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Setting Emotional Boundaries: Stop Taking on Other People’s Feelings

“The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.” ~Sonya Friedman

The longer I stayed on the phone, the more agitated I became. My mother was on the other end, as usual, dumping her emotions on me. I had moved to Los Angeles for graduate school in part to escape all of this—my mother’s unhappiness, my sense of responsibility, the pressure to be perfect.

When I hung up the phone, I felt an overwhelming sense of anger. At the time, I could not (correction: would not) allow myself to admit that I was angry with my mother. I couldn’t reconcile having such negative feelings and loving my mother at the same time.

After all, hadn’t she sacrificed so much for me? Hadn’t I always considered her to be my closest confidante? Didn’t I proudly declare her to be my best friend when I was younger?

Even the most positive memories between my mother and me have been eclipsed by the shadow of her depression.

As a young child, I could never understand why my mommy was so sad all the time. I cherished the rare days she was carefree and silly and held these moments close to my heart. When she slipped into a depressive state, sleeping days at a time in her dark room, I willed her to come out.

Early on, I learned to temper my behavior and my own emotions so as not to instigate or prolong her sadness. In my young mind, I made myself responsible for her and was not able to separate her feelings from mine.  

I wanted her to be happy and thought that if I was always “good,” she would be. When she wasn’t happy, I blamed myself.

Unconsciously, my mother fed this belief when she constantly bragged to others that I was the “perfect daughter.” The pressure to live up to my mother’s expectations overwhelmed me. I suppressed a lot of negative feelings and experiences in favor of upholding the ideal she and I had co-created.

That day, I turned this anger toward a safer target, my co-worker. That day at work, I blew up. I can’t remember what I said, but I distinctly remember the look of confusion on her face. My frustration with my inability to express myself made me even angrier. I excused myself, ran to the bathroom, locked myself in the last stall, and bawled my eyes out.

Soon after, I took advantage of the free counseling services on campus. Over the next several weeks, my counselor helped me realize that it was okay to feel the way I was feeling. This was a radical idea for me, and one I struggled with at first.

Because I had suppressed my own feelings for so long, when I finally allowed them to surface, they were explosive.

Anger, resentment, and disgust came alive and pulsed through my body whenever I spoke with my mother during this time. While she seemed to accept truth and honesty from other people, I tiptoed around certain topics for fear of upsetting her.

I never felt I could share the difficulties and challenges I experienced in my own life because this contradicted who I was to her. I felt I had no right to be unhappy. When I attempted to open up about these things, she often interrupted me with a story of her own suffering, invalidating the pain I felt.

She seemed committed to being the ultimate victim and I resented her for what I perceived as weakness.

I realized that to get through my graduate program with my sanity intact, I needed to limit the amount of time and energy I gave to her. Instead, I found ways to protect and restore my energy. Writing became therapeutic for me. I found I could say things in writing I was unable to verbalize to my mother.

This won’t be an easy letter for you to read and I apologize if it hurts you, but I feel like our relationship is falling apart, and one of the reasons is that I’ve kept a lot of this bottled up for so long. I never thought you could handle honesty from me, and so I lied and pretended everything was okay because I was always afraid I would “set you off” or that you would go into a depressed mood.

You unconsciously put so much pressure on other people (me especially) to fill your emptiness, but that’s a dangerous and unrealistic expectation and people can’t and won’t live up to it. And they start to resent you for it. I do want you to be happy, but I’m starting to realize that I can’t be responsible for your happiness and healing; only you can.

Seeing my truth on paper was the ultimate form of validation for me. I no longer needed to be “perfect.” I gave myself permission to be authentic and honored every feeling that came up.

When I was ready, I practiced establishing boundaries with my mother. I let her know that I loved and supported her, but it negatively affected me when she used our conversations as her own personal therapy sessions. I released the need to try to “fix” things for her.

I took care of me.

Do you have trouble establishing healthy emotional boundaries?

Take a moment to answer the following questions adapted from Charles Whitfield’s Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self.

Answer with “never,” “seldom,” “occasionally,” “often,” or “usually.”

  • I feel as if my happiness depends on other people.
  • I would rather attend to others than attend to myself.
  • I spend my time and energy helping others so much that I neglect my own wants and needs.
  • I tend to take on the moods of people close to me.
  • I am overly sensitive to criticism.
  • I tend to get “caught up” in other people’s problems.
  • I feel responsible for other people’s feelings.

If you answered “often” or “usually” to the above statements, this might be an indication that you have trouble establishing healthy emotional boundaries.

Like me, you’re probably extremely affected by the emotions and energy of the people and spaces around you. At times, it can be incredibly hard to distinguish between your “stuff” and other people’s “stuff.”

It is incredibly important to establish clear emotional boundaries, or we can become so overwhelmed and overstimulated by what’s going around us that it’s sometimes hard to function.

Here are a few ways to begin the process of establishing healthier emotional boundaries.

1. Protect yourself from other people’s “stuff.”

I can feel when someone is violating a boundary because my body tenses up. I realize that my breathing is very shallow. I feel trapped, small, helpless.

The first thing I do is to remind myself to breathe. The act of focusing on my breath centers me and expands the energy around me. In this space, I can think and act more clearly.

When I feel myself becoming too overwhelmed, I try to immediately remove myself from the situation. Sometimes all it takes is a couple minutes to walk away and regain my balance. Other times, I have had to make the decision not to spend time with people who consistently drain my energy.

Having a safe space to retreat, practicing mindfulness and meditation, or visualizing a protective shield around yourself are other methods that can help restore balance when boundaries are invaded.

Find out what works best for you.

2. Learn to communicate your boundaries in a clear and consistent way.

For many, this can be the most difficult part of the process for various reasons. We don’t like to appear confrontational. We’re afraid that if we clear set boundaries for ourselves, the people in our lives will begin to resent us. However, learning to communicate boundaries effectively is necessary for healthy relationships.

I’m not comfortable with that.

It doesn’t feel good to…

I’m not okay with…

I appreciate if you wouldn’t…

Please don’t…

If you cringed at the thought of using any of these phrases, you’ll be relieved to know that communicating your boundaries doesn’t always have to be with words. You can also effectively communicate through the use of non-verbal.

Closing the door, taking a step back, shaking your head, or signaling with your hands can be less threatening ways of letting others know what you will and won’t accept from them.

3. Be patient with the process.

When I first realized that I was taking on the negative emotions of my mother, I became extremely resentful and disgusted with her. Instead of taking responsibility for my role in allowing this dynamic to occur, I blamed her for every negative thing that had happened in my life.

I closed myself off from her and shut her out completely. Our relationship became incredibly strained during this time as we both readjusted to the new boundaries I was setting.

Eventually, I was able to allow her to have her own emotional experience without making it about me. I could listen and no longer become enmeshed or feel obligated to do something about what she was feeling.

Whenever you change a pattern, it is natural to feel resistance from inside as well as outside the self. As you practice, your ego may start to act up and make you feel like you are “wrong” in establishing boundaries.

Others may also become resentful of your newfound assertiveness. They may be used to a certain dynamic in your relationship and any change has the potential to cause conflict.

