No More Drama With Mama | Gayle Kirschenbaum | TEDxBergenCommunityCollege


Translator: Thành H. Châu
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Did you ever feel like you were born
into the wrong family? I did. It didn’t matter that I
was having career success. I was first a graphic designer, then a TV producer, then a filmmaker, and I was awarded – I was acknowledged with awards
along the way. I was seething with anger
towards my mother. From head to toe,
there was nothing right about me. My nose was too big. My butt was too fat. My hair was too frizzy. According to my mother, I couldn’t do anything right, and my brothers couldn’t do
anything wrong. Little did I know
that the obstacles of my childhood would end up being
this biggest opportunity of my life. By facing those challenges, I was able to figure out
the secret to finding forgiveness, and the power and the freedom
that that gives you. Let me take you back to my childhood. I was born in enemy territory, and I was the only one captured. I was the youngest of three, the only daughter, and I grew up hearing
I was supposed to be Gary. Well, they didn’t get Gary,
they got me – Gayle. Now, most mothers would’ve felt
like they won the lottery. Not mine, and if she did,
she had a funny way of showing it. I often wondered, Is that what got us off to a bad start? I was born with thick, dark, curly hair, and by third grade, Mom was having it
professionally straightened. And then there was my nose. When the bumps started growing
when I was a young teen, Mom’s campaign to get me
to have a nose job started. And that went on for decades. In case you’re wondering,
I didn’t have a nose job. I was a slow developer, and Mom used to stuff in the top
of my bathing suit foam rubber. I was thirteen years old when I was taking a swimming lesson
and the foam rubber came floating out. Pretty funny today but quite humiliating when I was young. I wonder if any of you have
a humiliating story from your childhood. My brothers were my mom’s bouncers. The one that was closest to my age
had been the youngest. So, he didn’t want me around
when I was born, and he showed me that by destroying most of my dolls
and then trying to do the same with me. My eldest brother, well,
he just took orders from my mother. So, when Mom wanted me out of the way, she had my brothers put me
on top of the refrigerator, where I couldn’t get down. My father? He himself had been raised abused,
and he had a very short fuse. So, Mom used him as
a German Shepherd to sic on me. Mom today proudly talks about the night
she did a “Mommie Dearest” on me. Do you remember that movie
about Joan Crawford and how cruel she was to her mother? OK. I was a teenager,
I was out with my friends. They were dropping me off at home,
we pull up in front of my house, and all of a sudden,
I see my mother standing out there with a glass of water in one hand
and the dog’s leash in the other hand. I get out of the car, I walk in front, I stand in front of my mother. Now, the car lights are shining on me, and all my friends are
in the car watching this, as my mother throws the water in my face, and tells me to walk the dog. She doesn’t care if I get raped,
if I wasn’t already. That was just the beginning. I lived in fear of my mother, in fear of her punishments, in fear of the humiliation. And that fear had led me to being sick. I had headaches all the time,
dizzy spells and nausea. As soon as I left my house,
I didn’t have headaches anymore. When Mom would go on vacation, I often wondered what it would be like
if the plane crashed. I thought, “I would be free!” I knew there was something seriously wrong
if I was wishing my mother dead. I was so desperate to get out of my house, but I didn’t have the courage to run away. A social worker advised me
to graduate high school early and go away to college. So, by the end of my sixteenth year,
I finished high school, and I went away to a university
200 miles from home. There I was an art major, and I found support
from my teachers and my friends. But I was craving love
and affection and intimacy. And I found myself in the arms
and the beds of many men, often sabotaging those relationships. Years later, when I hit middle-age, I finally gave in to Mom’s demands
to get me to a plastic surgeon. I agreed to visit three plastic surgeons
for a consultation about my nose, as long as I can have
a camera crew along with me. She couldn’t care less about me
having a camera crew, and what resulted was
a funny short film called “My Nose,” about Mom’s relentless campaign
to get me to have a nose job. When I’d get off the stage
after the Q & A, there would be a line in front of me. And the first thing people would say is –
they would compliment me on my nose. And then the next thing,
they would tell me their story. And it didn’t have to be about their nose, but it was about some childhood trauma
that they had suffered, that they were still dealing with. I remember a woman opening up her coat
to show me her weight issues and attributing it to her mother,
who was long gone. That’s when I realized I wasn’t alone,
and so many people were suffering. The mother-daughter relationship is
the most highly charged relationship. One word, one look could transform it. It is the relationship that has
the most power over us. We crave the love and adoration,
support of our mothers. And our mothers look at us,
their daughters, as a reflection of them. So the biggest thing
our mothers criticize us about is our appearance. And specifically, our hair, our clothing and our weight, all of which I experienced
throughout my life. I realized that I had to do something,
I had to change something. I was traveling the world, I was having tremendous
success in my career. Regardless of that, I was fuming with anger
towards my mother. I had anger all the time. It was affecting every aspect of my life. I ended up reacting constantly
