Monday, June 22, 2015

The Rivalry That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Oscar Wilde once said: "As long as a woman can look 10 years younger than her daughter, she is perfectly satisfied." It sums up the conflict that women so often feel within: while they love their daughters and want the very best for them, pangs of jealousy can strike – and often.




A mother's jealousy of her daughter is still taboo, but the relationship between a mother and her female offspring can be one of the most hostile and competitive alliances within the family unit.
Most psychologists declare that it is inevitable and completely natural for a mother to feels envy towards her daughter throughout different cycles of her life. It's only reasonable to draw comparisons and similarities between herself and her daughter. It's not surprising then that the mother/ daughter relationship can be the trickiest and most fractious of all, especially during a girl's teenage years. "Because people feel that envy is so shameful, they're reluctant even to admit to it, so it's not easy to bring it out into the open," says Windy Dryden, one of the leading practitioners of psychotherapy in the UK.

However, the notion of mutual mother/daughter jealousy or envy is an old one in psychology, known as the Electra complex. In her recent book, 'Difficult Mothers: Understanding and Overcoming their Power', psychologist Terri Apter maintains, a woman who suffers envy of her daughter is likely to be powerless in many other areas of her life. "A mother's envy betrays the most basic terms of the parent/child emotional contract, which is to take pleasure in seeing a child thrive," says Apter. "An envious mother resents her child's positive development. She sees her daughter as someone she herself should be, and believes, on some level, that her daughter is depriving her of the talents and achievements and happiness she craves."

Psychotherapist Bernadette Ryan, agrees, and feels a mother can vent her anger and frustration to conceal jealousy in all sorts of ways.
"Dressing inappropriately, trying too hard to be your daughter's friend, being overly critical or harsh, overly strict or indulgent and restricting freedom or giving too much are all signs. It can come out in comments about your daughter's dress, friends, activities," says Ryan.

Strong father/daughter relationships can also fuel the jealousy of a mother. "Mother, father and daughter can end up in a triangle, in which Dad feels so thrilled to have a little girl that he
lavishes all his love and affection on her, leaving mum feeling left out and neglected," says relationship psychologist Jacqueline Marson. Family therapist Owen Connolly believes that often, when a young girl is enjoying the stage of being 'daddy's little princess', a mother can resent the child as she is getting all the attention from dad. "This can be the beginning of the breakdown in the daughter/ mother relationship. A father recognising his girl needs to have an early relationship with him should not be seen by mum as a threat but as an early attachment to dad," says Connolly.
"This familiar dynamic with dad usually finishes by the time the little girl is eight years of age with a successful transfer to mum, where she holds the responsibility of helping her to be happy in her skin and her sexuality. Mum is the 'queen maker'."

However, this transfer doesn't always necessarily happen. Television cook Nigella Lawson recently spoke out about her difficult childhood and how her depressed mother Vanessa Salmon, who died from liver cancer in 1985, "just didn't like" her. Growing up with the constant threat of her mother's short fuse pushed her towards, and made her inseparable from, her father Nigel Lawson. Nigella has said that part of the reason for her mother's unhappiness might have been jealousy at her close relationship with her father. The foodie recalls her devotion to her father: "In the evening when I was doing A-levels, he would come home and, since he didn't like drinking alone, would say, 'Darling come and have a drink with me while you're doing homework'."

Writer Nuala O'Faolain also confessed before she died in 2008 that she was jealous of her partner's daughter, Anna, and how it left him feeling 'torn' between the two of them. In a documentary on the late writer, Anna revealed how Nuala competed with her for the attentions of her father. "It was a new thing for me for a girlfriend of my father's to be jealous of me. I was eight years old," Anna said. "She would complain to him about how he spent too much time with me and I would complain to him about how he spent too much time with her. She never really blamed me. She always blamed herself. She knew she had some problems with attention that she didn't get when she was a child, I guess. And she carried those issues throughout her life." John, a Brooklyn lawyer, described how Nuala, who displayed low self-worth, would compete for his affections and appraisals. He said: "She (Nuala) just easily felt that she was second. She would say that. And I would say, 'Well, Anna's just a child'. She would say, 'Well, I'm just a child, too'."

