I had a conversation with friends recently about our childhoods and especially our mothers. Both of the women I was talking to had serious difficulties with their moms, and each expressed the feeling that they thought that their mother didn’t really like them much.
Both of these women are beautiful, as they say, inside and out. Both are dedicated to finding happiness for themselves and to creating more happiness in the world. They are both kind, capable and courageous women. So as they told their stories, it was hard for me to conceive that anyone, their mothers most of all, could actually dislike them or treat them in the cruel ways that they described.
Looking at these two women, I could not imagine anything in their child selves that could have warranted the loss of their mother’s love. What could any baby or child ever do that would be so terrible? Practicing mindfulness has led me to believe that only the deep suffering of someone can lead her to communicate a sense of hatred toward another person, especially her own child.
But I know the feeling. There have been countless times when my own unhappiness led me to lash out at someone or disconnect. I have been told by several people that when they first met me, the thought I didn’t like them, even though I thought I did. When my mind is caught up in worrying or ruminating about my perceived problems and hurts, I’m just not able to authentically connect.
Communicating love isn’t something we can fake. I remember a young friend once told me about a time his mother said that she loved him. He told her, “I know you think you love me, but I don’t feel it.” His mother may not have taken care of her own suffering, and so she wasn’t able to take care of him in the way that made him feel loved. Even though she herself felt deep love for him.
So I wonder if my two women friends suffer, not because their mothers’ didn’t love them, but because they don’t feel the love. Their mothers didn’t know how to take care of their own pain, so they weren’t able to communicate their love to their daughters. I’d guess many of us have been on the giving and receiving end of that situation. A few years ago, in a state of panic about whether I was effectively communicating my love, I emailed each of my four teenagers and asked them if they really truly knew that I loved them. Let’s just say that only half of them even replied.
…I tell you, if you can love a woman the way you love blackberries, strawberries in the sun, the small red onions you plant, or a hawk riding the sway of wind over ocean, if you can make her know it even for a moment, you are as real as earth itself. No one confirms another unless he himself rays forth from a center. — Denise Levertov, Holiday
The kindest thing we can do for our loved ones is to take care of our own suffering. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “suffering is an art” and we can learn to do it well. There are many ways to take care of our pain, including yoga and meditation, Nonviolent Communication, Focusing, creative expression, and therapy, to name just a few. All of these practices can help us learn to be with our suffering with tenderness and self-compassion. And each time we are able to transform our inner pain, we release another piece of our self-generated story. And that lets our love shine out just a little brighter.