The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Friday, October 17, 2008

Enmeshment

According to sfhelp.org, the definition of enmeshment is:

In human relationships, this term means two or more people who don't have clear identities and boundaries (limits) that separate one person from the other. Thus an enmeshed person can't distinguish the difference between my needs, feelings, opinions, and priorities and yours.

Enmeshment was certainly present in my family of origin. Abusive families have a way of creating enmeshed family systems. It took years apart from my mother and a degree of healing that I never thought was possible in order to break free from my enmeshment.

I often hear from estranged adult children, "My parents aren't capable of thinking about anyone but themselves. Why would I want a relationship under those circumstances?"

I get that. For many years, I felt that way too. Reconciling a relationship seemed like a return to my enmeshed (and abusive) family system.

For me, it took more than a decade of estrangement to heal enough to stand as a separate adult individual with a healthy indifference towards my mother's opinions, and needs; to protect my own well-being; to exercise great boundaries; to accept my mother just as she is; to give up any expectations of a normal mother-daughter sort of relationship, and to create a non-intimate friendship that is respectful of our differences. We simply share a history, and to me history is important.

After nearly two years of reconciliation, my mother and I are yet to know one another. She has never inquired about my life, such as how I spend my time, my interests, work, etc. and that is okay with me. I recognize that she is not my "safe place to fall," or someone with whom I can share anything of significance. We merely talk about old memories, current events, or her life.

My life hasn't really changed much from when we were estranged, but it feels better. I can move freely to and from family and social events without the negative strain of "being at odds, " or feeling rejected. I know my mother's inability to mother is about her - not about me.

I've made peace with the wounds of the past. I have "blasted through my mountain of pain" so that my abuse is a memory rather than a present reality. I no longer feel the "void" of estrangement or "lost" without a home.

Home is finally of my own making.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's like your a mirror to myown life and relationship with my mother.

jackim said...

Do you feel like the time apart was the only way that one can ever overcome enmeshment?

healandforgive said...

Hi Jackim,

I don't think that is necessarily true for every one. I made the decision to estrange from my mother with the aid of a therapist. We explored whether estrangement was really what was best for me.

Every situation is different and I think each individual has to make the decision for themselves.

For me, the degree of abuse and enmeshment was such that I don't think I would have ever healed without the 14 years I was estranged from my mother.

Although estrangement was extremely painful for me right up until my reconciliation - today, I am very grateful for our time apart.

Prior to our estrangement, I had no concept of boundaries. Even as an adult, I continued to stand before my mother like a frightened child.

I had to spend time in an "abuse-free" life - free from the anxiety of re- injury - in order to heal old wounds and stand before my mother as a strong, confidant adult.

I wish you peace on your journey.....

lizzymon said...

I am trying to figure this out as well. I have a history of physical, emotional, psychological abuse with my family, but specifically my mother. I feel at odds estranging myself from my mother. I am close to my father, and estranging from her means a distances and barrier to the rest of my family. How do i do this, not hurt them, and heal me at the same time??? I am often blamed for why members cant get along.. because i think and act differently then my family. IS there a way to have the people I love and have a healthy relationship with in that family close, and estrange from her? When i am there with all of them, i fake it... so as to not ruffle the feathers.. and keep things calm.

HELP?

healandforgive said...

Hi Lizzymon,

Oh my goodness! My heart really goes out to you! That is a lonely way to live....

The road to recovery is long, confusing, and takes a great deal of hard work. I remember a time when I had all the same questions……unfortunately there are no quick and easy answers.

But, I'll try for quick and easy, then elaborate a little. As to your question, "How do i do this, not hurt them, and heal me at the same time??? If you mean how do I estrange without hurting the other members of my family - I don't think there is any way to estrange without hurting them. Estrangement is painful for all concerned. That is why the decision needs to be taken very seriously.

If you mean how do I heal myself while I still see my family - You would have to be able to safeguard your own well being by exercising clear, respectful boundaries. In other words, you would need to be healed to the point that you are strong enough that they can't hurt you, instead of being strong enough to try to withstand the pain. Very tough stuff, and in my case, took me decades to achieve.

See my blog post: http://healandforgive.blogspot.com/2008/03/setting-clear-respectful-boundaries.html

It is understandable that you feel at odds with estranging from your mother. Whether to estrange is not an easy choice, nor is the decision to be taken lightly. For me, after exhausting every possible avenue to have a relationship with my mother, there came I time when estrangement seemed like the only healthy option for me. I made the decision to estrange with the help of a therapist and with the aid of a book titled, "Divorcing a Parent: Free Yourself from the Past and Live the Life You've Always Wanted," By Beverly Engel. The book is out of print but can still be found: http://www.amazon.com/Divorcing-Parent-Healthy-Choice-Children/dp/0929923189/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1323998651&sr=1-2

Engel’s offers a compassionate and very comprehensive guide, including offering a concrete method of determining whether severing a relationship is really the best thing for you; what to expect if you do decide to estrange, alternatives, coping mechanisms, and much more. I found this book invaluable on my own journey. I highly recommend it to anyone considering parental estrangement.

