Childhood Trauma - Effects And Recovery

What Are ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ (Aces)?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been split into three categories :

In the original ACE study (conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1995 and 1997), these three categories were further broken down into :

ABUSE : Emotional; physical and sexual

NEGLECT : Physical; emotional

FAMILY DYSFUNCTION : Witnessing domestic violence; person/s with depression / mental illness in the home; substance abuse in home ; loss of a parent (divorce / separation / death).

NB : Of course, the child may suffer trauma in many other ways, but the above categories were focused upon in the original ACE study.

THE EFFECTS OF ACEs ON THE BRAIN :

ACEs that take place during the critical and sensitive developmental period of the person’s childhood (especially during the first three years of life and during puberty and early adolescence), coupled with their effects upon the person’s genetic expression (how our genes express themselves depends upon how they interact with our experiences / environment – this is known as epigenetics) can adversely affect brain development on a number of levels (see below):

ACEs Can Adversely Affect Brain Development On A Number Of Levels :

  • ELECTRICAL
  • CHEMICAL
  • CELLULAR MASS

In turn, these adverse effects, taken together, can damage the brain upon both a STRUCTURAL and FUNCTIONAL level.

BRAIN CHANGES BECOME ‘HARDWIRED’ FOR SURVIVAL :

These brain changes then become hardwired in the brain’s biology as the behaviors that these brain changes are associated with are, on a fundamental level, ADAPTIVE AND ‘INTENDED’ TO HELP THE CHILD SURVIVE HIS/HER TRAUMATIC ENVIRONMENT. 

For example, certain brain changes caused by the child’s traumatic experiences may predispose the child to hypervigilance and explosive outbursts of rage and anger, both of which are adaptations which enhance survival chances in a dangerous, threatening and hostile environment. Indeed, children who grow up in traumatically threatening environments are at significantly increased risk of developing OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANCE DISORDER (ODD).

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACEs) AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PSYCHIATRIC, PHYSICAL AND ‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS :

The original ACE study found that, overall and on average, the greater the number of ACEs an individual had experienced during childhood, the more likely s/he was to suffer from the following problems later in life :

PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS :

PHYSICAL PROBLEMS :

‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS :

NB : The above list is NOT exhaustive.

RESOURCES :

eBook :

Above eBook now available for instant download from Amazon. Click on above image or here for further information.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma : The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is a research study conducted by the American health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Essentially, this study demonstrated that the more traumatic our childhood was, the more risk we are at of developing adult illnesses, both PHYSICAL and MENTAL.

Specifically, the study found that the more CHILDHOOD ADVERSE EXPERIENCES (ACEs) we suffered as children, the greater our risk of developing adult illnesses.

The study focused on the following childhood ADVERSE EXPERIENCES:

– physical abuse

emotional abuse

– sexual abuse

– witnessing the mother being abused by the father

– loss/abandonment/rejection by a parent (including due to separation and divorce)

– living with a parent suffering from a pathological addiction

– living with a clinically depressed mother

– living with a mother who suffers from another significant mental illness

Effects Of Such Adverse Effects :

download

Above: The Process Through Which Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Early Death.

It has been found that such adverse experiences during our childhood can lead to highly damaging effects that may be extremely detrimental to our adult health. I list the main ones below:

harmful effects on the physical development of our brain leading to architectural brain abnormalities 

– detrimental effects upon the brain’s functionality

(NB: However, the good news is that such damage can be reversible).

– adverse effects upon how our genes express themselves (genes do not express themselves in a vacuum; their expression is affected by the environment in which they exist)

– damaging effects on the operation of our stress hormones (e.g. cortisol). This can lead us to become acutely reactive to the negative effects of stress in our adult lives resulting in a proclivity for us to react with great volatility and violence (in some cases, literally) in response to such stress (even stress that others may easily be capable of taking in their stride.

