Judy Rabinor

Renfrew Perspectives Winter 2022 Article – The Unexpected Gift of My Freudian Slip

The Unexpected Gift of My Freudian Slip

By Judith Rusky Rabinor Ph.D.

Elegantly dressed in a long black wool coat with a lush fur collar, Ella swept into my office that windy November morning, “I’ve come to a decision,” she said. “I’m leaving Al when Jeremy goes to college next September. I’m getting divorced.”

You can read the full article here.

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Lilith Magazine Book Review by Ilana Kramer

Much gratitude to Lilith Magazine and especially to Ilana Kramer, who so astutely  reviewed The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother. Ilana’s review highlights one of the most important themes of the book: the devastating impact of misattunement. So often I hear people speak about relationship ruptures and failures which occur not due to monstrous behaviors, but to the subtle trauma of misattunement.

What is misattunement? Simply speaking, misattunement is being out of sync with another person’s needs, feelings and thoughts. Misattunement occurs between parents and children, partners, siblings and even between friends.

Attunement is considered a critical component of bonding, especially important to parent-child bonding during infancy and early childhood. Even as adults, our need for attunement is a crucial part of feeling connected to one another. Attunement is the subtle process of letting another person feel that you are aware their needs and feelings by responding in a timely, appropriate manner.

Many people confuse attunement with attachment. Both are important: attachment makes a child feel safe, while  attunement makes a child feel valued. Attachment is more about holding, protection and taking care of another on a physical level. Attunement is mostly non‐verbal: that special look of love, tone of voice: how you speak  (not just what you say). Genuine attunement is about being feeling seen and known by another.

You can read Ilana’s full review here.

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Why write? Writing helps me think…and think about what I think about…

“Writing helps me think,” is another favorite quote I find myself repeating, this one from Dani Shapiro.  I have learned so much about what I cherish about being a psychotherapy in writing A Starving Madness: Tales of Hunger Hope and Healing in Psychotherapy  Gurze Books, 2002 about the complexity of parenting after divorce, including my own, (in Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes Your Ex  New Harbinger Press, 2012 and about the importance of acknowledging ambivalence and the complications of all relationships in my latest book, The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother,  She Writes Press 2021.

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Like Mother, Like Daughter: The Legacies We Carry

Recently I stumbled across the film  Nocturnal Animals. A horrifying psychological drama about how the values we inherit shape our lives. When the film ended, I was left thinking about my own life. I kept replaying a short, provocative conversation between a perfectly made up and impeccably coiffed mother, played by Laura Linney and her idealistic daughter.

Over a martini lunch at an upscale restaurant, Linney warns Amy Adams, her newly engaged daughter not to marry the man she loves.

“He is just a writer, not very talented and will undoubtedly come to nothing much,” mother warns daughter. “In a few short years you will tire of him and break his heart.”

Amy Adams is enraged. “I’m not you, mom,” she tells her mother. “I am me and I want something different for my life—I don’t want the life you’ve created.”

“All women,” says Linney, turning to her daughter, “turn into their mothers.”

The daughter protests, insisting she shares none of her mother’s shallow, materialistic values.

Dryly, Linney warns her, “Just you wait.”

As the film unfolds the mother turns out to be correct: within a few short years, Amy Adams abandons her writer-husband in search of a more up-scale life and creates unimaginable chaos in both their lives,

As I thought about this compelling film, I was drawn back to examining my own relationship with my mother.  As a young woman growing up, I expected my life to unfold totally different from hers, yet, now she is gone and I realize just how much of my mother’s essence I have absorbed.

What about you?

Do you ever notice — or fear you are turning into your mother even though you may have been determined to carve out your own identity?

If so, the key here is to recognize that our primary caregivers create a strong influence on us, and if your mom was your primary caregiver, there may be some parts of her you mimic, like it or not.  But the good news is, with self-reflection you open the possibility of change.

Take a moment and think about the parts of your mother you emulate and would like to embrace. Now think about the parts or her you would like to avoid replicating.  Remember to be compassionate to yourself—and your mother, who may have bequeathed you her strengths, her frailties and some of each.

Here are some statements that can help you in your self-assessment. I hope some of these lines bring a smile to your face:

  • When I least expect it, I hear my mother’s tone of voice come out of my mouth when I talk to my children, my husband, my friends.
  • I realize I handle money — frugally or over-spend — like my mother.
  • I realize I send my children helpful e-mails just like my mother loved to send me newspaper clippings.
  • I recognize I dress like my mother.
  • I recognize that like my mother, I can’t help but give opinions even when I know I am annoying family or friends.
  • Your attitude about others’ table manners resembles your mother’s views
  • You complain about your partner the way your mother complained about her partner.
  • Your attitudes about food, weight and exercise resemble your mom’s attitudes

Don’t panic if you realize you have picked up more than you realize from your mom.  You may want to congratulate her for the strengths you inherited.  And if you are panicked by some of what you have learned: the first step in changing anything is recognizing what is—and making a commitment to change. If this article prompted any important reflections for you— write me!

