Growing  pains

Growing pains

Growth sometimes only comes from confusing and painful feelings

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 08/21/2013

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Dear Patti,
I’m starting college in September and was accepted at several California universities. My dad thought it might be a good idea for me to go away to school but my mom insisted I wasn’t ready to leave home. I decided she was right and enrolled in Cal State LA. Now that all my friends are leaving, I realize I’ve made a mistake. My mom and I have always been close and maybe I’d be homesick at first, but deep inside I’m adventurous, have always dreamt of traveling, and want the experience of being on my own.  

My cousin says the whole family thinks I acquiesce to mom’s wishes too quickly and that I don’t think for myself. I was shocked to hear this, but it really opened my eyes. I’ve always felt fearful, disloyal, ungrateful and guilty whenever I’ve disagreed with my mother because I know she only has my best interests at heart. I suddenly feel angry about being passive and manipulated to do what she wants. I took ballet for five years because she loved it. I let her buy me a beautiful wardrobe instead of the kind of clothes I should be able to pick out for myself. 
For the first time in my life I’m miserable and don’t feel close to her. Instead of feeling happy about starting a new chapter in my life, I feel stuck and resentful. I want to break free, live the way I want to live and go away to school but now it seems too late.
— Ana 

Dear Ana,
While I know this is a difficult time for you and that you feel frustrated, stuck and uncomfortable, this is the exact feeling that will encourage you to grow and change. I’m actually very excited for you and see you as less “stuck” than ever before because of your newfound awareness. It sounds like this is the first time you’ve questioned this problem; this indicates you’re more ready to individuate and discover who you are. 

The anger you feel is perfectly understandable, as you feel something precious has been taken away from you. The growing pains and quest for freedom you’re experiencing can’t help but impact and alter existing family dynamics.

I recommend that you see a counselor individually to sort out all these new feelings and thoughts. Initially, you might have a tendency to revert to an enmeshed relationship with your mother or go completely the other way, rebellious and oppositional. After working through your feelings, one of the goals of counseling is to find a grounded self where you can process your anger and keep a close relationship with your mom without losing yourself. Whether she’s misguided and just trying to do what’s best for you, coming from a narcissistic place where’s she’s more concerned about what’s best for her, or a combination of the two, you will learn how to circumvent your mother’s suffocating tendencies and not automatically become emotionally derailed. After you’ve worked on yourself, you might want to have some counseling sessions with your mom, too.

You might also want to explore the possibility that this enmeshed way of being extends even farther than your relationship with your mother. How come it took (1) your father to suggest going away to college, (2) your friends leaving to make you feel you were missing out, and (3) your cousin’s candor to point out the problem? While all that is fine, it may be that this problem goes much deeper. This is an important lesson to learn. Without it, you might angrily separate from your mom and go off to college, only to lose yourself with a roommate or a new boyfriend. If you learn how to firmly and clearly but lovingly set boundaries with your mom, you’ll have that ability with others as well. If you’ve been enmeshed with her and haven’t been thinking for yourself, it’s an advantage to find this out in the beginning of adulthood.

Check with your school counselor and ask when you can transfer to another school. Now when you go away, you’ll be much more ready to do so. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site, 


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