Remember to be kind to yourself through the process and repeat the following affirmation:

I respect and love myself enough to recognize when something isn’t healthy for me, and I am confident enough to set clear boundaries to protect myself. 

About Alana Mbanza

Alana Mbanza is a freelance writer and the author of LoveSick: Learning to Love and Let Go. Even more than a writer, she strives to be an active agent of creation, choosing to see and create life through the lens of love. Visit her website for more information about her freelance writing and coaching services.

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  • Leah

    I so needed to hear this today. It’s something I am dealing with. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Nitz

    I always had a tough time setting emotional boundaries, so I always took on other people’s emotions. I was drained of energy and happiness every time I did that. But I’ve always walked out of a space that didn’t seem good to my emotional health. Most of the times that decision of walking out has come late, but I am glad it did. This time it has come sooner, and I am glad.

    Setting boundaries is tough. It makes you feel as if you’re disappointing a loved one and leaving them all alone. But I am sure eventually it will make both me and them realize that I am not the solution to every problem.

  • Nitz

    Thank you for writing this. You put words to what I couldn’t tell myself.

  • Jennifer Mallis

    Love this. Thank you.

  • This was a great post. I think many of us do have problems setting emotional boundaries with people especially our close ones. I know that’s something I continue to wrestle with and it’s tougher with some especially when they have a great influence on you. Thank you for sharing this!

  • JoAnn C

    Thank you, Alana. This article came at the perfect time for me….dealing w/ my relationship with my mom. Thank you so much sharing!

  • ekanost

    fantastic post! thank you for sharing.

  • Talya Price

    Protect yourself from “energy vampires”, there are everywhere, and they can be anyone in your life. Sometimes we have to learn to say NO!

  • Katie Mae

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. My relationship with my mother began to unravel when I started graduate school as well. I experienced the same feelings of disgust and resentment. This was such a validating read.

  • Anonymous

    Wow I think you just wrote an article from inside my head. I have over the last few years tried the very sentences you stated above with my own mother, any suggestions on how to make her listen? She always negates what I am saying or tells me to stop being over-dramatic…our biggest obstacle is her constant comments about my weight and appearance, which she has nit picked to no end my entire life. She brags about me to all her friends, yet when with me she always has something negative or critical to say, my grades (although an honor student) were always questioned (why didn’t I do better), my clothes always ridiculed (whether it be a stain, or wrong colour, or wrong fit). Although she prides herself on having a great daughter she always finds someway to put down what I say or do…

  • 50something

    This is so amazingly the case with my life. Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I’m grateful for this. I just started therapy, and that’s exactly the issue we’re working on, and these circumstance mirror my situation so closely that I am stunned. Thank you for sharing this and for making me feel less alone in my struggles.

  • DeepThinker

    Thank you for sharing. I am going through the same thing with my co-dependent mother. She is an emotional vampire, her other children have cut her off and she still does not think she has any problems. I don’t want to abandon her completely as she is getting up in age, but I am seeking counseling to address how to deal with her and take better care of myself.

  • Audrey Meyer

    Wonderful post! I have, and still am, working on various aspects of setting emotional boundaries, so it was great to have your perspective and encouragement. Thanks for your offering!

  • The hardest thing about setting appropriate boundaries is detaching yourself from the outcome. Taking care of yourself has to be top priority but you also have to realize that you can’t control the other person’s response.

    During a session with my therapist, I remember going on and on about how drained my mother made me feel. After awhile, my therapist stopped me and asked, “Is it possible that she’s unable or unwilling to relate to you differently?” I thought about her question for awhile and finally had to accept that yes, that was a possibility. My mother has her own set of experiences that have shaped the way she interacts with everyone, including me. Her follow up question was, “Knowing that she might not be able to change, WHAT CAN YOU DO to protect and nurture yourself.” It was then that I made the decision to limit my contact with her and to refuse to engage her when she tried to draw me in.

    I would encourage you to consider these things as you seek to create more healthy boundaries with your mother.

    Hope this helps,

    Alana

  • I’m so glad it resonated with you, Katie!

  • Thank you for reading!

  • Nitz,

    It is definitely a process and the fact that you are able to recognize and remove yourself from unhealthy situations sooner is a sign of growth! Celebrate your progress! I can say that my relationship with my mother is so much healthier now and I have begun to enjoy our interactions more.

    Alana

  • I’m am so glad my story spoke to you! Comments like yours are the ultimate validation for me and remind me of why I write.

    Many blessings,

    Alana

  • T3S

    Alana, I don’t know if any men can relate, but I think you just described a situation a LOT of women go through with their mothers, myself included! It’s a bit comforting to know one isn’t alone in this world when dealing with the pressures of trying to please her mother. I hit my breaking point with my own mother nearly two years ago…and then again last year two days before Mother’s Day, ironically. We are in a better place now, but every now and then, I can still sense when that “thing” is starting to creep up in our conversations again. The difference is now when it does and I hang up the phone, I still feel good…well, at least better than I did before because I make a conscious effort to tell myself, “My mother is projecting her own feelings on to me. I am not responsible for her happiness”. In the past, I was a total mess, trying to figure out how to make my mother happy with me again after we’d had an argument. These words are coming from a married woman with a child who has not lived under her mother’s roof in 17 years! It just goes to show the crazy dynamic of mother-daughter relationships, probably the most significant relationship responsible for helping us to establish these unhealthy practices of taking on other people’s feelings in the first place. Thanks for sharing:)

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    This was a very insightful blog…Thank You for sharing your wisdom! 🙂

  • Thank you for reading!

  • Fantastic blog post and a very important topic I think we can all learn from. Often we’re taught acceptance to the point where our boundaries get neglected because we’re too busy accepting what everyone does around us. There comes a point when we need to learn to say no and fend for ourselves. Well done and thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Einelorelei

    Oh boy do I relate to that!

  • Tristan Gilbert

    I have very similar problems with MY mother, and it helps me to feel like I have plan when I’m facing problems. Thank you so much for this!!

  • Thank you so much your comment!

  • banu

    I love this article! So well written and almost exactly what I went through with my own mother. I set boundaries and attended to my codependency to keep good boundaries within myself and with others. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  • John Thornton

    This is a useful article to help me gain insight into why I’ve had such difficulty establishing and maintaining emotional boundaries with my parents (who have both struggled with depression in various forms, over the years).
    Lacking many of the skills you’ve demonstrated here, I’ve often stormed off (and then – feeling obliged to maintain links – I’ve sloped back, apologetic). Rather than communicate my boundaries clearly and consistently, it’s been stop/start for much of my life.
    Little wonder, perhaps, that I’ve gone on to have similar relationships with my co-workers, friends and (ex-) partners. I have often looked to them to fill my emptiness and felt let down when, inevitably, they haven’t done so.
    Thank you for this article, today I will make an effort to offer loving kindness to the most difficult person in my life, myself.

