You're just like my mother.
July 3, 2006 9:25 PM   Subscribe

MyMomDamagedMeForTheRestOfMyLifeFilter: How do I stop this learned pattern of co-dependent(?) behavior?

I just had a revelation today as to why I'm so emotionally worn down and broken. I just realized I am treating my closest girlfriends like my mother.

Some history, I'm adopted, the youngest and only girl with 4 older brothers. My parents were divorsed when I was 5 and due to being a girl, I was sent to live with my mother. Unfortunately, my mother was highly unstable, being diagnosed as manic depressive she had many break downs, and ended up in the psych ward a several times. Her life caused a lot of termoil for both of us, she's been married 8 times, and we moved at least on average once a year. Throughout most of this, I was her main emotional support, comforting her when she was depressed, trying to deal with her emotions as a child.

Fastforward to my life as an adult, I am finding that I am playing that same role with several of my closest girlfriends. We live a crazy lifestyle, with a good amount of hard partying, and it's starting to take a toll. I have several girlfriends who have a tendency to break down quite often. They all are in long term relationships, either married or w/ live in bf so I am not their sole source of support. Needless to say, I find myself always feeling the need to do whatever is in my power to prevent break downs from happening, or alleviating it as much as possible if it does.

Oddly enough, I am fairly new to this group, but have become key with in the cirlce, w/ each of the girls telling me I was brought into their life for a reason and they are continually telling me how important and special I am to them which I of course. I am litterally each couples child. I also find that my presence helps each SO deal w/ their delicate and emotional girl. But it's draining me to the point of unhealth, where I think I am going to have a breakdown.

I realized this today, when I started thinking about how one of my closest gf's reminded me of my mother, and this was really a revelation which I had never thought of before. And then I end-up seeing the pattern. How happy I am when she is happy and I how I often feel it's my responsibility somehow to make sure she's happy and how this actually extened to two of my other gf's and my larger circle overall. It's killing me though, the stress is becoming more than I can bear but I don't know how to let these girls (or the rest of my friends) experience their emotions w/ out feeling guilt and the need to come in and rescue and console them immediately regardless of what sacrafices I have to make.

I'm sorry, I don't know where else to go with this question, I obviously can't talk to any of these girls about it because I'm afriad they will feel bad about me feeling like this.
posted by lannanh to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First thing: you can't support anybody effectively if you're busted yourself, so you owe it to the people you care about to take some time out and get your head together. You need a break.

It's going to be hard, because you'll have to remind yourself a LOT that all these people you're looking after had lives before they met you, and will undoubtedly find other people to support them when you're not around. Expect to find this a difficult self-sell; expect to find yourself feeling horribly guilty about abandoning them. Also expect to find yourself feeling horribly insecure about perhaps not being indispensable. Do it anyway.

Take a couple weeks off partying. Go stay somewhere else for a while, and don't tell anybody where you're actually going. If anybody asks, just tell them you've been feeling run down and frazzled lately and you're taking some time off to recuperate. It's absolutely your right to do that.

Get some good sleep.

Eat some good meals.

Go for some long walks in fresh air.

And when you get back, and it clicks for you that one of those people you care about should have been you all along, find a good counsellor or therapist to help you through the rest of it.
posted by flabdablet at 9:58 PM on July 3, 2006

It sounds to me like you're looking for an outlet, and your question seems to be broad - this is askme, not an episode of Growing Pains - things aren't going to resolve themselves so quickly.

Maybe you should think about finding another way to vent, such as counseling, or some sort of support group that focuses on codependency. Maybe you could start writing a blog or participating in a forum that addresses these issues.

In my own experience, I've found that people like those you describe, who "need" you and rely on you to pick up the pieces, are going to eventually drain you of a lot of energy and emotion. Don't let other people use you as a dumping ground to unload all their hard times and bad feelings. If they're taking that big an impact, consider moving on, or at least taking a break from them for a while.
posted by SassHat at 10:01 PM on July 3, 2006

Find a mental health professional you can work with productively and dial way back on the partying lifestyle. If you can't get the partying under control you probably have some substance issues as well that you may be able to work out with a counsellor or you may need to address separately. These are the only solutions to your problems.
posted by nanojath at 10:44 PM on July 3, 2006

Throughout most of this, I was her main emotional support, comforting her when she was depressed, trying to deal with her emotions as a child.

This is emotional abuse. Adults should turn to other adults for emotional support. They should not use their children as mini-therapists.

It's nice to be "needed" but wouldn't it be better to be in a relationship that wasn't so one-sided emotionally? Wouldn't it be nicer to have more give-and-take? A relationship of equals?

Beware of people who need you too much. Oftentimes, their need for you is intense but their love for you is shallow.