to my mother’s criticisms, and in fact, I gave it right back to her. I learned how to put the knife in
and turn it and leave a lasting scar. I wasn’t happy about my behavior. I knew that I was now a victim, and I’d been a victim for years, and I’d given my mother my power. I would have to forgive my mother
to find peace and happiness. But I didn’t know
how I was going to do it. I was already fifty years old
and single and alone. I was living with emotional
and mental bondage. I was trapped. It was like having an addiction
that slowly eats away at you. I had a food addiction for many years as a result of my mother’s
constant criticisms about my weight. It took a car accident for me to change
how I thought about food. I decided I was going to eat
what I wanted to eat, when I wanted to eat it. And as soon as I did that, the addiction went away. I knew I was going to have to change
how I thought about my mother. At this point, Mom was in her 80s, and I asked her if she would be willing
to go on a journey together with me to resolve our relationship
in front of the camera. She agreed. I knew this was a golden opportunity because Mom, in her senior years, without the responsibility
of raising children, had become quite funny –
her humor came out. And not only was she willing, she was very happy
to share her life with the world. What resulted was my feature documentary
called “Look At Us Now, Mother!” It took three steps for me
to resolve my relationship with my mother. The first one was
I needed to understand her. So, with cameras rolling,
I began my investigation into her past. I learned about
her father’s suicide attempts, the untimely death of her sister, and the financial hardship she suffered. Essentially, the childhood she never had. A big light-bulb moment came for me when I played
a psychological board game. I threw the dice,
and the facilitator said, “Stand up and close your eyes.
Imagine your mother as a little girl.” Well, at this point, I knew about
the pain of my mother’s childhood. And I saw a wounded little girl. And then she said, “Imagine yourself as a little girl.” I knew I was a wounded little girl. And then she said, “You both come together.” Wow, she was no longer my abusive mother. She was a wounded little girl
as I was a wounded little girl. That helped me reframe –
which is step number two – how I looked at my mother. I changed my expectations of her. So, now I saw her as
a wounded little girl like me, who really needed love. So, when she would be nasty
or critical to me, it bounced off of me. I essentially rendered her abuse
powerless over me. Because I took her off
that pedestal of my mother who should love and adore me
the way she loved and adored my brothers, and saw as a wounded little girl
who didn’t know any better, who was in pain herself. What gets us all so upset in life is
when we have unfulfilled expectations. I changed my expectations of her. I forgave my mother. I didn’t forget. You never forget. Don’t wait for that person who’s hurt you
ever to say they’re sorry, even to acknowledge
that they did anything wrong. Because they are completely unaware. It’s like getting angry at somebody for doing something
that they’re not wired or capable to do. So, the biggest gift you can give yourself
is the ability to forgive. You forgive for yourself. If you don’t forgive and you hang on to that anger
and that resentment, it only hurts you: it affects your relationships, it affects your health. In fact, when I made
“Look At Us Now, Mother!” I reread my childhood dairies, and I relived my childhood trauma, and I got sick. I developed an autoimmune disease. I developed a very bad case
of Psoriasis all over my hands. It was so bad that my fingers
were always bleeding, and I had to wear gloves. I tried various medical treatments, but none of them were long-lasting. And then I said to myself, “You know, you got yourself sick
by these stressful emotions, and you’re going to heal yourself.” And I did so by changing how I thought of my mother. I released that anger and that hatred
I was feeling towards her, and I felt empathy and compassion
and love for her. And I healed myself,
and my hands are completely fine. Learning how to forgive
gives you emotional freedom; it unleashes that noose around our neck that we’ve allowed
our perpetrator to hold. When I figured out this secret
to finding forgiveness, I applied this method to other people, and I forgave my brothers. When ever I come across a difficult person
or I’m in a difficult situation, I know now how I can turn it around. When I think about
when people are unkind to others, I reflect on myself
when I’m unkind to others. I’m feeling fear, anger, insecurity. We’re not unkind to others
when we’re feeling loved. When we’re feeling loved,
we’re compassionate to others. Love’s the most powerful emotion there is. We can transform people
by showing them love, and our brain is our most powerful organ. It controls our emotions and our actions. By changing how I thought about my mother
and reframing how I saw her, I was able to forgive her. Today, Mom and I are
each other’s closest friends. We speak to each other every day,
at least once if not more, because we love to communicate and share. We travel the world together,
we’ve been travelling a lot with the film, and in fact, it is my mother
who helped me shape this talk. I am really grateful for this opportunity
to share my story and my lessons learned. To recap – it’s three simple steps: Understand, Reframe, and then you can Forgive. Now I want to ask you
to think about your own life. Who in your life has hurt you so badly
that you’ve not been able to forgive them? Remember: it is your choice
whether to forgive or not. We all have a story. Be the hero of your story, not the victim. Thank you. (Applause)

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