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Making Peace with Your Mother, Rewriting Your Story: Workshop

Making Peace with Your Mother, Rewriting Your Story: Workshop

Last Friday I gave another presentation for The Renfrew Center Foundation on Zoom: Making Peace with You r Mother, Rewriting Your Story to 100 people on Zoom call. In talking about the mother-daughter relationship, I am amazed how many women still yearn to connect to their mothers. This does not surprise me. My latest book, The Girl with the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother (2021) was about my journey. Often, I am asked why I wrote this book.

The answer:

After my mother passed away in 2011, my own descent into grief surprised me. I was awed to realize how much I loved my flawed, imperfect mother, deeply and dearly. In fielding questions from participants in my workshop last week, I was struck with how often my own journey was replicated my workshop attendees. What’s important to stress here, is that making peace is not the same as forgiving: making peace is to reach a level acceptance. As Paula Caplan reminds us in Don’t Blame Mother, “We are taught to believe that pent up anger is a danger; the real danger is pent up love.”

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Website: https://judithruskayrabinorphd.com/
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Making Peace with Your Parents: An Internal Process

The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother is not only about mothers, it’s about all of us, sons and daughters making peace with our parents– fathers as well as mothers. In speaking with readers I am continually reminded that the yearning to make peace with our parents is universal. I receive so many questions and sorrowful observations from people who feel stuck:

• My mother was ice-cold
• My mother preferred my brothers
• My mother was clearly abusive
• I love my mother but…

Often a few simple questions help people reflect on their parents:

• I wonder where your mother learned to be so cold?
• I wonder why your mother preferred boys?
• I wonder who taught your mother to be abusive?

Questions like these often ignite reflections on how our parents came to be the people they were and in doing so, allows us to gain new awarenesses.

Making peace with a parent is possible for all of us, even when a parent is unwilling to change or was unable to understand your hurt. Making peace is an internal process: it has nothing to do with anyone else changing. When we dig down deep, it is possible to understand how our parents became who they were.

What’s critical is developing self-compassion. It is not necessary to forgive a parent, but in understanding them, we often develop compassion for them– and ourselves as well. I personally learned so much while writing my book so I urge you to consider joining one my of my writing classes—for further information check events on this website or email me at jrrabinor@gmail.com

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Mother Knows Best

my mother’s college graduation, 1981- she is 63

My six-year-old daughter, Rachel and I were shopping for a gift for my mother’s sixty-third birthday.
Rachel spotted a small velvet throw pillow trimmed in royal blue.

“Do you think Grandma would like that?”

Royal blue is my mother’s favorite color, but it’s the words stitched in pale blue wool that stand out:

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am my mother after all.”

I’d vowed to mother my own children differently from the way I’d been mothered, unaware that we are unconsciously wired by our early childhood experiences. It would take me a long time to understand that even with hard work on ourselves, we are all prisoners prone to repeat the past. I had no way of knowing I would inadvertently follow in my mother’s footsteps, more than once.

***

Four years earlier, it had been a hot and humid August day on Long Island, and I was sitting on the beach with my mother and Rachel, who was two, when my old college friend Barbara arrived, escaping the heat wave suffocating Manhattan. Sheltered by a huge umbrella, Rachel was engrossed, digging in the sand. Barbara was recently divorced, and I hadn’t seen her in almost a year. I was itching for a few moments of privacy to catch up and hear how life was unfolding for her. When Barbara suggested the two of us take a walk on the beach my mother agreed to watch Rachel.

“Just sneak away when she’s busy,” she whispered. “If you tell her you’re leaving, she’ll probably have a tantrum. If you just take off, she’ll never even know you’re gone.”

Something inside me rumbled. I should have listened to my body, but instead of following my gut, I stood up quietly and snuck off with Barbara. I couldn’t have been more than fifty feet away when I looked back to see how Rachel was doing. There she was, sitting on my mother’s lap, screaming. Leaving Barbara at the water’s edge, I turned and raced back to my daughter. As I neared, she spotted me and flew out of my mother’s arms and into mine.

“Mommy,” she wailed, as we sat on the scorching sand, “where were you? Why didn’t you tell me you were going away?” I hugged my screaming girl, dried her tears, and settled her down. Then I looked over at my mother.

“I shouldn’t have walked away without telling her where I was going.” I added, “That’s not the right thing to do, Ma.”

“Don’t worry,” my mother said. “She’ll get over it. You used to scream bloody murder when I left you.”

It took me a minute to absorb what she had said. “I screamed bloody murder when you left me,” I repeated. “So, if you knew she’d be so upset, why did you tell me to sneak away?”