– an increased risk of serious physical diseases such as heart disease

Other Types Of Trauma:

I have already listed, above, the types of trauma that the ACE Study focused upon. However, continued research is demonstrating that is there traumatic childhood experiences, too, can impinge detrimentally upon both our physical and mental adult health; these include the following:

– growing up in severe poverty

– growing up environments in which there is little stimulation

parental neglect (including emotional neglect)

– growing up in a violent environment

– growing up in an environment in which gang culture predominates

– being bullied at school

(The above list is NOT exhaustive.)

RESOURCE :

Overcome a Troubled Childhood | Self Hypnosis Downloads

eBooks :

.     

Above ebooks now available for instant download on Amazon. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE( FAHE).

Childhood Rejection Leading To Possessive Behavior In Adult Relationships

If we were rejected when we were children by parents / primary carers this can have a profound effect upon our adult, intimate relationships, causing them to be ruined by a perpetual, intense fear of losing our partner and re-experiencing the intolerable emotional pain that was generated by our experience of rejection and abandonment when young. This deeply entrenched insecurity can then, in turn, lead us to behave in ways driven by feelings of JEALOUSY and POSSESSIVENESS.

However, it is important to point out that many individuals who are prone to jealous and possessive behaviors in relation to how they interact with their partners (or those they wish to be their partners) are not consciously aware that these (invariably self-defeating) behaviors are related to their adverse childhood experiences. In other words, their jealousy and possessiveness is driven, largely, by unconscious forces.

SIGNS OF POSSESSIVENESS TOWARDS A PARTNER OR PERSON ONE WISHES TO BE ONE’S PARTNER :

Signs that an individual is possessive include the following :

  • believing life is meaningless and futile without the person
  • believing the other person is the only one who can make one happy
  • making an excessive number of calls to the person (or texts / social media contacts etc.)
  • sending the other person gifts, despite this person having made it clear that s/he has no wish to receive them
  • finding it very hard to stop thinking about the other person, possibly to the degree that it adversely affects sleep, work performance and eating behavior
  • believing oneself to be a victim if the other does not agree to fulfil one’s needs
  • believing one’s love of the other to be so powerful that it will eventually ‘win the other over’, despite, objectively speaking, clear signs to the contrary
  • turning up at the other person’s home, place of work etc. without invitation
  • spending a lot of time in a state of tortured and agitated hope / expectation that the other will make contact via phone / text / social media etc. whilst simultaneously dreading s/he won’t
  • spending a lot of time concerned about where the other person is, what s/he is doing and who s/he is with etc., possibly including checking up that the other isn’t lying about these things or spying on the other person to check the veracity of his/her claims and generally treating him/her as a perpetual ‘suspect’
  • trying to dominate the other person and failing to respect their personal boundaries.
  • becoming angry when the other person tries to do something (e.g. see own friends) that doesn’t involve one
  • trying to prevent the other from seeing his/her family / personal friends so that s/he becomes isolated and therefore easier to control and dominate.

HOW DOES POSSESSIVENESS DIFFER FROM HEALTHY AFFECTION / LOVE?

Essentially, possessiveness involves not trusting the other person and denying him/her space, freedom and independence in direct contrast to what is necessary to maintain a healthily loving and affectionate relationship ; also, possessiveness is essentially selfish, concentrating on the needs of the one being possessive as opposed to the needs of the partner / desired partner.

Whilst the recipient of healthy affection / love is helped to feel safe and secure, the recipient of possessive behavior is made to feel smothered, oppressed, anxious and uncomfortable, or, in more extreme cases, fearful.

possessiveness

OVERCOMING A POSSESSIVE MENTALITY :

There are several things we can do to reduce possessive attitudes and behaviors ; these include :

