Dec 04

“Daughter Detox”: Dealing with “Unloving Mothers”

One of the conundrums for the daughter of the emotionally unavailable mother is puzzling through how her mother can be physically present and emotionally absent at once. For the young child, this is emotionally confusing and, as the child matures, it may stay that way and create a well of deep self-doubt. Peg Streep, author of Daughter Detox (Psychology Today)

Peg Streep knows all about “mean mothers” and the need for “daughter detox.” Her book Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt was previously featured on this blog, so today’s post is about her more recent Daughter Detox and its companion workbook in which “unloving mothers” and their effects are explained.

In the 2017 Daughter Detox: Recovering from An Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life Streep outlines seven stages toward healing:

  1. Discovery: recognizing the eight different types of toxic maternal behaviors (see Mean Mothers post) and realizing any of these may have affected you
  2. Discernment: assessing the damage more closely
  3. Distinguish: “allows us to see why so many of us end up in unsatisfying relationships, chose the wrong partners, or are unable to develop close friendships”
  4. Disarm: unhealthy patterns and trigger responses are among the behaviors examined
  5. Reclaim: learning empowerment and starting to make healthier choices
  6. Redirect: changing how to relate to your mother
  7. Recover: developing a plan for moving on with healing

For further assistance, Streep’s The Daughter Detox Guided Journal and Workbook: A 7-Stage Process To Help Recover from an Unloving Mother and Reclaim Your Self-Esteem may prove even more effective as a self-help guide.

Also available are many blog posts by Streep. Check out the following links at her website and at Psychology Today.

In one post from last year (Psychology Today) Streep lists and explains 12 things daughters of toxic moms wrongly learn. Click on the link for details.

1. That she’s to blame for her mother’s treatment of her

2. That she can fix the relationship — with her mother or anyone else

3. That her essential character is set in stone

4. That her feelings are illegitimate (and not to be trusted)

5. That the peace is always worth keeping

6. That it’s normal for people to act hurtfully or use hurtful words

7. That independence and interdependence are mutually exclusive

8. That boundaries are like walls

9. That someone always has to be in control

10. That people aren’t to be trusted (especially women)

11. That love is a transaction

12. That she can’t be healed

Another interesting Psychology Today post by Streep lists five wishes, along with suggested strategies, that unloved daughters often have. It’s emphasized that these are beyond the basic wish to be loved by one’s mother and/or to understand why one isn’t loved by Mom.

There isn’t an answer, of course, to the question, ‘Why doesn’t my mother love me?’ The chances are good that even if she were able to admit to herself—which is unlikely—she wouldn’t be able to answer it. More importantly, as long as you keep asking the question, you remain focused on your mother and remain in her orbit. The only person you can change is you.

You can go to the link above in order to read fuller descriptions of these five wishes:

1. Feeling secure about decisions

2. Being able to act rather than react

3. Being able to accept herself, perfectly imperfect

4. Being able to manage her emotions

5. Feeling free of the past

Material from blog posts such as those mentioned above can of course also be found in Streep’s Daughter Detox book and workbook.

May 09

“The Joy Luck Club”: Universal Mother-Daughter Issues

Suyuan: Not expect anything! Never expect! Only hope! Only hoping best for you. That’s not wrong, to hope. Jing-Mei ‘June’ Woo: No? Well, it hurts, because every time you hoped for something I couldn’t deliver, it hurt. It hurt me, Mommy. And no matter what you hope for, I’ll never be more than what I am. And you never see that, what I really am. Mother-daughter dialogue from The Joy Luck Club

The above lines from Wayne Wang‘s The Joy Luck Club (1993), a film about the lives, past and present, of four Chinese women and their 30-something Chinese-American daughters, are the most memorable from my long-ago viewing.

From Janet Maslin‘s film review, New York Times:

…both sweeping and intimate, a lovely evocation of changing cultures and enduring family ties. Admirers of the best-selling novel [by Amy Tan] will be delighted by the graceful way it has been transferred to the screen. Those unfamiliar with the book will simply appreciate a stirring, many-sided fable, one that is exceptionally well told.

There’s a narrator, June:

…Ming-Na Wen has the pivotal role of June, who is off to find her long-lost siblings and whose going-away party becomes the pretext for bringing all these characters together. June is still mourning the recent death of her mother, which makes it odd that the party is so lavish and jolly that it includes barely a trace of grief.

Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com, further explains the premise:

The ‘Joy Luck Club’ of the title is a group of four older Chinese ladies who meet once a week to play mah jong, and compare stories of their families and grandchildren. All have made harrowing journeys from pre-revolutionary China to the comfortable homes in San Francisco where they meet. But those old days are not often spoken about, and sometimes the whole truth of them is not known.

Generations clash:

In America, the mothers find it hard to understand the directions their daughters are taking. Some marry whites, who have bad table manners. They move out of the old neighborhood into houses that seem too modern and cold. One daughter despairs of ever satisfying her mother, who criticizes everything she does.