Physicality also has a part to play in an older woman's envy of her youthful offspring. Women eye up, study and compare themselves to their peers, but what happens when 'that other woman' is your own daughter?
The moment when a daughter flourishes and blossoms often coincides with a mother's transition to middle age. Being overshadowed in the house by a younger, trimmer, firmer and more beautiful woman at the same time as one battles the onset of middle age can, understandably, be difficult to deal with. "In middle age, a woman is pushed out of the sexual limelight, and as she sees her daughter achieve the first blush of maturity, she can grow envious," says Apter. When your own clothes no longer look as good, but everything hangs beautifully from your nubile daughter, it can be hard to accept.

"Mothers can experience both envy and jealousy; envy of their daughter's beauty and youth, and jealousy that the daughter now possesses what she once had and is losing fast," says Ryan. "These feelings are mostly unconscious and are coupled with the fact that the mother loves her daughter, and may be fearful or repulsed by these feelings if they do come into her awareness." Supermodel Cindy Crawford, who was discovered at 16, admitted recently she got a little jealous of her 10-year-old daughter Kaia, despite being one of the world's most revered beauties with a stellar career to boot. At a one-off modelling project, Cindy's daughter starred in a Young Versace campaign in 2011, which resulted in the elder catwalk model yearning for her once-youthful gravity-defying figure. The mother of two, who is now 46, said: "I look at my daughter and I'm like, 'You have my old skin and I want it back. You have my old legs, I want them back. You have my old hair, I want it back." Crawford has since put a halt to her daughter's modelling career, saying she is too young for the harshness of the industry.

So, if one of the world's most beautiful women feels a little threatened by her pre-pubescent daughter, can you blame us mortals for feeling something similar. Rumours also circulated in 2010 that Angelina Jolie was jealous of her daughter Shiloh, her first biological child with Brad Pitt. According to Beverly Hills psychologist Dr Lillian Glass, Jolie dressed "the adorable tot like a boy because she was feeling insecure that she was no longer the most photogenic member of her family. I believe Angie is actually jealous of her beautiful little girl, so much so that she gets the child's hair closely cropped and dresses her in hand-me-down clothes from her brothers.
In recent pictures of Shiloh, her outfits have consisted almost entirely of boys' clothes. While Angie is undoubtedly one of the world's most glamorous women, I suspect she also secretly desires to be the most feminine star of the Pitt-Jolie family," Glass adds. The Jolie-Pitts, however, contend that Shiloh relates to her masculine side more, and prefers to be referred to as John.

Another nasty side to maternal jealousy is trying to compete with a daughter on a sexual level by dolling oneself up in skimpy attire, overtly flirting with boyfriends and competing for male 
attention. When Britney Spears was carried out of her house to be hospitalised for a mental-health evaluation in 2008, she apparently kept screaming that her mother wanted to admit her because "she wants to sleep with my boyfriend".
Every daughter wants to be judged on their own merit and ability, not to hang on their mother's coat tails, and many chase down professional success accordingly. This can affect mothers who feel their career prospects and possible promotion are dwindling as they enter the autumn of their lives. Thus, career envy is another source of angst for mothers, as Apter argues in her book. "A mother who demonstrates envy when a child succeeds is likely also to be an inflexible mother who has high expectations of her child. This leaves her child with ambivalence about achievement: she tries to meet her mother's demands by excelling, and then discovers that this increases her exposure to maternal anger. At one time, maternal envy of successful daughters was thought to be common; it was thought that mid-life women felt powerless themselves, and feared a successful daughter would reject and despise them," Apter adds.

American documentary film-maker and writer Eleanor Coppola was very honest in her memoirs when she spoke about her accomplished daughter, Sofia, successfully juggling her career as director, producer, screenwriter and actress. Eleanor never had as lengthy or as successful a film career as her daughter. Born in 1936, the wife of director Francis Ford Coppola and mother of three did not have the same access to opportunity as her offspring. "I am very happy for Sofia, happy that Francis is being such a good father and mentoring her, but I also feel a hot, aching jealousy in my chest. I'm trying to just notice my emotions, the way I was instructed in Zen meditation, to neither wallow in them nor push them aside," she said. 