  1. Maintain own independence – having one’s own life, independent of partner’s, is often preferable to ‘living in one another’s pocket’ and being together 24/7, not least because it can prevent the relationship from stagnating and keep a couple interesting to each other.
  2. Don’t allow past experiences to make self overly cynical about present relationships or to destroy ability to trust.
  3. Remember that being ‘needy’, ‘clingy,‘ suspicious and anxiously insecure around one’s partner is frequently counterproductive.
  4. Don’t unreasonably curtail partner’s freedom (e.g. by stopping them having own friends and social life if this is desired).
  5. Work on improving self-worth and self-esteem if worrying about about a partner leaving one is based on feelings of ‘not being good enough,’ especially as such negative beliefs about oneself can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (because this is often the root of the problem, more detail about this is provided below).
  6. Allow partner to maintain own identity, as opposed to trying to mould him/her into an ‘ideal’ to suit own needs.
  7. Resist urges to neurotically ‘spy’ on partner which may serve only to maintain an irrationally suspicious / paranoid mindset (not to mention freak out the spied upon).
  8. Try to discover the primary source of the possessive behavior and then address it. For example, if the root of the problem lies in having been betrayed, rejected or abandoned by a parent / primary carer in childhood, consider seeking therapy (e.g. cognitive behavioral therapy to help correct self-defeating ‘thinking errors’). N.B. Numbers 8 and 6 are frequently, closely interconnected.
  9. If we feel we have a problem with a propensity to treat our partner in a possessive way and intend to try to correct it, openly discussing the problem can be a constructive way forward (e.g. by addressing the root cause of the problem – see above), make one’s own and one’s partner’s life less stressful, and encourage him / her to be more understanding of our anxieties and supportive of our planned endeavours to rectify the situation.

MORE ON HOW CHILDHOOD CAN PROFOUNDLY UNDERMINE OUR SELF-IMAGE AND ADVERSELY AFFECT OUR ADULT RELATIONSHIPS :

Our ability to love and our ability to express love as an adult is very substantially learned in childhood by observing our parents / primary carers, and, as I have already alluded to above, if, as children, such role models abused us, neglected us, or rejected us, we may have (both consciously and unconsciously) internalized their negative attitudes towards us and, as a consequence, developed a profound, core belief that we are essentially unlovable, inadequate and ‘bad.’

This, frequently, highly irrational belief, in turn, can pervade and poison our adult relationships as our deep insecurities can make us believe that it is only a matter of time before our partner realizes what a hopeless, worthless creature we are and leave us for good. This prospect terrifies us, as, in our minds, this would ‘confirm’ our unlovability, ‘hopelessness’ ‘badness’ and ‘worthlessness,’ re-triggering the adverse emotional effects of our mistreatment in childhood.

Therefore, we develop a frame of mind which perceives preventing our partner from leaving us as indispensable to our very psychological survival and as crucial to maintaining our tenuous grip on any positive elements of our self-image that our relationship with the partner has allowed us to tentatively develop. This, in turn, makes us liable to overcompensate for our self-perceived ‘inadequacies’ by practising the kind of dysfunctional, self-defeating, possessive behaviors described above.

Therefore, in order to create healthily loving and affectionate bonds with others in our adult lives, it is necessary for us to develop a self-image which is NOT determined by our unfortunate, early-life experiences.

Improving one’s self-image is best started by, first of all, accepting the kind of person we are at present. However, if we (at present) view ourselves as a ‘bad’ person we need to consider whether this view has been distorted by our internalization of how our parents / primary carers behaved towards us during our childhood. And if, after consideration, we still view ourselves as a ‘bad’ person, we need to change this way of thinking about ourselves and, instead, tell ourselves we may have done things of which we are not proud, and which we regret, in the past, but that these things don’t define who we are now or who we can be tomorrow and in the future.

So, if we have been possessive in the past, this does not mean we will be a possessive person from now on, and, to make progress, it is necessary to accept our past mistakes without getting caught up in feelings of shame because tsuch feelings will serve only to hinder our psychological recovery and make us less able to help ourselves.

We also need to understand that it is most likely to be how we feel about ourselves that makes us behave possessively, rather than having much to do with our partner. Indeed, our dysfunctional behavior is frequently driven by our negative thinking about ourselves. Examples of these negative thoughts include :

‘I am not good enough for my partner and s/he will leave me the second s/he finds someone better,’ or, ‘My partner’s bound to leave me for someone with more money.’

