The Deidré Wallace System

12. EMOTIONALLY SMOTHERING A CHILD IS THE SAME AS ABANDONING A CHILD

2 Posted by - September 18, 2014 - My Step-By-Step Relationship System, Uncategorized

12. EMOTIONALLY SMOTHERING A CHILD IS THE SAME AS ABANDONING A CHILD

Following in the footsteps of my previous blog on Narcissism, this blog goes a step deeper – I explain why emotionally smothering a child is similar to abandoning a child.

Many years of client observation led me to realise that an emotionally smothered child presented similar aspects to an abandoned child. Even though the two narratives, emotional abandonment versus emotional smothering, appeared to be on opposite sides of the scale and experienced differently, when examined more closely the outcome is usually the same:

Using 2 examples, I explain the main 2 forms of emotional smothering, then I explain how an emotional smothered child struggles with relationships in adulthood. I also explain why emotional smothering is similar to emotional abandonment.

What is emotional smothering?

Example 1: The first example I always used to begin my explanation is initially quite subtle. It then builds to more complex reasons as to why emotionally smothering a child is similar to abandoning a child:

If a parent takes a child to a park to play and the child wants to climb a tree, it is expected that the parent let go of their fears, irrespective of whether the child may or may not hurt itself. Normally the parent will allow the child to explore and climb the tree possibly with much caution and advice. If a child is still given permission to explore that tree, the child leaving the parent may run or walk away and yet they may still first hesitate and glance back at the parent for reassurance. And in an ideal situation, the parent will continue to encourage the child to be adventurous.

In other words, the notion and expectation of parenting is to teach a child how to become a fully functioning and independent adult.

Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Unfortunately, the needs of the parent sometimes gets in the way of a child being allowed to develop emotional independence.

If a parent has never ‘climbed a tree’ and lacks self confidence the child may pick up on the hesitation. This might stop the child from being adventurous especially if it senses danger – danger being not just about falling out of the tree and breaking a leg, but also the emotional danger or the emotional expectations of a parent. Climbing a tree with the possibility of breaking a leg, can distress a cautious or timid parent. It however, can also create anxiety in an overly possessive parent.

If a child senses that the parent needs them to fulfil a gap in the parent’s emotional life, they may soon realise that in order to keep the parent’s love and praise, it is better to maintain the status quo. A dictionary explanation of the phrase status quo is “in the state in which things were before the war”. The child may learn that what is expected is to remain at mummy’s side at all times, as this keeps friction within the family at bay.

Children are like sponges, they absorb everything – and mostly it’s the unspoken that gets ingested consciously and unconsciously. They watch and they see ‘the actions that speak louder than words’.

The child may sense that a parent might feel abandoned or rejected if they sense that the child is attempting to leave them in any way. So the parent may get angry. (This I also discussed in my previous blog with regards narcissism).

Consequently, the child can start to feel stifled, resentful and even angry, if they begin to feel emotionally controlled or manipulated by a parent. The child may turn this anger inward: They may stop trying out new things. Their school life, their grades, their sport activities as well as possible weight issues can be affected. They can just give up.

A child can begin to loose it’s identity and self confidence if they sense that they are there to please a parent –  even if it only means that pleasing a parent requires achieving outstanding exam results and a career that a child doesn’t feel they can fulfil. They may become very angry and resentful at the parent’s negation of their identity.

On the other hand, the child may have gathered that in order to keep the peace and in order to maintain the love and admiration of their parent the best policy would be to do as the parent wishes. This is how the non-rebellious child can become emotionally numb.

Example 2: The second example I used is when a parent uses a child as an emotional surrogate substitute husband or wife. A child may be used as a substitute in one-parent families or if either of the parents is frequently absent or emotionally unavailable.

This could have varying consequences from a child experiencing resentment, anger, claustrophobia to becoming withdrawn, resigned, compliant even depressed or emotionally numb.

This anger could be directed at both parents – the parent that uses the child and the other for allowing it to happen in the first place.

