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I Did a Retreat for Men with Mommy Issues

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This post is for you if you do. Your future romantic outcomes are at stake.


I'm going to tell you about a retreat I attended for men who felt "too close" to their mothers, and how you can benefit from my experiences.


Right off the bat, you may object, believing a close relationship with your mother is a good thing, and I'd agree.


The problem comes when a mother allows herself to get too close to her son (this also applies for parents and children of any gender, but that is not my focus here).


Yes, mothers can get uncomfortably close, too close, to their sons. The psychological term for this is enmeshment. A son begins to feel burdened by his mother's overwhelming need to be close, and feels guilty when trying to develop healthy independence. Thus, his emotional growth and maturity are stunted.


I won't focus too much here on explaining what enmeshment is, but I will put a link to an enmeshment questionnaire at the end. If after reading this post you feel you may have been impacted by enmeshment by either parent, take that test.



I found this retreat as a result of reading Dr. Ken Adams book Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Partners. In that book Dr. Adams details how he discovered and then studied this phenomenon of enmeshment. I resonated with most of the vignettes in the book, and have felt like something was "off" between my mom and myself for years.


After finishing the book I believed I had experienced enmeshment, and I decided to sign up for Dr. Adams' retreat for enmeshed men.


There was one other reason I decided to attend: when my last partner Diana dumped me, it shook my world and I knew I needed help. I was humble enough to know that I couldn't heal on my own. After reading Dr. Adams' work, I could clearly see how my relationship with Diana was modeled after my relationship with my mother. I felt that if I healed my relationship with my mother, my next relationship would be much healthier and more enjoyable.



The retreat is an emotionally laborious yet fun time. You meet some really cool men of varying ages who traveled from different parts of the country, or even from different countries around the world. You get to know each other inside and outside of the therapy room. You eat together, do the homework in the same room, and perform a process called psychodrama together to bring about change and healing.


What is important here is that you develop healthy connections with other men, which serves as a remedy for your negligible relationship with your father. (Most enmeshed men did not get enough love and attention from their fathers.)



I felt anxious when I arrived at the retreat center, but my anxiety melted away as I met the other guys and got to work.


All of the attendees met and talked at our first dinner together Thursday evening. I met 6 other guys who were all married (I was the lone bachelor).


After dinner, we formally introduced ourselves to the group and Dr. Ken Adams. Then Dr. Adams got right to business with his presentation, and we ended with some simple exercises and a group chant.



After our Thursday evening session, the guys and myself took a quick walk around the retreat center grounds. This place is beautiful, surrounded by a thick forest and teeming with wildlife. We saw squirrels, songbirds, wild turkeys and a pair of cranes.


The next morning we settled in and completed 4 touchstone exercises from the workbook. This entailed some journaling and reflecting on our relationships with our former lovers and our moms. These exercises were SO helpful, and talking about them afterwards in the group helped us all bond.


It was good to be in a circle of men, to soak in the masculinity and be witnessed by the other men.



In the evening, I volunteered to be the first to do the psychodrama.


For the uninitiated, psychodrama is a group exercise where you reenact dynamics from your childhood using other people as actor's in the play. It's akin to role-playing, but for the purpose of triggering old wounds so you can heal.


During my psychodrama, I had one guy play my touchy, needy, clingy and controlling mother. I was twisting the pillow Dr. Adams gave me to channel my anger, which helped me remain present and grounded. My forearms were sore from indoor rock climbing a few days prior but it felt good to get the anger out in a concrete way.


Then the man playing my mom held a couch cushion up to his chest and walked towards me, engulfing me like my mother. I pushed him away from me and yelled "get the fuck off me!" I was surprised how quickly I went into a rage.


I saw myself getting close to losing control, but Dr. Adams helped me remain present and focused. I actually yelled so loud and realistically that the guy playing my mom involuntarily shut up. He later told me this.


When it was finally over I wanted to cry, and the guys gave me feedback. I paid attention but I don't think I gave a fuck either way. I finally felt free!


All of the tension that was in my body drained out and I melted into my chair. I felt comfortable in my own skin and very authentic. The psychodrama couldn't have been more than 15 minutes, but it unburdened me from pain I've been carrying more than 15 years.



