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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life's Passages - Transition to Adulthood -Becoming Un-Enmeshed

Last week, I wrote about "letting go" and how childhood abuse affects the later seasons of life. As I struggle to find a new rhythm at this stage in my life, I am reminded of prior passages that led to great growth. The first of course was my transition into adulthood. Boy was that a long and rocky transition! One that overlapped with other seasons as well.

I didn't understand at the time I entered adulthood that I was completely enmeshed with my mother. Or, that my enmeshment interfered with my ability to make adult choices that were not influenced by thoughts of her. For women like me, who grew up with an emotionally abusive and non-nurturing mother, healthy independence is a difficult place to achieve.

Long into adulthood, I failed to individuate from my mother. I was still a damaged child who felt 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 that I never received as a child. So, I confused her needs, feelings, and opinions, with my own, rather than confidently making choices that were in my best interest.

Lucy Rose Fischer, Ph.D., in her book, Linked Lives: Adult Daughters and Their Mothers, writes: “For most daughters, it is the stability of the mothers’ attachment to them that allows them to go through the process of separation and develop a sense of independence.”

In other words, when we feel confident in the security of our home base - we are free to venture out and separate in a healthy manner. In the absence of this security, I remained negatively tied to my mother.

I had the normal "fight or flight" human survival instinct. For me, after a lifetime of fighting with my mother and remaining "stuck," I took flight. Our fourteen year estrangement gave me the space necessary to developed a new emotional foundation. Becoming un-enmeshed took years of physical separation along with hard work and complicated emotional growth - including learning to provide myself with the love and approval that I missed as a child.

During our years apart, I broke free from my enmeshment, and could see myself as a separate individual. I learned to exercise great boundaries, and to make choices that were based solely on what was best for me.

For many years, I thought that reconciling with my mother meant returning to my enmeshed (and abusive) family system. And it did, as long as I was still enmeshed.

I "let go" of the old relationship and built a new one in which there are clear, distinguishable lines of emotional separation.

Today, my own internal parent watches over me and provides all that which my mother is unable to give. For me, having a strong internal parent is what constitutes adulthood.


Marj aka Thriver said...

I think this is a HUGE survivor topic, but it doesn't get talked about much. I really had to work hard to end the enmeshment with my sister. It was especially difficult because she helped me survive...and she's my identical twin.

healandforgive said...

Hi Marj,

What a great point. I agree that enmeshment is a HUGE survivor issue. The added dimensions involved with twin issues are mind-boggling. Kudos for achieving a very difficult task!

Anonymous said...

wow, another wonderful post. i too feel like i had to go through detaching from enmeshment from my mother. for me this was especially in relinquishing my parental and companion roles with her (my father was the abuser in the family, she had turned to the children to meet her emotional needs for companionship and parental guidance). i had to encourage her to build her own supportive relationships and that it was time for me to live my own life and she could do this on her own. i enjoyed the power i had as her "parent" but it wasn't good for either of us (i had no mother for one thing).

i really appreciate this post also because it brings up the issues i'm going through now as a parent facing my own daughter's beginnings of independence (toddlerhood). i'm striving to be conscious of my past relationship with my mother, not wanting to repeat her mistakes, and trying to be a securely attached parent who is comfortable enough to let her do her own thing, yet still feel loved for who she is separate from me. and especially not to use her to meet my needs! thanks!!!

healandforgive said...

Hi MM,

How sad when we have to mother our mothers rather than the other way around.

Learning to mother myself without a role-model was a huge under-taking.

Interesting that you brought up parenting. I just posted something I was writing on parenting when I received your comment.

Thanks again for sharing!