Marie Murray, clinical psychologist and family therapist, believes mothers comparing different lifestyles with their daughters' is inevitable, but it does not necessarily come from a place of envy and destruction. "While the past few generations of women may sometimes, understandably, have wished that the opportunities and equalities their daughters take for granted were available in their time, they equally celebrate anything that enhances the life of their child," she says. Family therapist Owen Connolly, meanwhile, believes mother/ daughter jealousy to be the worst thing that could happen to any girl. His practice receives many clients who have experienced a lifetime of this type of jealousy – the constant undermining and put-downs, the flirting with their boyfriends and the subsequent criticism of their parenting, which really hurts. "The young woman can't understand what is going on, as she has tried her hardest to please her mother – and no matter what she does, nothing seems to please," Connolly explains. "When I share my opinion with them, it is such great relief. They start to recover their self-worth and, interestingly, they want to forgive their mother, as they have always wanted to love them." While it might be easy to understand the roots of this maternal jealousy, it's not healthy, nor should it be excused. "The important thing is to acknowledge the possibility, to acknowledge these very human and understandable feelings, to aspire to being 'the good enough' mother who is both good and not so good, not super mum – that is the way of damage limitation," concludes Ryan.

One woman's mom resents her success


Q. I believe my mother is jealous of me. My life is better than hers (relationships, material goods, job, friends, etc.) and I really think she resents me for it. She gets nasty when I reach a goal, make a significant purchase, am honored by friends, etc. She harbors this resentment to throw back in my face at a later date. I simply cannot imagine not wanting the best for my children. Is it possible for a parent to be jealous of a child?

A. Yes, it is. All human beings are prone to feelings of jealousy, envy and resentment. It isn’t uncommon for parents to have twinges of negative feelings toward their children, though these are usually overshadowed by positive and loving feelings. Feeling envy, however, and acting upon it are two different things. It sounds as though your mother is making her resentment all too clear. Unfortunately, as life goes on, people can feel great regret for opportunities forgone, goals unreached and paths untaken. 

Parents, feeling bad about how their own lives are turning out, can target their grown or growing children. The children, a generation younger, still have choices and possibilities up ahead, or may have had success of their own. Of course, many parents do want the best for their children.  Their children are partly products of their love and nurturing, so they take pride in having helped create such successful lives. At the same time, however, parents can feel pangs of regret. They wish they were still young, with the world ahead of them. This is especially true if they themselves don’t feel effective, or if they lack satisfaction in their own lives.

It is painful to have your mother acting with nastiness and spite toward you. This might make you question your 'loveability' from someone who should love you unconditionally - your mother. But this isn’t about you. It is about your mother and her own feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness. She might well be too self-absorbed and too mired in her own misery to understand the impact her negativity is having on you. Rather than engaging in arguments with her, I suggest you defuse things by pointing out that her reactions make you feel she wants you to fail. Maybe there are ways you can help her feel more successful or active on her own - encourage her to get a job, do volunteer work, take craft lessons, meet more regularly with friends. 

You should also be more cautious when sharing your successes with her. It's possible you come off as crowing or gloating, or are setting up subtle comparisons with your mother. Try to avoid saying things like, “I can afford this nice coat because my job pays more than yours ever did,” or “My husband treats me better than dad treats you.” If your mother is truly unable to be happy for you, you will be better served if you don’t share too many positive details of your life with her. Downplay your success. Rather than continuing this cycle, you should find others who can be supportive. Stick to neutral topics when you interact with your mother. While it’s unfortunate to relate to your mother in a limited way, it is less damaging than the way you are currently relating to her.


Bottom Line:  Parents can have mixed feelings toward their childrens’ success, with pride and envy co-existing. If there is too much negativity, look for support elsewhere.


Culled and edited. Images: Google

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