I am curled up, wedged hard between a cold wall and cupboard—both indifferent to the inanimate hug I am trying to get from them. A kind of intense throbbing nerve ache radiates through my chest, down my arms and into my tummy, that visceral, body reaction to intense emotional distress. A strangled, ‘I want a mummy,’ escapes.But then the pictures. Pictures of my own mother. Not kind pictures. Not safe pictures. Not pictures of comfort. I recoil. A mummy—not my own mummy.I cry. Deep sobbing. No one can hear me. This secret kaleidoscope of little parts: baby, pre-
I needed to be wanted, for my mother to be glad that I existed. I so needed that. Instead I feel I am an imposter, trying at times not to be here at all, fearing that I am a nuisance and that the space I take up is somehow stealing a ride in this thing called life.
I needed to be loved and special to someone; I needed my mum to love me. But instead I am nothing, I am no one. And I think that there must be something deeply wrong with me—it must somehow be who I am, not simply what I do, that makes me unlovable and rejected. I needed those looks of delight from her, the gentle touch and body language of attuned care. I needed holding and containing.
Once, as an adult, I watched a mother with her child. The six–year–old was being obstinate, difficult and irritable. The mother dealt with her with patience over and over, until at last she simply opened her arms and pulled the little girl onto her lap… ‘Oh Miriam,’ she said, ‘I do love you.’ And like magic, the child melted into peaceful containment. I want that mother.
I need to be ‘seen’, to be known, to be accepted. Connected. But to my mother, I don’t exist. I cannot find myself and no one else is looking. I fall down the rabbit hole of fear and no one sees I’ve gone. Very occasionally I am brave, or reckless, and I say something of what I think or feel. If I am acknowledged at all, I am told I am wrong, that I don’t feel that way. Or mocked. Later, I feel puzzled when I catch sight of myself in mirrors or shop windows—who is that? Then I remember that I do seem to exist and that the stranger is me, at least I think so. It is a disconnect. I am connected to no one, not even myself.
I needed to be allowed to need. From the very start my cries were annoying and left my mother feeling violent towards me. When you put the baby down the garden so you don’t have to hear her, she will quickly learn early the power of shame at her inability to meet her own needs. Overwhelmed and alone from the start: just add abuse. I needed protection. I carry the shame of neglect.
I needed respect. Respect for my childlike capacities, my boundaries, my body, my uniqueness as a person. None of those things were respected. I was fearful, powerless, person-
But now I am an adult. Or at least I am meant to be. I carry these unmet mother–needs like molten lava inside of me and can find no place to take them. If there was no place for this child, who would want to soothe or comfort this adult? Where can I find the safe place, the rest, the place I don’t have to guard myself from assault? Where can I take off the mask of casual indifference, of I–don’t–really–mind, of smiling, of ‘I’m fine’? Where can I stop hiding behind the mask of hypervigilance, under which there are layers and layers of pain and fear and desperate hiding children? Imposter syndrome—I’m not an adult, not really. I just ended up in the body of one and had to fashion together an acceptable skin. And it is this thin skin, this cobbled-