Finally, as I alluded to above, cognitive behavioral therapy can help to correct our self-defeating thought processes. So, too, can hypnotherapy, cognitive hypnotherapy and counselling / marriage counselling or other forms of psychotherapy.

You may also be interested in reading my previously published posts :

RESOURCES :

Develop a Positive Self Image | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Overcome Jealousy with Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Stop Snooping on Your Partner | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Get Over Your Partner’s Sexual History | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma And Tachycardia

tachycardia

My own resting heart rate, which is usually at least 105 beats per minute, according to my GP, ‘is nothing to worry about.’

Since a resting heart rate of above is technically classified as ‘tachycardia’ (an abnormally fast beating heart), it seems to me it is something to worry about – presumably my GP’s intent was to play things down so that I did not become anxious about it as this, in turn, perhaps, could have raised it further still.

Anyway, I suggested I started taking beta-blockers and she kindly acquiesced to this modest request (though, not untypically, they appear not to work on me). 

tachycardia

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND TACHYCARDIA :

Studies show that children who have been so badly mistreated so as to go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have increased nervous system reactivity which is associated with being in a state of hypervigilance, as if perpetually trapped in the ‘fight / flight’ response.

In order to investigate this phenomenon further, Perry conducted a study of 34 children who had an average age of ten years and had been diagnosed as suffering from PTSD.

FINDINGS FROM THE STUDY :

Perry found that 85% of the children in this study (whom, as described above,  had been diagnosed with PTSD) had an average resting heart rate of 94 beats per minute. This is significantly higher than the resting heart rate of the average ten-year-old child, which is only 84 beats per minute.

This established, the children were then required to undertake a simple task : they were required to lie down for 9 minutes and then stand up for a further 10 minutes.

RESULTS :

Amongst the whole group of children who took part in this simple experiment, two distinct patterns of heart rate emerged.

PATTERN ONE :

  • A higher-than-control basal heart rate whilst lying down.
  • A dramatic increase in heart rate upon standing up.
  • A slow return, during the ten minute period of standing up, to the baseline heart rate.

 PATTERN TWO :

  • A normal increase in heart rate upon standing up.
  • A sluggish return to the baseline heart rate.

FURTHER STUDY :

Perry (1999) later built upon this study by carrying out the following experiment :

  • Children were interviewed about their experiences of abuse.
  • Throughout the interview, their heart rates were continuously monitored.

RESULTS OF FURTHER STUDY :

  • Certain children (who were mainly female and many of whom suffered from symptoms of dissociation) showed a REDUCTION in heart rate during the interview (when compared to their heart rate during a period of free play).
  • However, another group of children from the study (who suffered from symptoms of hyperarousal) showed an INCREASED heart rate during the interview (when compared to their heart rate during a period of free play).

 CONCLUSION :

From these findings, it was concluded that children may respond to their experiences of trauma in one of two ways :

  1. By ‘shutting down’ emotionally, resulting in physiological under-reactions to stress.
  2. By becoming emotionally hyperaroused, resulting in physiological over-reactions in response to stress.

You can read more about these two contrasting traumatic responses in my previously published article entitled : Two Opposite Ways The Child Responds To Stress : Hyperarousal And Dissociation.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

Childhood Trauma And Body Language

In this article I will look at how body language is relevant to the topic of childhood trauma in two particular ways :

  1. The effect of the body language of the parents upon the child.
  2. How the experience of chronic childhood trauma can negatively impact upon the child’s body language.

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

  1. The Effect Of The Body Language Of The Parents Upon The Child :

The majority of communication between human beings occurs not through language and the words people use but, instead, via NON-VERBAL / BODY LANGUAGE. This includes :

  • facial expressions (including micro expressions which are extremely fleeting signs of emotions that the individual tries to hide)
  • intonation
  • posture
  • autonomic arousal
  • movement
  • gestures
  • muscular tension

In other words, when someone speaks to us, we interpret the information that they are conveying to us not just upon the meaning of the words they use, but also with recourse (both consciously and unconsciously) to the non-verbal / body language indicators and signals listed above.