Arguing last year for The Joy Luck Club “to be forgiven by Asian Americans”—the ones who’d rejected it under the pressure of it being the only film representing this particular population—Inkoo Kang (Slate) wrote:

The epic, gut-wrenching, emotionally layered melodrama gives tear-jerkers a good name…(I)t’s still surprisingly resonant, even modern. In the China scenes, the mothers fight for survival amid war, sexual assault, and life-destroying marriages. Lindo gets off relatively easy by ‘only’ being affianced to a stranger at age 4. (In her teens, she cleverly schemes to escape her arranged marriage.) As a girl, An-Mei learns that her mother, who became a lowly fourth wife after the death of her first husband, was raped by her new spouse, then had her child from that attack stolen by a more powerful wife. These traumas influence how these mothers raise their Chinese American daughters, most of whom are on the verge of marriage or divorce. ‘You don’t know the power you have over me,’ cries Lindo’s daughter, Waverly, fearing that her mother doesn’t approve of her fiancé. ‘Nothing I do could ever, ever please you.’ But Lindo, who had been fearing that her swanky, corporate-lawyer daughter is ashamed of her, is determined to make Waverly understand—by telling her own journey toward valuing herself—how much she trusts her adult child’s judgment and ability to make her own choices. The scenes in which daughters Lena and Rose reclaim their self-worth from the men in their lives are as satisfying and relevant as any in feminist movies today.

I’ve often considered re-seeing this highly female-centric film. Watch the trailer below:

Jan 26

Check Out “The Dressmaker” Next

[P.J. Hogan] adapts the Rosalie Ham novel, a neo-feminist soap opera, to salute the indefatigable brotherhood and sisterhood of women and gay men who struggle to find acceptance and love. Armond White, Out, regarding The Dressmaker

As highlighted in my recent post about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and another on 2017 films, I believe this film has had particular appeal to women and other outsiders. And if you liked Three Billboards, I think you’ll also like The Dressmaker.

Barely accessible via theaters when it came out in 2016, The Dressmaker has been seen mainly by home viewers taking a stab at a relatively unknown film that happens to star a stunningly good Kate Winslet.

As Jenna Marotta (Decider) points out, The Dressmaker not only deserves our viewing but “should be a cause célèbre as the woman-directed and co-written adaptation of a woman’s novel, starring, fittingly, a woman.” In addition, P.J. Hogan, co-writer with his wife Jocelyn Moorhouse, happens to be a feminist and LGBT-friendly scribe.

Marissa Martinelli, Slate, sets up the story line, which involves Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Winslet) returning to her small Australian town 25 years “after being cast out as a child for allegedly killing a schoolmate, a crime she barely remembers.” What really happened back then is only gradually revealed.

While the years and a well-tailored wardrobe have transformed Tilly from duckling to swan, not much has changed in Dungatar: not the uptight, sadistic schoolteacher who served as chief witness against her (Kerry Fox); not the plain, sullen shopkeeper’s daughter who sold her down the river when they were kids (Sarah Snook); and certainly not the father of the boy she killed (Shane Bourne), a town councilor with some nasty secrets and an extremely disturbing domestic life.

Watch the trailer below:

What drives Tilly as she re-enters her town? Martinelli: “[She] never really seems all that interested in either redemption or revenge—just answers, really.”

Armond White (Out): “A sense of emancipation courses through The Dressmaker as Tilly confronts her oppressive past.”

The film uses both comedy and drama, notes Manon de Reeper (Film Inquiry), to highlight a variety of women’s and human issues, including “domestic violence and marital rape, misogyny, cross-dressing, even the use of medical cannabis by the elderly.” 

De Reeper’s critique conclusion is one I wholeheartedly support:

The Dressmaker is hilarious, touching, it’s visually pleasing, it’s well-written and has interesting characters, in particular the female ones, who are in control throughout the story…I daresay that if you want to watch a movie that attempts to break taboos (without punching you in the face with it), is a ton of fun, and if you enjoy a woman’s story told from a woman’s point of view, it certainly is essential viewing – even for men.

Dec 15

“Terms of Endearment”: Classic Mom-Daughter Drama

It just so happens that Greta Gerwig, the writer and director of this year’s highly popular indie movie Lady Bird, recently revealed that one of her favorite movies is Terms of Endearment (1983), which, like Lady Bird, features a conflictual but loving mother-daughter relationship.

Interestingly, “Wesley Morris noted recently in the New York Times that over the last 34 years, only two best-picture Oscar winners (‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘Chicago’) featured two or more major female characters who actually talked to each other” (Michael Phillips,Chicago Tribune).

The film was based on Larry McMurtry‘s novel, also titled Terms of Endearment, which came out in 1975 and is briefly summarized on Amazon: “Aurora is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her, including a string of devoted suitors. Widowed and overprotective of her daughter, Aurora adapts at her own pace until life sends two enormous challenges her way: Emma’s hasty marriage and subsequent battle with cancer.”