And I'd just like to echo what the others said. Look into therapy or an appropriate support group.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:54 PM on July 3, 2006

I was once in a similar place, counciling my alcoholic father on various problems from the time I was ten. It sucked and would be hard on any child, and it turned me into an adult before my time. I endend up in a motherly role in many of my friendships, often being taken advantage of. It is a nearly impossible situation for a young person to be in. The best advise that i can give is for you to find out who YOU are. Maybe go on vacation or live on your own for a few weeks, be by yourself and find out who YOU are - it will be alot easier for you to stand up for yourself, give actually helpful advice (not just sympathy) and be a complete and happy person, once you are happy with yourself.
posted by elvissa at 1:37 AM on July 4, 2006

I also echo the comments above. You have been a victim of emotional abuse. Therapy is of immense value. Hope is not lost, you have had a powerful realization and it is time to do some work on yourself... I have two key things to pass on to you.

1. Treat yourself like your own loving parent. Imagine yourself as a small, innocent child and then love that child properly. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat good food, avoid bad people that will hurt you. Don’t blindly reassure yourself that everything will be alright or berate yourself for having feelings of fear or anger that are perfectly valid. Something is wrong. A loving parent will empathize and make changes to help you.

2. Don't measure yourself by how fucked-up the people around you are. Your friends think you were sent to them for a reason because they have huge problems and (because of your mom) you are the type of person who can help them and support them. As well, for you it is a clear way to feel less fucked up yourself. But what about you? What about your help and support? Find people who raise you up, who support you, who make you a better person.

Also: check out The Narcissistic Family , a book that really got to the bottom of things for me.
posted by Elle Vator at 8:05 AM on July 4, 2006

I did this a lot during my teenage years and I just couldn't take it any more. I found the best way to cope with it was a support group. Just being in a situation where I was hanging out with other girls my age and talking about my life in a "safe" setting where I felt able to be honest about stuff was really really good.

It was also helpful, strange to say, that my support group was more "general" than specific, because part of a support group is that you offer support to other members, which helped me get my Good Samaritan buzz. Because interaction was restricted to that hour a week, so-and-so's anorexia and so-and-so's boyfriend problems couldn't take over my life to the point where I was stressing about them out of hours (I couldn't do anything! We weren't allowed to contact each other outside of the group!), but at the same time I could offer them feedback and support and also see, in a very real way, how that had helped them.

It is very hard to get over feeling responsible for people you care about. It's all about learning to set limits, and that can be really hard, because limits make you feel guilty and (sad to say) people can react with surprising vehemence when you tell them, "I really can't take this into my life right now, you're going to have to talk to someone else about it." It's not bad to care about them, but the lack of limits is draining you. I found the artificially-limited support group really helpful in teaching me how to set limits of my own. YMMV, but I do think that some sort of counseling, whether group or otherwise, would be good. You need to be able to talk about this to someone for whose happiness you do not feel responsible, and I found that paying them/knowing they were doing this as their job helped me to understand that it was okay if I upset them.
posted by posadnitsa at 9:16 AM on July 4, 2006

Two books that have helped me are My Mother, Myself and Motherless Daughters.

Be warned though, I cried through both of them. It is very sad to admit that you are missing something so critical. I sometimes still cry and say out loud "I want a mommy." But acknowledging that history of abuse and loss as the root of this pain has gone a long way to helping me.
posted by bilabial at 9:54 AM on July 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

You are doing so very well to examine your own motivations and see patterns. Give yourself a lot of credit for this, and for asking for advice. This stuff is *hard.*

Everyone above has offered good advice and compassion (yay mefi) All I can offer is what worked for me, YMMV. I spent five years in a group counseling situation with other women, usually four of us with one counselor. We met once a week, and it was the same core group for five years. The work I did there was crucial. However, I finally realized that I had a deeper issue that wasn't going to change with therapy. So after years of fighting it, I finally gave in and started taking an antidepressant. It's a mixed bag, and there are things about it that I hate, but it's the best thing I ever did for myself.

That's not to say you need to consider it. It was right for me, but it's not for everyone. I think the most important thing you can do is find other people to help you process. A good counselor will be indespensible.
posted by shifafa at 11:22 AM on July 4, 2006

Yeah, it's awesome you had the realization you did. And I agree with shifafa that the most important thing you can do is to find other people to help you in the process. Unlearning these habits is hard -- they're hard to even notice. Therapy and support groups have been suggested. A free option is Co-Anon / ACOA, which is for family members of addicts who want to stop feeling like their main role in life is to help their drunk/strung out family member.

For me, the first step was to feel sorry for myself for the bad stuff I was going through (ie, start realizing that the way they treated me hurt), then realize that I deserve to be happy as much as these people I was helping, then start taking little steps to treat myself that way. Walking away from a fight ("I'm not going to let this ruin my night," maybe for you it would be saying you can't help, "I'm sorry, I can see you need someone to give you a ride, but I can't be the one to come get you now") had an amazing effect -- seeing the difference in how it made me feel taught me more than lots and lots of good books.
posted by ruff at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2006

I found this book helpful Toxic Parents. During my therapy I was going to reread MY Mother, Myself (a good book)---It was then my therapist said that toxic parents fit my background. It was a funny moment but one that helps me avoid getting sucked away again by my family. Good luck.
posted by dsaelf at 12:30 PM on September 9, 2006

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