Re-evaluate the relationship
Every person's history, culture, present circumstances, and needs are unique, so if you desire a change in your relationship with your mom, the first place to start is reflect upon and journal about what YOU need.
Begin to envision what a better relationship with your mother would look like, even if you're not yet sure how to achieve it. Here are some things you can do:
- Make a list of what you like and what you dislike about the relationship
- Make a list of any conversation topics you want to steer away from with her
- Make a list of activies you dislike engaging in with your mom
- Think about the type and frequency of contact you want with her
- Ask trusted friends about their relationships with their moms
- Read a book about healthy boundaries or individuation...
- See a psychotherapist to discuss this in depth and make a plan
- Search for online support groups for folks facing similar challenges
- Look for examples of healthy mother-child relationships to guide you. If you don't know anyone, then look to fictional characters in books, movies, or TV
Cultivating your mindset
It is critical to talk to yourself and with loved ones and deeply commit to owning and honoring your needs, even though your mom may protest to the changes.
Test the waters
If you're convinced it's time for some changes, do some experimentation. This will allow you to collect "data" about how amenable your mom is to change, and to what extent she can respond in a safe and grounded way. Observe how your mom reacts when you change your behaviors, starting in as subtle a way as possible. Here are some examples of subtle testing behaviors:
- If she is talking about something you're uncomfortable with, try to just let it all fall flat and act distracted, excuse yourself to use the bathroom, or pretend a call is coming in on your cell. Or, see if you can re-route the subject in a non-confrontational way, such as, "Sorry to change the subject, but I just remembered something I've been meaning to ask you about..." Notice her reaction, and how persistent she is in staying on the uncomfortable topic.
- If she calls or texts you too frequently: experiment with waiting longer before replying, or not replying at all on occasion. In the beginning, if she protests, you may feel ok about using some white lies while you gauge how she reacts to your decreased availability over time. Does she need to be told explicitly that you are decreasing contact, or can she roll with it and adjust to the change gradulally?
- Take note of how your siblings manage your mom. Has anyone figured out how to be in relationship with your her at a safe and comfortable distance? What did it take to achieve that? (Note that this one may or may not be a helpful exercise for you, as some children hold a "special" too-close role with mom that doesn't apply to her other children.)
Taking space from mom
Once you have calibrated her response to your experiments, you will have more information about how to proceed. If she is responding in a safe and appropriate way to your experiments, you can increase your withdrawing behaviors and set boundaries more directly with her. Her reactions may give you more infomration about what kinds of conversations you need to have with her. For example, does she "get it" that when she calls you at work, it disrupts your flow? Can she accept that you are currently very focused on your new significant other, and you're not available to talk as frequently? Does she accept that some mothers/children interact less freqently than you do, and this doesnt mean they love each other any less?
You may need to consider an alternate approach if she is having a dramatic negative response to your subtle or more overt space-taking. This would be a good time to enlist the support of both your friends, healthy family members, and maybe a psychotherapist. If your mom is having a strong, negative response, or falling apart as you take some space, be prepared for guilt, guilt, guilt. The guilt may be showered upon you by your mother's objections and/or anger. Or, she may be queitly stewing, and you feel guilt well up inside of you because you know she is not pleased. You are practicing new behaviors and giving yourself permission to focus in your own needs -this is going to feel strange at first. Anticipating the likelihood of guilt feelings may help you stay committed to the changes you are making for your own comfort and mental health. It's worth it!
Enmeshment has many causes, and the severity varies. For some, it is a situation that can improve greatly with heart to heart conversations and gradual changes to relationship patterns. On the other end of the spectrum is severe, abusive enmeshment that may be very difficult to change, such as emotional incest or narcissistic abuse. In these cases, it may be necessary to assert very strict boundaries, or even cut off contact with your mother - and I highly recommend you seek the support of a psychotherapist who's familiar with these issues. In either case, challenging the status quo can be confusing and overwhelming. Expect to feel guilt, anxiety, and anger at times. But also prepare for feeling freer and more content as you give yourself persmission to take the space you so desperately crave. Be careful, and circle the wagons of your support network around you so that you feel loved, supported, and nourished by you healthiest relationships!