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RELATIONSHIPS

Do You Always Fail At Relationships?

Maybe your mother is to blame

BY Joan Thatiah

Jun 22, 2021, 01:48 PM

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At a glance, 33-year-old Miriam is the kind of woman other women want to be like. She is winging it at her marketing job, she has an enviable friends squad consisting of men and other people listen when she speaks. Her love life on the other hand is a mess. When she speaks about the relationships she’s had in the past, she sounds bitter and conflicted.

“I have had a string of short relationships, more than I can count on one hand just these past two years alone,” she says.

When asked about her role in the breakups, she admits that most of the time, it was her doing.

“I cheated several times or just ghosted a man here and there,” she says.

Njambi, a 31-year-old Nairobi nurse couldn’t be any more different from Miriam. While she seems happy and chatty when in a relationship, she becomes a doormat. She explains that she has this deep-seated need to be part of a relationship that over the years, she has tolerated a truck-load of poor treatment from lovers. 

 “You will not believe half of the things I have been through. But I keep dating these men. Ni kama nimerogwa,” she says.

While their personalities contrast, both women share that they’ve had poor relations with other women. Friendships are hard to forge for both women and the few that survive are riddled with suspicion and distrust.

29-year-old Amuga is flailing at both her career and her love life. She is in between careers at the moment and has been doing what she calls, hop, skip and jump from one bad relationship to the next. The only good thing in her life right now, she says, is her relationship with her mother.

“We don’t have a lot of cash to go around but I think I won the mothers Charity Sweepstake,” she says.

These three women’s experiences represent the everyday lives of Kenyan women. Their lives may seem like a result of bad luck and bad choices but when you look closely, you see deeper running beliefs and behavior patterns.

“They have an unhealed mother wound,” Julius Gitari a Nairobi-based counseling psychologist says.

Mothers Are Human Too

Mothers are the first relationship a child experiences. They are a child’s first home. A mother’s romantic relationships and how she allows the men in her life to treat her becomes the template along which a girl shapes her love life.

 Because they are human, mothers sometimes do not get it right. Some mothers fail at maintaining a good relationship with their children but we don’t talk about it because mothers we want to believe that mothers are perfect. What is left after this is women who can’t even face the wounds caused by their failed relationships with their mothers.

Still whether acknowledged or not a failed mother-daughter relationship has a lifelong impact on her body image and love life.

Interestingly, according to Julius Gitari, the psychologist, how a woman turns out depends not necessarily on the actual relationship she had with her mother but on how she perceived it.

Case in point, Miriam, the 33-year-old marketer. She describes her mother as warm and present. Still, when she thinks of her, she is resentful not because of the things she did but those that she didn’t.

“My father slept around with anything in a skirt for as long as I can remember. He was emotionally abusive towards my mother for all of my and my brothers’ lives. She was a stay-at-home mother and he would withhold money if she had been ‘bad’,” she says.

Instead of hating her father for his behavior, she developed a deep resentment for her mother for staying with him, for laying on the ground, and allowing him to walk all over her. The fact that the older woman thought that staying was securing her children’s future doesn’t ease the resentment that Miriam feels.

 Wanting never to rely on a man as her mother did has seen her grow in her career but her coping mechanisms to the pain her parents’ relationship caused her have hurt her love life.

“I don’t get attached to the men I date and sometimes I sleep with people I shouldn’t. I have sabotaged a few good relationships because I felt someone was getting too close,” she says.

Your relationship with your mother also affects several aspects of your personality. If your mother has a personality disorder, you will not come out unscathed. Njambi who is the daughter of a woman who she describes as a narcissist knows this too well.

Growing up, everything revolved around Njambi’s mother. In fact, for a big chunk of her life, she was an extension of her mother. The older woman took charge of her life from birth imposing on her what to want or feel. She would make snide comments on her weight when she was a teenager and if she attempted to diet or exercise, she would laugh at her. She is still struggling with her body image.

Dr. Karyl McBride’s book, Will I ever be good enough? Healing daughters of narcissistic mothers describes clearly the relationship Njambi shares with her mother. He explains that a narcissistic mother sees her daughter as a reminder of her youth and may even see her as a competition explaining the urge of such a mother to control and put down her daughter.

Women like Njambi can’t take compliments and will go through life downplaying their achievements. They feel unworthy of attention and will thus opt for unavailable and inattentive relationship partners.

Mothers Who Try To Be Best Friends

Television has romanticized bestie relationships between mothers and daughters. Amuga speaks of her mother never really feeling like a parent but like a friend. Having a mother with whom you can talk about anything seems like the dream, right?

Well, not exactly. A relationship like this will mean that the mother is overly permissive and this has its highs and lows. While Amuga didn’t rebel much and wasn’t sneaking out of home to go to Jam Session on Sundays like other teenagers, she has also spent most of her adult life looking for structure.

This kind of relationship is unequal because a mother and daughter never are in the same stage in life. This means that in addition to inadequate guidance and discipline, a daughter who is besties with her mother loses confidence in her views, decisions, and sense of self.

What Can We Do

Whether your mother was smothering or absent, the bad news is that it’s done. The good news is recognizing unhealthy patterns in your upbringing is a big step towards healing your Mommy wound.

Instead of sitting around sulking as you wait for your mother to acknowledge where she failed, take charge of your happiness instead. This means forgiving yourself and her. Go for therapy if you need to.