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Emotional Orphan

Question:

I’ve isolated most of my life due to complex ptsd. I have been abused physically and emotionally by my birth mother and two step-mothers as well as having experienced a myriad of traumas such as rape, attempted rape, two bad car accidents, victim of flood, fire, molestation… etc. throughout my life. As an adult I have been in a committed relationship with a wonderful woman for 17 years (I am a female). Two years ago I made friends with a woman who at 60 years old is 11 years older than me. We connected immediately and have a lot in common. She became the mother I’d never known and I am quite attached to her and she to me. She said she would be my mother I never had and I would be the daughter she never had. Because of my isolation she and her husband were pretty much the extent of my socialization. During a recent difficult period she was exceptionally nurturing. At the height of my stress I dissociated and a very young personality emerged in her presence more regularly. She would hold me while I cried and I would eventually be soothed as I never have been in my life by a safe and caring parent. Then suddenly she said that I hurt her feelings and that she wanted time alone. She would e-mail me, but we didn’t see one another regularly and I felt completely abandoned. Then she invited me a couple of times to get together, it made me feel insecure and uncomfortable because she said that perhaps we had gone beyond healthy boundaries trying to be mother and daughter, that we should just go back to being friends. The more she pulled away, the more I wanted to talk and resolve any hurt feelings we each had. Recently she invited me over to a gathering and I declined saying that it was too emotionally painful and that I felt distrust. I told her that she is controlling and domineering and that although part of me is very attracted to that, that I’m not certain that’s healthy for me. I told her how she finds fault with people and that I don’t feel comfortable not knowing what she may have said about me to her friends. I told her that I was in conflict and that bottom line was that I loved her and wanted to greet her with a loving heart and not one in conflict. Her response was that she fully supports me in getting healthy and that perhaps we’ll re-connect in a few months. A few months! Complete withdrawal on her part. She won’t discuss anything, won’t communicate with me whatsoever. I’m obsessing and hurt, part of me says I don’t need this emotional pain, the other longs for the mother I had found in her. Should I try to engage her with a phone call or e-mail as it’s been a month and a half since we last wrote (perusing her only seems to anger her) or leave her alone and let the relationship be based on her terms which I find controlling and unbearable?

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Answer:

Though this was not a sexual/romantic relationship that has broken up, there are parallels in that you and this woman became very intimate, and now she is wanting to pull away with the future of the relationship very uncertain. It’s only normal to grieve the loss of this sort of attachment, especially when you have a history of serious abuse and did not know this level of trust as a child. Not knowing the details of what happened between you that caused this woman to become alienated from you, I can only guess that she may have overextended herself emotionally, panicked, and tried to back peddle as best she could. You and she got into difficult territory in that you emulated a mother/daughter relationship, but without the actual bonds (legal, emotional, historical, etc.) to support the full intensity of such a relationship. A therapist would have been a better choice for you to confide in so fully, in that a therapist expects this sort of thing to occur, and is more able, by virtue of session time limits and professional guidelines to contain and manage the intensity so that it doesn’t overwhelm him or her. Still, its terribly natural for you to want to have this sort of relationship with someone who cares about you. I’m not at all surprised that you took the opportunity to become trusting in this way when it came up, and am glad that you have experienced such trust. As an adult, you know that many relationships, even intense relationships, are transitory. That relationships you depend on can be fragile and break doesn’t make them bad or worthless; it simply makes them human. Human things get born, and human things die. Just because they die doesn’t make them worthless. It is a very good thing that you got to taste what it is like to deeply trust. That is a good healing thing. You can cherish that it occurred, even as you let this particular relationship become part of the past. You’ll likely be able to find new relationships in the future where you can experience some of what you’ve both found and lost with this one that is ending if you decide to be open to that possibility. I’d say, for now, let this old relationship alone, lick your wounds, learn from the positive things that occurred and the negative ones, and go forwards. Psychotherapy – focused on your present grief experience, and your hunger for a nurturing mother (all completely normal things) wouldn’t hurt you at all if you’re up for it. You clearly are wanting a spiritual/emotional midwife at this time, and (provided you find a good one) a professional therapist can be safe, wise and available. Your PTSD/DID stuff can come along for the ride, and maybe you’ll find a way to make this into a healing experience.

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