I have three reoccurring dreams. In one of the dreams, I’m in a school building, racing through a maze of hallways.
Seconds before the tardy bell, I enter the classroom for the first time. Only, it’s the last day of class and I realize that I’ve not shown up all semester, nor have I turned in any math papers or taken the exams. I am a failure. I wake up drenched in sweat, heart racing, and talking myself down, “You are 48 years old with four kids and a dog. It’s just a dream… school cannot hurt you anymore”
The week when report cards were issued always found me an anxious, panicky mess.
I don’t recall one time in my years of schooling where I felt successful at the end of a quarter. I experienced some proud moments with a successful creative assignment, oral report, or project that received a “good grade”, but in my role as student, I felt like a failure. But I remember this one report card that was different.
The comment was nice, but not enough to reduce my punishments for the “bad grades”. Yet, these words were my treasured tiny seeds of hope, secretly tucked away from shame’s greedy hands. I wasn’t a total failure, apparently. Someone noticed what I was good at. Someone cared enough to write it down permanently on my record. The cursive, blue-inked words were written in the nonobligatory spaces, right across from the A-, C, C+, D, C- and B.
Last week I shared a thought with a potential client: Our strengths, when overused or applied out of fear or lack of worth, can become our strongest weakness. Do you think that is a true statement? It’s true for me. As years went on, my strength of noticing others’ feelings and needs and responding, became a disabling obstacle.
Enmeshment is a word used in psychology defining the condition of someone whose over concern for others leads to a loss of autonomous development.
When a fully functioning, basically “normal” individual struggles with enmeshment, it shows up as a blurred line separating our responsibility and emotions from those of another person. We can become enmeshed with one person or people in general. It happens on a morning when we absorbed a person’s bad mood, and our Saturday goes from delightful to disquieting. Guilt and fear motivate us to fix problems for others while ignoring our own needs. As a way of life, it’s quite taxing because one must be taking temperature, testing waters, probing, analyzing, and reading the tone, emotions, and micro expressions all day long. The super cape is always ready-for-wear. It’s being a helper and a feeler extraordinaire without asking the question, “Am I really helping?” and “Are these my feelings?”
If you are over-using your strengths, creating blurred lines where you end and someone else begins,
shouldering responsibilities that do not belong to you, absorbing the emotions of those close to you, the two questions I just mentioned are a good way to help you pull back and assess yourself. “Am I really helping?” Add in, “Is this hurting me or others when I take over this responsibility?” “Are these my feelings?” Also, “If this person is feeling ______ do I have to feel this way, too?” The first step in change is awareness of the present. Take time every day to look honestly at the times you rush in to fix or rescue or own others’ stuff. Notice the shift in your emotions that occur when you are feeling the moods around you. Lastly, use your super power of helping and caring in a healthy, responsible way by using WISE discretion.
W – Wait before you act. “Are you helping or hurting?”
I – Individuate. Your feelings are yours, even while you care.
S – Stay a helper don’t take on ownership
E – establish boundaries that honor your time, emotions, and energy.
How do you keep yourself in balance as you generously help and deeply care for others? How can you tell when you are drifting into an enmeshed relationship with someone, and how do you pull yourself back? I’d love to hear your stories and ideas!