  • Spencer

    Hi! I would really love to learn more about what was mentioned in step 3. I recently had to start setting new boundaries with by BFF (and roommate). I love her with all my heart, but she has some serious issues she needs to work on and I’m at the point where I can’t allow her to dump her emotions on me anymore b/c I’m simply too sympathetic. When I started setting boundaries I did so quietly. I would say less in conversation, excuse myself a little more often, and eventually I asked if she would please ask me if I’m ready to talk about such negative things instead of immediately assuming I would be receptive. This led to her bursting into my room at 1am drunk and crying one morning… sigh… so boundaries are still being pushed. Anyway- the more I can learn about how to establish boundaries, while still being of some help and not terribly offending her, the better I would feel. I’d also like to hear more about what she is feeling with the new changes and how I can mitigate any animosity she might feel. Thanks for the great blog!

  • Vickie Fowler

    Learning to set and honor boundaries is so empowering. All those feelings we bottle up just circle round to create resentment. We are afraid to say, “Stop” because we want to be loved and lovable. But, saing, “Stop” is what’s needed when others fail to see how uncomfortable they make us. Setting boundaries for ourselves may even help others around us do the same. Then, they won’t have so much resentment and anger to project on us! Good read! http://www.hushhushheart.com

  • Lizzy

    Alana, Thank you for this! Exactly how I feel and so relatable yet I was experiencing feelings of guilt for trying to detach from a similar relationship because of the same reasons. This was so helpful.

  • Francis

    Thanks Alana, your post came right out of my head too. I’m at the point that I tried to tell my mother the things you’ve told her in your letter. It went bad, she took it personnally and called me ungrateful and spoiled. There was no reasoning, she is not able to reflect om her own behaviour, nor would she acknowledge she suffers from depression her whole life. We have no contact, I cannot stand the egoïsm and selfcenteredness she is spreading. On the other hand I feel guilty en still take her blame on me that she has no contact with my son, hier grandson. I don’t know how to connect with her without letting her walk over me and I hate myself for it.

  • Allison

    You know when you read something and you think to yourself, wow, what I’m reading right now is like my own story? That doesn’t happen to me very often. Thank you for sharing your insight and your story, it truly resonated with me.

  • Jay

    This is almost my exact relationship with my Mum and after I realised her complete dependence on me and her eternal ‘victim’ mentality, I became very angry and filled with resentment and disgust. Once I started changing how I responded to this, our relationship dynamic fell apart (on my 21st birthday no less) and now things are strained as she doesn’t know how to be my mother without the dependence on me as her guide and parental figure. Hopefully she will work within herself so that she no longer needs me to be the rock.

  • Jay

    Francis, my mother is like yours. She is unable to see her own behaviour nor the need for her to work on it. She is content to play the victim role and thinks that I am being cruel for trying to assert myself, my needs, and address her behaviour and perspective of life. I have reduced contact to as much as possible, as I still live under her roof. Although you may feel guilty about her not being in contact with her grandson, you need to put your needs first

  • Sarah

    While reading this, I burst into tears. It was comforting and scary at the same time to know there was someone else out there that shared my same experience. I am currently establishing healthier boundaries with my own mother. I am learning to protect myself from others who are hurtful and to set clear boundaries. It was helpful to me to consider visualizing a shield around myself when around others. I will have to try that.

  • A

    Alana.. We have had very similar situations regarding our moms.
    Thank you for putting your experience out there and for explaining how to correct it in such an easy to understand way.
    Much love

  • Mercedes

    Hi Alana,

    I just want to say thanks for sharing this. Your story is eerily similar to mine.

    I held onto that resentment for years, feeling like it wasn´t fair to be her therapist/marriage counselor and to never have the space to state my own truths, but also that it was my duty and I had to fulfill it.

    My early attempts at setting boundaries were a MESS too: But – crazily enough – I have been using Dr. Whitfield´s book as well to help me respect both she and I and by taking responsibility for my own part in our dynamic. As kids didn´t ask for the confidant/emotionally parentified child role, but now that we are adults, it´s our responsbility to choose who we want to be and how we want to engage with other people, even when they are our mothers. Their issues are theirs, not ours, no matter how much they try to give them to us – and everyone else.

    One thing I want to say is don´t expect too much from her – especially when you first start to assert your boundaries. You may need to assert them ad nauseam, and the guilt will be really heavy on you (for me it was like an elephant piggy backing on me) but trust that you are doing right by YOU. In the end, enabling your Mom´s problems and protecting her from yours is not helping her either. Eventually you will begin to feel better and better about yourself and your capacity for self-protection (in a good way) – and that´s worth it. It´s very empowering.

    Thank you, Alana!!!

    P.s. Inner child work and inner family systems therapy can help and read Bethanny Webster´s blog, Womb of Light!

  • Mercedes

    P.s.s. You have to be willing to let her get angry and even hurt. This terrified me. I had to learn to be okay with letting her have her own feelings. They are a reflection on her not on you. Be respectful, honest and compassionate (not overly so!!), but look out for yourself first.

  • Toni

    You are a beautiful soul, Alana. Thank you so very much for sharing this with us. <3

  • PrincessOfLight

    This was a fantastic read. Thank you for sharing your own personal strength in setting emotional boundaries. I am very guilty of not being able to set emotional boundaries and it has been a major theme in my life, a suffering theme. My mom passed away when I was ten and over the years, I am 30 now, I learned to take on and fix and counsel, everyone. From my father, to my siblings, to my friends, etc. I believe now that I did this to avoid my own sadness. Thinking on the many times I have taken on other’s problems and burdens I cannot even imagine the damage I have caused myself and I am trying to heal and it is a struggle. Certain people have viewed me, and I realize I allowed it, as someone who can take care of everything for them, and in the process the relationships and friendships turned very toxic and one sided. I was many times taken advantage of with my own feelings being disregarded, but not only by them, but by me. I ultimately allowed this and I know that now. So I started working on boundaries and went to counseling and I tried with all my being to help and heal myself while still remaining who I am by nature to care and want to truly help. I lost a lot of “friends” this way. When I set boundaries on one sided relationships these people were angry with me! They did not want to see my happiness or healing, they wanted what I could do for them. Some boundaries worked for others and improved. I have learned such a great deal about myself and others through working on boundaries but I am still struggling. This article brought so many emotions out, sorry to write you a book. :0) thanks for reading and keep inspiring others to take care of themselves!

  • Ryan Haack

    I was having trouble, and by trouble I mean like a month of non-stop torture because I hear that a girl from my school, one who I’ve never really talked to but just saw, got, well, let’s just say she had a bad childhood. I took this very badly. At a point in my life where everything was coming together, (I’m going to a writing school next year, I finished my first novel) things began to collapse on me because of her unhappiness. I had and still have no idea if it really happened to her but just the thought of that happening hurts my soul. When I try to close myself off I just can’t stop thinking of it, but then I realized I don’t have to. I honestly don’t think that anyone can solve the world’s problems because it’s a losing game. Someone in the comments mentioned that things like murder, rape, terrible things are energy vampires. They’re obstacles that CHANGE people to be who they NEED to be. I NEED to be myself because that’s who I was raised to be. I need to make my own shield to protect me from getting bitten!