The likely result of smothering is that by the time the child is expected to leave home it either can’t, or if they do manage to leave, they ‘run a mile’ to get away.

In normal healthy situations the child would gradually leave and feel free to return home whenever necessary (depending on their financial situation) until they get married and create families of their own.

Usually the smothered child would find cutting the umbilical cord very difficult and becoming independent would be just as difficult to achieve. If the parent has narcissistic tendencies then leaving home would be excruciating for all involved. The child would feel guilty for abandoning the parent whereas the parent feeling rejected may get very angry and often they may resort to threats, or further bulling in order to hang on emotionally to their child.

Consequently, when the child becomes an adult, they may even continue to stay at home. Obedience to a needy and manipulating parent may result in the child/adult using various excuses to stay at home.

Yet a huge resentment and a frustration may lie deep within for not being able to escape. This emotional paralysis will of course not bode well for developing self-confidence in the child/adult. This can cause terrible resentment, anger and guilt, not only towards the parent but also towards themselves for not having the courage to cut the ties.

The Emotionally Smothered Child And Relationships In Adulthood:

The emotionally smothered child would find having relationships very difficult. Dealing with a possessive and jealous parent, and having a relationship or even friends of their own, would just incur more guilt.

For those however, who are able to wrench themselves from the family and snap the umbilical cord, the result is that they hardly if at all, return home.

This can be traumatic for parents and the child, causing isolation and loneliness.

In other cases, a child may actually leave home but if they are still emotionally tied to the parent, they may feel tremendous guilt and disloyalty for leaving the parent. A relationship or even marriage (to someone else) may feel like a betrayal. Plus, any emotional demands made or asked of them from either the parent of their new partner would be difficult. It would remind them of the emotional smothering experienced in childhood.

There are many people who find giving emotionally to partners in adulthood really hard because so much was expected of them at home – this should not be under-estimated.

In adulthood, emotionally smothered people can sometimes attract partners who are older and who can supply them with the emotional needs that they never got as children.

Sometimes a parent might have to die, before the emotional tie or umbilical cord is ever broken and in this case, grief can be experienced as feelings of huge relief.

Usually the emotionally abandoned child or adult learns quickly to deal with loneliness and isolation. They learn that their own needs are secondary.

Even though they may crave intimacy because they have learnt that their needs come second, developing a close and intimate relationship would be very difficult and this result is similar to what the abandoned child would feel deep down – that they are unworthy of intimacy or that intimacy is too scary to develop so they run a mile.

To Reiterate: How Emotionally Smothering Is Similar To Emotionally Abandoning A Child:

As explained in previous blogs, the abandoned child may begin feeling that they’ve been abandoned because there’s something wrong with them. Then they may begin to internalise these feelings of worthlessness and consequently find ways of punishing themselves. This I have discussed in previous blogs.

The smothered child however, can feel abandoned for different reasons. If their needs have been overlooked, put aside and ignored for the sake of the parent’s needs, this in itself is a form of emotional abandonment.

Consequently both the abandoned child and the emotionally smothered child would experience common feelings of rage, anger, sadness, resentment, they may withdraw, become resigned, even emotionally numb.

However, the difference is that the abandoned child usually is extremely needy of affection. This neediness can actually drive people away therefore having the opposite effect to the required love they so crave. This may also mean that being unable to deal with the intimacy they so crave, they may unfortunately land up isolated once again.

The emotionally smothered child feeling claustrophobic within relationships may also push people away. Having been required to obey and constantly give emotionally to the needy parent entering an adult relationship may be extremely difficult. The fear that people may once again expect too much would loom large. So they too may land up being isolated and lonely – yet if asked they would easily choose this option above being expected to give of themselves once again.

So both the abandoned and the emotional smothered child can land up finding intimacy hard to achieve, relationships difficult to sustain and they might even land up living alone.

