The Life of an Enmeshed Child

The Life of an Enmeshed Child

Below is an excerpt from a fantastic blog about the toxic effects of growing up in an enmeshed, narcissistic environment. Here is the link to that blog (and an excerpt below the link about what this toxic environment looks like).

http://narcissismschild.com/

When a narcissist and their child become enmeshed, the roles of parent and child become reversed. A narcissist with an enmeshed child—or children—expects her child to continually anticipate and meet her needs. In this role reversal the child finds himself catering to his parent’s physical and emotional needs. Meanwhile his needs go unmet.

Narcissistic adults do not provide their children with any guidance. The child is left to fumble his way through the grade school years, preteen years, and adolescence. Likewise, the parent does not protect the child against any threats. No affirmations of his worth as a separate person are given. And the child will lack nurturance as well as appropriate affection.

As time goes on, the narcissistic parent and child become almost fused. Enmeshed adult children do not know where in their childhood their parent ended and they began. This lack of boundary definition follows them into adulthood and with other people—particularly romantic partners.

Children with healthy parents learn to make their own decisions and assert their independence by making decisions that their parents don’t approve of. Not so with the enmeshed child. The corrosive bond he shares with his mother means he seeks to make decisions that please her. For she makes clear that there is to be no displeasure from her child. However, it is simply impossible for any child to avoid displeasing his parents, especially if one of them is a narcissist.

When displeased, the narcissist may react with rage and punish her child for even minor infractions. Or, the narcissist may use the one tactic that all narcissists have a black belt in—guilt.

Can You Feel It?

Very recently I learned from a good friend that I am not alone in feeling physical heaviness and pressure in my chest when I’m struggling emotionally. My friend works as a trauma therapist, and occasionally I text her a 911 when gossip has injured me or when I am feeling misunderstood and small. Being an INFP has its advantages with regard to writing, painting, photography, and other artistic endeavors that require being sensitive to one’s surroundings and being a keen observer, but sometimes daily living is painful as an INFP (see Keirsey Temperament Website).

One evening a couple of years ago, I was experiencing extreme anxiety, so I reached out to my 911 friend via text. The anxiety felt strangely similar to what I had experienced as a young girl in Oklahoma during my parents’ divorce. Let me tell you something. Childhood wounds do not care how old you are. They do not care how established you are. And they certainly don’t care whether you are a professional football player, a file clerk, a surgeon, a teacher, or a construction worker. Childhood wounds will find you. Time itself does NOT heal childhood wounds. Hard work, patience, sobriety, support, and grace are the mechanisms for healing old wounds. As we progress in this recovery work, we come face to face with old pain. As long as we are willing to experience that pain, with the support of friends and others in recovery, we will come through brighter, stronger, and happier. Let me warn you though: it’s not for wimps. Honestly, there have been times when I have wished I had never set foot in a therapist’s office. What’s with all these layers? Can’t we be done and finished? Why does the Universe bring this old junk back to the forefront after I think I am done with it? I don’t know the answer, but I don’t know what else to do besides keep putting one foot in front of the other.

So, back to the evening two years ago when I texted my friend for support. My anxiety was through the roof, and my emotions reverted back to the same panic I had felt as a 12-year-old girl in 1976 when my mother drove off to the store to pick up a few items and did not return in a timely fashion. I lived alone with my mother after my parents’ divorce. We lived on five acres between two small towns in Oklahoma. Our house sat on Route 66 with no gas stations, convenience stores, or other shopping nearby. Six miles one way on Route 66 would take you to Yukon, Oklahoma, and eight miles the other direction on Route 66 would take you to El Reno, Oklahoma. When she left for the store, I expected she would return in an hour or so, but she didn’t. As minutes passed on the clock, I tried to assure myself that she was simply doing more shopping than she had originally planned. I tried hard to imagine other non-tragic scenarios as to why she wasn’t back yet. As hard as I tried, the ideas felt like lies to me. Panic filled my chest and it was hard to get a deep breath.

