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No boundaries with my mother

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  anita 6 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #196195

    Zoe
    Participant

    I am currently going through a personal crisis due to a break-up and I have been spending a lot of time talking to my mother on the phone. Several of our conversations have gone on for 3 or 4 hours. While at the time I felt that I was getting the interest and understanding that I needed, after the call I felt empty and like my self-esteem had taken a blow. I think this was partly because I had neglected some of the more mundane activities that I had planned on doing for that day and had lost a pretty big portion of my day.

    But the other day as I was once again on the phone with her, I got this strange sensation that I had sort of ‘disappeared' into the conversation. That somehow no matter how much I delved into myself and discussed my thoughts and feelings, that it would never be enough. I also noticed that my mum had this way of sort of encouraging me to continue, by either flattering me about how amazing my insights were or posing new questions about the thread that I was currently on. I got this flash of insight that I kind of had lost my boundaries in those conversations and was kind of ‘fusing' with her in those moments. It made me realise that I often sought this sensation with other people in my life and that when I did not receive that same level of undivided attention, admiration and invitations to continue with my ‘amazing insights' that I might feel unsatisfied with the interaction. I used to sense that my frustration was rising and I would keep trying different ways to sort of get this strange sensation. I am now wondering if I have experienced a kind of ‘smother' love and that this has sort of set my template for what I expect ‘love' to feel like, that is love is sort of ‘fusing' with another. I am aware that that is not a healthy kind of love experience and I am now actively trying to establish some new ground rules for how I interact with my mum so as to avoid going down the ‘rabbit hole' so to speak.

    I wonder if this makes sense to anyone else or whether someone else has had a similar kind of experience?

    #196201

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Zoe:

    I am trying to understand, and so, I am typing as I am thinking:

    After a 3-4 hours talk with your mother, on the phone, you feel “empty and like my self-esteem had taken a blow”. You explain it to yourself as … maybe I feel this way because I didn't do what I planned on doing during those few hours and “lost a pretty big portion of my day”.

    Again on the phone with her, you got “this strange sensation that I had sort of ‘disappeared' into the conversation… that my mum had this way of sort of encouraging me to continue, by either flattering me about how amazing my insights were or posing new questions…I.. was kind of ‘fusing' with her”

    You explained the latter, suggesting that your mother's input was a high “level of undivided attention, admiration” and that “this has sort of set my template for what I expect ‘love' to feel like”

    Before I continue, I ask three questions regarding this quote from your previous thread: “I know this is related to my family background where I guess I did not receive a feeling of unconditional love. I was always being forced to stick up for myself and defend myself against constant criticism, especially from my father”-

    Did your mother criticize you as well?

    Did she not love you unconditionally?

    Why did she not stick up for you and defend you when your father criticized you?

    anita

    #196207

    Zoe
    Participant

    Hi Anita,

    Thanks for your reply and your detective work!

    Yes I guess that sounds quite inconsistent. I think what happened in my family is that I kind of decided at some point that there was a ‘good' parent (my mum) and a ‘bad' parent (my dad). This is because my dad was very critical and quick to anger and also tended to try to ‘defeat' others in intellectual debates rather than listening and responding calmly to others opinions. I can't really say that she stuck up for me that effectively, at least not in the past. I think she always felt quite intimidated by my dad too so wasn't really able to defend us against his anger and criticism. I suppose I feel that I developed an extremely defensive relationship with my dad while I had almost no ‘defences' with my mum possibly to the point of not having any healthy boundaries either.

    I guess another element which may help to make sense of this, is that I would often engage in long discussions about other people in my family with my mum (about my dad, my sister or brother). So as well as kind of compulsively sharing every aspect of my life with my mum, without thinking whether it was really an appropriate thing to share, I would also discuss other family members problems with her. I stopped that pattern last year but I guess I hadn't realised there might be anything fundamentally ‘wrong' with my relationship with my mother. And that has meant that I haven't been able to identify the cause of some of my own behaviours that have turned out not to be particularly constructive. While my relationship with both parents has definitely changed and matured over the years, I think on some level I still held onto this idea of a good and bad parent. That is why when I have a crisis I immediately turn to my mum and don't really talk to my dad much.

