An Engulfing Mother is one whose Narcissistic Personality Disorder manifests itself in allowing no boundary to exist between herself and her daughter. She somehow views her daughter as being an extension of herself, rather than seeing her as a separate person.
This can work fine when the daughter is a baby or young toddler – an infant sees no boundary between herself and her mother either, and this leads to the mutual love affair we see between mothers and their babies, and that’s right and normal, and very important for bonding.
The problem is that the natural process of the child individuating herself – becoming aware of herself as an individual, and pulling away from the engulfing mother in order to become her own person – is then thwarted and even pro-actively blocked. This is done so emphatically and subtly that the daughter doesn’t even realise it, and perhaps may not question it.
And so, at a time when appropriate boundaries – physical, emotional and psychological – should be in place, they’re not. And so the engulfing mother will feel free to read her daughter’s letters or e-mail, to ask her daughter overly personal and intrusive questions, to barge into the bathroom when the daughter is bathing or even is on the toilet. It can even range into totally inappropriate intimate examinations, for example.
The problem persists into adulthood too. The engulfing mother might try to be overly involved in her daughter’s marriage, for example, asking inappropriate questions about her daughter’s sex life! Or running down her daughter’s husband, trying to make the daughter unhappy with him.
The engulfing mother might blur her and her daughter’s tastes, insisting, say, that the daughter loves such a food, or such a colour, just because she herself does. The daughter may actively dislike that food or that colour, but knows there’s no point saying it because of the rage and dismissal she’d incur. Or the daughter might not even know if she likes it or not, as she was never given the chance to find her own taste.
If the daughter ever does try to assert her individuality, perhaps in her teen years (which is another natural point at which people individuate further), the engulfing mother will react badly. She may manifest Narcissistic Rage at attempts by the daughter to separate, and terrorise the daughter into submission. Or she may sneer or gaslight the daughter. This can be hugely shocking to the daughter who'd never known anything but approval and (what felt like) love before. The tactics vary, but the result remains the same: an engulfed and trapped daughter.
Tactics of the Engulfing Mother
The engulfing mother will use tactics like Parentification and/or Infantalisation to keep her daughter bound to her. She may use Triangulation between family members to keep people off-balance, and hence more dependent on her.
Even as an adult, it’s very likely the daughter won’t realise that this engulfing is going on, or perhaps only dimly, in a way that is forever just a glimpse out of the corner of her eye, to disappear entirely when she tries to focus on it.
The daughter, and others around her, might also think how wonderful the relationship between her and her mother is. Isn’t it so good to be so close and loving and bonded even into adulthood? People probably praise and even envy that relationship. How can the daughter even begin to question it? Especially when it’s been like this all her life and she doesn’t know any differently.
Another issue with an engulfing mother is that she’ll often make it very difficult if you try to enforce No Contact. She just won’t take no for an answer. She does nothing less than stalking, in fact. There have been many cases where the daughter had to get a legal barring order on her mother before she’d leave her alone.
I personally am convinced that an engulfing mother is a much, much worse abuse than the Ignoring Narcissistic Mother. I was ‘lucky’ enough to have. The Ignoring Mother says: “Who you are isn’t acceptable or loveable,” which is bad enough, but at least acknowledges that there is a ‘you’ to be unacceptable and unloveable.
The Engulfing Mother says, in effect: “There is no you. You do not exist. You are not a real person. You are just a bit of me walking around separately.” And can there possibly be a worse abuse than that, to totally negate another’s existence? I cannot think of one.
And it’s doubly worse, of course, because it’s so hard to escape from, because as we’ve said, most of the time the Engulfed Daughter doesn’t even realise it is happening.
It’s harder to recover from too, if escape does happen. At least I and other Ignored Daughters ‘only’ had to learn that their unacceptable and unloveable selves were in fact acceptable and loveable. Engulfed Daughters have to find their own Selves first. What others did naturally and organically from a very early age, they have to do consciously and proactively.
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