I rocked in the rocking chair. I prayed. No mother. I read. I paced. No mother. I watched television and strained to ignore thoughts of tragedy. Still no mother. If we had used cell phones in 1976, this would not have been such a problem for a 12-year-old girl all alone in the country. But I was pretty much stuck – physically and emotionally. Too young to drive and no car even if I were old enough to drive. Should I try to find the phone number of one of my teachers? Scenarios of how I would sleep or when  I would need to call the police if she didn’t return invaded my thoughts. The panic was physical as well as emotional. My mouth was dry and the thought of food made me feel sick.

Finally, about three hours after she left, I saw the headlights of her red Chevette moving up the service road to our house. Thank God! I ran out to greet her, but noticed two figures in the front seat instead of one. Who was in the car with my mother? As the red dot came closer, I could see that a man was driving. My mother was in the passenger’s seat. When the car was parked, I was able to see that the front of my mother’s car looked as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. I also noticed that my mother was passed out in the front seat. The man explained that he and his wife had been driving along Route 66 and had seen my mother veer off the highway into a ditch. He and I walked to the passenger door. My mother didn’t move. I opened the door and was hit in the face with the odor of alcohol. The man and I managed to get her out of the car and walk her into the house. We placed her on the couch where she slept through the night.

Relief flooded my body. I could now go to sleep and have some peace. I locked all of the doors, turned out the lights, brushed my teeth, set my alarm, and crawled into bed. I had survived. I was a survivor! Unfortunately, the trauma of the event had made its home inside me where it would stay for as long as it wanted to, rearing its ugly head at inconvenient times just like it did 40 years later when my mother was battling cancer and I was once again in the role of worrying about her. I sent my 911 text to my friend and she texted me back with some excellent help.

“Julie, look at your wedding ring or your short hair or something that reminds you that you are a healthy adult. This will help you remember that, although you are having these feelings just like you did 40 years ago, you can also ground yourself in the knowledge that you are now a healthy woman who has done much recovery work. You are no longer helpless. You can drive. You can vote. You can make decisions that are good for you. You are not helpless like you were when you were a young girl at night alone in your house out in the country. You have options now. You can make choices that are good for you and you can be your own loving parent.”

I can’t tell you how effective this has been for me. Amazing how something so simple can stand as such a powerful reminder of the work I’ve done to get better. I asked my friend if she had ever experienced this physical heaviness in her chest when she was struggling with anxiety or loneliness. To my pleasant surprise, she said, “Yes! All the time!”

She explained that physical pain and emotional pain come from the same area of the brain. She said that it is actually healthy to feel emotional pain in this way because it means that we are in touch with our bodies and connected to pain and joy in a strong way. Although it is extremely unpleasant to feel those feelings, I am grateful to know that I am connected to my “self.” I am also grateful to know that others, like my friend, experience emotions in this way. All of the years that I drank were spent trying to numb these heavy feelings. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if I had had some coping skills and tools as a child. A guitar, for example, would have been extremely valuable to help me process some of the loneliness and heaviness I felt.

I’m grateful today. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Write something in the comments below. Let me know something about you. I also encourage you to take the Keirsey temperament evaluation and find out what your unique temperament is. Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Introvert

“I am very picky about whom I give my energy to. I prefer to reserve my time, intensity and spirit exclusively to those who reflect sincerity.” Dan Voire

“Don’t underestimate me because I’m quiet. I know more than I say, think more than I speak, and observe more than you know.” ~ Michaela Chung

Pain

Today my pain is heavy. It weighs on my chest and in  my gut almost like a tangible force pressing on me. It’s hard to breathe. It’s hard to not cry. The pain is so very similar to physical pain. Do you feel emotions in this way? Do painful emotions hurt your body in this way, also? Please comment below. I would like to know.

I’ve always had a high tolerance for physical pain. I bump into the corner of a desk and I don’t really stop to examine the injury or to complain about the pain: I’ve got things to do! At times I look down and notice my hand or finger is bleeding – not knowing that I’ve cut it on something. Migraines get me down occasionally. I’m convinced it’s my body’s way of saying, “You know what? You need a break. Lie down and rest.”

Emotional pain is a much different matter for me. I have very few coping skills to deal with emotional pain. My eyes grow heavy. My breathing is shallow. My thought processes are disconnected. The enemy of goodness tells me things will never get better. He says I am dumb and repeats things that those who do not support me have said in the past to deflect any responsibility for their part of the relationship I have shared with them. Words such as, “You are so sensitive!” “What is wrong with you? You have so much to be grateful for!” “Stop being so emotional!” make matters worse and only serve to make me feel even more isolated.