    I guess what I am now wondering is whether that experience of sort of having no boundaries is actually the experience of unconditional love that I may have thought it was. I think it has kind of laid a foundation of being a bit dependent on others for that level of emotional support and sometimes others just can't give it to you or you actually need to find some emotional resilience within yourself.

    Does that make sense?

    #196209

    Inky
    Participant

    Hi Zoe,

    A practical solution is to have a portable phone. Mine beeps when it's running low on batteries (which usually happens around minute 45). Then you can truthfully say, “Mom, my phone is dying, let me recharge it” and hang up.

    I think you “fuse” and feel exhausted simply because it does eat up a chunk of your day.

    I would start with Time Boundaries. Maybe three conversations of half and hour each week.

    Good Luck!

    Inky

    #196213

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Zoe:

    You didn't answer my first two questions but you answered the third: “Why did she not stick up for you and defend you when your father criticized you?- your answer: “she always felt quite intimidated by my dad too so wasn't really able to defend us against his anger and criticism.”

    After a 3-4 hours talk with your mother, on the phone, you feel “empty and like my self-esteem had taken a blow”.Again on the phone with her, you got “this strange sensation that I had sort of ‘disappeared' into the conversation… that my mum had this way of sort of encouraging me to continue, by either flattering me about how amazing my insights were or posing new questions…I.. was kind of ‘fusing' with her”

    You explained the latter, suggesting that your mother's input was a high “level of undivided attention, admiration” and that “this has sort of set my template for what I expect ‘love' to feel like”

    In your second post you wrote: “I am now wondering … whether that experience of sort of having no boundaries is actually the experience of unconditional love that I may have thought it was.”

    My input at this point: what is clear to me is that those phone conversations, the communications with your mother have not helped you and do not contribute to your well-being. This is clear to me because of that “empty and like (your) self esteem had taken a blow” feeling after the few hour talk with her, and “this strange sensation that (you) had sort of ‘disappeared' into the conversation” following the second talk you shared about.

    It is also clear to me that you felt these feelings (in the paragraph above) not because of an unconditional love of you. This is clear to me because love doesn't bring about these feeling in the loved one. A person who is loved does not feel she disappeared when communicating with the loving party, feeling empty and a blow to her self esteem.

    You repeated that you receive emotional support from your mother, suggesting she has given you a lot of emotional support. You also wrote that you've been thinking of her as the good parent (and your father being the bad parent).

    I am thinking that the issue is not that your mother has been the good parent (and she has been in comparison to your father), but that she has been the weak parent. She was too weak to defend you all those many years, against your father. She was too weak to assert herself. This reality and the fact that you perceive your mother as weak (and she is) makes all of her emotional support weak, impotent, void and so… it leaves you empty.

    What do you think?

    anita

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 2 weeks ago by  anita.
    #196285

    Zoe
    Participant

    Hi Inky – thanks for advice, but I think the problem is me not my mum. I am the one who can't shut up! But I guess having some kind of barometer of what sort of duration is ‘normal' is probably a good idea. I think anything over one hour usually starts to become circuitous, so maybe 45 minutes is a good guideline. Thanks for your input 🙂

    Hi Anita – I have to say your comments are quite on point and it is a bit painful to read that but I think you could be right. I have always loved my mum deeply but I guess on some level I might also feel a bit disappointed in her. She was never really able to make a clear decision to leave a toxic relationship even though it didn't seem to be bringing her genuine companionship and support. I guess there is also a sense of betrayal that I still had to face up to my dad's destructive behaviour so that she could keep her relationship at any cost. Maybe I felt that she ultimately chose her relationship over our (me and my siblings) wellbeing.

    On the other hand, I think that her attempt to compensate for that with this kind of boundary-less love made me a kind of addict for that. Maybe it is not so much me disappearing into the conversation but the other person disappearing into the conversation, which would explain why I used to get quite a lot of angst when I was trying to convey my feelings about something to someone who would not respond in the same way as my mum would (and have actually been confronted about my tendency to ‘vent' at work). Of course it is unrealistic to expect anyone to give you boundless attention with no pushback whatsoever, but maybe that is what I came to expect from others. I can now see why some people would be quite turned off by that and maybe decide that I am not really someone they want to get too close with. When I apply this idea to how I have been in intimate relationships, I suspect that I may have been craving the sensation of being fused or enmeshed and did not have a clear model for a loving relationship between two people who have clear boundaries and a clear sense of identity and can connect but not lose themselves. A previous relationship did kind of mirror that enmeshed experience and I had a sense that there was something not right about it, so I left. My most recent partner did not indulge that side of me at all and had clear boundaries and maybe that is something I found quite difficult to deal with, because I could never get that satisfaction of sort of melding into the other.

