Sunday, July 6, 2008

The "Sweet Side" of Enmeshment (Success at a Price)

FromThe Emotional Incest Syndrome” by Patricia Love with Jo Robinson.

From pages 28 – 30:

When I work with adults who were enmeshed with their parents, I am continually reminded of the “sweet side” of the syndrome. By and large, the people I've counseled were attractive and successful in some aspect of their lives. A significant number have had an unusual amount of talent and charisma and have made outstanding achievements in life. For example, I've worked with highly paid executives, nationally recognized artists, successful entrepreneurs – even a Pulitzer Prize nominee. In a few instances, these achievements seemed to be the result of in born trials such as physical beauty or unusual intelligence. But for the majority of my clients, their accomplishments appeared to be the direct result of enmeshment. Some had a “Stage Mom or Dad” who pushed them into stardom: their parents badgered or seduced them into abandoning their own goals and adopting the higher standards of an adult. Others succeeded for a less obvious reason: being linked with a parent resulted in a heady sense of entitlement. After all, they had won out in the only competition in life that really mattered: the competition for a parent's love and attention. As a result, they felt destined for success. The seized opportunities others passed by and attracted people to them with their winning ways.

But what was so confusing to my clients was that these positive qualities were always offset by negative ones. Strangely, they felt both privileged and victimized, both talented and worthless, both blessed and cursed. For every positive trait, they expressed it's polar opposite...

Why this contradictory mix of emotions? Typically, there are several factors involved. Part of my clients' confusion could be traced to the fact that many of their fundamental needs had been ignored. Their parents' need for intimacy and companionship had taken precedence over their need for nurturing and independence. Paradoxically, their parents' excessive interest in them had created lifelong feelings of deprivation: “No one is taking care of me!”

Another factor was that while my clients may have been delighted in all the parental attention, on a deeper level they felt exposed and confined. They didn't feel free to be who they were or to develop at their own pace. They felt manipulated and controlled.

Finally, many clients discovered that for every privilege bestowed by a parent, there had been a jealous reaction from someone else. The thrill of being “mama's little man” or “daddy's girl” was eroded by the jealousy of a left-out sibling. The status that came from being a parent's surrogate spouse was offset by the resentment of the displaced husband or wife. The alliance with a parent had thrown the whole family out of balance, and the Chosen Child was often the target of the resulting anger.

Excerpt from
Dr. Patricia Love's

The Emotional Incest Syndrome:
What to Do When a Parent's Love Rule's Your Life
Bantam Books, 1990