What methods do you use to cope positively with emotional pain? Here are a few of my methods at attempting to cope, although many times I don’t cope very well. I have a very difficult time getting the demons to leave once they get comfortable.

Sometimes I go to a 12-step meeting. Sometimes I text a friend who understands what it’s like to be working those 12 steps. Sometimes I break down and cry. Sometimes I blog. A lot of times I give up and sleep, but that never helps anything. That’s just an escape. It’s an, “I simply cannot deal with this right now” method of going forward. Sometimes I draw or paint or involve myself in a craft project.

I used to drink to drown the pain, but the pain always swam to the surface. I used to starve myself of food in attempt to control something!  I always admire people who can simply get through to the other side of the pain, calmly knowing it will pass at some point. An episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” comes to mind. The one where Amelia Shepherd is heavily triggered on her wedding day. Her mother and other members of her family do not plan to attend her wedding, and she is crying and distraught and attempting to convince her mother over the phone that she is neither drunk nor using drugs. Meanwhile, on the other side of the door, Meredith Grey is yelling at Amelia to simply “Stuff your emotions like everyone else does! Quit crying and move on!” Don’t health problems raise their ugly head when we simply stuff our emotions? Isn’t the right thing to do to get them out? To expel them? Please write in the comments section below and tell me your effective methods of coping with emotional pain.

Broken Parts

The broken parts of me are triggered by just about anything: the observation of a friend’s practical replacement home windows, a co-worker’s use of a Shout stain-removing wipe, or watching someone toast bread in the employee break room.

Recently, in the community kitchen at my office, a woman was toasting bread to make herself a sandwich for lunch. My observation of the woman and the realization that she was toasting bread for a sandwich triggered my messed-up self. Old sad feelings flooded my chest. My heart felt a little heavy. Why in the world would toast stir up feelings, you ask?

Well, it’s the self-care. Going to the trouble of making toast for a sandwich represents to me self-care. Occasionally, when I witness someone doing something which I perceive to be a demonstration of self care, I am reminded that I come from a family who is painfully short on knowing how to do this “self-care” thing. We are always much better at functioning in chaos and “getting by” than we are at self-care.

Those of us who grew up in toxic environments have a tendency to thrive in chaos. My role models took Ibuprofen for tooth pain instead of seeing a dentist to fix the problem. They carried around rolls of toilet paper for runny noses instead of Kleenex. I will never again be a child and have the opportunity to view healthy role models. That is gone. The sad feelings brought on by toast stem from an ancient longing for a mother who takes proper care of herself.

I realize that one of the reasons my mother did not take very good care of herself is because she was busy taking care of other people. I know this is a fairly common situation with mothers. My mother was at least slightly worse, but probably much worse, at the important job of self-care than other mothers. As a child, I always wanted her to get a manicure or hang out with friends or care about the clothes she wore. I wanted a washer and dryer at home instead of an expensive couch. The thought of old meatloaf under her unkempt fingernails was scary to me. I think we can all understand how a child wants her mother to be happy and behave in appropriate ways.

Although she was never diagnosed by a doctor as depressed, I feel sure she was. And the reason she was never diagnosed by a doctor is because the last time I recall her going to see a doctor was in 1970 (at least before she passed away in 2014). The last six months of her life were spent in many offices of doctors.

The self-care ache in my heart is two-fold. First, it’s an ache for my mother. I wanted her to be “okay.” I wanted her to value herself enough to take care of herself. I wanted her to value herself at least as much as she valued my dad, my aunt, my children, and me. She always ended up on the back burner. I wanted her to spend a little bit of money on herself every now and then. There were lots of times I would come to visit and her kitchen sink would need a good cleaning, so I would look for cleaning products and find none. She just never had the things other mothers had. Every time I see a grandmother wearing lipstick and nail polish, my heart hurts a little.

My mother was an extremely creative woman. She could take the upholstery off of a couch and use it as a pattern to make new upholstery for the couch. Truly amazing talent. But she never seemed to realize her creative gift. She would minimize her talent and honestly believe, “Oh, that’s nothing. Anyone could do this if they just tried.”