    I guess what it shows is that even though we think we have left our family of origin behind a long time ago, we can still carry these patterns of behaviours around in our own heads. The scary thing is though that we are the ones who perpetuate these things and we can only change them by accepting that we are responsible for them.

     

    #196293

    VJ
    Participant

    Hi Zoe,

    If it is just you who has to limit the talking then perhaps you could make use of the 3 mind gates before speaking anything and that way limit yourself and the entire conversation. The mind gates are your barometer too. Probably you can stop yourself at the “necessary” gate.

    Refer post-193637. Clicking this link will directly take you to that post.

    (https://tinybuddha.com/topic/snitching/#post-193637)

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 2 weeks ago by  VJ.
    • This reply was modified 6 months, 2 weeks ago by  VJ.
    #196337

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Zoe:

    A child is not separated mentally from her mother, the two really are one unit, in the child's mind. If the child is fortunate, having a safe home, a loving mother, over the years the child separates mentally enough to be her own person. So I understand enmeshment, lack of separation, “No boundaries”  in adulthood, when the home was not safe enough.

    You wrote: “I have always loved my mum deeply… I guess there is also a sense of betrayal… she ultimately chose her relationship over our wellbeing.”

    I am thinking that you must be angry with your mother. Anger is natural to feel when betrayed.

    You wrote that she “attempt(s) to compensate for that (the betrayal)”- I don't think you are satisfied with her efforts to compensate, that what she is trying to compensate for, you haven't made peace with.

    Maybe you share a lot with her, vent a lot, and vent to others as well, is a sort of compulsion to … get compensated enough for that betrayal.

    I think that you presented two issues: enmeshment and anger as one issue, one item, while in reality they are two items.

    Maybe what is fueling your venting is anger, not love or enmeshment.

    anita

     

    #196705

    Zoe
    Participant

    Thanks for the very interesting responses again.

    To VJ – that is some very good advice. I have looked at your link and I will definitely try to consider those before I speak. I have noticed that I definitely tend to want to find a way to connect with anyone that I am speaking to and I suppose sometimes I lose my sense of purpose for what I am saying and just say something (anything?) to connect with the person I am speaking to at that time. Also, I think I will look more deeper at Rumi's writing, I have heard the name many times but haven't read much yet.

    To Anita –  I think you have revealed something to me which has probably been hidden from view. I think it is very difficult to acknowledge that you have anger or resentment towards someone that you love, especially when you have sort of given that person a privileged position vis a vis my father. I think I have to finally admit to myself that both my parents were involved in unhealthy relationship dynamics and that neither of them had the strength to call quits on the relationship completely or on the other hand to speak openly and honestly to me and my siblings about what was really going on with them. We witnessed the breakdown of their marriage and then were expected to watch them ‘get back together' in a kind of ‘backdoor' way (that is after several years of not living full time in the family home, my dad just kind of started living there again) but without actually being given any explanation about why they were getting back together and whether we as the kids had any opinion or say over how the new relationships were supposed to be negotiated. My dad came back and sort of wanted to ‘assert' his right to being an authority figure in the home after having abdicated that for several years and we were supposed to just accept all of these things without question. But you can't erase your own memories and you can't stop your own questioning of what is happening. But all of those things get pushed inwards and I guess that means there is anger or resentment there. But because I still needed the love and support of my mother (rejecting that also would have been too painful) I deflected my anger away from her and focused it all on my dad. In my mind my dad was the ‘perpetrator' and my mum was the ‘victim'. But at the end of the day she should have taken responsibility for her own part in the mess.