To  Summarize:

As a result of a narcissistic parent or an emotionally needy parent, a child can feel emotionally smothered. They can also feel smothered if they are not allowed to naturally develop their independence. Parents who have self confident issues may prevent through their often hidden messages can prevent children from exploring life and developing their own sense of self. Achievement expectations from parents can also be smothering to a child especially if the expectations don’t match that of the child’s hopes and desires.

Emotional smothering is therefore similar to abandonment. Emotionally smothering a child can also imply that the child is not good enough to do anything much without the parent. It implies that the child has no confidence and is not capable. Most importantly it implies a lack of trust in the child and the child may grow up lacking self-confidence or a sense of self worth. Or if the child feels forced by the parent into a career or a marriage and so on the child may feel resentful and very angry. This could lead to depression and emotional numbness.

By being an emotional extension of a parent the child and its identity or personality gets abandoned for the sake of the needs of a parent.

Sadly, patterns that start in childhood may not be so helpful in adulthood. Our parents leave us with all sorts of emotions that we may have to sort out in later on in life.

Understanding my blogs will give you a deeper understanding of how we all develop and what the issues are that prevent us from having constructive relationships. By the way, the second section of my blogs will help you understand how and why we choose relationships.

Knowledge is power. Getting to understand the issues will help you see what might be getting in your way of moving forward. Once you have begun to understand your self better then you can begin to make better life choices.

I always said the following to my clients, “Therapy is not about change. It is about understanding and then comes choice”.

Note: © 2014 Information Copyright Deidré Wallace

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22 Comments

  • John chalkley September 19, 2014 - 8:20 pm Reply

    This was an excellent piece I’ve seen this so many times

    • admin September 25, 2014 - 5:52 pm Reply

      Thank you John Chalkley.

      • L February 4, 2017 - 8:56 pm Reply

        Hi Admin,

        I just wanted to let you know that after reading this I cried because for the first time in my life someone has explained the origin of so much pain that i did not know how to label.

        thank you for posting this.

        -L

        • Deidré Wallace March 1, 2017 - 3:09 pm Reply

          Dear L
          I am sorry that it has taken this long for you to feel that you are not alone.

          Thank you for letting me know and I am glad my Blog has helped you.

          I wish you well in gaining further insights.

          Best Regards,
          Deidré wallace

  • Judy November 9, 2014 - 10:56 pm Reply

    Excellent explanation. I was smothered and hence “being loved” feels engulfing. I am working hard on overcoming this pattern. In addition, I myself am a psychologist…

    • admin November 10, 2014 - 1:18 pm Reply

      Thank you Judy for your compliment and good luck with overcoming this pattern. I will add you to my mailing list if you haven’t already subscribed. Much appreciated.

      • rose February 20, 2017 - 8:41 pm Reply

        Hi Deidra. Wow years of living with this type of smothering controlling mother and I have never seen anything as valuable as your comments. My case may be a little more difficult it seems to me because although my mother is that type controlling smothering and hasn’t allowed me to develop my own self . also wants me to need her money when she passes away so which I believe is another way she tries to control me… Also ensuring that I will take care of her because I know we need her money when we retire at this point) I will take care of her for the rest of her life. She’s in her nighties and I have moved her across the state to an assisted living facility which is 5 miles from my husband and I. She didn’t need to control me by making me dependent on her money. I would have taken care of her the best I could anyway. Because it’s the right thing to do. The reason I say it seems harder ain some ways for me than some of the comments I’ve read in your blog is that to most people she is a most delightful amazing woman you could ever know ..the best friend the most giving. But with me and only me her only child (she is actually my Aunt..and she adopted me when I was nine because my mother was sick and has since died
        . As I said to me and only me she maintains this control and smothering motus operendi
        The situation further complicates because I both love her and probably need her attention and love to an extent, but I also fear her and I feel I can’t move on making plans financially with my husband for our future as we are getting older. I believe my mother holds some kind of a threat in the background that swallows me up related to her always saying everything I have will be yours when I die. ( to give you an even better picture of the type lady she is she’s kind of like a Lucille Ball combined with Betty White… Someone who very gregarious independent seeming and so admired and liked by most people… But I see yerr as domineering to me)

