“If I’m not enmeshed then I am alone”
These are the harrowing words I’ve just read on a forum I’m on by someone who is currently shocked at how her enmeshed family have gone totally silent on her (giving her the silent treatment as a manipulation tactic). The words hit me because that is exactly it isn’t it?
With a narcissistic mother like mine, (perhaps any toxic personality disordered parent?) you are either a source of supply or you are literally of no use and so therefore, discarded. It sounds simple and obvious when I write it like that, but in reality trying to fully digest this stuff on a deeper and emotional level is so hard.
I’ve been reading loads the last few days about enmeshment and engulfment with a narcissistic mother. I haven’t really read anything that I didn’t already know, but sometimes just reading things over and over again helps to shake off any bits of doubt or denial that try and creep back in from time to time.
For me personally, my mother was an ignoring narcissistic mother until I was old enough to be of any use to her. That happened when I was a late teenager, maybe 17 or so and I now understand that this happened when I started to kill off/hide my true self and tried to be more like her. My mother applauses people like her – being like her, doing things she does, having the same opinion as her are all ways of seeking her approval and I learnt that early. Having lived without a proper mother for my entire life, I suppose looking back in hindsight, I thought I’d finally done it – I had finally got her love and approval. I learnt to shape myself to be as similar to her as I could be. I learnt to let her make my decisions about everything in my life – my job, my friends, boyfriends, clothes, plastic surgery(!!), anything and everything. She had total control over me to the point where, like all engulfing narcissists, I was an extension of her rather than my own separate self.
We were fused together. Add to this the fact that due to her narcissism, I had to parent her. I had to be her best friend and her confident about her man troubles, sex life, friendships and financial problems and I switched off having any of my own needs or feelings to always keep try and keep her good. I literally cloned myself into a “mini me” as she called me (something I now understand every engulfing narcissistic mother wants!).
I started drinking and smoking with her, I went to clubs with her, I let her dress me, tell me how to do my make up, tell me what boys (or men) to date. There were no boundaries whatsoever. I think the saddest thing about this is that I genuinely thought we were close. I really believed she was my best friend. That we had the best mother and daughter relationship ever – and after 17 odd years of feeling complete neglect, I couldn’t be happier.
I now understand my need for her love and approval is what cost me my entire being. I let her engulf me, smother me, control me – I fully submerged my self to her.
Unfortunately as I now understand, she was living vicariously through me and so the decisions she made for me, the directions she pushed me in etc weren’t for my own good. They were for her own good. Me and her were now the same person and so she has every right to take this control. I was a weak puppet who was completely unaware of this. Maybe that’s just as well?!
I leant the hard way that if I dared to do something or make a decision without her – on my own (god forbid) I would pay. Unless of course that decision benefitted her somehow. She would get so angry with me if I made the “wrong” decision and as punishment she would either rage, withdraw or give me the silent treatment. The withdrawal was the worst, she would literally cut me off and I would feel like I had for the 17 or so years she was neglectful of me. I would have another taster of what life would be like and that would scare me into compliance again. So I would make sure to seek her “advice” so as to not upset her. I became her finger puppet.
It shocks me writing this quite how bad this is. I have hundreds, maybe even thousands of stories I could write to evidence this but I’ll save that for another time.
When I met my now fiancé though, I was living on my own (down the road to her – obviously), but I spent every weekend at her house, drinking and smoking with her – listening to her problems, telling her mine. But when me and my fiancé got more serious, he started to see her bad behaviour and we started to discuss it. Over time I told him of the neglectful ways I had been treated as a child growing up. I cried to him about things that had happened, he saw the dynamic at play well before I did. Sadly due to my engulfment with her I had become extremely codependent and felt lost without someone telling me what to do and say. She tried her very best to get me to break up with him. She tried EVERYTHING!! She told me he would never love me as much as his ex wife, that he would always put his children before me and I wouldn’t be able to cope with that – she told me we would never have any money, that he didn’t love me or he would have proposed by now, she even looked up his medical records at the hospital she worked in as she was convinced he couldn’t have any more kids and was going to trap me and then leave me childless.
Because of this I was extremely insecure in the beginning of our relationship. I was constantly triggered by his ex wife and their history, worried sick about him not wanting kids with me one day, scared she was right that he would get back with his ex wife, scared he didn’t love me enough.
Thank god I then took myself to therapy.
So here I am, 4 years later. 4 years after meeting my now fiancé and 4 years into therapy and I’m still figuring all of this out. The engulfment/enmeshment was really severe huh? I didn’t even know. I wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t of got my therapy. What if I was still being manipulated by her? What if I was still her finger puppet? I would be so lonely I’m sure as she would have driven away any suitable and healthy boyfriends or friends.
Anyway, pulling away from her and separating myself from her is clearly causing all sorts of problems for her. I don’t think she can quite believe that the girl she engendered for so long is not reliant on her anymore.
She is FURIOUS that I am living my own, independent life, that I make my own choices. The fact I am getting married in 3 weeks time must be such a hard reality for her to bare. No wonder she didn’t come to my dress fitting – I think the reality of me standing there dressed in my gown, marrying someone that I’ve chosen myself, against her will, must be excruciatingly painful for her. She can’t bare it. Who do I think I am?
Writing this has helped me make sense of things once again. I know this stuff but putting it down into a coherent narrative helps to cement it in a bit better.
With my mum, it truly is enmeshment – total control or nothing. I think she’s just about given up on me now, and I guess what’s why I feel like there is nothing left – because there truly isn’t. Unless I am letting her control my life entirely, or telling her she’s so wonderful, there isn’t anything there at all. She isn’t interested in me as a separate person, she can’t even entertain that as a concept – and so I’m back in that neglectful position I was in growing up – but this time I’m a grown up. A 30 year old woman about to get married. I don’t give her anything, I am no longer supplying her ego in any way and so it’s literally as simple as that. I am no use to her (again). We are entirely different people now (again) – thank god. Our lives are completely different. She can’t celebrate my successes or enjoy my differences – in fact they are offensive to her.
Yet here I am. Nobody’s finger puppet. All bad ass and shit making a life for myself.
There’s not one decision in my life anymore that she has controlled. Not one. Not one decision I’ve needed her “advice” for. In the last year I’ve moved house, got a new job and planned my wedding. She wasn’t even there when I brought my wedding dress (I planned it that way).
So in 3 weeks today when I walk down the aisle with my dad on my arm towards my lovely fiancé, I know I’ve done this all by myself. Against the odds. And when I see her crying, I’ll know it’s through the disbelief she isn’t controlling me rather than any remorse. She is crying for herself, not for me.
I’m hoping this helps me to rid myself of the constant shame and guilt that I feel. Perhaps the guilt I feel is the last ties of our enmeshment – me still care-taking her. So I want to say goodbye to that.