I have become fascinated with why people do what they do. Especially people who kill- what causes them to snap? What gives them the ability to cross that line and take someone’s life? My research about this subject led me to find out about a very serious, but rarely discussed issue. It is called the “Mother Wound” or “Enmeshment”. This describes a type of abusive relationship between a mother and her son.
It occurs when the mom has an unfulfilled need- she may be lonely or maybe she feels unimportant in her life. She is usually single, but in some cases, she may even be married but the husband is not fulfilling her emotional needs. She will ultimately satisfy her emotional needs by placing her son unfairly into a companionship role. He becomes her surrogate partner, so to speak. He is an object who is there to take care of her – his needs become irrelevant. At times, she may even border on covert incest, such as inappropriate kissing, walking around in skimpy underwear, bathing him long after an appropriate age, or any action that pushes normal mother and child boundaries.
When the son is a child, she will idealize him and tell him he is the “man of the house.” She will praise him and put him on a pedestal. She will act like he can do no wrong which will boost his sense of importance. As he grows a little older, he naturally begins to pull away from her to find his own identity and what he wants. But the mom will punish him for this- for wanting autonomy- by criticizing him, manipulating him, or gas-lighting him. She will do whatever it takes to make him feel guilty and pressure him back into resuming his role of taking care of her. And later, as he grows into a teenager, he will pay a high price for any attempt at finding or having a normal relationship and trying to fulfill his own needs. He understands that she will never think anyone else will be good enough for him and she definitely does not want him to try to find someone else to love.
The son understands on a deep level that this relationship is not normal. He begins to resent his mother for the emotional abuse and the way she forces him to live. He begins to distrust her and therefore all women (if you can’t trust your mom, who can you trust?) because he sees that her love for him is based on his performance and how much he pleases her- he does not have the normal unconditional maternal love he deserves. This will create an increased fear of rejection and abandonment feelings when dealing with other women. As he gets older, if he does seek relationships with other women, he will never feel truly loved and wanted. He will struggle emotionally in all of his relationships.
In certain circumstances, he may have even began to develop sexual feelings for his mom and he knows that he cannot fulfill those needs. He feels trapped and smothered. He wants to date and have a normal relationship, but somehow he feels like he is “cheating” on her when he does. In order to satisfy his natural sexual needs, he may turn to pornography, prostitutes, or other more dangerous behavior. This allows him to satisfy his sexual needs without feeling like he is displeasing his mother. He has to modify his behavior and do whatever it takes in order to not feel guilty for betraying her.
The son becomes angry at himself and his mom because he feels stuck. He becomes angry when he feels like he can’t tell her no and he has to do as she says. He feels guilt if he does try to go against her wishes and put his needs first. He knows he has to take care of her, and he wants to take care of her- but not at the price of losing himself. This causes intense feelings of rage and shame- at himself and his mom. However, he cannot let his mom know how he feels, so he will transfer all of these intense feelings to any other woman in his life.
A prime example of this in real life is Gary Leon Ridgway. He is the Green River killer. He was convicted of 49 murders between 1982 -1998. He is reputed to actually have killed 71-90 women total, most of them were prostitutes. He grew up with a mom who was very controlling and demanding. She would criticize him and berate him if he did anything wrong. She dressed provocatively while he was growing up. He peed in the bed until he was 13 and she would personally wash his genitals every day. This was an abusive relationship emotionally and sexually. He ultimately developed sexual feelings towards her. He knew he could not have sex with his mom. He ended up feeling trapped and powerless. He hated her for making him feel unloved and unwanted. He wanted to kill her. Instead, he began to turn to prostitutes for sex and then began killing them. He even practiced necrophilia with some of his victims. His actions in his mind, gave him power and control over a woman instead of being under his mom’s power and control.
In my book, Seeds of Betrayal, the murderer is shown to grow up in a very similar situation as Gary’s. Enmeshment is more common, I believe, than what people really think. Is it really fair to hate murderers who are created to be this way by the emotional abuse they suffered as a child? And continue to suffer with as they grow up? I can see that, in a way, there is no hope for these men. They have no future. They ultimately struggle to find love and acceptance just like everybody else. It is just that their actions can sometimes be more extreme- even dangerous and criminal- which makes it harder to accept and forgive.
Cooper, Oliver JR. 2020. Mother Enmeshed Men: What causes it? https://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/mother-enmeshed-men-what-causes-it
Sons of Narcissistic Mothers. 2014. http://www.sonsofnarcissisticmothers.org/sonms.html
Narcissistic Abuse and Awareness. Randi Fine. randifine.com/broken-sons-of-narcissistic-mothers/
Robert Summers. Jan 25, 2019. The Golden Sons of Narcissistic Mothers. https://youtu.be/CBq6GHhek8Q
Patricia Love, EdD, with Jo Robinson. 1991. The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to do when a parent’s love rules your life. https://www.amazon.com/Emotional-Incest-Syndrome-Parents-Rules/dp/055335275X/ref=pd_lpo_14_t_0/132-5283557-4827209?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=055335275X&pd_rd_r=7fa0c957-86b0-4f1a-b9d2-644e95199753&pd_rd_w=fjKhD&pd_rd_wg=wLbBe&pf_rd_p=7b36d496-f366-4631-94d3-61b87b52511b&pf_rd_r=YN2J9F55WTT0EP4RBM0Z&psc=1&refRID=YN2J9F55WTT0EP4RBM0Z
Belden, Rick. Men and the Mother Wound. http://rickbelden.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Rick_Belden_-_Men_and_the_Mother_Wound.pdf