Life was just fine for very competent, independent, 33 year-old Wendy. She enjoyed her job as a creative executive at a top advertising agency; she loved the new house she just bought; and she had lots of wonderful friends. She had everything she wanted, except for a good relationship.
Wendy had starts to good relationships, but they would always fall apart somewhere around the one-year mark. Sometimes, he bailed, sometimes she did. Either way, the result is the same….. Wendy is alone.
When asked about what happens at the one-year mark, she admits that she literally feels scared, even sick to her stomach, fearing she’ll be left. After many repetitions of this pattern, she’s sure that “something is wrong with her.” This feeling is magnified by the fact that Wendy’s two younger sisters are both happily married.
When asked about her mother, Wendy says that she likes her Mom now, but only after years of not getting along. She always felt that her Mother liked her two younger sisters better. She remembers her mother going on outings with them while she stayed with her Dad. Wendy and her Dad have a special relationship that continues to this day.
As Wendy continues to reflect, she shares that she can only spend a few hours around her Mother. Anything longer and she starts to feel that panic feeling, which is her signal that she needs to go. Then, when she gets away from her Mom or is around her Dad, the panic feeling subsides. Several years ago, her therapist suggested that her relationship issue stemmed from her being a “Daddy’s girl”. Because she was so close to her Dad, she was always comparing the men in her life to her Dad and they could never live up. Though there was some truth to this, it did not shift her pattern.
We asked Wendy more about those panic feelings she experiences with her mother. We asked if she had ever been separated from her Mom when she was young. Wendy had heard stories about her Mom spending some time in a hospital when Wendy was a baby, but didn’t know why or for how long.
After doing some research, Wendy told us that when she was only a year old, her mother became pregnant with her first younger sister. The trouble-filled pregnancy resulted in her mother being bedridden almost immediately and finally hospitalized for several months prior to the delivery. In Family Constellations, this is called an “interrupted bond”, which is traumatic for an infant.
Imagine being baby Wendy, bonded with a loving, consistent mother, who then, after a year, suddenly is not there for her. Though it’s not her choice, Mom is either in bed or in the hospital for nearly nine months, unable to care for Wendy. With the loss of her Mom’s nurturing, baby Wendy goes into distress, then panic, and becomes sick to her stomach for a few days. When she recovers, she bonds quickly with her new care-giver – her Father. Dad takes over. He feeds her, clothes her, and holds her. Though Mom misses spending time with Wendy, she needs to care for the pregnancy. And by doing so, after nine months, she delivers a healthy baby girl.
When Mom, with new baby, comes home, she is ready to continue with their “normal” family life. Mom can’t wait to spend time with Wendy. But when she tries, Wendy gets upset, turns away, and clings to Daddy. She doesn’t want to be held by her Mother. Mom doesn’t know what to do and feels rejected and incompetent. It seems to her that Wendy doesn’t need her anymore. Wendy is pegged as very independent and Mom attends more to her newborn who does need her.
The separation widens as Wendy shows a preference for her father. This continues until, at seventeen, she leaves for college and never comes back to live.
Bonds with mother are forged from soon after conception up to eight years of age. What happened to Wendy happens to a lot of young children. When separated from Mom for any substantial period of time, whether a hospital stay, an adults only getaway, a summer spent with grandparents… the bond can be broken.
The most important bonding time takes place during the first few years while the hippocampus is being formed. The hippocampus is the filing cabinet for the brain. While it is forming, it cannot make sense of “Mom needs to be in bed in the hospital to take care of the next baby”. All a one-year old child knows is the trauma of MOM IS GONE. And since the hippocampus isn’t formed, it’s not a thought but a panic feeling in the body. The feeling is held in the body and must be released through the body. Even an adult who understands exactly what has happened in the past and has forgiven their parent and themselves… will still need to do some bodywork to diffuse that trauma imprint and resulting behavior pattern.
Remember Wendy, at the one year mark of her adult relationships, starts to get that panic feeling in her body, just like she did as a one year baby when Mom left.
Think about yourself and what body sensations come up for you when your issues are up. Then, let’s talk.