When a child is brought up in an Enmeshment with the primary caretaker, she doesn’t develop a full sense of being an independent person, fully separate from the caretaker. It might be said that she looks with the eyes of the mother, or hears with the ears of the father (if he is the primary caretaker). She makes choices in life about what to do, based on what she believes would be most successful to ‘score’ with on the scale of points to please the parent. The child never gives up hoping this parent will look upon her with a benevolent eye and grant the child allowance into the Enmeshment (which can be thought of as co-dependency). The Enmeshment enables the Feel Good About Self which the child experiences as her unhealthy but desperately needed Substitute Sense of Self.

How does this all get started?

Some parents are self-centered, narcissistic, because of their own childhood deprivation of acknowledgment as a human being. The effect of a parent’s narcissism on the child is that the child isn’t seen or heard as a valued, autonomous human-being-in-process. To the outside world the child might seem to be a ‘so-cherished toddler.’  In reality, he or she isn’t being taken into account as having a voice, and is only being acknowledged when displaying a behavior that for the narcissistic parent is favorable for their own purposes. Then, at least, the parent doesn’t get angry with the child. That would cause feelings of humiliation and ‘Annihilation’.  Some parents even throw a temper tantrum because things are not the way they them to be for their own Substitute Sense of Self.

The ultimate addictive goal

The child’s motivation to work toward getting into that euphoric state of feeling-good-about-self (which allows him to at least have some sort of awareness about himself) is rooted in undefined fear, anxiety, compulsive urges, and a general ‘feeling–bad-about-our-Self’.  ‘Feeling-bad-about-the-Self’ actually is feeling ashamed of ourselves when we are failing to live up to the conditions of the demanding parent or the internalized judgment based on their well-known criteria. This sense of having failed leads the child to ‘know’ (subconsciously) that he will be (virtually) rejected/expelled from the Enmeshment – which is subconscious to both participants.

Being granted access to the Enmeshment is the ultimate Substitute Sense of Self-oriented System’s goal because there we can experience the part of our ‘spine’ (Sense of Self) which is missing and feel (illusorily) whole, if only for a moment (compare also fear of ‘Annihilation’).  I think you can easily see that ‘feeling-bad-about-Self’ is a powerful motivator to keep working on the achievement of the Ego-References.

The Enmeshment is causes the child, and later the adult, to be driven to please the mother/caretaker because the child not only needs love but also needs the part of his identity, his spine, that the parent ‘holds.

How this leads to inner conflict

It would be impossible to overestimate the importance of this dynamic: The fact that part of the child’s identity is experienced only when allowed into the Enmeshment causes a tremendous emotional ‘charge’ on his choices about what to do and what to avoid, and also on the necessity to be successful in doing and avoiding. Unfortunately, eventually as life goes along, almost any choice conflicts with some other choice. Therefore he lives in a continuous state of inner conflict; there are no always-good/reliable choices to guarantee the desperately-needed result.

The only important goal

Over time, the person’s unshakable conviction that the Ego-References need to be fulfilled to achieve the sense of being OK and safe results in an addictive dependency on on ‘feeling-good-about-your-self.’  Thus the conviction results in continuously working on the specific actions or activities which are (subconsciously) chosen, because in the child’s individual circumstances they function as a ‘vehicles’ which can lead to that state of ‘feeling-good-about-yourself’ (Substitute Sense of Self). Now you can see clearly what the actual goals of this person’s behavior are: not the content of the actions but the Hidden Substitute Sense of Self-oriented Goal!

The state of ‘feeling good about-self’ and/or ‘being OK having complied with the rules and thus being virtually allowed into the Enmeshment’  only happens when the Ego-Reference-conditions have been successfully fulfilled. Reaching that state, that point of satisfaction, is the only (but unfortunately very fleeting) satisfaction available in life.

Tilting at windmills, pursuing the chimera

That the whole construct of ‘having to-feel-good-about-Self’ is a fiction never dawns on the person. The whole Substitute Snse of Self-orientd goal is a Utopia, a horizon which keeps receding. In fact there are only short moments of the reward of fulfilling any particular Ego-Reference. These are the moments that are accompanied or marked by emotions experienced (even if only faintly) as ‘butterflies–in-the stomach’ and over-excitement.

Note: On top of the fact that realizing the goals (all the time over and over again) is impossible, there is an extra obstacle in realizing a positive outcome of attempts to fulfill the Ego-References: intrinsic fear of failure is sabotaging any effort. The higher one climbs, the more failure-fear manifests itself in various appearances: teasing thoughts, solo-syndrome, clean-floor syndrome among others. These have the effect of undermining attaining the goal.

Whenever there is a positive outcome is ‘within scope’ the anxiety about something coming in between of reaching it is heightened. As a result, there is great risk of irritation and anger or even extreme rage when some obstacle (Hindrances) comes into one’s path. The person is ‘as a Fury’ when he is thwarted at the last minute from reaching his (Substitute Sense of Self-oriented) goal that seemed so close. Violence or murder can result!

Where the reader goes next….

Or…About a Lack of Sense of Self….