  • I’m-pure

    Omygosh, Jay and Francis, my mother is also like yours. Unfortunately, I’m still living with her and am only 20 but my mother constantly plays the victim role and always turns things around on me instead of ever sitting back and reflecting on her own behaviour, she’ll say I’m doing this or I’m doing that to deflect from her own behaviour. When I react to some of the absurd behaviour she displays and enacts towards me like a normal human being I just get upset and looked at like I’m too much and I can’t have normal reactions like ANY NORMAL HUMAN BEING. She always says when I try to tell her I’m hurt or I’m upset with something that maybe I should look at MY behaviour… actually I just had a fight with her now, and I’m currently living in Thailand and my visa is going to run out so I need to go away with her to a different country for a bit to renew the visa however she always seems to pick fights and never looks at her own behaviour and herself. I’m always the bad one, she’s always has to be right. and it’s always something that I’ve done wrong when I am constantly analysing my behaviour to unhealthiness. :/ I don’t know what else I can do, I’ve tried everything. No matter what I do, it’s never good enough. :/. I found out a few years ago when I was about 17… I think it may have started then… that my mother was a narcissist. and I ignored it as I was busy with studies and my own personal depression and what not and couldn’t comprehend it and no one was helping me through it and to this day no one has helped me through it or I have really tried to get help for my emotional distresses and anger.

  • I’m-pure

    Omygosh, Jay I just looked at your description again. It describes my mum to a T! I don’t know what to do, I live in Thailand now and don’t have any friends her or have much of an outlet or escape other than reading endless articles online and spending time online until I fall asleep…

  • sj

    There have been times when I have set boundaries and they were totally ignored by others. I had a houseful of guests at the time and didn’t feel I could remove myself entirely from the situation. It felt like a nightmare from which I could not waken.

  • This was absolutely beautiful. So many relationships popped into my head throughout, for which boundaries have only helped over time. Thank you for the tips!! 🙂

  • Marina

    Thank you Alana, your articles really resonate with me and it´s helpful just to know that you (and others) have had similar experiences. Getting over that hump of guilt is a doozy because when the anger comes out, as you said, it´s so so much. Your advice for healing is very thoughtful. I often come back and reread what you´ve said when I can´t find the permission in myself to ask questions or to recognize that being imperfect is just fine. You are part of my process 🙂

  • Marina

    That sounds really confusing and very very hard. Do you live with her? My impression from what you are saying is that you are taking your Mom´s ideas about you to heart. Who she thinks you are is not who you are – and it seems like what she is saying may have more to do with her than with you. Regardless of what she or anyone else says, you are just fine as you are.

    Unfortunately, we can´t make people listen to us. I´ve tried this with my own (also very enmeshing) Mom many many times and I really relate to your story, but at some point we have to give our family members the right to have their own problems (and the weight stuff, etc., all of it really, is not your problem, it´s hers). It seems like there is a part of you that wants to escape this trap – and you can, but it´s about learning to listen to yourself. Your Mom is attempting to define you a certain way (again, I totally relate), but that´s not her place – it´s yours.

  • anonymous

    I deal with this with my sister. What many of you describe may actually be a personality disorder. My sister has borderline personality disorder. She is full of drama every day of her life. She is always a victim and would try to make me feel guilty or like a horrible sister if I didn’t listen to all of her perceived problems with her husband. The truth was he was a great guy….SHE was the problem. She has anger issues and either loves you or hates you….there is nothing in between. She is vindictive and selfish. I learned after all of these years that for my own emotional sanity, that I cut off all ties two years ago. She was draining the life out of me.

  • Feami

    Thank you for this post. It described a lot of the things I used to deal with. I’ve cured myself of taking on my own mother’s emotions, but I’m currently learning how to not take on the emotions of strangers and customers at my job. One day, I realized that I felt responsible for my customers’ reactions to prices and other things that I have no control over and it was spiritually exhausting me. Reading your post reminds me that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for feeling this way. I just have to keep working on it until I can live free from that bad habit.

  • Nikki

    I read your story and thought, is it possible for two people to live the same life?
    thank you for sharing your story.just today I had same negative conversation with my family.
    it made me ANGRY to the point i wanted change my number and never contact anyone.
    as i’m writing this I’m full of anger and sadness.I’M TIRED of being a listening ear. it would be fine if they would actually listen or value any of my suggestion to improve their problems.your story gives me hope to know i need to take charge of own happiness.THANK YOU. you have no idea how much I needed this today.

  • Rosie Thunderpaws

    Instead of blaming your mother for the pressure that YOU felt she put on you. You should take responsibility for you part in setting up the dysfunctional dynamic. By being dishonest and assuming instead of talking to her honestly you certainly had a hand in this. Sadly, it seems like your conclusion blames only her for being a bad, needy person. A lot of what you describe is projection. She was proud of her daughter, and a healthy daughter would have considered that a good thing. From your description it seems that you took a nice thing and because you had an emotional difficulty you turned it into a bad thing, then lied for years giving your mother false responses to her behavior. When you do that you are reinforcing ans approving her behavior. Still, with just the information in your article, it sounds like you created and unrealistic assessment and you used those feelings to color the situation so that you do not feel that any of this is your doing. I see this a lot, people who suffer with depression and other feelings of inadequacy are having unreasonable responses to situations and can’t face that fact so instead of being honest and facing the situation, the put the blame on the other person and decide that avoiding this horrible other person makes YOU look good and daisy fresh. We live in a world now where people often avoid responsibility in extremes. All issues in life cannot be solved with and only, never, ever or whatever quote on the internet that suits your purpose. There is no 100% anything. “Never apologize for taking care of yourself.” Really so who decides what “taking care of yourself” means. Well of course the current society says “I do, of course. Who else could decide and there is a quote on the internet that proves it.” So if “taking care of yourself” means that you deserve a spa day and you use the grocery money to pay for said spa day, it’s ok. After all, it’s those 3 kids at home that make you feel so frazzled and you need some “me” time. Now those 3 kids don’t have food because mommy needed to put herself first and that internet article said you should NEVER apologize for that. I have clients that would have eagerly traded places with you, just to hear their mother say SOMETHING nice to them. If you really want to heal you must face the fact that you and your feelings made unfair assessments and your dishonesty with your mother and yourself made it worse. Balance and thinking about everyone involved with honesty. I went into the psych field because I grew up with a mother who constantly beat me, beat me for my sister’s transgressions as well, told me weekly that she wished she had “drowned me at birth” or that “I’d never been born.” When my sister ran away, I got the beating. When I lived past the predicted “7” (childhood disease) she was even angrier. Those are behaviors that SHOULD make someone feel “bad”. Crying over someone praising them is a defect of the “victim” in most cases. Had you reacted with a more appropriate feeling, you might have been a happier child and felt confident enough to be truthful so that the two of you could define and compromise on a fair standard of praise. You cannot expect others to be just like you. In a good relationship each party must assess the differences, agree to disagree on some, compromise on others and give in to a few. Whining about your mother praising you and deciding that it was “all her” and your only part in it was “letting her” is a cop-out as we used to say. “You unconsciously put so much pressure on other people (me especially) to fill your emptiness, but that’s a dangerous and unrealistic expectation and people can’t and won’t live up to it.” Or is it really “Some defect in me made me define your praise as pressure.” You blame everything on mom and Using this phrase to express your feelings only seeks to hurt the other person, and make assessments based on your unwillingness to be honest with yourself. You don’t KNOW her intent or her expectations and you are not taking responsibility for assessing an extreme and probably inappropriate emotion the the behavior. Doing things this way should only be the last resort to honest considerations of both sides and repeated failed efforts to find a middle ground. It was your choice to see praise as pressure, others would delight in it. The the real damage was in years of YOUR dishonesty and lack of responsibility for your part. There is NO perfection in any relationship, no 2 people are alike. A good relationship takes two people who balance the care for themselves and care for others. But you can’t do that if you lie to yourself and to the other party.

