While searching the internet on mother-daughter relationships I was drawn to an article on, “Mother-Daughter Envy: Truth or Fable?” by Dr. Terri Apter. The article mentions viewpoints throughout history from Helene Deutsche to Rebecca Walker and her perspective on the “Electra Syndrome” and Dr. Phyliss Chesler.
Helene Deutche obtained her doctorate in psychological medicine in a time when women rarely were granted to chance to achieve higher education. In 1925 she wrote the first book by a psychoanalyst on women’s psychology; “The Psychology of Women’s Sexual Functions”.
The book and her work were influenced by her studies with Freud and her personal conflicts with her mother. She felt problems are caused in women from a variance between narcissism and a mother’s love.
Like Freud, her theoretical model for female development presumes women must compensate for their lack of a penis; penis envy. She emphasizes feminine masochism, passivity and gives a biological basis to these qualities. Her theories seem to put the stamp of inevitability on self-denigrating female behavior and thus to justify women’s oppression throughout history.
Next in the article, Rebecca Walker’s perspective on the Electra Syndrome is explained. The Electra Syndrome is a Freudian concept that a girl, like a boy is originally attached to the mother, however during the psychosexual developmental stage she discovers she lacks a penis and becomes libidinally attached to her father. She imagines being impregnated by him while she becomes hostile toward her mother. According to the theory, penis envy leads to resentment toward her mother, who is believed to have “castrated” her.” The hostility towards the mother is then later revoked for fear of losing the mother’s love, and the mother becomes internalized.
Dr. Phyliss Chesler argues double standards still exist in mental health and illness and women are often burdened with labels of gender, race, class, or sexual preference. She is an activist for women’s rights, equality and studies women, culture and their affects upon society.
The article expresses unique viewpoints on mother-daughter envy and it brought forth memories of my own experiences with my mother. As a child, I felt as if I could never satisfy or please my mother. There was a constant struggle to receive love from her.
I was also jealous of the attention and dedication given to the men in her life. She catered toward their needs, foregoing her own desires, identity and I felt like an afterthought. She easily became angry with me; perhaps through her own lack of central identification and self-love. Whatever the reason, I became the source where she relinquished her frustrations. She reacted with demeaning words, uncontrollably slapping me in a circular motion, hitting me with her shoe or even throwing the drink from my hand in my face.
As I became a teenager, I grew beyond my years. I looked like I was eighteen when I was thirteen. I was tall and slender with full, voluptuous breasts.
My mother aimed to protect me even though I felt berated for the way I dressed. A daughter’s public exposure and repudiation of her mother is still prominent even in these modern times.
I dressed like any other teenage girl, but well-endowed features made it appear as if I was initially dressing scantily. As we walked down the street, drivers periodically drove by yelling cat calls. My mother shamed me into thinking their behavior is demeaning and men yell at any woman who dresses like a slut. She said, “It isn’t any indication that you are attractive; they look at you as a piece of meat.” I felt I had done something wrong when in fact I was innocent. I was naïve but I wasn’t initially going out of my way seeking attention by men. Her reaction made me think I was the one at fault and I behaved badly.
I didn’t see it at the time but as I look back, she was envious. She disguised the envy with displays of protectiveness, tenderness and love. She had a strange competitiveness that led her to undermine me as almost every turn. She feared my sexuality as she was resentful of my own pleasure, admiration and fun. She certainly had concerns about sex and sexuality. She conveyed the message “You are a strong, young woman but you are unaware of your vulnerability.” It was a combination of maternal protectiveness yet jealousy of my youth and her traditional, old-fashioned values to deny and suppress female desire. She was a big advocate not to have sex outside marriage even though she lost her virginity outside her first marriage at the age of nineteen. She was a hypocrite in her preaching and value system. Her actions did not follow her teachings. As I matured, I looked at things in a more realistic manner and tried to understand what was right for me.
She did encourage masturbation and exploration of your body. It went against her traditional value system, but a good lessoned I have learned as I explored my own sexuality as an adult. Self-exploration brings awareness and an ability to communicate what you like when you are finally in bed with someone whom you care about. You are then able to share your desires openly, confidently and sensually.
The article offered different perspectives on the relationships between a mother and daughter. The dynamics can sway between a mother’s good intentions, personal regret, lack of personal identification and oblivion to her own emotional input to her daughter’s well-being. Mothers may envy their daughters’ youth, sexuality, ambition, and freedom.
On the other hand, a daughter may feel negative emotions of envy, criticism and shame toward her mother and/ or her accomplishments. It is difficult when conflict or condemning viewpoints exist between traditional and liberal values or variances of both.
Regardless both are detrimental to the relationship. The mother- daughter relationship is critical and influential in both women’s lives. It reflects and measures self-love, self-worth, acceptance and tolerance of others and respect and open mind for unique perspectives. Their relationship is extremely impactful throughout their lifetime and affects adult relationships, intimacy and connection. The ability to let go and forgive each other and establish your own self-worth can create the kind of relationship warranted beyond their own.