The other day, I wrote about some of my self-destructive impulses, about how, when lonely, I sometimes act (and often feel compelled to act) in ways that simultaneously exacerbate the sense of loneliness and make me feel responsible for that loneliness, by making me feel ashamed of myself.
I wrote, almost as a throwaway at the end, “I’m pretty sure this is me acting to protect my mother from my own rage.” This confused (or at least, wasn’t immediately clear to) a number of you.
When I was growing up, my mother didn’t meet some of my very basic needs. This left me with two options: I could conclude that she didn’t love me, or that she did love me, but that somehow, I did something to result in, to deserve, her not meeting those very basic needs.
Kids need to believe their parents love them. The alternative is simply unimaginable. AND, kids don’t realize that they’re not the center of the word, that, on some level, they’re not omnipotent. My mother loved me, I believed axiomatically, and everything that happened happened because of something I did. (This is why kids of divorced parents so often believe they caused the divorce; because to imagine themselves simply witnesses to, rather than causes of, such a mammoth event is even more painful.)
So I believed – I had to believe – that my mother’s neglect of me, her failure to attend to my needs, was because I deserved that. I must have done something, been some way, that caused her to neglect me, to abandon me. It couldn’t have been because she was narcissistic, selfish, self-absorbed, indifferent to me. It had to be because I brought it on myself.
In my adult loneliness, in the moments in which I have acted out sexually, a crucial part of what I have done is acting to make crystal clear to me that my loneliness is deserved. I take the freestanding, unbidden, naturally occurring loneliness, which reminds me of the sensation I had at my mother’s knee, and I am confronted with the same choice with which I was confronted as an infant, as a toddler: do I believe that the universe unfairly has created this circumstance? That my mother’s love wasn’t perfect? Or worse? Or do I believe that it must be my fault, that the universe is fair, that my mother did love me, but that I deserve, that I created, my loneliness?
Surely, it’s easier to believe this. And so I do. And, like a corrupt cop, I invent evidence to support my case, to defend my mother.