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Is Your Mother Not Your Mother? - Exploring the Proper Mother-Son/Daughter Relationship

Yibin’s father was a silent and depressed veteran, who often abused his young mother at night after drinking. At that time, young Yibin made a decision that when he grew up and became capable, he would protect his mother and leave home… In the blink of an eye, Yibin is already over 40 years old, and his father has long passed away. Yibin wants to establish his own family, but he repeatedly fails to find a suitable partner. Either he encounters someone who is mentally and emotionally unstable and requires care, or he encounters someone who is unfaithful behind his back...

Shanshan's mother is known as Wu Zetian (China’s first and only female emperor), and her mother is in control of everything in the family. Her two sisters, who had entered society early like her mother, are just as smart as her mother. In the family, Shanshan is the only one who still has the innocence and gentleness of a princess in the family. In this household, only her father could truly listen to her and understand her. However, he holds the lowest status in the family. As her mother often belittles and ignores her father, Shanshan is often angry at her mother, and has unconsciously developed a hostile and unforgiving attitude towards her. As Shanshan grows into adulthood, she always brings her father shopping for clothes, and travels abroad with her father without her mother's knowledge. Although Shanshan’s father frequently reminds her to plan for her own happiness, and she has had a number of partners, she always meets men who are either weaklings or already married with children...

The two stories mentioned above might seem like cases where the main person involved experienced bad luck in life — being born into imbalanced families and encountering unstable partners. However, looking at the issue through the perspective of system dynamics, the "mothers" in the two stories actually play a crucial role in the life development of the two individuals. As both of them were unable to assume their roles appropriately within the family structure, this has led to conflicts within the dynamics of their original family relationships, leading to challenges in the development of their new families. By reexamining the issue through systemic view and the order of precedence, we can identify the following problems:

1. Unveiling Subconscious Emotional Incest – Viewing the Mother as a Potential Partner:

Research in psychology indicates the existence of "emotional incest" which is not physical but psychological in nature. Regardless of whether it's a son or a daughter, they harbor a hidden secret, feeling that they are more suited to be a partner for their father or mother.

For instance, when a son perceives his father as inadequate and becomes entangled in the parents' relationship, a triangular dynamic forms. The son, becoming excessively close to the mother, transforms into her emotional confidant, unconsciously guided by the mother to step into the father's role. At this point, the mother transforms from just being a mother to the role of the son's wife. Hence, when the son seeks to establish his own family, the issue comes to the forefront. It is difficult for his girlfriend/wife to assume the rightful position, as it's occupied by the mother. This misalignment between the husband and son, along with the power struggle between the mother and the prospective daughter-in-law, represents the underlying psychological dynamics in intimate relationship problems.

Sometimes, in order to maintain their position with their mothers, individuals are driven by unconscious motives to seek relationships without a conclusion. As a result, those who are married, unfaithful, or engage multiple relationships become their preferred choices. This is because these kinds of partners can fulfill their pursuit of societal expectations and personal emotions, while simultaneously safeguarding the connection with their mother. (The same applies to daughters and fathers.)

2. Repetitive Family Dynamics and Projection— Viewing the Mother as Someone to be Rescued:

In Yibin's story, he wanted to rescue his mother from a young age. As he grew into adulthood, the dynamics of his family began to manifest within him. Initially, he replicated scenarios from his original family by encountering individuals needing care due to mental and emotional imbalances. From a deep psychological perspective, it can be said that he felt drawn to these individuals due to the underlying desire to rescue his mother. This led to his interest, empathy, and involvement with them. However, these people were not his mother. He couldn't change his past by saving them. At the same time, he gradually forged a situation akin to his father's—approaching old age and still seeking for a partner. In other systemic constellation case studies, the lack of connection with the father often resulted in a state of "addiction" for the individual, ranging from the obsession with daily matters, to alcohol and drug abuse. For Yibin, who distanced himself from his father since childhood, this could potentially become a high-risk underlying driving force in the future!

On the other hand, in Shanshan’s story, isn't there a similarity between the weak individuals she encountered and her mother’s perception of her father?