    #196713

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Zoe:

    A child doesn't have the privilege, once hurt and confused, to see reality as it is, that the father and the mother are not right with their children. A child has to feel safe, so she figures: dad is bad, mum is good (“my dad was the ‘perpetrator' and my mum was the ‘victim'”)

    As an adult, not being physically dependent of parents, you have the privilege of seeing reality as it is now and as it was: “she should have taken responsibility for her own part in the mess”-

    seeing reality as it was and as it is – is necessary for mental health, I strongly believe.

    Did your mother, in all those many, long conversations with you, ever take responsibility for that mess you lived in as a child?

    anita

    #196971

    Zoe
    Participant

    Hi Anita,

    Yes my mother has admitted that she did not really pay enough attention to me or my siblings during the years of turmoil. But I think at the end of the day those words still feel quite impotent because there are still unhealthy dynamics between my parents that have never been clearly dealt with. Also the fact that she can speak so openly with me about all these issues and yet they never reach the ears of my father is also an unhealthy dynamic in and of itself. I believe that means that I have been ‘triangulated' into their relationship which is actually quite a disturbing thought and also extremely irresponsible of my mother. I think as a result of that triangulation I still carry around this notion of myself as the ‘family saviour' but in fact I am just playing the game too and at the same time neglecting my own personal life in the process. I cannot somehow strengthen my mother's inadequate will with my own, to give her the strength to live her own life and then to finally become the strong mother figure that I always wanted and who could give me a model of how to live my own life. That constant striving to make her something that she was not in the past and maybe can now never really compensate for is exhausting me and has also led to the hollowing out of my personal life. Hard to admit, but I think it can only lead me to more inner peace if I can accept it.

    #196973

    Mark
    Participant

    Hi Zoe,

    When I reach out when I am hurting, all I want is someone to listen without judgement and to be empathetic.

    I am not looking for advice.  I sometimes would like validation and reassurance that I'm OK, that I matter.

    I invite you to reassure and comfort yourself.  I cannot imagine what you and your mother can talk about that really “fixes” what ails you.

    Yes, you are probably seeking love from her, to be reassured that you are loved.  You have experienced that seeking love from outside yourself does not work and is only temporary at best.

    Love is an inside job.

    Mark

    #197049

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Zoe:

    In your original post you wrote that when you talked with your mother about your breakup, you “felt empty” after the call, that while on another call with her, you “got this strange sensation that (you) ‘disappeared' into the conversation”.

    According  to your most recent post your mother has been misusing you and still does, so to vent about her relationship with your father. She feels uncomfortable to talk to him so she talks to you. I am thinking that you felt that you disappeared into the conversation because you were used.

    Clearly, this dynamic has to stop. In other words, you must put a stop to your mother misusing you as a sounding board, as a place to relieve her distress. She can continue her relationship with your father the way it is, but she must stop supplementing it by misusing you.

    I hope you exit that triangle you mentioned, the triangle you lived, unfortunately, for you. I think it will bring you the peace of mind you need. Exiting it and no longer waiting for strength to come to you from your mother, no longer hoping for it.

    I hope you post again.

    anita

     

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 1 week ago by  anita.
    #197075

    Peter
    Participant
    #197843

    Zoe
    Participant

    Thanks for the comments and the article.

    Through this thread I have been able to gain a big insight into one of my major stumbling blocks in life. I have realised that this fear of ‘dissolving' into other people because I didn't learn healthy boundaries growing up has actually hindered me from really opening up to other people. I often have a great deal of anxiety related to how I should interact with other people and the extent to which I allow others into my life. This anxiety can also cross the line into obsessive thinking. I have now realised that the major trigger for this kind of anxiety and obsessive thinking is when I need to negotiate the boundaries of a relationship, whether that be a friendship, work relationship or intimate relationship. And at the bottom of it is my fear that I will not be able to assert my own boundaries with people. So the easiest thing is to just avoid opening up to others. But constantly pushing people away only leads to unhappiness.

    Anita, you said that you hoped that I could exit the triangle that I was in. What I am starting to realise is that exiting the unhealthy patterns does not need to be through solving those problems for my parents and ‘fixing' them but through understanding how those patterns re-emerge in my own life and finding ways of creating new patterns in my own relationships. That is probably easier said than done, but at least I have some major insights to help me on my way.

    Thanks for all the posts on this thread, I really value these contributions.

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