Each of us begins in total dependence: the womb. From the moment of ‘delivery’ into the awesome beauty and terror of the world we struggle to come to grips with separateness and the emotions that go with it.
In this piece I raise questions and discuss what is not a frivolous question. I do this to help you assess where you are in your own emotional life journey.
Those of you who have read my book The Three Word Truth about Love and Being Well might recognize that I have addressed parts of this topic under the headings: Relationship as Love Essence and Sexuality as Love Essence. Here, I look at these areas from the vertex of weaning.
What follows can first be summarized in the old psychiatric saw: “Every patient is in therapy for one reason: to learn to separate from mother” (here mother includes, to an important but lesser extent, father).
Weaning concretely describes a mother withdrawing the breast and nipple as her baby’s food source. This event has led to serious questions around the importance of breast-feeding: Is a bottle-fed baby ever really weaned and how significant is this for development? Less often considered: Is the duration of breast-feeding and the time taken to wean significant? Lastly, how different is psychological weaning from the actual physical process? In other words, when the breast and nipple is withdrawn is anyone ever fully weaned and what are the implications? Or for you: Am I weaned?
Where are you in your journey of growing, separating and finding your self?
I extend a series of further questions for your contemplation:
Is the first crawl and later walking away from mother a part of weaning? Is going to a day care and then school a part of weaning? Is having a friend, a serious relationship, leaving home and marrying a part of weaning? And in all these cases, if this is part of weaning, who is weaning from whom? Is a man dependent on a woman, or vice versa, in need of weaning? Even further is an ex, male or female, weaned who is ‘separated’ and receives spousal support? And lastly, in the bigger picture, for instance, do we all need to be weaned off oil?
Do these examples resonate for you with feelings of underlying helplessness, hopelessness, fear, guilt, anger, greed or gluttony? Or consider, is faulty weaning an essence of distorted love for self, other and the world?
And so what starts as a seemingly frivolous question leads you back, back, back. Questions about yourself and your primary relationships, and then questions about how much your past has a ‘presence’ arise. Are you are meeting your own moral standards? How is consumption and greed affecting the whole future of mankind?
Some of the following personal determinants may help you answer these questions and assess where you’re at in your journey.
You are not weaned if you:
1) abrogate your sense of responsibility, or,
2) disavow your responsibility for your self onto or into someone else and then sit in judgment of their performance, or,
3) feel entitled to a standard of living without working for it,
4) feel other’s owe you a living and work is drudgery,
5) have ‘excessive’ trouble with: distrust, helplessness and vulnerability, fear, envy, persecution, anger, temper tantrums (internal or acted externally), feelings of unfairness, anxiety, dread, increasing isolation and numbness, impatience, any or multiple addictions, and, bodily preoccupation or behaviors.
You are weaned when you understand that:
1) bonding is to attaching as weaning is to separating,
2) other is not an extension of you, a part to be used by you,
3) other is not simply a function for you to use and depend on,
4) other is not to a puppet for you to control from behind their back,
5) you have a balanced conscience with concern for yourself and others,
6) you bear the depressive feelings of a sense of incompleteness and accept dealing with them throughout your life,
7) work is a gift,
8) responsibility is freedom,
9) envy becomes realistic admiration of others’ achievements,
10) you have relative peace of mind with awareness of your thoughts, feelings and behavior and ownership of all three,
11) you feel reasonable guilt and disappointment for mistakes but forgive yourself and others fairly quickly, learn from your experiences,
12) you know and own responsibility for the reality we are all more similar than different and we are in this together, and
13) you know your will is one in God’s Will, but you are fairly certain and have a strong faith that we each have separate immortal souls.
So weaning is an ultimate paradox because as we separate from our ‘mother’ internally and externally, mature, bond, and separate as adults we have the potential to ‘see’ we are separate but at the same time one with God. This presents both an opportunity and challenge for our intimate relationship: All unresolved weaning issues are replayed. They are acted out a third time in reverse with the opportunity and challenge of pregnancy. Adopting children brings unique weaning challenges and opportunities.
As couples you face weaning issues at play over and over again around dependency, responsibility, clinging, codependency, entitlement and division of labor. The degree of awareness of individual growth in God’s love will determine the health of your relationship process.
Like all physical life, ultimately your relationship too has an expiry date. Before this expiry occurs you can work to face the pain of weaning and create a transcendent, holy relationship that will thrive, or you can sink into passivity and your relationship will become increasingly dependent, fearful, hostile and parasitic.
If your relationship becomes malignantly stagnant there will be an inevitable slide into failing mental and physical health. You or your relationship will die an early death. If your relationship ‘fails’ in separation, or in marital divorce in particular, depending on the level of ‘weaning maturity’ and resultant narcissistic injury, the pain of weaning avoided will more or less violently resurface. This can be behavior acted out with the intention to induce guilt or behavior to demand compensation / revenge. This is the cry of an internal infant to continue ‘feeding’ uninterrupted. The pain of weaning feels intolerable. In desperation and rage, to manage the resurfacing pain, unfortunately, ‘mommy and daddy’, the ‘law’, is often called on to supply what is ‘owed and deserved’. Like a tyrannical parent, most sadly, the unfeeling ‘law’ supports itself by supporting this faulty strategy. It reinforces the seeking of security and happiness in material possessions. A world like the ‘law’ itself is created, a world without ultimate meaning, a worshipping of the ‘golden calf’.
The pain in separation and divorce is an essence of weaning. It must be born in ‘the beauty of the breakup’. It cannot be assuaged or averted by entitlement and clinging to a Faustian bargain with the devil, for suckling on a rancid ‘piece of flesh’ always takes a heavy toll.
The final opportunities for transcendence in weaning occur as the physical body unmanifests. Bonding with grandchildren and seeing God in their eyes is one portal to this transcendence. Separation from, and letting go of one’s false attachments to an ended relationship, to one’s parents, to one’s dying spouse if still married, and finally to the attachment to one’s own body is another portal. All these events show how the process of weaning, mourning, and acceptance of weeping must go on throughout your life if you are to continue to grow.
By paying ongoing attention to where you are in your weaning process throughout your life span, you are more able to attach / bond, love, separate / grow and then let go in the certainty of your innocence and the pure knowledge you are forever loved and held by God. Here, there is no more weeping. You will not wean or be weaned again.
Now come the tears of joy!
Dr. Clark Falconer is a Guest Blogger for PickTheBrain. He is a practicing Psychiatrist from Vancouver, Canada and the author of the new, critically acclaimed book The Three Word Truth About Love And Being Well. To receive daily tips on the power of words follow Clark on Twitter.
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