3. Misalignment of Family Hierarchy—Viewing the Mother as an Enemy/Obstacle:

From a young age, Shanshan developed animosity towards her mother, and as she grew older, she disregarded the boundaries between her parents. This hindered her from becoming a truly empowered woman. Through the lens of systemic constellation, it is observed that only through sincerely respecting and cherishing her own mother can a girl gradually embrace her complete feminine side and evolve into a genuinely strong woman with feminine qualities. A girl’s separation from her mother won't automatically make her a strong woman. This is merely the perspective of an indulgent and willful child, and cannot bring about genuine growth and transformation. Therefore, in Shanshan’s intimate relationships, we can understand why she might be attracted to married men with children. This is because deep down, Shanshan is still a girl rather than a woman, and is merely drawn to the “fatherly aura”, which prevents her from embracing mature love as an adult. On the other hand, Shanshan’s immature traits as a girl also attract similarly immature boys. This also explains why she frequently encounters suitors who are weak and behave like children such as a Mama’s boy.

Through the above cases, we have a general understanding of how much an imbalanced mother-child relationship can affect the development of an individual's life. When faced with similar situations, what appropriate actions and approaches can we take to help us? We can start by examining and improving on the following areas:

1. Respect the Relationship between Both Parents:

The dynamics of each other's lives play a big role in how fathers and mothers meet and bond. The intricate details of these stories remain unknown to the child, and parents might not objectively talk about them. It is often unfair for children to judge it from only one side's point of view. When we are children, our thinking is not as in-depth and meticulous, and we will generally agree with the information provided by our parents. As we mature and gain independent thinking, we should strive for an unbiased understanding of these matters. It's important to understand that these matters relate to the dynamic between the parents themselves. While we might not agree with specific beliefs or actions, it's important to maintain respect for our parents. The circumstances and choices gradually evolve in their time and space, and cannot be easily concluded through a child's point of view. Respect, is the only way that can prevent negative outcomes. Upholding respect ensures that a child maintains ties with both parents, and throughout their growth, both inner masculinity and femininity can flourish in balance.

2. Adhere to One’s Position in the System:

When parents are still immature, they may sometimes subconsciously exploit their children to fulfill their own needs. This can also be caused by disillusionment with a partner, which leads them to transfer their hopes to their children and raise them to become their ideal companions. Although these occurrences are concealed, with closer scrutiny, their underlying presence can still be detected. For instance, the mother always instructs her son to relay messages to the father, and she exclusively discusses and confides in him about household matters. On the surface, it might seem like the son is a filial and obedient child. However, in the context of order of precedence, the son has surpassed the father, unknowingly taking up the role of the father. When we begin to realize that we have crossed boundaries in the parent-child relationship, we need to return to our original positions and have the courage to reject the temptation of power and superiority (e.g. “I have the final say in this household “, “I'm better than Dad”). Show respect, by asking the mother to discuss the matter with the father, and return the issue to him to resolve. By doing so, you can prevent the potential damage caused by positional misalignment in the system, preserving the harmony of the family dynamics in the original family and new family.

3. Refuse to be a Savior:

A child always feels bigger and more empowered when they receive praise from their parents and feel that they can be depended on. Taking on the role of a savior gives the child an inner sense of accomplishment and superiority over their father or mother. However in reality, the child is taking on a responsibility that they cannot solve, such as issues between parents and conflicts from previous generations. The matters are not directly related to the child, and they thus do not have effective means to solve them. They end up spending their energy on maintaining the seemingly balanced "imbalance". Therefore, when a child becomes a savior, they take on an endless burden. If this burden eventually overwhelms them, their role shifts to that of a victim, while the parents become perpetrators, leading to an even more dysfunctional family relationship. To prevent putting parents in an unjust situation and to secure one's own freedom in life, learning to refuse the role of a savior is important. Loving parents and wanting to share their burdens can be done in more appropriate ways. True filial piety involves pursuing a successful life to repay parents, rather than clinging to issues and responsibilities that do not truly belong to oneself, wasting precious opportunities for the future.

The above three points are valuable insights and solutions derived from a systemic perspective and the order of precedence. They have the capacity to bring about fresh perspectives and new prospects for both the original family and newly created family if they are applied to one's relationship with one's parents. Love from the family is never ending and flows continuously. It is called “love” when channeled correctly and called “hindrance” when channeled incorrectly. When we know how to return to the right way of getting along with each other, the power of love can once again be injected into our lives to create harmony and happiness. Even if the road ahead is not guaranteed to be wide and smooth-sailing, we can still look forward to a limitless path of possibilities in the future.

Further Reading: Reflections on Parent-Child and Parental Relationships: Case Study Insights

Make an Appointment for a Case Consultation: TAOS Academy Systemic Constellation Online Reservation

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