Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Enmeshed versus so-NOT-enmeshed

Terms of Endearment


The Forty Year Old Virgin?

You have to understand. For me, like just for about every other softy on the planet, watching Terms again is like sticking a knife way deep into my little heart and turning it.

a) the movie's really sad, ala Beaches, and b) it's a mother-daughter flick and it's been many weeks since I've seen M. or Y. Worse still,they keep my grandchildren hostage and it will be yet another couple of weeks before I zip back to L.A. for a few days of R. and R. and drop by. They have a new home.

I am told that SOMEONE has to help prune the rose bushes, as if I actually know how. Any advice, friends, would be appreciated.

Still, I had to write this post so I had to see the movie over again. Got half way through it and still think it's Debra Winger’s best performance. It was made for her.

And Shirley MacClaine? Sheer genious.

The movie starts out with Baby Emma in her crib, sound asleep. Aurora Greenway (Shirley), a fifties mom is terrified the baby may not be breathing. She practically climbs into the crib to check it out, isn’t satisfied until she’s wakened Emma who cries. Satisfied, Aurora leaves the room, baby crying.

Emma's father passes away, she's about five, and in the next scene they return home from the funeral. Her dad's distinguished boss helps little Emma out of the car and tells her, "Sorry about your Dad. He was a great worker. Take good care of yer momma."

Aurora hears this and shoots Emma a look as if to say, DID YOU HEAR WHAT THE MAN SAID? YOU BETTER (TAKE CARE OF YOUR MOMMA) !

That night Aurora can’t sleep. She wakes up Little Emma.

Em : "What's wrong?”

Aur: I can’t sleep. I'm tense. (She's telling a 5-year old this). Do you want to sleep in my room?

Em: No thanks.

(silence) Aurora backs off angrily. Emma caves.

Em: Would you like to sleep in my bed again?”

Aurora gladly jumps in with her.

Emma's best friend Patsy? Someone to resent. Flap, the fiance? Aurora totally hates him, doesn't show up for the wedding. She calls Emma non-stop throughout her wedding night and doesn't let up the following day.

When Emma gets pregnant Aurora is beside herself. Each time. Recommends abortion.

We get it, right? MOM can't stand the thought of anyone replacing her in CHILD's life.

Then, Emma's husband Flap lands a job in Iowa, miles and miles from Texas.
It's time to say goodbye.

Child is ready, Mom is not.

They hug and it's real sad, and then Emma breaks into that big, beautiful Debra Winger smile and says, "Momma? I think that's the first time I pulled away first."

Aurora grimmaces. This means the girl's finally left home psychologically and she doesn't like it.

Although Mom's needs clearly dominated Emma's emotional life during childhood, Emma fought for independence and ultimately won. Emma's got a very special spirit, too, and that's what makes this a REAL HOLLYWOOD FILM.

In REAL LIFE, Emma would most likely have an anxiety disorder,an affective disorder(depression) or a drug problem. In fact, if Aurora hadn't been so rich, so healthy, so cocky and full of herself then Emma would have been at risk to be a co-dependent, a care-taker.

But Aurora had means, full-time help and a big house, and Emma didn't feel compelled to stay home and hold her hand.

Plus Emma had that fabulous personality,a deep love of all things fun, like sex and song.

Real enmeshment should make you emotionally sick.

That's the definition. So Emma wasn't all that enmeshed in the end. But another kid under the same circumstances with different genetics, growing up under a different roof might have been. Variables, variables. Life is so complicated.

Emma's cancer at the end of the movie wasn't about Aurora, (although some people make these kind of associations, I don't). Emma actually bucked the usual consequences of suffocating enmeshment, the ones that are socially debilitating.

Enmeshment AND detachment are the ultimate socio-psychological retardants of life. I made up that term. You won't find it in a book (until you read mine).

Still, there are no absolutes in mental health. These big human brains we have are most resilient features.

If we really picked apart Terms (and we really could go on and on) we'd see a child whose raison d'etre COULD have been care-taking her mom, being what we call a parental child.

Or if Aurora had successfully socially restricted Emma (which she tried to do but failed) then Emma would have been set-up to deceive Aurora about her relationships. She'd have had to sneak around. There is some sneaking around in their relationship as it is. The very process of deception isn't healthy, usually.

It's about that little matter of psychological space that we've talked about before. Kids who have to fight for their psychological space and friendships outside the family often get high. Emma does do that, too.

On to the Forty Year Old Virgin. Andy, played brilliantly by Steve Carell is the polar opposite, so-NOT-enmeshed. Yet the Forty Year Old Virgin doesn't initially appear to be sick at all. He gets up, cooks a good breakfast, exercises, rides a bike to work. Works.

