where things seem so dark one is defended from even
seeing what's really going on. It feels like death to feel into this area,
to feel this inner emptyness,longing and pain--this lack of
attunement to self.
It is much easier to blame the man, and look no
farther, as if the key to her happiness has somehow been placed
under the man's pillow.

 

The Persephone myth, as well as a number of fairy tales seems to
suggest that this inner hole in a woman's soul comes not from what a
man is not providing, or (as the Freudians have speculated) because
she is missing a penis, or from the interpretation that some
fundamentalists give to the Bible--where a woman's very existence
comes from the ribs of a man. Instead, myth and fairy tales suggest
that what feels "missing" in a woman sometimes stems from a
disconnection from the mother, often early in life.
A disconnection
that becomes internalized through a lack of attunement to herself,
and which is in part perpetuated by the unconscious assumption that
her significant other is supposed to make it up to her, or provide

what's been missing,

 

Rather than take responsibility for the lack of attunement to self,
the lack of attunement to Reality that has left her feeling deficient, as
if "something is missing," women often maintain the expectation of
being "carried off into the sunset," where they might "live happily
ever after" --as well as the subliminal assumption that its the man's
fault that she is feeling cut off from "it," as if he's taken her away
from all that is nourishing, and abducted her into the underworld.

This layer of the psyche is often pre-verbal, hard to see, hard to
remember, hard to talk about--and even harder to feel.

 

Just as Persephone suffers due to her having been snatched away
from her mother Demeter, we see the same motif in the fairy tale
Little Snow White, where the true mother dies and the father
remarries a wicked, ill-attuned step-mother. This fairy tale,
as well as a number of others (Cinderella, for example) show us a split in the
mother archetype.
There's a "good mother" who's vanished--and in
that vacuum, the child is left in the care of a "bad mother" who is ill-
attuned to the child and her needs.

 

In "real life," a woman will often begin to exteriorize these two
mothers,
and to play them out in her intimate relations with a man--
or with another woman if she is a lesbian. On the one hand she feels
entitled, and begins to crave for the other to one day treat her like
the good mother who has been missing. On the other hand, she feels
frustrated and resentful everytime it seems that the other is not
behaving like that good mother. And so the intimate other will then
often be experienced through the lens of the ill-attuned, witholding
mother. A great deal of confusion and un-necessary suffering, and
many of the fights between men and women seem to come out of this
dynamic!

There are exceptions, of course, but often women do not want to
talk about this, do not want to look at where their sense of
entitlement comes from, this fiercely clung to belief that their missing
sense of gratification is supposed to come from another. This
terrain can be adamantly insisted upon--and quite defended.

And I'm not saying that men can't be unspeakably dense as well,
cause much un-necessary suffering themselves, look to women to
fulfill their missing parts, or behave badly at times--we're famous
for it! But what I am saying is clearly, its infantile to look for "it" to
have to come from another
--though that's how soothing and
contentment first came to us as infants.

The sensitivity and blame that often arises when a man can't
possibly nurture a woman with the sensitivity that an infant might
need or expect from a mother may mean that a woman is getting
close to fertile ground. If she could then really listen to herself, and
hear what she's really mad at, something important might begin to
clarify as she comes to realize exactly what it is that she has been
feeling deprived of, exactly what coin she has been short-changing
herself.

Often that blame, that voice that wants to scold the man for what
he "never" does (but should), or what he "always" does (but
shouldn't), that blame which leads her to distance from her intimate
relationship, often has its roots in rage towards the mother for how
early needs were not well met--and this early wounding, as well as
the rage that surrounds it needs to be felt --without being projected
entirely onto men.

If the rage isn't allowed to be felt, if the woman just suppresses it, it
winds up cutting off her strength--or it later erupts in explosions over
trifles--or she becomes withdrawn, and loses her passion for the
relationship, or suffers a general deadening in her level of aliveness.
So the rage needs to be felt, and at the same time a kind of container
may need to be placed around it,
so that she can take back the
projection, assimilate what's really going on, and not just project it all
onto the man. For what often gets projected is both her own strength
as well as the responsibility for her own happiness, the responsibility
to "follow her own bliss. "

In the French language the word for "bliss" and the word for
"wound" have the same etymological root. When you become more
attuned to your own wound, and more able to hold and contain it, it
then becomes more possible to follow your own bliss --in part
because you are then less fragile and self-abandoned, and less prone
to project rejection onto the outer world. So its important for a
woman to begin to notice how deficient she often is when it comes
to taking better care of herself, how poorly she often mothers or
nurtures herself.

This self-abandonment leaves a woman with a shaky
sense of self-hood, keeps her on some level identified with the inner
child who has no one here for her, no one to take care of her--and
that's a fairly archaic and primitive layer of the psyche which can feel
quite debilitated, a scary place to be. It thus becomes important to
begin to cultivate the realization that one is in fact both parts of the
mother/daughter archetype--and that one can be either the "bad" or
the "good" mother to oneself.

Taking back the projection of the good mother, as well as the
projection of the bad mother, is ultimately empowering. It frees a
woman from victimization, and restores to her own self-hood the
guardianship
and responsibility for her own happiness. It can help
her get clearer about her own "stuff" and what she really wants, and
what gets in her way. It can help her to realize that the most
significant variable in her intimate relations with others is the
primacy of her relationship with herself--which in turn can lead her
to become more attentive and skillful in taking care of herself. All of
which can take a lot of pressure off her relationship with a man--
draining off a lot of conflicted tension that previously might have
stood in the way of her entering her relationship(s) more fully.

