Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Daughters of Madness | Adolescence, Young Adulthood, Adulthood

Continuing from my discussion about Daughters of Madness: Infants, Early Childhood, Middle Childhood, the last sections of Susan Nathiel's book covers adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood. 

Adolescence: The adolescence section covers how very controlling mothers search through daughters' possessions in a violent and intrusive way (p 85). Specifically, personality-disordered mothers undermine privacy and do so in a demeaning way -- and my mother was no exception. And after the violation of trust, she would make the situation out to be my fault. Equally confusing, which this section also covers, is the silent treatment. My mother used the silent treatment often which led to her leaving crazy notes around the house. Once she was over her anger and rage, the incident would never be spoken of again. As one of the women cited in the book stated, "I could never figure out what I could have done wrong. I was a straight A student. I tried my best at everything. I never knew what she was thinking was so bad about me" (p 86).

Further, the adolescence section covers how the personality-disordered mother makes dating difficult, seemingly on purpose (p 86). My mother was very inappropriate around boys who arrived to take me on a date. She would flirt, strut, and wear revealing clothes. She batted her eye lashes and engage in inappropriate conversation. All of this was an attempt to be "cool." Nathiel further explores the mother in public, which experiences can be embarrassing and shameful. My mother attracted attention by being inappropriate. One episode particularly stands out: we were  dining at a very fine dining restaurant with a large group of people. I didn't know any of the people, and my mother only knew one. During dinner, which was very formal and filled with dining etiquette, my mother spoke loudly and fully about her hysterectomy. I remember feeling very embarrassed and wanting to crawl under the table and hide. Horrified dinner guests stared back at my mother as she continued to tell the gruesome and gross tale.

An evaluation of the Borderline in regard to Emotional Intelligence: The Borderline and Emotional Intelligence

Young Adulthood: Predominately through my adolescence, I set my sights to get through high-school so I could leave for college on my own-- to break free. Nathiel (p 114) tells of Pat who also "got out of there as soon as I could." I kept telling myself that if I could survive those high-school years, I would be out on my own and taking care of myself-- no more confusion, manipulations, fear, anxiety, and craziness.

Although I made it out of the mess, I felt terrible leaving my brother behind. I stayed in touch (coming home for weekends) but an estrangement instigated by my mother shortly ensued. With my brother still in high-school, I managed to stay close and in-touch with him during the weekends. On p 123, one of the interviewed stated that she felt really guilty about leaving her younger sister alone with her parents. Although we were free, we still didn't find that happiness and peace knowing that our sister / brother was left in the midst of the craziness. And my brother ended up homeless shortly after as my mother kicked him out.

Nathiel also discusses resilience through this period, which I definately found solace in my running, writing, and music. Many of the people Nathiel interviewed also had similar tactics to survive these years (p 114 - 118). Young adulthood features going out into the world-- and the need to create boundaries. Nathiel talks about the establishment of appropriate boundaries, and with my mother, once we repaired our relationship after a 5 year estrangement, my mother began to press those boundaries. 

Regardless, I didn't let anything stop me. I was a business woman, single and on-my-own, and enjoying all facets of life. My mother would say how she would have loved to experience how I was living but she had to raise two kids at my age. She would attempt to make me feel badly when I planned a trip away with friends-- always stressing the fact that she had to raise kids. A reminder from my childhood: my mother told my brother and me that if she had a chance to do life again, she wouldn't have kids. So, these words continue to resonate, even into young adulthood.

Another point that Nathiel makes is that the young adult goes as far and as fast as they can, without looking back (p 124). I completely understand this statement as I lived this. I went out into the world, full gusto, and became the independent person. I didn't rely on anyone but myself, and I didn't look back. I actually didn't start to analyze my childhood / adolescence / young adulthood until my 30's when I was in the midst of another estrangement brought on by my mother. I was completely confused at this point, debating where I could claim responsibility and where my mother was responsible. I would discuss and analyze with my dear friends until the wee-hours of the morning. No matter how I assessed the situation, being rejected by my mother was not an easy situation to rationalize. 