For the rest of the evening we did psychodramas and feedback rounds for each other. When all was said and done, I had played two inner child/adolescents, one guy's mom (he almost hit me with a tennis racket), and one guys son.


I was also recruited to hold the couch cushion against this bigger gentleman's feet as he pushed me away. In his psychodrama, he was laying down on his bed in his mom's house, age 15. There was no door on the door frame - his mom took it off in a fit of rage when he asked to move with his father.


The same guy who played my mom played this man's controlling, narcissistic mother.


Once he had enough, the big guy shot up off the floor like a Pitbull ready to attack. He told his mom off, told her all the wrong things she did to mistreat him, and told her to leave. Dr. Adams had him tape off a circle in the room that he would forbid his mother from entering. It was super powerful. I felt the tears forming in my eyes.


I'm leaving the details out for privacy, but we all felt the energy in the room. This man was in his 50s and had been beaten down by his mother all his life. She even followed him across the country to live in the same town as him and his wife!



The rest of the retreat was just as amazing. I wrote and then edited this really spectacular letter to my mom. We took turns reading our letters in front of the group and then burning them in the fire Dr. Adams had going.


When I read mine, I was clear and definitive. It was a powerful moment, imaging my mom in the fire with my letter. Dr. Adams and the other guys were really astounded at how well I wrote which made me feel good. My self-confidence was sky-high after pushing my mom off of me in the psychodrama.


As the letters burned in the fire, I joked that I had to suppress the urge to say "thug life, bitch." We all laughed and that became an inside joke.


I also chose to burn the drawing I made of my relationship with my mother - myself trapped inside of a snow-globe with her as she cries for me in her immense neediness. It was based on my feeling of not being able to get away from her in childhood.



Sunday morning was bittersweet for the group. This whole journey was so short but so life changing and downright transformative. We had become brothers in just a few short days.


We read our final letters, this time addressed to our inner enmeshed child. Unexpectedly, I had tears in my eyes as I finished. It's amazing how much being heard can stir up your emotions.


Being there for everyone else was a real blessing. I ended my final thoughts by talking about what I wrote Thursday afternoon hours before the start of the program…


I wrote that I wanted to be vulnerable, and not to laugh or joke so much, since I know I use humor to hide my feelings. I told the group this, and said I was happy to report I achieved this goal for the most part. I told them how grateful I was to be asked to participate in their psychodramas, and ended by telling Dr. Adams just how grateful I am to him for pioneering his work and paving the way for people like me. I was choked up when I finished.



Now that the retreat is over, I feel pure gratitude. I was able to learn so much about myself. I was able to contact the man that I am deep down. I am not a pushover, a spineless coward. I am strong. I am powerful.


I learned to set boundaries, and I know what that feels like viscerally.


I also realize on a deeper level that fear, resistance, guilt and shame are baked in to my journey. I need to expect them and not allow them to derail me on my journey to healing. I will have great boundaries in the face of these emotions.


I learned that I put up with way too much. When I catch myself putting up with people, that is a clear signal that I need to speak up for myself.


There are hundreds of things you can say to set a boundary, but one takeaway for me is that boundaries can be simple. "I don't want to." "I'm not willing to do that." "I am at my capacity for listening to you on this subject, let's please change the topic."


I feel more ready and willing to stand on my own two feet, to have more of a healthy "fuck off" attitude, and to be direct. Having clear and concisely communicated boundaries tells the listener you mean business.


The main lesson is TO communicate your boundaries. Don't bury them, don't put up with bullshit, don't allow resentment to build.


An affirmation I wrote for one of the touchstone's: "I am able to choose my commitments wisely, patiently, and within my best interest." This fits me perfectly, since I have often found myself in commitments I felt obligated to enter but did not truly desire.


One other realization: I hold onto my mother just as much as she holds on to me. I grew to love the attention and admiration she showers on me, but it came at a price. If I want to be free to live how I want and to fall in love with someone worth loving, I need to release myself from chasing my mother's approval and validation.


