This exercise reveals the difficulty many of us have in telling the difference between dependency and love. It’s not surprising that those we are closest to appear and that removing them from our lungs may be painful. Acknowledging how enmeshed your breathing is with close relationships may bring up feelings of sadness, loss, resentment, or even guilt, but it is important not to label these feelings as bad or to bury them. Actually, the opposite is true. For, as you’ll see in the next story, it’s only when we recognize these feelings and bring them into the open that we create the necessary space to heal.
Bamboozled by the Committee
Karen, a business executive in her late thirties, had her first asthma attack when she was seventeen. For the last eight years she has lived with Michael, with whom she shares parenting responsibilities for his five-year-old son. When she does “The Exorcism,” Karen sees her mother and cuts her out. She gets a sense of power from this. When she’s finished she says her breathing seems much easier. But Karen is disturbed by the feeling of guilt that washes over her almost immediately. She describes her mother as a worrier and overprotective. “She’s afraid I can’t take care of myself. She’s a typical Jewish mother,” Karen adds with exasperation.
Karen did the exercise for less than a week. She claimed it made her feel guilty. “I’ve discussed this stuff with my therapist for the past six years. Why do it again?’’ she asked. Talking with her therapist about her mother was a safe way for Karen to dwell on her pain. It allowed her to vent (complain, name, blame, be the victim), but it made no impact on the asthma. Despite feeling powerful and breathing more freely after her initial imagery experience, Karen allowed her Committee to take over. The Judge pronounced her guilty, based on standards that dictate a “good” daughter’s behavior. And immediately, Karen fell into the trap of thinking that removing her mother’s image and influence from her lungs was “bad.”
Regarding the emotional issues of asthma and their relationship to its symptoms, Dr. Gerald Epstein says:
The emotional contribution (of asthma) seems to come mainly from knotted dependency problems, particularly related to struggles for independence from maternal influence, although sometimes the distressing influence can be paternal. Either way … the issue is almost always related to a parent. The asthmatic wheeze has a positive as well as a negative meaning. The positive meaning is expression of wanting to breathe freely — to become free. The negative meaning is generally considered to bespeak the fear of breaking loose from parental influence.