After I wrote my last post, I had an experience that for me captured the lifelong effects of having a mother who did not adore you. It took place during and after my piano lesson.
In addition to giving piano lessons, my teacher is also an accomplished singer and vocal coach. One of her students — a man in his late 20s who began to study with her when he was seven years old — has gone on to become a world-class opera singer who’ll be performing at the Met this fall. At the beginning of my lesson last week, my teacher showed me a video of a rehearsal that had been filmed, where she provided piano accompaniment to her former student as he prepared for a concert he’ll give next month in Europe. It was an extraordinary performance. This young man is truly an artist, with an exquisitely trained voice.
“You must be so proud of him,” I said.
Her face was beaming as she agreed. “Not only is he an amazing artist but he’s such a well-rounded, truly cultured person.” It was obvious she felt deeply attached to this young man and also admired him.
That evening, I thought back to her remarks, and how I would never be an “amazing artist.” I later caught myself thinking, “I’ve really let my French slip these past two years; I need to get my language skills together.” For me, speaking French has always been tied up with some fairly pretentious ideas of what it means to be “cultured” (see my early post on having a plan for a person). When I realized what I was thinking, I had to laugh at myself … but I also felt a little sad. For many people, when your own mother doesn’t adore you, there’s always an unmet need for someone else to feel that way about you. It became clear to me that, even though I’m ten years older than my teacher, I wanted her to feel about me the way she felt about her former student.
Earlier this week, in session with my client Janice, she was discussing her thoughts about what drives her narcissism. She said that when your mother doesn’t adore you, then you’re all the time trying to do something bigger and better to get her attention, and then later on, the attention of someone else … anyone else! Janice understands all about the shame that’s the residue of failed attachment; she understands how it drives narcissistic behavior of various kinds. The baby whose mother doesn’t adore her never gets over it, not really.
So you might think that making video lectures about my ideas concerning psychotherapy would reflect a wish for people to idealize me because my own mother didn’t. As far as I can tell, it isn’t. While the narcissist wants to be noticed and admired, he doesn’t want to be seen for who he truly is; she wants you to believe in the idealized false self she presents to the world, the one that disproves all that shame she feels at her core. In these videos, I feel as if I’m being seen for who I truly am and I don’t think I come across as in any way ideal.
And in this third video, I feel as if I’m finally comfortable enough to be myself. The sense of humor is still missing, and I do wish I could think of something to smile about, but this one feels fairly close to who I really am and probably not that different from how I come across as a professional.