        Your analysis has given me such clarity about the situation. Today for the first time when she called which she usually calls everyday I was somewhat distant and I only responded when asked something I didn’t offer anything as I always have making myself uncomfortable talking when I don’t really feel like it just to fill the dead air. Don’t really know what I’m asking here but it is difficult
        Thanks Rose in Florida

        • Deidré Wallace March 1, 2017 - 3:20 pm Reply

          Dear Rose

          Thank you for your complimentary comments and for sharing your experiences. I am glad my analysis has given you clarity. It is not easy having to care for one’s mother when the relationships is not an easy one. Gaining knowledge (and I suggest you keep reading my Blogs) and further insights will help you understand your situation better and hopefully it will help you cope better.

          I wish you all of the best,
          Deidré Wallace

  • Calendula March 8, 2016 - 5:05 am Reply

    Yep, I was smothered as well. But only by one parent, not both. My mother made it clear that I was to have no boundaries, no privacy, yet I was to be a dolly that she could dress up and show off. Then I became a teenager. Mom was completely baffled and enraged upon each normal teenage act of “finding” myself. The day I moved out, at twenty-one, I wept because I was overwhelmed with guilt for not following the “script”.

    For the next 37 years, I kept mom at arm’s length to keep a minimum to the insults about my looks, choices, decisions, etc. As a young adult I raged and seethed in reaction to her campaigns to alter where I lived, worked, my significant other was always a loser, my fashion sense was a hot mess, etc. It would take a 3-4 days for me to get back into my own skin following each holiday. As I grew older, I was able to not react, or not take her snipes to heart.

    The author is correct about struggling with relationships. As an adolescent, I had a best friend whom I could be emotionally open with, but I chose my romantic relations badly. After high school, I was too intimate with too many partners, and learned that the behavior didn’t work. I settled for the first young man who seemed interested in an exclusive relationship….only to find that two years later he felt “trapped” and I felt betrayed. That lasted five years. The next was a controller with self esteem issues. Five years. The next was a classic narcissist with all the trimmings (except any physical violence). Seventeen years. I didn’t feel “safe” to cry on mom’s shoulder during any of this. I worried that she might try to cheer me up Ugh! I’m glad, because I could heal at my own pace without being bulldozed. Now I’m grandma aged, and am in a relationship which feels more like “best friend, with benefits”. No fireworks, but he actually cares about me without demanding too much of me..or listen to me balk.

    Ten years ago, I fell ill, and wound up hospitalized for a whole summer. The doctors all said that I would get better, but it would take a while. Instead of listening to trained experts, mom made up untrue scenarios to cry over, and tell friends and family!! Mom wept at her job repeatedly, and was sent home (without pay) for acting unprofessionally. WHY? She was informed about my situation. There was no reason not to believe my prognosis, yet she allowed her imagination to take over. Here I was, sick and struggling, yet I had to reassure and calm an unreasonable weirdo. I had to put on the happy face, so she could go home, and leave me alone to relax and heal! She even wanted to take away medical desicion rights from my then-husband! When I was finally at home to continue my recovery, she pestered us to death by dropping by (without calling) with unwanted, unnecessary “gifts”.

    A year ago, I discovered that mom was letting the mail pile up, not paying her bills, missing appointments, standing up her lunch dates, getting lost on the way to the hairdresser’s etc. You guessed it….age related dementia. Two months ago, my current significant other and I moved in with her. It’s obvious that she can no longer function on her own. I put it off for as long as possible, because her actual personality is still there. But I don’t have enough income to buy help for her. I am forced to provide daily help for her which comes free. Which means ME! So far, I do laundry, cooking, shopping, bill paying, appointment keeping. She asks “What day of the week is this?” about 33 times a day. I asked her NOT to feed the fat dog, that I would do it, but she obsessively re-feeds him, and re-re-feeds him on the sly when she knows I’m dead asleep. She repeatedly pokes me, thinking she’s funny (like a three year old) or she’ll pat me and kiss me over and over and over and over….you get the idea. (Yikes) She can no longer enjoy a movie because she cannot remember the scene that was shown 10 minutes ago, so she says the movie was “boring”. I begrudgingly became her caretaker because without money to pay someone else to do it, the burden falls on me. She is aware and appreciative, but I know that the worst is yet to come.