Adulthood: Into adulthood, I had a relationship with my mother but a very superficial and not authentic. Nathiel expresses that by this point, "someone with so many layers of nonverbal and verbal memory, and so much early instability and deficit, can come to integrate all of this into some coherent whole sense of self without having a good therapist at some point" (p 139). My saving grace, my huge fortune in life, was my friends who opened their ears and hearts to me. I spent countless hours discussing with my friends about my relationship (or lack thereof) with my mother. I also bought book after book after book, reading to try to understand my mother and to figure out what I could do to have a healthy and happy relationship with her. 

We had been in and out of estrangements from my childhood up to this point of adulthood. Nathiel talks about cutting off contact. She states that no-contact is powerful and establishes a feeling of adult equality. If the parent is powerful enough to reject and wound the child, the child grown up may need to retaliate, powerfully, when she is strong enough (p 143). Interestingly, the estrangements with my mother have been started by her. Her fear of abandonment and rejection result in a self-fulfilling prophecy with her cutting ties with me then claiming to be the victim (primary characteristic of BPD). Nathiel has some poignant observations about no-contact in this same section, mainly regarding boundaries and stopping chaotic situations that the parent has pulled the adult child into. 

Some powerful passages are contained in this section regarding elderly mothers and mothers as grandmothers. The one that really struck me was when one of the interviewed was by her mother's deathbed. She couldn't hug her but was able to say that she was happy her mother isn't suffering anymore. The strength that this daughter exhibited is amazing. Another powerful passage is where one of the interviewed talked about having a child and with that child she realized all the things her own mentally ill mother had missed. I can totally relate. She continues by saying, "I never felt sorry for myself, and I never saw how much I missed. But I saw how much she missed as a mother-- she never made that kind of connection to me at all. It was overwhelming" (p 161). These are very profound statements that I have felt reverberate through my experiences being a mother. 

After-thoughts & More: The book closes with some after-thoughts, what do we need to learn, and an appendix of the interviewed biographies. The after-thoughts wrap the book up nicely, noting that many of the mothers are unwilling to change-- which I feel is the case with my mother. She not only doesn't want to change but she doesn't want to talk about any of it and doesn't want to claim responsibility.  She would rather continue the facade of being the victim. Additionally powerful is the discussion of violations of trust. The crux of my issues with my mother at this point are trust. I cannot trust her-- she has attacked and rejected me repeatedly through my entire life. She is a known danger that I cannot trust around my daughter. And I also don't want my husband or myself further hurt by her. As many of the interviewed stated, the worst part of being a "daughter of madness" is not having a mother. I can say that is true for me too. And in regard to the best part of being a "daughter of madness" is having resilience. 

Overall, this book was very insightful, rich with interviews of daughters of madness. The sections were effectively woven together and synthesized into a powerful narrative that speaks for daughters of mentally ill mothers. I learned a great deal of how emotional abuse and experiences while we are infants effects us into adulthood. I also appreciate how our experiences with our mentally ill mothers mirror each other-- just as if our mothers had a physical ailment that manifested itself with the same symptoms, our mother's mental illness manifest themselves with similar symptoms. Daughters of madness have this common bond. 


  1. Thank you so very much for your reviews and observations regarding this and other publications. Your ability to integrate the material into your own experiences has often left me nodding my head and thinking, "Yes, this reflects my observations/experiences with my Personality Disordered mother as well."
    I follow your blog regularly and have referred others to your site as well. Although you may not receive many comments rest assured there are more than a few of us who are reading and have benefitted as a result of your efforts. However, it's a bit of a challenge to post a comment when the author of the blog has so eloquently tied together all the desperate parts of the puzzle as well as the challenges and heart break/trauma we have endured throughout our lives with a parent who has a mental disorder.

    Again, many thanks. You are on my "must read" list!

  2. You are so very welcome-- and thank you for taking the time to comment :) I appreciate your readership-- and I am thankful for your input. I keep up with my blog stats, and the blog has approximately 6,000 +/- views per month, which keeps me motivated to write and share :) I get many emails, which people may not comment on the actual blog post but we communicate via email. Thank you so much for your support ... and thank you for making my day with your thoughtful comments :) Much appreciated!