  • Ashton

    This is a wonderful, refreshing read, Alana. Thank you so much. I cried reading it, as I felt like you were saying all the things I have’t been able to conclude, myself. Interestingly I have grown up to become a psychological therapist. The words ‘responsible for other peoples happiness’ have been food for thought over the past couple of years. I have recently been very brave and travelled the world for 1.5 years.. It was brave in the way I felt confident I could ‘leave’ my mum in her sadness about it. I had a lot of guilt provoking texts and calls that included; ‘I miss you so much’ ‘I am so sad without you here’ ‘Every time I see your face I cry’. This filled me up with the same feelings I would get when I was at home. I dealt with it though, and now I am home I am re-assessing my need to be a therapist again, going back to that sentence ‘responsible for other peoples happiness’.

    I am wondering as now that I have realised that is my bottom line belief ‘to make everyone happy’, would it really be helpful to go back into a working role where I am just confirming that? In work I am very good an not taking my problems home, but with my Mum, I feel anxious being around her, I ‘tread on egg shells’, and worry about my actions upsetting her. It’s a really sad story, as I too once proudly called her my best friend when I was young. I end up nervous about what mood she will be in when I go round, and then end up very angry and emotional after a phone call/visit if it is a negative environment.

    Although going travelling has demonstrated my bravery at tackling the emotional boundaries, I still have a long way to go. ‘Communicating my boundaries’ as you detail above would be a very difficult step for me. I am wondering if you could recommend a book to help forming boundaries?

  • Michelle

    Rosie, I cannot thank you enough for your reply. I am among the mothers who have been called out for some of the behaviors described in this article, and in reading the comments, it does seem as though not everyone recognizes that there are two people contributing to the dynamic.

    My daughter would likely agree with much of what was written, and for me, it’s humiliating, because these comments seem to refer to the mothers as though they are children, or at least not adults capable of honest, direct communication. I’m sure it’s possible some (or many) of the mothers about whom these negative, critical things were written would not receive open feedback well, as direct conversation is uncomfortable. But I feel helpless in reading these comments – this could have been my daughter writing this, and she would garner a lot of sympathy, but the picture would be one-sided. I wish more people would take a balanced approach, perhaps describing the extent of their efforts to improve their relationships.

    I have no idea how my relationship with my daughter has gone sideways to the extent it has. We can’t talk to each other without arguing or offending each other somehow, and it breaks my heart. But, over the years, as she’s complained to me about the many things I do or say wrong, I’ve listened. Tried to see things through her eyes (examples help). Tried to change my communication style.

    Complaints:

    1) Every time I try to tell you about something that’s happened to me, you have to tell me a story about yourself, and make it about you.

    I gave this long consideration, and realized that she was right about my responses, but projected motive onto me that simply wasn’t there. Yes, when my daughter would come to me about a problem she was experiencing, I would often, in the course of conversation, respond with what I thought was a similar story from my own experience, but it wasn’t to “one-up” her, or to “make it all about me.” It was to try (a failed attempt, I guess) to show that I could in some small way relate to what she was going through. It was an effort to show similarity, so I could then respond with whatever I felt helped me in my situation. There was no selfishness at all, I had no motive, I didn’t “need” the conversation to be about me, I guess it was my terrible attempt at trying to relate. But our relationship really never recovered from her assumption about WHY I was telling her stories about myself.

    I learned to stop telling stories, and just listen to her, but unfortunately it was too little, too late, because my daughter still perceives me in much the same way these women describe their mothers – as a narcissist.

    2) When you talk to me about your problems, I feel like I’m responsible for making you happy. I’m uncomfortable when you talk to me about your problems, especially with dating. (like the complaint in the article above – “our conversations aren’t your own personal therapy sessions”)

    Ok, fair enough. We’re not girlfriends, I’m the parent. But my kids are old enough and perceptive enough now that my game face doesn’t work, and so when they can see that I’m upset, and they ask me what’s wrong, how am I supposed to respond? I’m not going to lie, and say “nothing,” because they know it’s a lie, but if I answer my daughter, and I tell her what’s wrong, then later my daughter tells me she feels as though I’m dumping my problems on her, and she’s not comfortable with me talking to her about my dating issues (specifically, and understandably).

    So now I just keep the answers high-level unless my daughter gives me permission to add detail (and go into the story), but 1) I feel like she’s at arm’s length in my life, and 2) I feel like the support in our relationship is only allowed to flow one-way. I suppose this is appropriate, because I’m still the parent and she’s still the daughter, but she keeps asserting her adulthood in every other way, so it’s hard for me to figure out where the lines are. Usually I find them by stepping squarely on them. I end up feeling like I’m walking on eggshells, because I just don’t know what the right answer is anymore.

    I give my daughter full credit for sharing with me how my communication style makes her feel. And I did my best to change, to honor her preferences, and to try and improve our relationship.

    But often I felt that she gave no consideration to the possibility that perhaps she was twisting what I said, projecting intent and motive onto me that weren’t mine.

    Despite my request that she ask clarifying questions, if, in the course of conversation, she started to feel I was “attacking” her, etc., she instead internalizes whatever it was I said as a complaint or a criticism of some sort and just shuts down, without stopping to ask if that was indeed what I meant. She reads motive into my tone that just isn’t there.

    One recent example –

    The other day I told her, “When you look back on our time together (during high school), I want you to feel that you LOVED me, really loved me. I mean, I know we’re all conditioned to love our mothers, so yes, I know you love me on some base level, but I want more than that – I want you to really LOVE me.” (The point being, how do we get there?)

    Ok, perhaps not the most articulate way to express myself, but I was driving, and this was my best effort at that time.

    When she got out of the car, she told me she no longer felt emotionally safe around me, and wasn’t sure she felt comfortable being alone with me anymore. When I asked what she meant, she replied – “You are mean and nasty. You make petty comments. I just don’t feel safe.” Bewildered, I asked for an example, and she quoted the above sentence, but added dramatic emphasis in places I never had. She made my words ugly.

    What I meant: I don’t want your love for me to be obligatory. I want you to look back on this time in your life and feel the warmth of genuine love for me, because we’re close.

    What she heard: some petty, bitter words about how her existing love for me wasn’t real or legitimate somehow.

    I was shocked at her interpretation. And even though she apologized later, it felt forced somehow. After all, she wasn’t rude, I don’t think she did anything that warranted an apology. I’m just hurt she feels that way, and sad that somehow I contributed to that.

    If I had the money, I’d find a therapist who could help us find more solid ground. But it’s incredibly hard to find one – either they don’t take your insurance, or they don’t bill insurance, and you’re required to pay out-of-pocket, or they don’t see adolescents, or they do, but they’re not taking new patients.