    The author is quite correct, I had trouble making the break from adolescent to teen, from teen to young adult. I was criticized and belittled constantly and heavily, but I didn’t want justice, I just wanted to get away! I had a degree of normalcy for most of my adult years, but only because I demanded it and fought for it. I guess she gets the last laugh, since now that I’m old, and she’s even older, she is still driving me crazy with frustration, but in a different way.

    The question I put to myself is: if she were a “normal” mom, would I still help her in her time of need? My answer is: yes, but with more of a smile on my face.

  • Pratikshya Mohanty July 21, 2016 - 7:48 am Reply

    this article saw through me! at last some one gives me an explanation to what I feel. perhaps I am still too scared to fix things , perhaps I still want to keep friction at bay!
    thanks to you for understanding

    • Deidré Wallace July 29, 2016 - 4:47 pm Reply

      Dear Pratikshya

      I am glad to see that you found this post useful.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

      Much appreciated.

      Best Regards,

  • Cheri October 31, 2016 - 10:06 pm Reply

    I somehow was strong-willed enough as a child to fight against my mother’s smothering will and desired things that she didn’t want anything to do with. For example, she wanted a girly girl, instead I was a tomboy through and through. Maybe my differences were my only way to survive as an individual. My mother, however, devoured my emotional self as I became a teen and I took care of her emotionally all her life. She is still living and now wants me to care for her physically. I moved across the United States to get away from her but she followed me and moved to the state I lived in. I feel as if she is a drowning person, willing to pull anyone nearby under so she may breathe – regardless if she uses them up and ends up killing them. I moved again, four hours away and still suffered many “visits” one during which a beloved cat of mine was killed due to her leaving a door open. She is too elderly to make the four hour trek now for which I am very grateful. Although she still engages in her “crises” during which she tries to drown me still. I wonder if Ill ever be free, shy of her passing on. I really wonder.

  • Becca December 8, 2016 - 7:18 am Reply

    I’m so pleased I found this article as I have been struggling with how I feel.

    I’m 30 years old and moved out of my moms 2 years ago. In the past year I have felt massive feelings of guilt and at times claustrophobic, only now I realise I was smothered and still am.

    My dad left at birth so I was raised as a only child by a teenage single mom. She did her best and I would say was/is an amazing mother. However she completely fits your first example of climbing the tree, my whole life I have been told the worst case scenario and everyday and situation told to be careful and safe. For example, My dad’s family recently got in touch and my mom said if I meet them I need to be really careful as I don’t know them and they could kill me!

    I’m really struggling at the moment with my feelings, I recently travelled half way across the world and loved it (something I never thought I could do as I suffer from anxiety) and since then I’ve had a new sense of self and identity.
    The issue is my mom messages me of a morning to check I’m safe and slept well, messages me throughout the day and of an evening before bed. I see her once-twice a week, speak over the cell phone about 5 times and She’s involved in every aspect of my life. I’m feeling suffocated but at the same time incredibly guilty because I’m the person she socialises with and shares her emotions with. She also told me she cries at times because she misses me so much, so I don’t want to change things as don’t want to make her feel more lonely or upset.

    This article has allowed me to see why I am experiencing these feelings so thank you

    • Deidré Wallace January 23, 2017 - 6:36 pm Reply

      Dear Becca

      Thank you for sharing your story and I am glad that you have found my blog useful and that they have allowed you to understand why you feel as you do. You seem to be going through quite a difficult time. Keep reading the blogs in order as they may give you more insight.