Another way to explain this is to say that the actual words used represent the text, whereas the non-verbal / body language represents the sub-text (which is often a much more profound level of communication through which the speaker may – often inadvertently – reveal his / her true feelings).

For example, when I was a child, my father generally spoke to me in a formal, polite, superficial way which barely concealed his deeper feelings towards me of disdain, disapproval and irritation ; indeed, on some occasions, he almost seemed to ooze disgust merely as a result of having the misfortune to be in the same room as me.

Such a scenario can, of course, be extremely confusing and upsetting for the child. If, for example, the child is very sensitive and detects such inconsistencies between the parent’s words and his / her (i.e. the parent’s) non-verbal / body language and draws attention to the discrepancy, the parent may well (even more confusingly, perhaps, in an angry and irritated tone) deny that any such contradiction between the ‘text’ and the ‘sub-text’ exists.

This, in turn, can place the child in a no-win situation regarding his / her (i.e. the child’s) interactions with his / her parent because :

If s/he interacts with the parent according to the ‘text’, this will be undermined by the ‘sub-text’. However, if s/he interacts with the parent according to the ‘sub-text’, this will be undermined by the ‘text.’

Indeed, if this form of dysfunctional communication becomes chronic, so that the child grows up receiving mixed messages, this can result in him / her being perpetually trapped in a ‘DOUBLE-BIND, leaving him / her in a state whereby s/he starts to question his / her very sense of reality.

Some theorists are of the view that such upbringings greatly increase the child’s risk of developing schizophrenia in later life. (It is particularly confusing for the child if s/he only perceives the parent’s negative ‘sub-texts’ on an unconscious level, as this will lead him/her to distrust and resent the parent / primary carer without being aware as to why this is).

2) How childhood experiences can negatively impact upon the child’s body language.

A child who is brought up in a dysfunctional way by his / her parents can be affected on a physiological level and this may manifest itself in the child’s habitual body language.

For example, a child who is made to feel by his/her parents that s/he is never good enough, is a disappointment and constantly falls short of their expectations may develop a mindset whereby s/he feels constantly compelled to strive to live up to his/her parents’ exacting, always out of reach, standards, and this mental attitude may then give rise to an habitual type of body language, affecting movement and posture, which reflects a deeply pervasive muscular tension ; this is sometimes referred to as the ‘BRACE RESPONSE’ key features of which include tightened and tensed up muscles in neck, shoulders, face and jaw.

Likewise, a child who is constantly undermined by his/her parents and made to feel inadequate and lacking in confidence may develop an habitual type of body language that belies inner feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘COLLAPSE RESPONSE,’ the hallmarks of which include rounded shoulders, sighing, looking down at the floor and failing to meet the eyes of others and retracted chest.

Children who have grown up in a threatening environment may develop ‘defensive’ body language, sometimes referred to as the ‘ARMOUR RESPONSE’ ; such individuals may be unconsciously driven to become obese as a form of self-protection or they may become obsessed with body-building.

Children with rapid, shallow breathing and who are prone to hyperventilating  (caused by chronic feelings of panic, anxiety and vulnerability) may develop body language that is sometimes referred to as the ‘STARTLE RESPONSE,’ signs of which include a slight frame, quick, darting movements and a wide-eyed expression.

Such body language, as described in the examples above, and reflected in the child’s habitual postural and movement patterns can reinforce the child’s negative self-perception, making it more likely that his/her dysfunctional beliefs relating to the self will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is because, just as how we feel about ourselves affects our body language (i.e. how we move, our posture etc.) so, too, does our body language affect how we feel, and what we believe, about ourselves – in short, it is a two-way street.

Implications For Therapy :

It is now being increasingly recognized that one vital route to treating the effects of trauma is through therapies which focus on the body ; such treatments are known as SOMATIC PSYCHOTHERAPY.