    My heart is breaking now. And no, that’s not me being dramatic, it’s real pain. I’m miserable. This baby girl that I’d open a vein for prefers the company of anyone else over me, and over the past few years has put me under such a microscope with everything I say that I’ve lost my confidence in being a mom. Being myself.
    I don’t know how to be around her anymore, and as a result, it’s awkward. The only time we get along is if I’m buying her something or we’re out shopping or talking about something superficial. I feel rejected, like I’ve been dumped, and as a result, the balance of power in the relationship has shifted, and I don’t believe she respects me anymore. She speaks to me in this calm, even tone you’d reserve for patients in therapy, and it makes me feel as though she thinks I’m inferior somehow. And there I am, in all my awkward, rejected humanity. Not even attempting pride at this point.
    So yes Rosie, thank you for your comment. If nothing else, it’s at least one voice reminding the greater audience that there are two perspectives in every dynamic.

  • Rosie Thunderpaws

    This will be a long reply, nothing is simple give me some time.

  • May

    I’m not an adult, and my parents would be opposed to me seeking out therapy because they aren’t all that understanding when I say that I think I have depression or something, but this article might have helped a tiny bit. I often have trouble talking to anyone because their problems make me feel really upset, but it’s mostly the things in social media that wear me down. All this hate, murder, racism, sexism, and other terrible things… I feel like I can’t escape it. I’m not in any of the targeted groups, though; I’m relatively safe in the financial department, am guaranteed entry to college, I’m white, a cisgender girl, and heterosexual…. and oftentimes I feel downright terrible for other people because they do not have the same opportunities I have. I try hard in school and take all kinds of honors courses, but I feel like this is unfair to my other classmates who aren’t taking the same courses and who I feel were not even given the chance to do so either because of their parents or past decisions. I went out for a walk today and bawled my eyes out because of a story I saw on the internet about the murder of a young Native American girl by a police officer… but the problem is, I’m not related in any way to the problems of that girl’s family or anything, and my thoughts on the matter shouldn’t… well, matter. At all. There is so much disregard for people’s lives and feelings in this world, and I can’t do anything to help them! I can barely pick myself up to go to school in the morning after all these emotional problems, how am I supposed to support minority groups? How do I express my feelings when I’m just an outlier who could do more harm than good? I just want to erase everything I’ve ever done.

  • Linds

    I feel like this article was written for me. Thank you so much. I have had a very similar experience with my own mother and now that I’m starting to move past the resentment phase that you talked about, I’ve been so unsure how to set up boundaries. This article perfectly details how to start doing that. Thank you so much!

  • Anonymous

    Wow- I just stumbled across this article after spending most of my day trying to find a new career path for my own father and feeling responsible for his success, coming home and listening to my boyfriend expend all his negative emotions and self doubts about his new business venture/growth, which prompted me to research solutions and opportunities for him, in addition to dealing with a mother, almost daily, who is almost dead-on to your mother in this post— all while trying to manage my own career and success. It’s exhausting and it was so cathartic to read your well thought out and organized words that felt like they could have come straight from my own head. I hope I’m able to find ways to truly let go like you did and start realizing I cannot be responsible for anyone else’s happiness. It’s so very hard to remove yourself, especially from the people who mean the world to you and are counting on you to be there for them like you always are. So glad I came across this.

  • Adelle

    Despite how long this article has been online, I feel it’s timeless in it’s appeal. I came across it as I was looking for something of the sort and this is just what I needed.
    I do seem to constantly get caught up in other people’s stuff and I still haven’t learnt how to detangle myself free. I sometimes go in and out of depression and it’s mostly because of what’s happening to people around me. A while back, a lady in church said to me, I should never let myself stress about what my mother goes through. I heard her, I knew she was right but I still don’t know how to stop myself. I’m the girl who will stress with the other person and literally feel their pain as if it was my own, much to my emotional dismay.
    I am 26years old and recently (a month ago) moved out of my parents home, mind you I have a good job and can sustain myself, but I am still trying to get things together for the new place to make it a home. So yesterday I got a message from my mother telling me her situation with finances and she asked for some money. I said to her, she should consider shedding some of the unnecessary expenses we both know she has. She became irate at the suggestion, said I was saying it because she asked for money. I should say if I don’t want to help rather than making suggestions that make her feel worthless. I told her I wouldn’t deny her the help if it’s within my reach to do it. Hell had broken loose. She said she did her part raising me, now it’s my turn to care for her, she’s my responsibility, she shouldn’t have to ask for money, it should be in my budget.
    That really got me sad. She has a job, my dad too, they rented out my old room so they have help with rent, she sells some beauty products part time and sometimes I have to help her pay for them as well, they get some income from my orphaned nephew’s fund but still she lashes out that she is my responsibility. I love my mother but she has never really acknowledged my efforts to help her with anything. When I was still living at home, I contributed towards rent, paid our electricity and phone bills, bought groceries and even then she would tell relatives I wasn’t helping her. Mind you she and my dad couldn’t afford to take me to university so when I started working, I saved up and enrolled with a distance learning university, I’m doing my last year now in Financial Accounting. When it’s time to pay fees, she gets angry when I say I can’t help with everything for the month because I have to settle my fees account.
    I do wish to save up some money so I can buy a car and eventually own a house but at the moment, I can’t even buy myself clothes. If I do, my mother guilt-trips me about – I should have bought for everyone. I did send her some money yesterday, what I could afford – at the expense of buying a bookcase, I have my books still in boxes -she hasn’t said anything to acknowledge having got the money or anything. She just went quiet. I haven’t said anything either and it’s really stressing me out. I will try to re-read over the article and find ways to apply to my situation.

  • Lettin

    Beautifully written. You have obviously touched many people who can relate to your story. I am one of them. I read through many of the comments and was struck by a mother whose response was particularly critical and even aggressive, insinuating you lied about your feelings and you should take responsibility instead of blaming your mother, etc. She admits hearing some of the same stuff from her own daughter. I mean no harm to this woman, but I imagined how difficult it must have been for her own daughter to finally stand up for herself and set boundaries. Given the woman’s response to your post, is it any wonder her daughter stood up to her? Why is it that some mothers lash out rather than work to make the parent/child relationship better? As a mother myself, I asked my son to be honest with me about my parenting, even if it hurt me. At the very least, I wouldn’t attack him if he had less than flattering feedback, or I’d be shutting communication down for good! One-way communication, taking things personally, lashing out…doesn’t build trust, it damages it. Maybe this particular mother doesn’t realize how high a price some daughters pay to be honest with their mother.

    My mother has mastered the art of Tyrant/Victim. This is a horrible combination for rearing a child. If she’s not traumatizing me with harsh criticisms, unloving words, and even holding up a clenched fist at me (she’s 79 and still does that), she’s clinging on to my leg (metaphorically) like a scared child, begging to be loved and cared for.

    At 54, I’ve tried everything I can to maintain a relationship with my aging mother. Therapy, letters, distance (I moved 1200 miles away this past January), and she’s pulling out all the stops. Why wasn’t I honest with her about my feelings at a younger age? To ask that question indicates that you didn’t have a mother that traumatized you. When you are raised with a mother who scared the life out of you, you are conditioned to shut up and stuff your feelings because being honest comes with a cost. In my case, the cost was more than I could bare – her utter coldness towards me, withholding love and affection, bullying me physically and emotionally, and when none of that worked, she’d bully my father (who also doesn’t stand up for himself – Thankfully I learned that’s his problem and not mine, so I guess I’m getting stronger.)