      Best Wishes,
      Deidré

  • Melissa February 6, 2017 - 7:57 am Reply

    Thank you for writing this piece. I felt it finally put into words what I’ve been experiencing for so long. I suffer from intense feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness and I have been constantly trying to hide this away from everyone, bottling them up hoping I can resolve them before anybody fully finds out how bad my emotions/thoughts get. But after so many years of pain i find hard to understand, I still don’t have solutions. What can I do to resolve this?

    • Deidré Wallace March 1, 2017 - 3:12 pm Reply

      Dear Melissa,

      My pleasure and thank you for letting me know you have found my Blog useful. Keep reading my Blogs and maybe you might want to consider therapy. This can bring huge relief.

      I wish you well,
      Deidré Wallace

  • Janet April 28, 2017 - 1:40 am Reply

    Many thanks for your blog, which helped me identify what I’ve been dealing with! Oh, the guilt! The manipulation! The numbness in subduing my personality to enable her to be ok. Ack! As you say, time for choices, even if they are uncomfortable. This rut is well worn, now. It takes energy to change, and I hope that the excitement of discovering my true self will unleash the energy!

    • Deidré Wallace May 10, 2017 - 1:12 pm Reply

      Dear Janet

      Thank you for letting me know that you found my blog useful.
      As you wrote, ‘This rut is well worn, now. It takes energy to change, and I hope that the excitement of discovering my true self will unleash the energy!’

      I wish you well as it seems this is your moment to take that leap of discovering your true self. Yay!

      Deidré

  • Joyce Shepherd May 22, 2017 - 1:55 am Reply

    I felt like this article was written just for and about me. I feel as if I wasted my entire life trying to please a selfish, self centered, smothering mother. She just will not leave my alone from the first thing in the morning until night. My siblings are smart because they ignore her most of the time. I have a husband and child and I’ve actually set some boundaries but I feel emotionally drained and mentally suffocated daily. I can’t remember a time of mental peace from my mother. Now I feel obligated to take her in and take care of her in her old age. I resent my siblings for always placing the burden on me. I only wish that I had cut the ties after high school. It will be death that finally gives me freedom and peace.I obsess about not doing the same thing to my child.

    • Deidré Wallace June 22, 2017 - 9:01 am Reply

      Dear Joyce Shepherd

      I am so sorry that you have an emotionally smothering mother. This can be so hard especially as – she is your mother after all. However, creating definite boundaries is important even if she throws a tantrum. I wish you all of the best and at least you know that you are not the only one to experience this.

      Best Regards,
      Deidré

  • Jimbo June 1, 2017 - 5:47 am Reply

    Thank you for posting this! This describes my mother to a tee. My youngest memories were my mother telling me that im the reason shes alive and manipulated me to do whatever she wanted. She was an alcoholic, dru addict narcassist that thrived on drama. She tried living her life through me and didnt let me develop a personality. I became her surrogate spouse, she endlessly would suck whatever empathy i had and used me as a personal therapist. If i told her i didnt want to hear it or was tired she would throw a fit. When i fought back for my independence she screamed and me snd treated me like i was an object, there for her every need. She never contriubted to my mental health and i became very depresssed and emotionally displaced as a teenager. She gas lighted me the entire time saying thay she was always there for me and my “problems” when she caused my depression in the first place. Tears later after God helped me thougj a very long hard road of antidepressants and endless therapy, she had the gull to look at me and say “you owe me for being there for yo

    Whenever i she felt i was getting more indepdent she would try and feed me drugs because they made me sick and i would stay at home. Im now all grown up and 30 years old, this seems like a past nightmare but i appreciate the article. It will help so many others.

    • Deidré Wallace June 22, 2017 - 9:04 am Reply

      Dear Jimbo

      I am so sorry you have experienced what sounds like an horrific emotional roller coaster ride. I urge you to find someone to help you heal this and I wish you all of the best in dealing with what can be a very difficult situation.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and I am glad you have found it useful.

      Best Regards,
      Deidré

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