My mother shrugged. “I knew you wanted to take a walk with Barbara, and I knew she’d get over it. She’ll get over it, dear; we get over everything, dear. You certainly did. Don’t worry so much. She’ll be fine.”

My mother had capped off her speech with her signature lines: “She’ll get over it. We all get over everything. She’ll be fine.” Sitting there, glaring at my mother and rocking my daughter, I bit my lip so as not to explode. What kind of horrible advice had I gotten from my mother, once again? But not only was I angry with her, I was livid at myself, critical and ashamed of my poor judgment. By the time I left Rachel on the beach that sticky August day, I was already familiar with my mother’s cavalier child-rearing philosophy. Years of my own psychoanalysis had unearthed the childhood roots of my insecurities. I had even come to understand that my mother had never meant to be harmful.

She’d done the best she could, and, as she described it, she was simply a product—or a victim—of her generation. But my frustration ran deeper than my anger at my mother. In addition to ignoring what I’d learned from my own therapy, I was now a graduate student studying psychology, drenched in child-development theories, which across the board stressed the importance of parents’ creating a secure attachment as a prerequisite for healthy growth. Nonetheless, I had ignored my instincts and listened to my mother. In essence, although I’d sworn never to be like her, I had blithely and blindly followed in her footsteps.

While my life work as a therapist certainly supports my belief that growth and change are always possible, two caveats should be noted. Without hard work on ourselves, we are doomed to repeat the past, and, even when we do our difficult inner work, the road to reconstructing oneself is bumpy, filled with unexpected potholes. It’s taken me decades to understand the limitations of psychological insight and to respect the fact that insight can be hijacked so easily by our early programming. And my early programming—true for most of us—is not what I learned in my twenties as a psychotherapy patient or in my thirties as a graduate student, but rather what I learned as a small child who yearned for my mother’s love and approval. Driven to please her, I absorbed and internalized her essence. Unconsciously, a part of me was still devoted to the voice in my head whispering,

“Mother knows best.”

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Remembering My Mother: “Is There Any Way I Can Help?”

Title of post. Line drawing of mother delicately holding young child.Join me last Friday morning. I’m sitting in the early morning sunlight, looking out at the evergreens, pondering my conversation with my friend Beth.  I’ve spent 20 minutes listening to her challenges caring for her ornery, mean-spirited ninety-five-year-old mother.  Although my mother had not been mean-spirited, our relationship had been complex. Although it had been a decade since I’d lost my mother, my friend Beth’s pain had triggered my difficulties watching my ninety-three-year-old mother lose her battle with Parkinson’s and dementia. 

No longer alive but never far off my radar.

“If there’s any way I can help, let me know,” I tell Beth as we say goodbye.

My words hang in the silence — they come from me but echo from a faraway place. And suddenly I remember:

It is a sweltering hot June day, 1978. I’d left the Catholic Charities Mental Health Center in Glendale Queens, my internship placement, and was driving into Manhattan to attend a meeting when, sitting in my blue Oldsmobile, stuck in traffic at the Brooklyn Bridge, I hear a splutter.  “Oh no,” I think, I wouldn’t want to stall out here. To avoid draining the battery, I turn off the air conditioner and, with a push of a button, my car windows open automatically. 

“Lady,” calls a voice from out my window, “You know which direction 22 Water Street is?” Looking out, about to respond to the speaker, I gaze into the dark brown eyes of a tall, husky young man; his colorful bandana catches my eye when… suddenly I hear a swoosh.  I turn my head only to realize a hand has entered the open window on the passenger side of the car, grabbed my pocketbook nested on the seat beside me, and now….. 

I see the two young men running off to my horror, slipping between the cars ahead of me lined up in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I don’t really remember how I coped—this was the era before cell phones.  I can only imagine I was in shock; my first reaction might have been to freeze in terror. I imagine it didn’t take long before I realize that I’d escaped a fate worse than losing my pocketbook. How long could it have been until I was awash in relief –at least those two hadn’t gotten into my car!

 I remember eventually getting to my meeting, calling my babysitter, warning her to double lock the doors, feeling terrified these young thieves would have gotten into my pocketbook, found my keys, and could have gotten into my home—which fortunately was not the case. 

 After finally getting home that evening and putting my two small children to sleep, I remember calling my mother and telling her about my harrowing experience. After rejoicing that I hadn’t been accosted, assaulted, raped, or victimized in any way, my mother was filled with advice. “You have to replace everything- your driver’s license, registration, credit cards—and don’t forget to change the locks—call a locksmith.” She paused. “And can I help?”

“Can I help? Let me know if I can help… .”