    Today, I realized the cost of NOT being honest was greater than the cost of BEING honest. Costs like debilitating anxiety that paralyzes me for days – a career that has almost dried up before my eyes, my self-esteem in the toilet. Am I blaming her for these things? I’d say it’s BOTH our responsibility. Her’s for manipulating the relationship and punishing me for having the audacity to stand up to her bullying. And mine for not maintaining the precious ground that I slowly gained standing up to her. I got soft over and over, even after cutting her off for 6 months! I set boundaries and go right back to our old patterns. Shame on me? Maybe. But shame on her for making a game out of taking my power back all over again. The mother who commented on this post may not agree, but as far as I’m concerned, the parent shoulders a bit more of the responsibility simply because they are the PARENT.

    Alana, the thing that struck me the most was a response you made to a commenter. You said your therapist asked you, “Is it possible that she’s unable or unwilling to relate to you differently?” And you said you had to accept that yes, that was a possibility. I would bet my life that THAT is the main reason so many daughters fake their emotions, are less than honest, stuff their feelings and allow their mothers to continue to behave badly. Because deep down inside, they know their mother is NOT going to change and that means, “Lose your relationship with your mother…or lose yourself”. I have lost myself over the last 18 months to the point of wishing I was dead. No more. Now, I choose me.

  • Libby

    It sounds like there’s a lot there. First, they should not consider your nephew’s fund as theirs. It’s his. Ethically, they can use it for his clothes, food, education, toys, camps, and maybe even the difference between a house with a room for him and one without his own room. But that would need to be understood that it’s not rent for the house, but rent for his room, they pay the rest themselves. Outside of this, they’re taking from him. You detailed that both your parents have jobs and they rented your room. I’m a bit boggled that you are expected to budget for money to give them. That’s excessive. My father does not work regularly and is not good with finances. However, he finds ways to take care of himself even though we would actually help him if needed. I have little sympathy. I think you should find a counselor to help you figure out how to handle your mom and to support you as you make some changes. She will probably get very, very angry with you and blame you for a lot. That will be hard to handle even with help from a third party. However, if you ever want to have a family, you need to start sorting this mess out before you have that family. It will be very hard on a spouse to deal with your relationship with your mom and it will hurt your finances. It will be hard to have good boundaries with your mom about your future children. If you start now, it might help you in the long run.

  • Libby

    Hi May,
    What are the counselors at your school like? I’m not sure how much help they would be, but it’s usually confidential (barring suicide, abuse, etc.). It sounds like a lot of these issues will be ongoing, the mark of a caring, sensitive, intelligent person. University is often the place where youth like you figure out how to address these issues. You’ll also have access to more mental health services. Try to hang in there until you get to university. I can promise you that university will be a whole new world.

  • producer

    I let her know that I loved and supported her…

    oooh these journeys of healing.
    What i saw at the end was that it was just as okay to tell
    these people how much you hated them.
    Because that was the genuine and valid feeling.
    So you come to realise that it is okay that you did
    not love them.
    and that you were not going to support them.
    In one of bourne movies where bourne is being controlled
    by some spy agency he says.
    “I am on my own side now”.
    That is what our abusers need to be told in no uncertain
    terms.

    Wish everyone all the best in their healing journeys.

  • producer

    I’m not comfortable with that.
    It doesn’t feel good to…
    I’m not okay with…
    I appreciate if you wouldn’t…
    Please don’t…

    yeeeeeeeah.
    It was very hard in the beginning.
    With healing it is easier…

    also add

    This is not working….
    I will not accept this arrangement….
    This is not good….
    If we carry on like this the ending will not be good….

    and for the stalker.
    I will deal with you appropriately….
    You are not allowed….

    and sometimes outright hostility to resilient abuser.

    Why don’t you ask your mother that…

    What part of no do you understand?
    I already told you i have no time for prostitutes.

  • producer

    had a similar mother from hell.
    But enough was enough.
    She cursed me to high heaven for daring to
    be me.
    Our relationship broke.
    But what did i loose.
    Just a bad mother.

  • Debbue

    Thank you for sharing. I am going through a similar situation with my mom. Realizing now she has manipulated me to get what she needs. I feel terrible saying this because my mom has always been my best friend. She has Parkinson’s and has been in nursing home for a couple years. I feel guilty every time I go there. Of course she’s depressed and I can’t blame her, but there is nothing I can do. I’m there 3-4 times a week and it’s never enough. She’ll call me and ask me to come over and hangs up when I say I can’t right now. If I would go there and I could help her, I would. But I just listen to all her complaints. Most of the time I come home depressed myself. It is affecting me and my home life. Luckily my husband is very understanding. No matter how much you can tell yourself it’s her problem not mine, it still is very hard. Thanks again for sharing.

  • minimalist

    Insecurity makes people act like such jerks. They’d rather pull you down than work hard to bring themselves up.

  • ASD

    Your article relates to me so much. Thank you for sharing your experience. My mother entertain a conversation only if she is the victim and it’s supporting her problems. Most of the time I am experiencing something in life and feel the need to discuss, it gets minimized, this makes me angry and offended. Then I try to express my resentment of minimizing my problem, so far every time I express how I feel to my mother, she negates y feeling and says she didn’t do anything wrong. I resent her for doing so and want to distance myself from her. She appears very depressed, and I experience extreme guilt and feel like I made a big mistake, and get reminded that she sacrificed her life to take care of me. So I have to apologize to her for making her depressed. I feel like this is becoming a cycle and I need to to do something about it but am not sure yet how to resolve it.

  • producer

    Lol. She did touch a hot button for you. All that hate from a woman meant to love you as their child sure does bad things to a child.
    If it will help some of us have had as bad parents. The difficulty has been accepting this threatening realisation.
    When we accept the bad things and process our anger and hate we finally get the energy to forgive our demonic monsters and more important the freedom to move on.

  • producer

    I want you to feel that you LOVED me, really loved me…

    Omg.
    Your daughter is right. She cannot feel emotionally safe with this kind of talk. You need very serious talk with your therapist to heal you whatever you are sick from.
    Is it low esteem? Or bpd? In the least I can understand you saying this to her father… although even that is still not good.
    From my angle your daughter has a strong valid case. Work harder if you do not want to loose her.

  • Genevieve

    I noticed the same thing. The child is not supposed to caretake the mother’s emotions. Look up Pia Melody’s work, Michelle!

  • AnitaMargarita13

    I’m both sides of this coin. I take in the emotions of others, and I suffer from anxiety and depression. I’m sure I’m draining my loved ones, no matter how hard I try to deal with my own issues.
    I can’t be the only one in this emotional whirlwind.

  • Aslan

    I am in total shock at the fact that Rosie Thunderpaws is a therapist. Horrified, really. Good job, you two, for validating every single word of this article. What nightmare level mothers you are. Holy cow.

  • Rosie Thunderpaws

    This from someone who signs in as a fictional lion? Not very bright are we? Holy oblivious cow!