In relation to this, recent research conducted by Cuddy et al. has shown that certain, what are ‘power poses (e.g. standing with hands on hips or sitting down while leaning back in the chair with outstretched arms) have a significant , positive effect upon the body’s regulation of stress hormones. The same research also showed that sitting in a cramped body posture (i.e. hunched up with arms and legs crossed) had the reverse effect.

Many suffering from the adverse effects of trauma also respond well to yoga.

RESOURCE :

IMPROVE POSTURE : SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Two Main Ways Narcissistic Parents May Use Their Children.

We have seen from other articles that I have previously published on this site that narcissistic parents tend to see their children as possessions and as extensions of themselves, as opposed to individuals in their own right (this can lead to the child growing up to develop serious identity problems).

They also lack empathy for their child (and for other people in general), tend to transgress his / her (i.e. the child’s) personal boundaries and view his / her (i.e. the child’s) sole purpose in life as being to serve their (i.e. the narcissistic parents’) needs.

Two main ways in which narcissistic parents tend to use and exploit their child is to treat him / her (i.e. the child) as both a source of emotional support, and an emotional punch bag.

Being Used As A Punch Bag :

Narcissistic parents tend to be unhappy, unfulfilled, frustrated, thin-skinned and hypersensitive to criticism and disapproval (real or imagined). This makes them very prone to feelings of anger and resentment and they are liable to displace and redirect such feelings onto their child in the form of aggression (verbal, physical or both), thus, in effect, using the child as a punch bag on which to vent their vitriol.

But this is not the only reason why narcissistic parents may use their child as a punch bag – it also serves to keep the child ‘in his / her place’ and also to ensure that his / her self-esteem and confidence remain resolutely low, thus making him / her easier to control and manipulate.

This parental betrayal of the child may also be amplified further by the fact that such parents, too, may also rely on the child to provide him / her (i.e. the narcissistic parent) with constant emotional support, resulting in the child becoming not only the parent’s emotional punch bag, but, also, his / her (i.e. the parent’s) emotional caretaker (sometimes referred to as ‘parentifying’ the child).

The Narcissistic Parent’s Binary View Of The World :

The behavior of the narcissistic parent described above, oscillating between using the child for emotional support and using him / her as an emotional ‘punch bag’ is elucidated in part by the fact that narcissists tend to view the world in a binary fashion, by which is meant in terms of ‘all good’ or ‘all bad,’ or ‘black and white,’ rather than in a more nuanced manner which also acknowledges the shades of grey inbetween. In line with this, then, narcissistic parents tend to oscillate between, at times, demonizing their child whilst, at other times, idealizing him /her.

It is extremely hard to correct this hurtful behavior in the narcissistic parents as they tend to be incapable of empathy and love – not only for people in general, but for their own children ; indeed, in the case of narcissistic mothers, they seem to lack the normal maternal extinct to nurture the child.

It is for this reason that some adult children sever connections with their narcissistic parent altogether. Others however, do not take such drastic action but, instead, attempt to reduce the dysfunctionality of the relationship by learning to incorporate appropriate personal boundaries into it.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Narcissistic Mothers May Form Enmeshed Relationship With Their Child.

I have already published on this site several articles about narcissism and narcissistic parents, but, in this article, I wish to focus, more specifically on a particular phenomenon which can occur in households in which the mother is narcissistic ; the phenomenon is known as an ENMESHED RELATIONSHIP and, whilst it can develop between the narcissistic mother and her son, more commonly develops between the narcissistic mother and her daughter.

However, I should point out that enmeshed relationships are not restricted the narcissistic mother and her offspring, but can develop between various combinations of members (whether female, male, narcissist or non-narcissist) of any dysfunctional familyor, indeed, between partners.

First, then, I will briefly explain what is meant by an ‘enmeshed relationship.’ Essentially, an enmeshed relationship is said to exist when personal boundaries between two people are indistinct and porous, allowing the emotions of one person to ‘leak through’ (as if by osmosis) and powerfully affect the other person’s emotional experience.

