Having just watched an episode of Red Table Talk – one of my favorite series – the most recent interview featured former actress Jeanette McCurdy who just wrote a book called, “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” The interview was a peek at her book and relationship with her mother, and so much of what she said brought back memories of my own mother. Not only that but because I never engaged in traditional talk therapy regarding my relationship with my mother, I gained some new vocabulary. Specifically, enmeshment.
In Jeanette’s case, her mother who lived with what sounded like pretty severe undiagnosed mental illness had cancer when Jeanette was only two. Her mother’s fear of her own mortality was played out by trying to keep everything the same. She couldn’t handle letting anything go physically and became a hoarder, and couldn’t handle the thought of Jeanette or her brothers growing up and leaving her. So she taught Jeanette how to calorie restrict when she was eleven so she wouldn’t develop. There were many other very disturbing “coping” behaviors her mother engaged in with all the kids in an attempt to keep them safe and keep them as little children.
One of the things that struck me was when Jeanette talked about the amount of enmeshment between her and her mother. When this sort of co-dependence forms, the child often doesn’t know where the parent ends and the child begins. The child’s sense of identity has been so dependent upon the adult that when the parent is unhappy, it’s the child’s responsibility to fix them or make them better. The child takes on the fears of the parent and both loves and fears them.
In my case, I’d blocked out a lot of fearing my mother except when she’d become manic. That’s when she’d go off the rails. I’d become scared because I was her potential target and because she was unpredictable and out of control. And as a teenager I mirrored her anger.
When Jeanette’s mother died, the source of so much of her identity was suddenly gone and she spun out of control. I remember when I was in jr. high and high school and my mother’s mental health deteriorated over the course of a few years, the more she spun out, so did I. And by the time she was finally hospitalized the spring of my junior year I was barely hanging on. But no one thought it might be a good idea for the kids to have therapy. It wasn’t a thing back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
And not one single teacher or my mother was bothered by the fact that this usually A and B student was suddenly getting C’s and D’s.
At one point in Red Table Talk, they brought in an audience member who asked Jeanette a question. She asked her if she’d been able to forgive her mother. As much as I understand why people ask this question, I wish they’d understand that the traditional use of the word forgiveness implies the perpetrator of the pain is able to empathize with their
victim recipient. That they’re able to understand the pain they caused and want to sincerely make amends. There are times when this won’t be possible, like in the case of mental illness or when a person has died.
In Jeanette’s case, she started therapy before her mother died and tried to put personal boundaries in place, but her mother was incapable of respecting and keeping them. I never reestablished any boundaries with my mother because we lived 3,000 miles apart and I never even learned about personal boundaries until after my mother was dead and I was working with a transpersonal hypnotherapist who had years of experience as a therapist.
In fact, I didn’t even identify with having been abused by my mother until I worked with this woman and saw what came up in our sessions. The beauty of seeing trauma in my hypnotherapy sessions was not being retraumatized while releasing painful emotions I’d carried for decades. I was able to witness and help the part of me who held the pain without reactivating painful looping thought patterns.
I sometimes see stories like Jeanette’s and think, how lucky was I that Mom only abused me when she was manic. Which is true. But she cycled into mania from before I was born until I was almost finished with high school. The damage was done. And is now healed.
It was so uplifting to see how far Jeanette has come in healing her past. Being thirty she’s just starting to live her own life and I’m excited for her to thrive.
These days I’m able to remember the complicated relationship I had with my mother without becoming emotionally triggered. I can remember and talk about some disturbing things without any emotional reaction thanks to my healing work. I’ve recovered painful memories that wired trauma into my system as a child and have dissolved the trauma. Shame and blame are long gone. I’m able to appreciate her love for me and know we’ll reconnect once I’m back on the other side. I’ll be able to high-five her for the stellar job she did while she was alive for both giving me life and participating in our soul agreement to be my mother with all the colors of the rainbow including brown and black.
The apex of healing the relationship with my mother was when I was able to see things through her eyes and feel compassion for her worst behaviors. That was when something inside me shifted and let go of the rest of the pain. The part of me that wanted her to be different from how she’d been simply dissolved in a moment of grace.
Having seen firsthand how incredibly safe and effective hypnotherapy has been in my life, it’s my hope to one day have the training and skills to work with people who have lived through traumatic experiences or who have some sort of dysfunctional coping mechanism they want to change.
Every time Jeanette got emotional during the interview I wanted to whisper in her ear, “That’s it. That’s the thread to follow and heal. You can do it. You got this.”