Analysis: Eminem and his mom -- a troubled relationship


WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 -- Eminem's boundless rage at his mother mirrors the invasiveness of her maternal love. His mother concedes that her parenting mistakes contributed to the estrangement between her and America's foremost white rapper.

For those who don't keep up with the hip-hop scene, "Eminem" -- born Marshall Mathers, is feuding with his mother, Debbie Mathers, of St. Joseph, Mo. In interviews and in his recordings, Eminem has excoriated his mother in the worst possible terms. Debbie Mathers, in turn, slapped her son with a $10 million defamation suit last year. Now she has released her own CD, "Set the Record Straight," recorded with the Missouri rap duo ID-X. In it she implores Eminem to reconcile with her. And how does she do it? By playing the guilt card, and by pushing the same buttons she installed in her son long ago.


She begins by calling his name twice in the opening bars of her three-song CD in a nagging tone guaranteed to raise a son's hackles -- expressing martyrdom, outraged innocence and a demand for renewed dominance. She promptly gets down to the nitty-gritty. "Even when I was pregnant with you, it was very hard for me. Seventy-two hours of torture was worth every minute of it when I looked into those big blue eyes. This is the only time I ever felt (her voice quavers) true love in my whole life."

A double whammy! First she reminds him that he's been a burden since she was carrying him. (She went into convulsions and a coma from toxemia of pregnancy). Then she refers to his delivery -- 72 hours of torture! Earth to Debbie Mathers: It makes sons crazy to be told such things, because it makes them feel guilty for being born. The other side of guilt is resentment. Resentment on such an existential level produces rage. Park it, Debbie. It wasn't his fault.

The second maternal hex is as damaging as the first. She tells him he is the only person she has truly loved. This is a terrible burden to put on a boy, especially if his mother is attractive. She is telling him that she loves him more than the father he never knew and more than the father of his half-brother, Nathan (or Nathan, for that matter), and more than any man she's ever dated. Ms. Mathers, get a therapist! No son needs this kind of love.


In her book "The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to Do When a Parent's Love Rules Your Life," family therapist Patricia Love describes the burdens of the "chosen child." Emotionally invasive parents want what we all want in life, Love wrote. This means someone to confide in, someone to be on one's side, someone to share one's interests, someone who adores us. When a parent doesn't find this in marriage, he or she turns to the next available resource to fill the void -- a child.

"Playing the role of both mom and dad must have taken more of a toll on you than I ever imagined," raps Debbie Mathers. Yes, growing up fatherless is a terrible thing, and maybe that couldn't be helped. But enmeshment with a narcissistic parent does the real, long-term damage. "It's the flip-flop of healthy parenting," Love wrote. "Instead of the parent meeting the needs of the child, the child is meeting the needs of the parent." Paradoxically, it produces a son or daughter whose emotional state roller coasters between grandiosity and self-loathing. Depression, anxiety and problems in love relationships are common.

Such a child cannot cut the tragic link between admiration and love, wrote Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller in "Prisoners of Childhood: How Narcissistic Parents Form and Deform the Emotional Lives of their Gifted Children." He or she is envious of normal people because they do not have to make a constant effort to earn admiration but are free to be average.


In a phone interview Thursday, Mathers said she thought the problem between her and her son started when Marshall was 16, and she took some of his friends in. Among the six or seven youngsters was Kimberly, then 13, who Marshall ended up marrying. Kim and Marshall were "best friends," Mathers said. Both of them dropped out in junior high, but Mathers said she didn't have a clue her son was not attending school. When asked when she thought the relationship became sexual, Mathers said she thought it was when Kim was 18 and Marshall 21. Others may be excused for making different estimates.

Mathers said that Kim was always jealous of her and demanded to be the center of attention. Kim had to sit between Debbie and Marshall. She wouldn't do laundry or chores, and she would tell Marshall: "Your mom was mean to me when you were gone."

"Marshall more or less ran the house," Mathers said, which included chasing away the men she dated.

How did he get such unseemly power? "I guess because he was the oldest, and I always felt, Marshall -- anything he wanted to do. There was nothing he could do that was wrong.Anything he wanted, I would always try to oblige and make sure he had it.I never really said no to Marshall."


Now Mathers is reconsidering that policy. "I did not realize it was not right. I think I gave him way too much rope," she said Washington psychotherapist Annette Annechild told United Press International that narcissism is linked with bad mothering. "You've got to be ready to put yourself out of the way if you're going to parent successfully," she said. "What was it like for this baby trying to get out of the womb for 72 hours?" she asked. "The intrusive love comes with no understanding of what a burden it is to the boy. With no father around, she probably became very dependent and needy of this older son.

"Emotional incest is as damaging, in many ways, as physical," Annechild said. "For some of my clients, it's almost worse. Victims of physical incest can say, 'I hate him,'but in enmeshment, there's not an appreciation of a separate person that is coming through you (as a mother) with their separate needs and separate future. Very often it's like a web, particularly in a woman who doesn't have strong emotional support when she has that baby. So very often the firstborn is filling up this huge void that hasn't been filled by the mother herself.


"In a good-health situation, you confront the void within yourself -- the emptiness, the longing of your own childhood -- and you fill it as an adult, and then you have a baby," Annechild said. Debbie Mathers, on the other hand, got married at 15 to get out of the house and had Marshall two years later.

"Using the baby to fill that void comes with a high level of intrusiveness," Annechild said. "If you believe that baby is an extension of yourself, then there are no boundaries. If there's no difference between you and me, I can do or say anything to you at any time.It's ownership, rather than sponsorship, of another human being," the therapist said.

"This case brings to light an exaggerated version of what so many people wrestle with." Situations like this become eroticised when a narcissistic parent of the opposite sex "engages in flirtatiousness that can go on when the mother wants the attention of that boy, and that boy starts to give the attention somewhere else. You don't take advantage of a child in that way."

Annechild said that when she first saw the photograph of the rapper, his mother and Nathan that appeared on the front of the Washington Post's Style section Wednesday, she thought it was of Eminem, his wife or girlfriend, and maybe his kid brother or son. "I think you see absolutely what went on there," she said. Debbie Mathers is pictured with her right arm thrown around her son's neck, gazing longingly up at him with, in Annechild's words, "all your hair (bleached and teased), your makeup, and your lips pursed. It's just so unfair," she said.


"And what he's so angry at, at the core, is that he was left motherless as well as fatherless. These parents who eroticise seem to offer you so much that you're desperate for, which is what would make him crazy. Here's this little boy with nothing who HAS to love his motherand yet, what a torture. He probably hates himself.

"This guy was probably making love to his mother in his head when he was 12 years old. Who else is giving you that kind of devotion? She's flirtatious with you, she's attractive, she probably walked around the house inappropriately." During the interview, Mathers apologized for an interruption. "I'm not completely dressed," she said, so 14-year-old Nathan had to take the message from a reporter at the door.

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