The challenging mother daughter relationship in the mother later years

The mother daughter relationship is universally complicated and intriguing. As well as being the fountain of nourishment and strength, it can also be the source of frustration and disappointment throughout the lifetime of both parties.

As a woman ages and becomes more vulnerable, it is natural that her dependency needs will be greater. In her later years, she may turn to her daughter/s to provide family structure and support. However, unresolved prior issues between them may taint or contaminate the very connection they both yearn for.This article will present a case study that illustrate this theme. Interwoven in the study will be psychological interpretation that may help the reader to understand the case

Ellen, a twenty two year old school teacher, married Charlie, her school sweetheart ,when she found herself pregnant in the summer of 1963. However, despite good intentions on their part, the marriage failed. Young and naive, Ellen began dating a military man who convinced her to follow him to his job in the Middle East. Prior to leaving, a custody contract was set up wherein the child would live in each country for six months. The plan broke down when Charlie, not only broke his promise to send Charlotte, but secretly took Charlotte to another town in Florida to live. Ellen did not see Charlotte for two years.

During the hiatus of time that Ellen did not see her daughter, certain psychological and personality changes took place in Charlotte. Charlotte desperately missed her mother. In lieu of a maternal presence, she formed a deep attachment with Charlie. Charlie became what is known in certain schools of psychoanalysis as the “good breast”. To explain the “good breast” concept, the “good breast” is the literal and figural icon of the good mother figure who feeds, is affectionate, warm, sweet and kind to the infant. In turn, the infant takes the psychological and physical nourishment into him/herself and feels loved and, secure by the unconditional loving other. In other words, the child, psychologically swallows the good mother image inside of him/her. This swallowed good mother internal photograph is the nucleus for positive self esteem (the child/infant feels loved by the secure and constant maternal object), and later healthy relationships with others, and self. It is not only the good mother feeding which is interjected or swallowed but also her visual presence, her smell, her voice her taste and her body holding the child. it is the goodness infants/children take into their lives.

When the physical feeding is taken over by the father, good bonding can occur as well. The shadow in all of this, is the following: if the paternal figure is angry and has unresolved, aggressive feelings towards the mother, he can implant those feelings into the child, thereby creating a polarized, binary split in the child’s mind;ie, dad is the good, loving figure in my life and mom is the abandoning, rejecting parent. Mom becomes the repository of all bad things that happen in the child’s life. The psychoanalyst behind the thinking of this concept was a famous therapist, Donald Meltzer (1922-2004) whose teachings made him influential in many countries. He called the dumping of bad feelings onto the inferiorized parent “the bad breast”. Meltzer stated that the most primitive form of relief from nasty mental pain and unwanted parts of self are evacuated into the external object, in this case, the” toilet breast” became the mother, Ellen. Meltzer likens the “toilet breast” to the toilet in real life that is the container for flushing away one’s waste and unwanted matter.

After the separation of the 2 parents, Charley became the idealized, wonderful parent who could do no wrong. He became “the good feeding breast”, the parent who Charlotte could posses and adore. Her mom was minimized. Mom was the bad, hateful and parent, worthy of only sadistic, aggressive treatment.

Despite numerous attempts on Ellen’s part to recuperate her relationship with Charlotte, Charlotte would degrade and demean her mother at every opportunity. To Charlotte, her mother was a piece of garbage or garbage container. If her mother would arrange to visit Charlotte, Charlotte would make it a point not to be home. If Ellen gave Charlotte a gift, it would often be thrown out the next day. When Ellen’s granddaughter was born, Charlotte refused to allow Ellen to see her for a year. If Ellen got the rare opportunity to babysit for Emily, her granddaughter, Charlotte would falsely accuse her of neglecting the baby or exposing the child to dangers. Once she accused her mother of stealing photographs from the family album. Another time, Charlotte called or wrote family members to convince them of Ellen’s poor character. Frequently she set up times for Ellen to visit Emily and then would withdraw the visitations.

When Charlotte exhibited these warlike behaviors, it was almost as if she morphed into a clingy, resentful three year old, utilizing the defense of what Freud called reaction formation.When she felt threatened by not getting her demands met, she attacked and used sadistic defenses to compensate for feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.

In the end, Ellen, after futile attempts to show her love, sadly, made the decision to withdraw her contact with Charlotte and Emily. She could see that the sadistic reaction on the part of Charlotte would not improve. Her resistance had given out. Nor did it help that Emily was beginning to mimic her mother’s relentless evacuation of mother hate onto her grandmother by rejecting her and treating her like an unwanted person. As she turned 75 years old, Ellen gave herself the gift of living out the few years she had left without the pain and futility of being the quintessential “bad breast”.