Sitting in the early morning sunlight, I am struck with the power of memory. I haven’t thought about being accosted at the Brooklyn Bridge in years, and whenever I did remember it, I was filled with fear. Now, in this very moment, I am watching how memories shift.  I am flooded with a different part of the story, and I am reminded of what I miss about my mother and her legacy:  Her goodwill. Her generosity. Her care and concern. Her willingness to help. Her stabilizing presence. A warmth spreads, resonating through my body. Although I have often described my mother as generous and helpful, now, this memory magnifies these qualities that for so much of my life I took for granted, unaware how she had invisibly, silently scaffolded me. As I soak in what has been lingering all along in the recesses of my mind, I am reminded of the  mystery of memory and the opening words of my new book, The Girl In the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother:

  “On the windowsill in my psychotherapy office sits a sand- art picture, a simple black frame filled with colored sand. Each time you shake the frame, the sand shifts seamlessly into a new design.
I keep it there for my patients. When they notice it, I ask them if they’d like to examine it. “Shake it,” I suggest. Then I tell them why I keep it in my office. 

“Our minds are like sand dunes, filled with hidden treasures, your stories,” I say. “Every story you have ever lived or imagined is buried inside you, waiting to be revealed as the grains of sand shift and open up new possibilities.”

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What I Learned at the Zoo

Illustrated tiger. "What I Learned at the Zoo."Once upon a time, there was a beautiful but dilapidated zoo in a large metropolitan city. It was in a state of despair, in dire need of renovation. The cages were rusted, the habitats for each species were too small. Animal advocates rallied for help.

Eventually, one of the wealthiest philanthropist families in the city decided to contribute the necessary funds needed for reconstruction. To complete the renovation, all the animals — tigers, lions, monkeys, and elephants — would have to be taken out of their habitats and housed in newly constructed, small cages.

Construction of the new zoo began and, slowly but surely, it was completed and a grand opening took place. The animals were introduced to their new habitats — way more spacious than their previous homes. Each cage was brought into its new space as the animals were carefully integrated into their new habitat. Slowly, each section of the zoo opened and everything began moving along.

But there was one exception — Charlie — a young tiger who was born in the cage. The four walls of steel were all he had ever known.

When the tiger cage was placed in its new habitat and the gates were sprung open, the three adult tigers leaped out — they energetically jumped over the bubbling streams and delighted to have rocks to climb on.

Charlie, though, cowered in fear of his new environment. Despite the others’ eagerness to explore their new small world, he remained in his cage, staring out past the gates. There he sat for days on end, unwilling to venture past the four walls of the cage.

The zookeepers — who were talented at dealing with animals — were mystified. How could they coax Charlie out into the new habitat?

They tried everything — first, they placed his food and water at a distance. Charlie ignored whatever was outside the immediate surroundings of his cage. Although he was eventually able to venture out to eat and drink, his discomfort with the new habitat was obvious — he would immediately retreat. It was clear that his home remained in the cage.

The zookeepers tried everything, but eventually, they made peace with Charlie — it was clear he was content to stay where he was. Finally, they gave up.

Of course, this story has an obvious lesson: We develop enduring patterns when we are young — and changing them sometimes feels impossible. Think about any habits you may have developed that no longer serve you.

What do you need to do to create change?

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There Are No Mistakes

Mother knows best quote against floral backgroundAfter I finished writing The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother, I was urged to write a blog. Something inside me pulled back. I made excuses. I procrastinated. I resisted — big time. I kept wondering what would inspire me to write a blog… UNTIL:
I accidentally sent my friend June an email containing an excerpt from my new book discussing the concept of “mother knows best.”

OOPS!

I emailed June explaining I had sent it to the wrong person, and within minutes, she wrote back, referencing both the excerpt and our shared technological blunders,
“Sometimes I think the more we try not to be like our mothers, the more we become like them!”
This quote aptly summarized her reaction to the excerpt, which featured the following quote:
“I’d vowed to mother my own children differently from the way I’d been mothered, unaware that we are unconsciously wired by our early childhood experiences. It would take me a long time to understand that even with hard work on ourselves, we are all prisoners prone to repeat the past. I had no way of knowing I would inadvertently follow in my mother’s footsteps, more than once.”
As I’ve often said, I began writing this book two years after my mother’s passing as a method of coping with my grief. However, as I delved into some of the haunting moments of our relationship, I realized that our experience was more nuanced than I once thought. In order to “make peace with my mother,” as the subtitle of my new memoir suggests, I had to dig deeper. That was the richest part of my writing experience:  not only did I come to forgive her for her missteps but to forgive myself, as well. And by the way, I came to appreciate the ways we were more alike than I’d once cared to admit.
June’s words have stayed with me. And, there’s more. Ironically, this “mistake” gave shape to this blog I want to write.  Life is filled with tiny moments and endless opportunities. Situations that appear one way can and do profoundly transform. Mysteries are continuously unfolding. All it takes is the intention to uncover what is hidden, the capacity to risk failure, and the stamina to start over.
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