He has many, many toys and hobbies, the building blocks of SELF, and like Emma, he has a love of life and fun (Go Hollywood. We do like happy movies). Were it not for the fact that he's forty and has no relationships, we would think he's just fine.

But he's VERY socially ill at ease.

a href="">

We see very little of a family of origin except for a couple of pictures on a nightstand. They are nowhere to be found in this film, which says something, because although it's vulgar, it's not a stupid film.

Andy lives a very solitary life, not atypical of the people who grow up in disengaged families. These folks are perfectly happy not talking to anyone. Their spouses and children are the ones who have the problems, if indeed they marry. The family feels abandoned by the detachment of individuals who either have so much ELSE to do, or have absolutely little or no social skill.

Although guys like Andy feel perfectly fine, they're socially anxious and avoid others. Andy originally works behind the scenes at a big electronics store. As his social skill improves, he becomes a salesman and ultimately manages the store. But until someone had pointed out that he might just LIKE having a relationship, he was fine without one. Without any of them.

When Andy's coworkers find out he's a virgin the movie gets going. They befriend him and push him to find someone, anyone, to get laid.

And wow, does he bumble around. The movie is vulgar so I don't recommend it, but it has it's funny moments and the ending is great (you CAN fast-forward, you know). In the end Andy doesn't have to do it their way, he manages to have a relationship and take it slow, the way people should, and is ultimately very happy with a terrific gal that he MARRIES before losing his virginity.

I'm guessing a guy like Andy who never learned to drive a car (he's a heck-of-a bike rider) didn't get much one-on-one with his parents. Even though he KNOWS he's a nice guy, he's terrified to make the call for a date and he has no platonic relationships. It's not that he's a virgin that's a problem, really. It's that he has no friends.

We develop our capacity for intimacy in friendship. The petrie dish for sharing and learning to have an interest in others is the family of origin, the place you grow up. If the family of origin is an intimate place, one that shares yet is still mindful of privacy and personal space, then having friends and intimate relationships comes more naturally.

The family that raises you has an awesome responsibility. In healthy families of origin people talk, share, laugh, and they're reliable. They care. Parents ask their kids at the end of the day, and kids ask one another, "Did anyone pick on you today? Did the world give you a beating? Come on, TELL ME and I'll tell you about me."

Good parents teach their children that our social eco-system is not always a safe place, but that those who consistently prove accountable and keep their word may be worthy of our trust.

There is much to teach kids. Gently coaching them into the world of relationships is probably the most important of all.

It is an awesome task.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Great comparison I never saw the second one. Great analyzation.

Holly Schwendiman said...

Amen to the awesome responsibility and task. I really enjoyed your thoughts on this one. ;o)

Holly's Corner

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and educational comparison. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts. I love using movies to teach. I have used "12 Angry Men" to teach lessons in communication, specificly, how to ask effective questions and how to pursuade. I have also used "A Christmas Story" to teach the sales process. Contemporary culture, movies are a great visual aid to many of lifes lessons, if properly facilitated.

therapydoc said...

Thanks all. I never did get Terms of Endearment out of my head. I think it came out when I had just learned about enmeshment and all of those bullet points went off in my head.

Another one is Ordinary People, of course, where Judd Hirsh tells the kid something to this effect, "We're not real big on control in my field."

I think it was O.P.

Margo said...

I started asking your grandson about his day at the end of mine, whether the world had, in fact, given him a beating, and all I can say is you WOULD NOT BELIEVE the social politics in the world of a four-year-old.

We do indeed need some help with the rose bushes and camillias, and, well, also on how to turn on the hose.

therapydoc said...

G-d I love you, Margo.

Lea said...

I didn't get laid till I was 34, lol, not easy to cut those apron strings. My Mom was a motherless daughter, so she transfered a lot of that abandonment pain to me. I tear up now just writing this, but now I'm 45, have a few close,safe friends to open up to, life is pretty good. Enjoyed reading the comparison of the 2 movies!

therapydoc said...

Life just gets better and better. (for some people) Thanks, Lea

Anonymous said...

Doc. I married an Andy!!!!! help. Yes I feel abandoned, so I will take care of my own social life with our without him. And yes I am emotionally bereft just like my therapist said, that i want to have an affair!!! or end our marriage. he's trying hard though, looking up "emotional intimacy" on the internet! sigh.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post.

Texaco said...

Netflix just delivered Terms of Endearment today. I can't wait to watch it.