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- Category: A Study Of Psychopathology
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The great majority of female patients enjoyed with the mother a uniquely close relationship, approximating that of a symbiosis. I use the word uniquely to indicate that this closeness is exceedingly more than that which is ordinarily observed, in this and other cultures, in mother-daughter relationships. It could not be called a ital symbiotic one because the daughter was not singled out by the mother as her exclusive source of gratification. She had similar relationships with other daughters in the family. The patient also had other relationships which gave her some amount of gratification. However, mother and daughter were first and rather special in each other’s list of affectional ties. This was true across all ages, from adolescent patients to those in late menopause. If the mother was no longer alive, the memory of this close relationship exerted similar impact on the patient’s psychological life.
As the daughter grew older, the process of nurturance tended – to be reversed. She began to feel even more strongly obligated to keep her mother happy. Several women in the series dedicated their lives to looking after the mother, nearly displacing the father in his assigned role as husband. For these women, such a position, in spite of its obligations, was preferable to being in a dependent position.
It was not surprising to hear these patients describe mother as an idealized parent, who could do no wrong and who deserved nothing but affection, gratitude, and sympathy. Similarly she was seen as unconditionally loving and gratifying, one who would always love her children, regardless of circumstances. The illness was often perceived and reacted to in terms of what it would do to the mother.
As mentioned in the previous chapters, this idealized image proved too good to be true. Under this glowing picture were many protests against excessive closeness. The lack of privacy was much deplored. Even one’s thoughts were not spared from the mother’s knowledge and attention. The mother could open her mail, go through her things; she had every right to ask with whom she went and what was involved in her activities. The mother told her when she could be happy, which situations she could enjoy, and which she could not. The patient was even told not to be too excessive in her joys and pleasures, because too much pleasurable excitement is” not good.”
From birth, these patients listened to mother. Small and large decisions were made by her. It was extremely difficult, in the face of such an all-enveloping relationship, for the daughter to achieve autonomy and the much needed self-esteem. This was part of the price she paid for the protection and comfort derived from the relationship. Where then did her self-esteem come from? From the fervent rationalization that being a good and dutiful daughter who did not displease her mother she becomes worthy and lovable. To be a good and dutiful daughter was therefore worth every sacrifice.
The maternal over-protection slid imperceptibly into over- controlling, to which frustration and rage were logical consequences. Despite all rationalizations that a mother’s unselfish giving of herself deserved nothing less than a daughters sacrifice of her own wishes, the young girl fantazied ways of escape. These fantasies often involved a quarrel or argument, then a falling-out, being sent away, disowned, adopted by others, running away to foreign shores to become wealthy and successful and thereby redeeming oneself, or becoming a nun while relatives wept over her leaving.
And yet these hostile thoughts and impulses towards mother were firmly repressed. Indeed, openly disobedient behavior such as was described in the previous sections would be so ego-alien as to alert both family and patient that something was going wrong. And not only are they repressed towards mother but thereafter in any context as well. Getting angry was generally regarded as bad and likely to cause guilt feelings because it was forbidden.
However, a grown-up woman who was married and had children could often express anger. For example, her anger towards children and maids was tolerated and justified. It did seem that as a child, one was forbidden to express many things. At the same time, one saw that mothers and adults, in general, had a capacity for angry feelings and although limited as to direction of expression did have the capacity to let go of anger in certain situations.
We can only guess at the proportions of these suppressed and repressed rage reactions by some observations. The anger expressed in most hysterical outbursts is often of low amplitude, although it is enough to alarm everyone else when at its height. But that which is embodied in acute psychophysiological reactions, with their degree of suffering and incapacitation, can be gauged from the fulminance of the physical illness itself. One must also mention that the ease with which reality testing is sacrificed as in near- paranoid ideas, which are distilled from overwhelming feelings of anger and hate, points to the ego’s precarious stand as it is threatened by the aggressive instincts.
These women who felt they had an idyllic relationship with mother often displaced these repressed hostile feelings toward the husband. She was not always able to give voice to them hut from her behavior during illness, it could be seen that she was poised to blame him, should the marriage flounder. She also wanted him to provide her with opportunity to be autonomous, which she had missed under the influence of mother. One male patient said he fell in love with his wife because she looked sweet, simple, and unspoiled. After years of arguing and fighting, she told him that her mother and aunts, who loved her dearly, never allowed her to talk back and she was not about to return to being oppressed again. Many marriages were frankly though unconsciously an escape from one dependent relationship with another. Before long, the woman was bound to discover that marriage brought heightened dependency longings with little promise of their being fulfilled. After two or three children, the rage reactions began to come to the surface.