In my last post, I talked about the problem some folks experience of feeling burdened or overwhelmed by their mother's needs. For some, even admitting they feel this way can bring up feelings of confusion and guilt. Often, this is because the person was "trained" in a sense to be oriented to meeting their's mother's needs - sometimes from a very young age.
Here are some signs that your mother is asking too much of you:
-You often groan or feel anxious when you see her phone number on your caller ID
-You would describe your mom as “needy”, “clingy”, “overbearing”, "smothering", or “demanding”
-You feel more like the adult, while your mother sometimes feels like a child
-She asks or demands that you help her with chores or finances too often
-You feel obliged to be “on-call” almost all the time in case she wants to talk, text, hang out with you, or lean on you for support
-You feel guilty when you try to end a call with her, when you decline plans with her, when you chose to spend time with friends and partners instead, etc.
-You frequently find yourself comforting your mom, giving her advice, listening to her problems and worries
-She shares things with you that you’re uncomfortable with or overwhelmed by. For example, her marital complaints or her financial problems
-She is persistent or guilt-trips you when you don’t reply to her calls/texts quickly enough
-Your mom rarely asks how you are, or if she does, she doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the answer
-Sometimes she cries to you and it feels dramatic or even manipulative
-You have chronic or persistent anxiety and feelings of guilt
-You talk to, visit, or help your mom most often out of a sense of obligation rather than a truly desiring or enjoying the contact
Why is this happening?
Enmeshment can develop for a number of reasons. Sometimes it comes from your mother's expectations of how a mother-child relationship should be, based on her experiences in her own family. Often an enmeshed mother is relying on her child to meet important social and emotional needs because her marriage and other adult relationships are problematic or absent. And some enmeshed mothers have longstanding, maladaptive personality traits - or even full-blown personality disorders.
Your family system was at heightened risk for developing this enmeshed mother-child dynamic if one or more of the following happened:
-Your mother was extremely close with her own mother into adulthood (note: a person who was very distant with her own parents may overcompensate and smother her children)
-One parent died prematurely
-Your parents separated or divorced
-A parent was emotionally and/or physically absent (due to serious illness, workaholism, addiction, depression, affairs, etc.)
-Your father was physically or otherwise abusive to your mom
-Either parent abused alcohol, pills, or drugs
-Your mother was raised in a dysfunctional family
-Your mother displays narcissistic or borderline personality traits
With some effort, we can bring compassion to a parent who displays frustrating or even abusive behaviors. But this is not the same as accepting it or resigning yourself to a life of this dynamic. You have every right to assert your need for space. A good psychotherapist can support you in making chages in the ways you interact with your mother so that you can breathe.
Maysie Tift is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Master Hypnotist with offices in San Rafael, CA and San Francisco, CA.