Wake Up! It’s Time for Coffee!
I sat on the couch this morning, drinking my coffee and trying to wake up. I’m slower to start than I used to be and I have very little patience with myself about it. So in addition to spending the first hour of my day feeling tired and foggy, even after a full night’s sleep, I must contend with my lizard brain. She is needling me and yelling at me, “What’s wrong with you?! Are you sick? What have you done to yourself all these years?! You probably have cancer, or adrenal burnout. Maybe you should take more vitamins. Why didn’t you take better care of yourself? Just get more exercise, you idiot.” No wonder I’m slow to wake up! Who wants to live in a world with a mouthy nag popping off at you every morning.
Where was I.
Oh yes. On the couch. Drinking coffee. Trying to wake up. Across the room sitting upright in a chair is my granddog (he owns us). He’s throwing daggers at me with the, “I want to go out NOW” dog stare that can unnerve the most complacent among us. Then he starts his piteous whimper, laced with the sense of urgency of a newborn baby. I’m not even dressed yet. With each soul piercing sound, the knot in my stomach grows and then, quite suddenly, it’s as if I am him. I feel his discomfort, his anxiety growing, his feelings of being unloved and neglected. I even have to pee! The guilt is unbearable.
I am enmeshed…with a dog! Could it be any worse?
Enmeshment is no laughing matter. It wreaks havoc on our relationships and our lives, but it as common as corn chips and Wheaties. When we are enmeshed with another person (or a dog), we think we know how the other person feels and what he/she is thinking. We also think we know what is best for that person, what they need and what they want and we become angry, and even belligerent, when they do not follow our advice. To add fuel to the fire, the whole time we’re living inside of them (or trying to, because you do realize this can’t be done) we are living outside of ourselves. There is no one home in us.
Most relationships begin in just such a place.
Young lovers walk arm in arm, they can’t stand to be away from one another, they dress the same, have the same friends, and see each other as an extension of themselves. Certainly hormones play a role in the beginning, but inevitably the time arrives, when one or both of the partners begins to take leave of the other, no longer needing the same kind of giddy closeness that carried the relationship thus far. The problem that arises here is that many couples think this signals a death knell to the relationship. “What’s wrong? Doesn’t s/he love me anymore? Don’t I love her/him?”
The truth is that this is exactly the way it is supposed to go. We’re not supposed to remain enmeshed and entangled, riding the ups and downs of the emotions and thoughts we think the other person is feeling and thinking. It’ okay to live inside of ourselves, embracing our own life and not spend every waking moment thinking about our companion. Embracing our own lives and allowing them to embrace theirs is not a death sentence to the relationship but rather a positive step toward self-actualization. It is the maturing of a relationship when the couple begins to walk side by side looking out at the world together instead of at each other.
In the textbooks, the individuation process takes place early on in a relationship and early on in life, but that is the textbooks. They don’t account for a childhood of abuse, or neglect, or trauma, or a culture that doesn’t encourage us to become self-actualized. In fact, romance and sex are so glorified by the culture that they have the power to derail even the most well-adjusted person.
Unless a couple seeks therapy or guidance, or reads and takes the steps toward individuation, they are likely to become stuck somewhere along the way. The outgrowth of enmeshment run amuck is feeling controlled and controlling; it is anger and resentment; it is isolation and loneliness; it is often all the things that drive a couple to seek solace outside of the relationship in one form or another.
I want nothing more than to be away from my Granddog from time to time. I have allowed him to set up residence in side of me and take control of my feelings, thoughts and actions. Only I should be living there. It’s a habit I learned very well as a mother and likely from my mother. At the present moment I’m much better with my children than I am with the dog (a total case of transference, why do you think so many people can’t go to the store without their pets?).
I’ve yet to really get a firm grip on individuation. It’s a slippery slope particularly when I find myself on a rocky road. So if you identify with what I am describing, be kind to yourself. You are far, far from alone, but moving towards individuation and self-actualization is a lifelong process. As a general rule women have made great strides in our generation towards independence. Now we just have to figure out how to remain independent while in open, clear relation to another. Maybe that’s a job for future generations of women.
I am awake now. We can take that walk now.
© Dorothy Sander 2013