The second fold of this ache is an ache for myself because I had no healthy role model for this – no training as to how to value myself and provide good self-care. The person I looked up to was broken. There are lots of ways I neglected to take care of myself over the years: choosing toxic friendships and romances; believing my inner critic; “getting by” with worn-out undergarments or socks with holes; drinking myself crazy; and not making myself toasted sandwiches. 

Several months ago in the lunch room at work, I walked in to heat up my Lean Cuisine, and I watched a woman open up several square plastic containers filled with various salad toppings for her lunch. So much trouble! She opened the container of lettuce and added diced red peppers, shredded carrots and cheese. She drizzled dressing on top of it. Even the salad dressing was in a cute green plastic container. She snapped the plastic lid on the container of salad and shook it while she glanced casually at the newspaper lying nearby. My broken self was stunned by my own feelings; feelings that seemed to come out of nowhere. Feelings of sadness and grief for something I will never have. Part of the trigger was related to the ease with which the woman had taken such good care of herself. She assembled her healthy lunch and did so while casually reading the newspaper. She had obviously been raised by someone who had taught her how to properly care for herself.

The triggers don’t happen very often. I’ve done a lot of work to learn some skills for being my own loving parent. However, there are times when I yearn to be the daughter of one of those women who owns Tupperware and crock pots and savings accounts; a person who plans things like pregnancy and what to wear to work each day. The kicker is that I probably look like one of these “together” people I’m describing. I’m better than I used to be, but I’m not as good as I want to be. I will not give up.

Empty Praise

cropped-annajulie1.jpgWe’ve all heard people say, “I want to give my children all of the things I never had growing up.” While this is a normal feeling, it’s not always the best parenting behavior. My parents raised me with lavish praise at every opportunity. Their intention was noble, and I believe they did this because they felt a lack of praise in their childhood. Therefore, when they had the opportunity to raise a child, most likely they wanted to give me what they felt they did not have growing up.

Unfortunately, their endless praise of me backfired, and I wound up feeling extremely insecure in spite of all the positive strokes. This was always so very confusing to me. How could I feel insecure when my parents were so supportive of me? After many months working with a therapist, and my involvement with other personal growth programs, I became stronger. I learned to value myself for things I can control – like kindness, empathy, listening skills, hard work, etc. Before my recovery work, the insecurity I felt was perplexing. I soon began studying something called “empty praise.”

By praising a child for something they have no control over — such as appearance or natural ability — parents inadvertently create praise “junkies.” These children grow up with very little internal sense of their strength and abilities. Very often, these same children have been protected from failure and have not only been spared the experience of failure, but have also been spared the strength and self-reliance that comes from trying and failing and then trying again. Below is an excerpt from Amy McCready’s article on Huffington Post, “Mistakes Too Many Parents Make When They Praise Their Kids.” McCready eloquently articulates the “empty praise” scenario.

TURNING PRAISE INTO LABELS

Praise, like sugar, can be tricky — and sometimes it shows up even where we don’t intend. For instance, when we label or compare our kids, we’re praising them, or worse, belittling them, often without realizing it. By claiming an “athletic one” or our “funny one” or the “shy one,” we highlight abilities (or inabilities) through comparison, and package all of our children into neat little boxes. Even more subtle is the designation of a go-to kid. We all have one — it’s the child we trust to carry the full salad bowl to the table. He’s the one we “go-to” when we want something done quickly and without a fuss. Relying on the go-to kid is a type of praise that can be just as damaging as its overt counterpart — not only because kids pick up on everything (even the fact that Javier always gets the cool jobs), but also because with it, we unknowingly tell kids that they are their label and can’t control who they are or what they do. Ouch!

The antidote: Even if you know Molly could have a career in modeling, or Charlie would rather mail himself to Siberia than speak in front of an audience, resist the urge to label Molly as “the pretty one” and compare Charlie as “my shy kid.” While you’re handing out family tasks, divvy up age-appropriate jobs equally so everyone gets a chance to drop (or successfully transport) the salad bowl, using plastic if you’re truly concerned. And who knows? Maybe with encouragement Charlie will someday find himself on a stage addressing thousands, without even having to picture them all in their underwear.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-mccready/mistakes-too-many-parents-make-when-they-praise-their-kids_b_7971142.html