Question: Dear Luise: Thanks for reading this. I am a 19 year-old college student, and while these years in study are supposed to be the best of your life, they couldn’t be more of a hell for me. My relationship with my mother has never been worse — And I don’t know how much more I can go on. I never remember being a bad kid — I always did well in school, I never had friends, so I never partied or did crazy things like some kids do. All my life all I ever sought from people was approval. I know it might seem cliché and overdone, but it’s true. To so many people, it seems impossible that someone could go their entire life and not feel loved, appreciated or worthwhile — But I do, that’s me. I don’t know what it’s like to be loved. Maybe it is the same thing as being appreciated. Maybe it is where you feel totally worthwhile, like your whole existence is meaningful and there is finally a spot for you in the world. But I don’t feel like that. I never have. That’s gotten me in a lot of trouble — It’s led to me being over defensive, and unwilling to associate myself to wrongdoing, and given me a callous, disinterested personality — Which has further caused people to back off from me, and not want to see me as being a human being who just desperately wants someone to love them. I remember being a kid, and while everyone thought I was just being overbearing and needy, I just wanted someone to look at me and say: “Wow, great job, you’re a pretty good kid.” Not even *I* realized that was the reason for my behavior until I was much older, and by then, no one cared anymore. My mother is most certainly one of those people. She’d like to say, “Well I did this _____ and this _____ for you, so I was a good mom.” But can you really say you achieved anything as a parent unless your child feels fulfilled? In parenting, is it really about YOU, or is it about your kid, and how they feel, and what they need, and who they are? Whenever my mother talks about me growing up, despite the fact she does not want to listen to my perspective in the slightest, it is always about what SHE did, and how much trouble SHE went through to deal with evil, ol’ me, or about how much SHE is sure that SHE did a great job parenting, because SHE feels like she did. Those kinds of things that she says really make me feel like it is just me, and I have no reason to feel the way I do — But something had to have gone wrong if I feel this way, right? I can’t feel so empty and lonely and self-loathing all the time if everything went as planned? Or could I? I still do that (be overbearing and needy, especially with strangers) — But I am a bit more aware of it, at the very least… I can’t really say that that has stopped the behavior, though. At this point, it’s like an action trigger, or an impulse — It just has to be done when the situation calls for it… For instance, my mother most often would say that when I do something wrong, I am unwilling to ‘take responsibility’, she attributes it to a giant ego (ha!) immaturity, but it’s not it at all. I just don’t want to do anything wrong — I don’t want to have done anything wrong, and I am afraid of doing things wrong. It makes me physically sick when I can see the flaws in something I have done, so I just can’t admit it — I won’t. It’s for my mental health that I don’t. And when I feel like I have done something I should be proud of, I try to get people to notice, her specifically, and she’ll tell me, “What do you want, a parade or something? All you did was __________!” And completely shatter the pride I had in myself for that one, tiny moment. Again, at this point I feel like it is too late for people to care about understand the meaning behind my behavior — So I just try to be the best person I can be and hope that someone will give me the slightest bit of attention for it. It never happens, though.. Even when it does, I can’t stand it. I don’t know why! I finally get what I want, I get someone to say something good to me and I usually break down and flip the situation completely. For example, I recently encountered trouble at college. Me and my teacher had a bit of a battle of the personalities, and when we were called to have a meeting with each other and the dean to work it out — I was in total calm, collected control until the teacher started trying to appeal to me by way of praise and affection, telling me that she valued me and wanted me to continue in her class — At which point, I broke down completely and stormed out of the meeting. I would end up being expelled from the school and have to transfer to another. Of course my mother was quick to let me know that my whole situation was my fault and that I should have tried harder — Despite being at the top of the class with a 96.7% average. I don’t feel I’ll ever be close to my mom, and I know she favors my sister over me, because even the things my sister does wrong are blamed on me. I am just feeling so lonely and helpless and I just wanted someone to listen… Because besides for my mom, I have no one else, and that is probably the scariest part of all. The one person I have in the world doesn’t see how hurt I am, how torn I am… And when she does see it, she says its just me trying to ‘victimize myself’. If she ever saw this she’d say it was me trying to make myself out to be a victim, which isn’t the truth! I just want to say how I feel, and someone to listen to me and tell me I’m not a bad person and I am worthy of love and appreciation just like every other human being on the planet. I’m sorry if this is all jumble. I am just very sad right now and trying to work out half a thought between all the tears and stress. Whether or not you get around to responding — Thank you very much for your time. A.
Answer: Dear A.: Your question is way out of my depth. I have no training. However, I have listened. And since I have had a life-long battle with self worth, (or the lack thereof), I know you are between a rock and a hard place. You only have one enemy and she’s wearing your shoes.
Self worth isn’t external. It’s something you are going to have to create. I would get the best darn counselor on the planet and go for it. I don’t know but it looks to me like you yearn for validation and then when it’s offered, you bolt. That may be because, as much as you want it, you don’t believe it.
What I do know is that your whole life is ahead of you and it’s not working. I’m 85…you don’t want 55 more years of what you have had so far. Fight for yourself! You wrote a very cogent letter and you are very perceptive regarding your struggle. The truth as I see it, is only you have the ability to build self-respect and inner joy. And you probably are going to need help to do it. An advocate with the right training can help you break the patterns that you have created. Your mother didn’t create it. People can have terrible mothers and still do well. And when you break the pattern, friends won’t be a problem.
You deserve so much better. Learn to love yourself and laugh at yourself and even sing to yourself. Whatever it takes. I did it. You can, too. Blessings, Luise