There is a physiological as well as a psychological component to
the dynamic we are exploring. The split of the mother archetype
into "two mothers" relates directly to the two modes of the
autonomic nervous system, and to the phenomenon of abandonment
anxiety. The autonomic nervous system has both a sympathetic and
a parasympathetic sub-system. The sympathetic part of the
autonomic nervous system kicks in when we become agitated, and
are "sympathetically overcharged." Its the "fight or flight" response.

But the fight or flight response, which initially entered our
hardwiring as part of early primate survival, often shows up now in
the ways we conduct ourselves in intimate relationships when stuck
in this part of our nervous system.
Here we can feel easily irritable,
simultaneously dependent and frustrated-- and will often distance or
pick fights when it feels there's the prospect of something we may
not receive from the other, something that we seem to have a vestigial
memory of once having gotten.

The parasympathetic part of the A.N.S. is "the relaxation
response." And it was this kind of "autonomic soothing" that mom
first provided by giving us the breast when we became cranky and
agitated as infants. This is also what seems to have formed the
template for the expectation that our intimate other is "supposed to
make us feel better" --and for some of the deeply felt disappointment
and rather infantile rage that follows when this doesn't happen.

But when we are needing "it" to come from other, its often a signal
that we have become self-abandoning. The self-abandonment in
itself tends to create anxiety--the anxiety of an infant who senses
there is no one there taking care of her-- which in turn creates more
dependence on an other in order to soothe and regulate our own
nervous system
-- much as our mothers did when we were infants.

When a woman (or for that matter, a man) re-owns and "eats" the
split off projections, there is no longer the need to be so fearful that
entering relationship more fully might equate with starving in terms
of some vital and soothing nutrient. It's a lot less stressful to be in a
relationship where what you need to "get" from another is like the
cherry on top of the sundae of your life--when already you've eaten
the salad and a hearty main course.

 

And forgive me the oral imagery, but developmentally, that's
really where this discussion is at--as the layer of the psyche being
evoked here harkens back to the first year or so of life, a time when
we were completely dependent on other for nurturance, yet lacking
the language skills to be able to say what it was we were needing--a
state of dependency that required empathic attunement by (m)other,
and which resulted in horrible, blood-curdling frustration when that
attunement wasn't forthcoming.

Where men and women seem to play their hands slightly
differently in these engagements is that the man will commonly do
his grandiosity dance and wants the woman to puff him up for it,
stroke his feathers--even male birds do this-- and generally applaud
and support the grandiosity so he won't have to feel any underlying
deficiency.
Whereas, commonly, the woman will IDENTIFY with
her drama of deficiency--and blame the man, or expect him to make
up for it
(as if there was an unspoken bargain the woman made: "I
will neglect myself and try to bend myself into fulfilling your needs,
and your part of the deal is that you will then do the same for me.")

When this unconscious bargain is being followed, at best you have
two somewhat hollow, wounded, or off-balance people propping
each other up--what we have come to call "co-dependency." Or
commonly, the women winds up feeling ripped off, and the man at
first feels like he doesn't know what he did wrong. Clearly she's
pissed--but he's often at a loss and feels confused about what's he
supposed to feel contrite or guilty about.

The deficiency and the grandiosity are really just two sides of the
same coin, reactions to the same early wound that men and women
bring to their dance with each other when one or both of them is out
of touch with their deeper nature. It's obvious (in the above
example) that the woman's sense of deficiency is needing supplies.
But what's often less obvious is that the man's grandiosity also needs
supplies--and if you scratch against this need, or fail to gratify it, it
often collapses into deficiency. But commonly, the woman is feeling
the deficiency for both of them.

When a man can accept, hold, and steep in his own deficiency, it
can begin to fill in, and then he can soften, flowing into the contours
of who he more truly is. The attitude of acceptance toward the more
fragile parts of the self--the parts far removed from his ego-ideal--
begins to create a more pliable holding environment, a kind of "inner
womb" moistened by modesty or humility.

And then as he becomes more attuned to his own emotional
reality he may find that he hasn't really lost any of his strength--all
that's been lost is his need for grandiosity, the rejection of his own
vulnerability, and the felt need to "perform" for women. Finally, he
doesn't have to keep his chest (or some other body part) always
extended, hardened--he can relax, and not have to strain to keep
something up, some image of potency. His masculinity then becomes
less rigidified, more modulated, genuine, and richer in tone.

When a woman can allow herself to hold her own deficiency--
which is often connected to her own abandoned child--she (too) has
begun to be the good mother to herself, and needn't feel so frustrated
by what she isn't getting from the man, as if she (otherwise) has been
left in the lurch, left out of the equation and needing some vital
ingredient from him in order to self-soothe or feel contentment.

When a man and a woman can each take more responsibility for
their own wounding, and develop more capacity for holding and
healing it, it becomes possible to move out of the power struggle that
results from trying to get the other to provide what till then has
seemed in such short supply. And the blissful part of life, often
largely unlived till now, may begin to come toward us.

When we ourselves are whole, which is to say, when we are in
touch with our intrinsic nature, then really nothing is "missing."
Then, even plants and objects seem supportive of our fundamental
awareness. When this is the case, then two more or less autonomous
and sovereign beings can begin to face each other, and a largely
unlived chapter in the history of gender can begin to be written.

 

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