Vincent Canby, New York Times, describes the gist of Aurora and Emma’s connection in the movie adaptation:

The film is the story of a possibly smothering mother-daughter relationship that is immediately defined in the film’s very first scene: A young Aurora Greenway ([Shirley] MacLaine) insists on waking her infant daughter, Emma (later to be played by the equally incandescent Debra Winger), to make sure the baby hasn’t succumbed to crib death, while the voice of her off-screen husband tells her, in polite terms, to lay off the kid. Aurora’s problem throughout ‘Terms of Endearment’ is that she can’t.

Watch the trailer below:

In a nutshell, over the course of 25 years a lot of interesting things happen. Emma marries Flap (Jeff Daniels), whom Aurora dislikes, and has a few kids. Flap is unfaithful. And while Aurora has a push-pull romance with Jack Nicholson‘s character, Emma fields interest from John Lithgow‘s. As in the book, Emma eventually is faced with cancer, an experience that, needless to say, intensifies the dynamics between her and her mom.

Just last May Joe McGovern, ew.com, wrote the following accolades:

The film won five Oscars including Best Picture, and holds up miraculously today as perhaps the very best huge-hearted Hollywood weepie of its era. Though Terms is often hilariously funny — in large degree thanks to the comic spontaneity of Winger’s performance — it’s the soulfulness and poetry of the movie’s final act which gives it unmistakable classic status.

And back in the day, Roger Ebert (rogerebert.com) had praised the film’s “ability to find the balance between the funny and the sad, between moments of deep truth and other moments of high ridiculousness.”

Back to the present: According to several reports earlier this year, producer/director Lee Daniels said he was in the process of planning a remake that will star Oprah Winfrey in the Aurora (or otherwise named) role. Stephen Galloway, Hollywood Reporter, noted it would take place “in the ’80s and include a storyline about black men who brought HIV/AIDS to their female partners.”

Daniels apparently stated, “I’ve got to tell stories that are important to me, and so many African-American women died. I want to make Flap…gay and infect the Debra Winger character. And then we explore the ’80s in a different way.”

As of this writing, however, not only has Oprah denied knowledge of such a development, but Daniels has offered no further updates.

Dec 13

“The Art of Misdiagnosis”: Investigating a Mom’s Suicide

All I can really do is write my own misdiagnosis of your life. Gayle Brandeis, author of The Art of Misdiagnosis

So states Gayle Brandeis, author of The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide, in this brief trailer to her new book:

The book’s title takes its name from the documentary Brandeis’s 70-year-old mother Arlene was working on “about the rare illnesses she thought ravaged her family: porphyria and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”

“Whether they were psychosomatically induced or not,” states Kirkus Reviews, “Arlene attested that the illnesses had been repeatedly dismissed or misdiagnosed by the medical community; even the author herself admits to suffering, as a teenager, from a combination of malingering and factitious disorder.”

In an interview with Mutha Magazine, Brandeis states the following about the origins of her book The Art of Misdiagnosis:

My therapist suggested writing a letter to my mom (such great advice!) and that became a thread of the book. The time around her suicide begged to be told in present tense. And as I dug through our old emails and files and the like, certain pieces jumped out at me as needing to be part of the narrative. It took a lot of time and finessing to fit the puzzle pieces together, but the pieces revealed themselves to me with bells on.

What was going on for Brandeis when she lost her mom? Melissa Wuske, Foreword Reviews:

Brandeis’s mother committed suicide one week after Brandeis had a baby. Those deeply contrasting experiences set the scene for the opening of this memoir: a daughter going through her mother’s things, trying to make sense of her death.

And this quest winds up involving a “compulsive, contagious need to know her mother and herself.”

As author Nick Flynn writes in his review: “John Cassavetes offers this: ‘When a character can’t find his way home, that’s where the story begins…’ Gayle Brandeis begins her story where it ends, then slowly—thoughtfully, painfully, lovingly—works her way back. It all circles around a handful of days, where everything happens—birth, death, truth, transformation.”

More about the overall process Brandeis experienced, from Kirkus Reviews:

Desperate for answers, she and her sister fruitlessly scoured their mother’s bedroom, which, much like the woman herself, appeared ‘lovely and elegant on the surface, total chaos underneath.’ The author’s reality soon became even more complex: she wrestled with the grief of her mother’s sudden death, processed her complicated history of paranoia, suspicion, and delusions, and nurtured her newborn. This frustration bleeds into the text as Brandeis recounts episodes where her mother’s inexplicable accusations wreaked havoc on her pregnancy and her marriage. The author then reveals her mother’s history of psychosis, which seemed to stem from the author’s pregnancies, with which Arlene became obsessed.

Author Caroline Leavitt‘s review:

Deeply compassionate, and breathtakingly brave, Brandeis’ memoir is a raw, unflinching trip down a rabbit hole, unspooling both the chaotic life of her mentally unbalanced mother, and how her mother’s obsession with physical illness crash-landed Brandeis’ own life—and health—from girlhood to marriage and motherhood. About the stories we desperately need to make of our lives in order to survive, and how the body sometimes speaks what the mind dare not, this is also an extraordinarily moving portrait of a troubled mother, and of the daughter who fearlessly, poetically, writes her way into discovering her truest self. Truthfully, I am in awe.

On her website Brandeis provides resources for others dealing with suicide.