Jacob Nordby believes that a key to our personal happiness and success lies buried in unconscious Mommy Issues.
Before we begin, let’s get something straight. We all have mommy issues. We can’t help it. We all incarnated through the fleshly portal called a mother. Every single one of us alive on earth today had a safe, insulated womb experience, got pushed out between mom’s legs and landed as a screaming, sticky bundle in an unfamiliar place.
We all got to have separation anxieties, power struggles and coming-of-age conflicts. In fact, Freud, the embattled Colossus of modern psychology, invested a great deal of his study on the challenging relationship humans have with their mothers.
Some of us have fond memories of a mother who raised us with such love and care that she remains a sort of paragon on a pedestal to whom no one could ever compare. Others of us had a raging, out-of-control wreck of a human for a mother who tore a path of pain and destruction through our lives. I am extra conscious of this as I write these words, but regardless of how wonderful or horrible your mother was, you have Mommy Issues.
I have a wonderful mother who cherished me and did everything she knew to help me become a viable human.
Key phrase: “everything she knew”.
She showed up in this world carrying her own issues. Some of those she resolved and some she passed along to me. A couple of them were crippling for many years in my life.
I will swing back and tell you a bit about my own journey with this in a minute but first I want to dive right into what I promised to tell you in the title.
Before I started writing this article, I posted the title on Facebook and invited women to comment on the main themes they have dealt with in men’s lives on the topic. I expected to get some response, but I had no idea what a visceral, painful oil drum full of snakes I had cracked open. That thread is still running hot as I write these words. I almost re-titled this piece: 10,000 Crippling Mommy Issues You Can’t Afford To Ignore. As it turns out, mommy issues are like Medusa’s hairdo. These snakes show up everywhere in life and affect our work, our intimate relationships, how we parent, and how we experience ourselves when we are all alone.
Here are some of the crippling hotspots I discovered:
- I’m Afraid Of Strong Women – men who deal with this had mothers with big, domineering personalities. They were cowed into submission as children and to one degree or another they became terrified of women who know how to assert themselves. This is crippling because men afflicted by this Mommy Issue can never handle an equal partnership with a woman – and often with a man, either. They will either grovel along behind or they will only choose dynamics in which they are clearly dominant. As a result, they never get to experience the thrill of pulling alongside someone in the same direction and at full power. They will settle for a solitary life or one which is bogged down by unequal and entangled relationships at home and at work.
- I’m Looking For My Mommy To Take Care Of Me – men who haven’t processed this one are the bane of their partners’ existence. Their mothers created a weak, co-dependent situation in which their sons were never required to learn responsibility. They don’t know how to make decisions, they are oblivious to the needs of others, and usually can be found at the end of a trail of discarded socks, half-hearted careers, and fizzled relationships. These men either have a terrible time with knowing when or how to take control of a situation – or they overcompensate for their own fear in inappropriate ways. This is crippling because they never get the chance to hatch into the full-grown warrior which is the birthright of the actualized male nature. By “warrior”, I don’t mean an aggressive, hostile, war-mongering asshole. I mean decisive, powerful, full-throated manhood in its glory.
- No One Will Ever Be As Good As My Mom – almost no men with this issue will admit it. In fact, they often have bitter relationships with their own mothers, but somehow compare all other potential intimate partners to this paragon-on-a-pedestal. Some aspect of this Mommy finds its way into the workplace, into the bedroom, and into the world at large. Since no one will ever be as good as mother, most women fall under the pall of disrespect by these men. This is crippling because they never get to truly “see” the beauty and unique perfection in anyone around them – especially women. This “mommy issue” is probably the closest to the Oedipal Complex of any I’ve mentioned yet.
This article could run into at least one book – probably many. Obviously, I haven’t even explored the tip of this particular iceberg. I invite you to share your own thoughts, disagreement, or favorite Mommy Issue as a comment below.
But before I wrap this up, I want to tell you how worthwhile the journey through this particular shadow cave is.
At age 37 I found myself curled up in bed one day sobbing. I had an image of myself as a strong, successful man. I had fathered children, started businesses and made my own way in the world for almost two decades. But that day I was too tired to escape the nagging question which had eaten at my guts the whole time. I was at the end of my rope and bone weary of presenting a strong face to the world while always feeling like a terrified little boy inside my suit. No matter how hard I worked, or what achievements I accomplished, I was scared and sure that someone would discover that I was a fraud. Then the jig would be up and I would be punished. This led me to unconsciously sabotage some of my most important endeavors.
“Why am I so fucked up?” The question rang inside me and I had no power to hide from it.
Because my mind was too exhausted to keep telling my concocted tale anymore, my armor fell off. I found myself far back in memory. A five year old boy was being punished for a misdeed he didn’t know he had committed. He was crushed. The mother he worshiped – and who in some ways worshiped him – had become a cruel Inquisitor. It wasn’t just this single incident, of course. That was the anchor which held the energy of this pain and confusion, though.
I sat for a long time with this little child-of-me and held him. I told him he was safe and innocent, that he didn’t need to be afraid anymore. I had to own the fact which I had been hiding from myself that I was angry with my mother. I had carried this fear with me down through the years and it had shaped my life in hard-to-reconcile ways.
This became the trailhead to a new path for me. A little at a time I began to allow myself to grow up internally. I found that I could deal with conflict and not flee in a panic. I could look a strong woman in the eyes. I could speak my own truth.
I have told my mother this story and she was horrified to think that she had caused me such pain. The trouble with viewing these situations through rational, adult minds is that we deny the way children see the world. A child’s mind is forming along with their self-concept. As a result, seemingly minor events can loom large because they hold symbolic power.
There is so much more to talk about here, of course. The very fact of our intimacy with Mother because she wove us inside her body means that these issues run deep and are often hidden in the shadow of our psyches.
But the world is asking us to have courage. We are begging each other to face these possibly irrational but powerful fears and ask of them what we must know if we would be whole, actualized beings.
As Joseph Campbell once wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
This is never more true than in the case of dealing with our Mommy Issues. Inside that shadow is our finest stuff and our true power to live fully.
And regardless of how great or horrible our mothers might have been on an objective scale, we must honor them for being the doorway through which we entered this world. Without them, we couldn’t be here; we couldn’t embark upon our own Hero’s Journey and find our personal Holy Grail. Each of us has been given that opportunity by our mothers. Healing and self discovery is the worthy quest of a lifetime and for the entry point to this we thank them.
by Jacob Nordby
“Hello,” Life says, “Remember me?
We started out together here
When you were just a bundle
Of innocent amazement.
Remember how you saw the world
With nothing but wonder?
We were such rowdy playmates then.
We painted on the sky with clouds
And made magic out of
Clothespins and peanut butter.
Remember, can you, how I became stained and heavy
Not safe now. Lots of no.
They dressed me in painful clothes
And made you wear them, too.
You don’t recognize me, do you
But I’ve never abandoned you
Or lost my wild, happy desire
To show you
Play with you
Hide and seek down twisty paths
And always discover more.
Want to run away with me again?
Shall we elope without ever leaving
Because that’s possible, you know.
I’ve never been anywhere but here
Waiting for you
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Photo credit: Flickr Commons/Dave Bleasdale
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Author’s Note: Clearly, men are not the only ones bedeviled with Mommy Issues. I invite women to comment and share their side of this issue.