I think you have a valid concern in that estrangement from your mother could damage your relationship with your dad. I had a good support system when I decided not to see my mother anymore; however, I wasn't prepared for the shock of having everyone in my family, including my three brothers and my grandparents estrange from me, when I estranged from my mother. Having said that, after 14 years of total family estrangement, and 5 years of reconciliation, given the degree of violence in my family, I don't believe I would have been able to heal without my time apart from my mother. Losing my entire family of origin was a tremendous loss; yet, with loss came growth, and eventually, emotional freedom. But, it was a long hard road.

I'm running out of room, so I'm going to finish in a second comment.......

.....be right back....

healandforgive said...

.......I can relate to your statement, "I am often blamed for why family members can't get along."

Frequently in abusive family systems, when the responsible party doesn’t know how to take responsibility for their own actions, it is common for a parent to use the “divide and conquer” method of control to maintain “status quo.” A scapegoat is chosen to carry the blame, shame, and responsibility in order for the rest of the family to escape personal pain and/or accountability. I was that scapegoat in my family. Ironically, it is often the healthiest family member who is chosen as a scapegoat.

I also used to "fake it" with my family. I did that trying to "buy" their love. It didn't work. This is a quote from one of my writings that you may find relevant to your situation:

"I failed to individuate from my mother. I wasn’t her equal. I still felt like a damaged child who was responsible for her anger, blame, and hurt feelings. I couldn’t separate from my mother, because unconsciously, I kept looking for the love and approval I never received as a child. Without thinking, I wanted Mom to replace the bad internal messages she had instilled within me with good internal messages. I wanted her to be my mom and finish what she started. I didn’t yet realize that I could and should replace the negative messages myself. It would take many years and many failed attempts before I was able to learn to separate from my mother.

"Without the security of my mother’s love, I responded to my sense of responsibility as I had in the past, by vacillating between rebellion and compliance. Either I rebelled against my mother with defensiveness, or I met her with peace-making endeavors.

"Either way, I didn’t make choices that benefited me as an individual, separate from my mother; therefore, I lived in emotional separation from myself.

"Desperate for a relationship with my mother, I sacrificed my needs and succumbed to the pressure I received from family and friends to forgive and forget. At twenty-five years old, after living with the pain of constant chaos, I struggled to turn a blind eye to the abuse in the family and Mom’s hypercritical nature towards me, all in an attempt to shed my scapegoat mantle, to “get along” and to feel loved. In an effort to buy Mom’s love and that of my family, I read Making Peace With Your Parents, by Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D. Naively, without requiring acknowledgment for my injuries, an apology for my suffering or any expectation for the end of abusive behaviors, I set out to “forgive and forget.”

"Despite following Dr. Bloomfield’s insightful recommendations to a T, peace was not on the horizon. Succumbing to forced forgiveness inadvertently put my healing on hold. I actually betrayed myself when I accepted betrayal as part of my relationship with my mother."

Thank you sharing a bit of your story with me. And, all my best to you on your journey.

Warmly,
Nancy

Erin Cosgrove said...

Hi there,

I hope your blog is still active. I have an interesting dynamic going on right now, and I think from reading your post, I may just have had an epiphany.

It took a great deal of energy to un-enmesh from my family, particularly my mother. It occurs to me today that I end r'ships prematurely sometimes, because of the same fear you mention -- becoming enmeshed.

However, I find myself involved in EXACTLY that kind of r'ship. Intense. Upon seeing a therapist, I was told I was getting something from this r'ship that we need to figure out. And I think that's it. It's enmeshment.

Now what?

So if I am recreating the needs that enmeshment served me as a kid, what are they serving now?

I'm at a loss.

Erin

healandforgive said...

Hi Erin,

Thank you for visiting my blog. I'm glad that you had an epiphany while reading.

Your epiphany resulted in some great questions:

"Am I recreating the needs that enmeshment served me as a kid?"

"If so what are they serving now?"

And, "Now what?"

Without knowing you or your story I don't have any idea about the answers; however, they are great questions to explore with your therapist.

If you have figured out what it is you are getting from the relationship, you already figured out the hard part. Your therapist can help you figure out the rest and how to develop a new healthy relationship pattern.

Best wishes on your journey,
Nancy

Katherine said...

As a daughter, I was enmeshed with my mother, or another way to put it was that I was strongly bonded with her and saw her through a child's eyes up on a pedestal. That was my doing and it was up to me to see her as a real human being and continue to love her. I set boundaries with her and we both know now where one ends and the other begins. Now I have a 21 year old, adult son who feels "enmeshed" with me. His father died when he was four. It is a good, healthy, and normal thing for him to separate from me. I am giving him space to do so. It is difficult for parents to find their new role in relating to their adult daughter or son. As they move into adulthood, boundaries must be set in place by both sides. I believe the effort of setting boundaries, learning to balance relationships, learning who you are and who you are not along with seeing your parent through adult eyes with human error, is worth all the effort. I love my Mom as herself and she loves me as me. She is far from perfect and so am I. If our parent is willing to go through the difficult break and realignment of the new adult relationship, I believe that is the most rewarding choice one could have without regrets. It will have painful moments but maturity is sure to follow for both involved.

healandforgive said...

Well said!!!