The first time I felt the need to separate myself from my mother's influence I was eleven. Growing up I was a voracious reader and it was common for me to read a book per day. Over the years I found many favorites, many full of violence and adventure. This fed my already overactive imagination and as a result I had the desire to create stories of my own. One night I grabbed a notebook and started writing. I did not get very far. It was late and I did not know the first thing about moving a story forward. If I recall, I finished about three hand-written pages before writer's block set in and I went to bed. Despite my lack of ability, it was very important to me that I succeed. I wanted to write a whole novel, as good as the novels I read all the time. I wanted to create. Most importantly, though I did not know why, I had to keep my effort an absolute secret.
A few days later I found my mother going through my stuff. She was reading the few pages I had written and was full of praise for it. She loved it. I, on the other hand, became upset. I did not cry or throw a tantrum. Rather, I was at a complete loss for words. I tried to express that now that she knew about it, I could not finish the story. While she thought that it would help me to praise my work, what I just could not explain was that I was not trying to get any praise. I simply wanted to create something important. At some point my confused babbling got through to her and she realized that I was upset and she apologized. For what, I doubt she knew. What she never found out was that I never even tried to finish the story. I did not know it at the time but my need for privacy came from an instinctive need to become independent of my mother's influence.
This pattern occurred several times as I tried to become a man. I would become interested in doing something, frequently with a great deal of significance to me, and I would be determined to follow it through to the end. Then I would foolishly tell my mother and for some reason I would lose all desire to finish. After a while I noticed the pattern and tried not to tell her my goals but my need for approval was too strong and I would eventually tell her everything. As a result it became very difficult for me to commit and follow through on anything.
What I did not know was that I was looking for approval from the wrong place. At a certain age a boy be needs to be removed from his mother to begin learning from his father. This never happened for me. As far as I can tell I does not happen for many men. In Wild at Heart John Eldredge claims that every man has a 'wound' where he did not receive approval from his father. The statistics over at fatherhood.com tell a similar story. The need for approval from a father seems to be very important in a man's life.
I did not receive approval or guidance from my father. He was absent, not in body but in mind. He was never really aware of me. He was always lost in his own world. I waited for years for him to realize that I needed him to show me how to become a man, once going so far as to tell him that I needed him to show me. He never did. Eventually I stopped waiting. I simply decided that if he would not take responsibility for guiding me, then I would have to learn on my own. Because of this he has no say about my life and I refuse to ask for or take advice from him. Because that need can so easily sabotage my life I have closed that door to him. He cannot get that relationship back without asking for it.
I know that not getting approval from my father had a significant effect on me, but what about looking for approval in the wrong place? Since I did not receive it from the correct person, how did getting it from my mother affect me? Why did it affect me that way?
A common topic on the Game blogs and forums is the concept of the shit-test. A woman challenges a man, often in a manipulative way, to determine if he is capable of standing up to her. Passing it then increases her attraction. This is behavior that skilled men recognize and understand. While we know that it effects the woman by increasing her attraction, what is not often talked about is the efforts a man has to go through to be able to pass those tests. He must have an ego, bolstered by success, strong enough to not be shaken by her efforts to topple him. It takes a lot of effort to get to that point. Becoming a man is difficult work and being able to pass those tests is testament to that work. Even if the only work he has done is to learn to recognize and respond to shit-tests, it still takes effort and practice. The challenge of becoming a man is as important as succeeding at the challenge. If it is not hard it does not provide a chance for growth. Men know this and do not give approval unless it is earned, which makes earning it a real accomplishment. Unfortunately, I received approval from my mother, who gave it regardless of whether I had earned it.
Because I received unconditional approval from my mother, I rarely felt the need to do anything challenging. When I did feel the need to prove myself I would go talk to my her about it and she would praise me for even having the idea. She was proud of me no matter what I did. It had more to do with the fact that I was her son than any real accomplishment. I would get approval from her without having to do anything except say that I wanted it.
This was my first shit-test. My mother gave approval even though I did not need it from her, and I did nothing to discourage her. What she did not know was that I had to earn approval to feel good about myself; in other words I do not need self-esteem, I need self-respect. I passed the test by ending the relationship. I stopped looking for approval from her. I began acting without concern for what she thought or felt. I took responsibility and stopped using her to feel better about myself. Every shit-test is to determine whether the man is willing to act without concern for what the woman thinks. With my mother, if I cared about what she thought, her every fear, worry, and insecurity became mine. This was paralyzing. It became absolutely necessary for me to stop seeking her approval. She may not have been shit-testing me to determine my fitness, but what she was doing was keeping me from ever being able to prove myself. So I broke up with my mother and pulled away from her influence. Now, I no longer talk to her unless I am visiting the family. I avoid prolonged contact so that I can break that habit of seeking for approval. I suspect that this attitude will be necessary to some degree for the rest of my life but I cannot do anything else. Becoming a man is simply too important to concern myself with the way my mother, or any woman, is feeling.