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REMINDER: See ACRONYM page for abbrev.
3. The SYMBIOTIC CONFLICT
Sigmund Freud concluded that there were 2 main psychological forces in humans – Eros & Thanatos, love & death, sex & violence (where have we heard that before??), strong instincts which he called “an original self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man”. These drives give people a kind of psychic “energy” which can be diverted (not repressed) into other areas, giving some form of satisfaction
Modern psychologists (Kohut, Mahler, Winnicut ….) have given us a revised understanding of these 2 forces: Attraction & Repulsion, Connection & Separateness, Attachment & Individuation. In balance, both extremes are necessary for us to be psychologically sound. To feel safe we need connection but to be our own person, we need to separate.
• For ACoAs, however, this internal tug-of-war is lose-lose. No matter how ‘wonderful’ we think the various individuals to be (‘my mom is the greatest – honest!’….), in a toxic family system both of these basic needs are distorted. The wounded caregiver can be: fearful or angry, withholding or intrusive, distant or controlling – all are scary & damaging. We end up as adults who are equally afraid of commitment AND of abandonment.
a. Fear of one-ness with mother – being engulfed: resulting in a need for Rigid Bs (walls). Having absorbed an unsafe mother (introjected object), the child feel the threat of loosing it’s True Self via her lack of Bs. Any fragments of their own identity are very precious to the child & need to be protected. This may be accomplished by regressing to an ‘autistic’ state of stunted, limited or no feelings – a normal part of infant development which would have been outgrown in a loving environment
~ AND ~
b. Fear of separateness from mother – being abandoned: resulting in Weak or no Bs: At the same time, because the internalized mother is unhealthy & can not protect the child’s True Self from her damage, the whole world feels unsafe. The outside is assumed to be as threatening as our family, so we are loath to venture out & stand on our own — the fear is that we’ll be set adrift in an alien, chaotic world knowing we don’t have a strong base to return to – so why leave?
Wounded adults who STAY (Ss) too long – the clingers in any type of relationship, AND the LEAVERS (Ls) – who are afraid of getting too close — are very often drawn to each other! CHART : C = Conscious, Un = Unconscious
FoA = Fear of abandonment // FoC = Fear of commitment
• On a conscious level these ACoAs seem to be polar opposites having nothing in common – always at odds, demanding what the other cannot give. Ls want freedom, Ss want security.
• The key to understanding this unlikely attraction is what’s going on underneath. In the unconscious, each had the exact opposite fear, but the Ls are not aware of their FoA & the Ss vehemently deny their FoC. The hidden part of each resonates with the other, acting as a magnet which keeps them repeating the pattern set up in their family
BTW – what proves Stayers are afraid of commitment? They keep picking Leavers who are deeply unavailable, physically or emotionally, so they can avoid letting anyone get too close to their WIC. Just because they get married doesn’t mean they’re capable of actual intimacy!
• AND, what do the Leavers get from their choices? Not only someone who will never leave them but also someone they can rebel against! They can have the illusion of being wanted, needed, loved… & still stay at arm’s length. It’s an illusion, because the Ls are just as afraid of someone knowing how vulnerable they feel inside that armor, and the damaged Ss they hook up with are looking to be taken care of, behind their wall of self-hate.
This core conflict is unresolved as long as our WIC has a high level of anxiety. This comes from old FoA terror not sufficiently discharged (by deep emotional release work) AND an insufficient or missing Loving Inner Parent to replace the cruel Bad Voice. Our attachment to the PP prevents S & I.
Chief SYMPTOMS of inadequate Separation & Individuation:
— weak sense of self: fundamental injury to this is not getting a meaningful, empathic emotional response from mother. A basis for S & I is a sense of efficacy – to have an appropriate effect on our environment.
— narcissistic vulnerability: injured by being slighted or ignored, based on shame
— emotional detachment or clinging: played out as “come here – go away” in relationships
NEXT: Bs & ACoAs (Part 4)