For example, as a child, my own relationship with my mother was enmeshed – this meant that my own emotional state was powerfully dictated by hers ; her emotional pain was my emotional pain, and, as I got older, I reciprocated her destructive emotions, too, of anger and aggression (a feature of relationships that have weak boundaries is that as one person’s emotions intensify, so, too, do the other’s).

Another hallmark of an ‘enmeshed relationship’ within a dysfunctional family is that family roles can become confused, especially in relation to age ; specifically, family members adopt (mainly unconsciously) roles that are inconsistent with their chronological age. For example, the emotionally immature parent may ‘parentify‘ their child (i.e. expect the child to take on a role, such as the parent’s emotional caretaker, with which s/he is not psychologically developed enough to cope – in essence, s/he is expected to become the parent’s parent. And, of course, the other side of this coin is that the parent may regress to a psychologically childlike state by demonstrating excessive dependence and neediness.

Perhaps the most famous depiction of an enmeshed relationship in fiction is that between Norman Bates and his mother in the film Psycho.Most people are familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, but fewer may be aware that it was originally a novel (published in 1959) by Robert Bloch.

Of course, their enmeshed (and, possibly, incestuous, the novel implies) relationship is epitomized by the fact that Norman’s highly, psychologically abusive mother is almost identical to his own : Norma (viewing children, not as individuals in their own right but as possessions and as an extension of themselves is a hallmark feature of both narcissistic and borderline mothers).

In short, Norman eventually murders his malevolent and tormenting mother (by poisoning her with stychnine) because, ironically, he fears she is abandoning him to marry her fiance (whom, for good measure, he also murders by employing the same modus operandi). Following this double murder, Norman frequently dresses in his (now deceased) mother’s clothes and takes on her personality.

Narcissistic Mothers And The Enmeshed Relationship :

Narcissistic mothers may form such an emotionally interwoven relationship with their son or daughter (sometimes referred to as ‘emotional incest‘) that the boundary between her identity and her offspring’s becomes nebulous and indistinct – whatever the mother feels, the son or daughter is expected to reflect back (e.g. if the mother is happy, her offspring must be happy and, if the mother is sad, her offspring must be sad.

Furthermore, the mother who has an enmeshed relationship with her offspring may instil guilt in him / her if s/he tries to behave independently in a way that excludes her.

She may, too, be highly controlling, dictating her offspring’s life-style and vetting their relationships with others and demanding compliance.

In divorced households, these types of mothers may also manipulate the child into breaking off relations with his / her (now absent) father so as to have the child ‘all to herself’, making him / her all the easier to dominate, control, and, essentially, to ‘possess’. This phenomenon is known as ‘parental alienation’ (and also occurs when one parent, motivated by a need for revenge, tries to hurt the other (absent) patent by denying him / her any contact with the child (irrespective, often, of the psychological harm that such a course of action may do to the child, sadly).

If the child grows up into an adult who does not assert his / her right to introduce healthy boundaries into the relationship, s/he is likely to suffer a very weak sense of his / her own identity as an individual as how s/he experiences his / her emotional life will continue to be dominated by his / her mother. Such individuals, without therapy, can go through life feeling deeply uncertain about who they actually are

Furthermore, they may have serious problems asserting themselves as well as a low tolerance of emotional pain (‘distress intolerance’)

Other problems they may experience include : lacking a sense of autonomy when it comes to how they feel (i.e. believing that how they feel is out of their control and is dictated by the emotional state of others) ; feeling ’empty’ as they are unable to take responsibility for their own emotions ; neglecting their own needs while feeling overly responsible in relation to how others are feeling.

Once individuals are aware that they are in an unhealthy, enmeshed relationship that is spoiling their quality of life and they become willing to take steps to rectify the problem, they may find both family therapy and individual therapy to be useful for helping them set the healthy boundaries within the relationship which it had, up until then, lacked.

RESOURCE :

Setting Boundaries | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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