How trauma and codependency in childhood can cause toxic mommy guilt
I often question why I feel so much guilt as a mother towards my little boy. It’s not only crippling my own experience of being a mother but also sending inaccurate messages to my son which shape the way he views himself and the world.
I feel stricken with guilt every time I feel the effects of my trauma. I blame myself for not being able to shake off the sadness or depression I feel, for the anger that sometimes I can’t hold or the negativity that my critical mind is keeping me a captive to. I feel shame every time I’m not at my best for letting my son down. When I’m unable to be fully preset and responsive to his needs I feel like I’m a failure of a mother.
The worst is that somehow he picks up on these unspoken messages and what I believe happens is that he absorbs that guilt and shame and internalises it, thinking it’s his fault that “mommy feels this way”. Naturally, the only thing he can do is to act up and express his anger to the unfairness of the situation. When I least need him to misbehave – when I’m already triggered and guilt-stricken – that’s when he goes astray, causing my further going down into the shame spiral. Which, in turn, causes him to go further down his process and act up more.
It’s a vicious cycle which quickly turns into a traumatic experience for both of us and we end up hurting each other even more.
I know this is not the natural way of things. I was able to identify with time that this pattern between my son and myself is rooted into the codependent relationship I had with my mother as a child. The guilt that I feel towards my son is beyond any reasonable mother guilt any of us can feel. It is the guilt I felt towards my mom which was caused by my “inability” to ever please her or win her love and acceptance.
Codependency is an extremely unhealthy way of relating and codependent relationships are usually developed when there’s certain emotional, psychological and physical imbalance, insecurity and uncertainty between the people involved. In other words, codependency is very often developed in children of abusive and neglecting/abandoning parents. The effects of it are that the “victims” grow up to believe that receiving love, acceptance and approval is based on them looking after the perpetrator or abuser. They learn to believe that other people’s needs are more important than their own and should always be there to fulfill those needs when they’re being “summoned”. Failure to do so deems them a failure.
My relationship with my mother was certainly an unhealthy, abusive and a codependent one. I have repressed my visual memories from the first 10 years of my life which makes it even harder for me to piece things together and find answers to my recurring pains. But many of the feelings still reverberate in my emotional body and this is how I know. When I first read on Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) I just knew with my body that my mom was a (covert) narcissist even though I didn’t have “proof” in terms of memories.
Narcissism is a form of emotional abuse. In order to survive, the abused person (child) works out certain coping mechanisms and codependency could be one of them.
The way this explains my feelings of guilt towards my son is what I’ve learned as a child from being in an abusive codependent relationship with my mother and the beliefs I’ve been imbued with by her behaviour towards me.
Whenever you fail to be available for the needs of your abuser, you’re being punished and rejected. Whenever you fail to meet the often impossible expectations that have been set upon you, you feel guilt, shame and like a failure. Soon you learn that expressing your own needs and desires is unacceptable and you put them aside. You’re expected to be available and “on duty” non-stop whenever they need you and if you’re not, you’re being guilt-tripped, often called “selfish”, or manipulated, portrayed to you as betrayal. This communicates to you that you don’t have the right to do what you feel like, or what you want to do or not do, or to be the way you are – you have no right to express any form of individuality and independence that clashes with the expectations of the abuser. You become codependent.
This is emotional abuse and psychological manipulation. It leaves long-lasting effects on a person’s wellbeing and can wreak havoc in their lives.
My relationship with my son is an example of these effects and how the trauma I experienced as a child can be reenacted and passed down to the next generation. Unconsciously until recent, due to the way I was taught and treated as a child, I was raising a young narcissist. I have put his needs above mine beyond the natural interdependence of a mother-child relationship. I’ve completely negated my own needs (for his) and whenever I would need more time or space for myself, he would become aggressive and even cruel (just like my mother). My inability to set clear boundaries and have coherent, age-appropriate expectations of my son has passed the message to him that I can do it all and be there always. Every time I deviate and feel that I can’t satisfy the impossible expectations, I feel guilt that I’m betraying him and shame that I’m a failure at being a mother. The only thing he can do is to act up and demand what I’ve taught him by being the omnipresent, oversacrificing mother.
The cycle of trauma and abuse repeats. But the cycle can be broken.
Do you often feel crippling guilt towards your children? How your relationship with your parents affected the way you relate to others? Share in the comments!1
Acknowledging it is the first step in breaking this cycle. Not easy. But I feel you’ve been working on yourself for some time and need the courage or nudge to make the changes necessary to a more loving relationship. Hugs to you friend. ~ Bernice
Thank you, Bernice! I appreciate your encouragement. Indeed the relationship with my son is one that serves as a means for healing and ending the shame and trauma that has been going in my bloodline.