I learned that I do have the power to be clear in what I want and in who I am. I am no longer waiting for permission to be a man. I am a man, and everyone else will adapt to that fact as I embody it.


I now do things for myself. I don't do it to please women or to get attention and approval.


I no longer feel shame about my relationship with my mother. I know that I am not alone. After participating in this retreat with my full soul, I can say that the stories I tell myself about my past with my mother have shifted. My stories are more healthy and paint me as reaching a more free conclusion. My past no longer controls me.



Dr. Ken Adams is very human. That's the word that kept coming to mind when I reflected on his interactions with the group, and the other men agreed. He was funny, told stories about his own enmeshment and healing journey, shared anecdotes about his wife, mother and son. He allowed us room to breathe but got down to business when it was time. He was empathic and caring, but was assertive when necessary. We all looked up to him.


This workshop was an eye-opener for me. Working on my enmeshment before the retreat, I mainly focused on letting go of the guilt and obligation I felt towards my mother. After going through the exercises in the 60-page workbook, I realize that I have other emotions about the enmeshment I experienced: grief and anger.


I was only looking at a narrow part of my pain, and this workshop demonstrated to me that there is much more that I was missing. Now I can heal more effectively.


The whole workshop was powerful and well put together. The food was really good, like the pulled pork sandwiches we had one night. The salad bar is open for lunch and dinner, which is a really great addition to the cooked meals they served. Lots of vegetables available.


These experiences inform my view of manhood and fatherhood. Fathers are so fucking important. Every boy needs a physically and emotionally present father. A father who will protect the boy from his mother if need be. Attending this retreat gives me the confidence to know I will be an amazing father when the time comes around. In the same vein, I am more available for a healthy, loving romance, without the past coming to haunt me.



If you feel that your relationship with your mother is holding you back in subtle or obvious ways, I recommend reading Dr. Ken Adams' books. I first read Silently Seduced and later When He's Married To Mom. If you resonate with the descriptions and symptoms in these books, or if you score high on the test I am linking to below, look into attending the Mother-Enmeshed Men Retreat. There are only so many that Dr. Adams' does per year, and you could be a lucky attendee.


The truth is that your relationship with your mother (even if she is dead and the relationship is just psychological at this point) determines a huge part of your romantic success and happiness. I recommend everyone at least take the enmeshment survey linked to below.


"Yes is the answer... And you know that! Fasho!

Yes is surrender! You gotta let it... you gotta let it GO!" - John Lennon, Mind Games

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super interesting, super well told, super honest. I have lived that. my mother was absorbing and my father an absent drunk who made fun of me for being a boy educated by his mother. my mother died when i was 17 and my father when he was 21. i always felt guilty for rejecting my mother. I wouldn't let her get close to me. Always feeling guilty. Not being able to finish relationships with girls because i felt guilty. Always feeling a debt with my mother. I always hated my father. In the past I would have liked to torture him, really. No jocking, without any mercy. I only managed to get out of this with transcendence. with 5 meo, with meditation, understanding what this is, who I am, who they are. I love them! it's all a joke! nothing is of the slightest importance. I don't have hostile thoughts even a minute a day. I am free


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@Breakingthewall Do you still carry some guilt? Or did the 5meo help with it?

I celebrate your freedom.

"Yes is the answer... And you know that! Fasho!

Yes is surrender! You gotta let it... you gotta let it GO!" - John Lennon, Mind Games

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I would say no. I have the feeling that it is a test to which I have submitted myself. I have a feeling of love towards my parents. They made it difficult for me but this is a game. the only thing I can do is play the game as well as possible

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Super well-written and well-described. A joy to read.

Seems like a super healthy practice!

Got a good impression from this retreat through these words.


Learn to resolve trauma. Together.

Testimonials thread:

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@Breakingthewall Awesone for you.

@flowboy Thank you for the kind words. I feel so much better and grounded in my healthy masculinity after this retreat.

"Yes is the answer... And you know that! Fasho!

Yes is surrender! You gotta let it... you gotta let it GO!" - John Lennon, Mind Games

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Man this is awesome, I am having a very similar experience, thanks for sharin!

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