  • Anonymous

    I just read ur article and blow out of tears …. my mom is depressed because we moved 4 years ago to another country and she lost everything she worked for all her life. Me and my family live in a small house where there is no privacy. I am in a relationship with a guy that my family doesn’t like. So I always lie when I wanna go with him. I have to tell my mom where I am going each time I leave the house. She counts the hours I am out and calculate weather I had an extra time to see my bf. I sometimes just wanna go to any cafe to find peace out of her complains but she always think that I was with him. It’s draining out my energy!! I put a lot of mental effort to be on time. I limited my social interaction because of this. I feel like 60 y/o!! I tried to tell my mom the truth when I go with my bf and she kept crying in the night for days. she’s not ready to hear the truth and feels insulted when I lie. She always play the role of the victim. she never accepted help. she doesn’t love herself and I afraid to take this from her. she was never satisfied in her life and believes that it’s her destiny not to be happy. I want her to be happy cuz she scarified her life for me and my brothers. I think the best thing a mom can do is to love herself. I feel overwhelmed. I just wanna run away but the idea of leaving her alone in a strange country make me feels guilty. I am a happy person outside my apartment but this never happened at home. I don’t feel that have home in the first place !! I feel always threatened by her comments and her denying a part of my personality that I recently discovered.

  • Annie

    Great article, thanks.

    I completely relate to this, I have an older sister and a mother who have both used me as an emotional crutch like this. They are both very negative people who suffer prolonged bouts of depression and terrible anxiety and dealing with them is difficult, emotionally draining and exhausting.

    The fact that your advice makes me feel all twisted and uncomfortable inside probably means that instinctively I know I need to take it, however difficult that would be (and it would be very difficult!).

  • Dee

    Thank you for this insightful article. I felt like it could of been me writing it. Struggling with very similar boundary issues at the moment.

  • KrackenVeteran

    I am in this right now!!! Establish a boundary with an very old friend and the result was “how are we supposed to be free with each other if I can’t tell you aspects of my life? This sets our friendship on a very different level if I can’t come to you with things that are happening in my life.” Then, virtual silent treatment. Sam working on not taking in other’s issues and feelings as my own. IT’S REALLY HARD!!!!! I have been in therapy for it and believe I need to continue to go. This article VALIDATED the boundary I set with my friend and I have to accept that her reaction to my boundary is not MY problem, but 100% hers!!! Right now I feel like I am a shitty friend for not wanting to listen to her complain about a pattern in her life that she is already very well aware of my position on the issue, yet refuses to change. I can be her biggest cheerleader, but not to the expense of my health. The situation was causing me panic attacks. I told her this and she told me I get overly involved, yet she kept on involving me.
    I was and kinda still am, mentally spun up by this situation.

  • KrackenVeteran

    Disappointing. My situation is more like abandoning. I abandoned her and her need to use me as her drama dumping ground. I said no more and that was in February of this year. Pretty much the silent treatment.

  • Buffalo

    I’ve also had a very similar situation. This article describes Codependency to a tee. I’ve really found Darlene Lancer’s books to be helpful for me in understanding and overcoming these issues in myself.

  • Joy

    I agree with this.
    I think what some also fail to realise also is that ‘losing’ these people is the natural conclusion to self acceptance and self love.
    If someone really won’t or can’t change due to a lack of self awareness then you really have to ask yourself if you can continue to be around that.

  • Joy

    I’m just finding this article so excuse my response 2 years later.
    What you have written really resonated with me. It was beautifully toned. This for me was an example of growth.

  • Lakshmi Gopal

    I am that grad student you write about. Only, in my case, it is my father and not my mother. The funny thing is I am 43 now and my 74 year old father still dumps on me, and I get disturbed about it. I realise that he won’t change. I must. It is so incredibly hard.
    Thanks for this read.

  • Olufemi

    Alana, thank you for sharing your story. I went through the same thing. My mother dumped her emotions on me and try to make me feel guilty when I wouldn’t take them on. A co-worker just tried to put me in the middle of drama between he and another co-worker. I immediately let him know that I’m not taking on his stuff.

  • Nicolas

    I never understood how my relation with my parents could be toxic before reading this. I mean I knew my relation was not true and perfect but my eyes just opens to an entire new perception of my problems. I see now why I always had this feeling of need to be perfect in everything and it was just better no to try and risking to feel disappointment and therefore disappointing my parents. I have always feeled chain to them whatever I was doing and wherever I was going. I can even see the exact same problem in my brother, it’s like if my parents where keeping us chained to them and it is so hard to grow into something else when you cannot even think of doing something that could disappoint them or they could disapprouved. Feels like it’s more there life then mines. Thank you very much. I just lost my job 2 days ago, a job I forced myself to believed I liked in a domain I was trying hard to believed was mine but everything as always been their choices and not mine and I never realised to which point it was true. I took the decision to go woofing in costa rica and learning agriculture. Thanks again Alana

  • Nicolas

    Do you have books you would recommend for all those parents?

  • Anonymus

    I thought it was normal until i heard it can be different…Living under the control of my mother and with an addicted father we looked on the outside normal but nothing was good behind the doors. I am 27 now and only now i go through the journey of suffering and letting it go. I guess there are 3 years until i came to this realization. My mother still shuts me down and says the therapy brainwashes people into victims. Our relationship is based on blame, critics, fear and control. I have experienced the harsh belief that love is not unconditional, that i have to be and behave in a certain way in order to be loved and be considered part of the family. I have lived until 14 years old blank, with no beliefs on my own, being dis considered of my credits as they are not my own achievements but the effort of my mother. I may look on the outside a well educated girl, but inside i don’t feel right at all.I remember all the emotional pain started when i realized i focused only on the mind, making the right decisions and never on how it felt. My mother still doesn’t recognize my needs.

  • Karien van der Westhuizen

    Thank you, this is really helpful!

  • Erin

    Wow. Your story is different than mine in some ways, but similar in others.

    I would tell my mom that everything is fine even if I feel lost and alone, and I pretend things are easy when they’re not, because I want to be acceptable. I moved out and eventually ended up in therapy for a bit. When I moved back in with my parents, despite having experienced the safe space of the therapeutic relationship, I picked right up with the self-shame again.

    It surprises me the amount of anger I feel towards my mom. She tries her best, after all!
    But I could do both – accept that she’s doing her best and accept that I’m feeling angry and resentful. Now I just need to learn boundaries and I’m all set to visit sometimes 🙂

    Also, the painting at the top is beautiful. So many on tinybuddha are 🙂

  • Bob

    This is exactly what happened to me. Through therapy I managed to get rid of negative relationships. Although, this included all of my family and many “friends”. It was lonely for a while but and putting up boundaries was very difficult but it is starting to pay off. Sadly, I don’t think my parents will ever again be part of my life. They are just too emotionally abusive to have a healthy relationship with and they refuse to see any fault in their behaviour.

  • larry gibson

    Le agradezco a mi señor por hacerme confiar nuevamente. Mi propia historia comenzó en 2010 cuando estaba buscando cómo convertirme en vampiro en Sudáfrica y gasté todo el dinero que tenía e incluso vengo todas mis propiedades aquí en el Reino Unido y No lo conseguí hasta que me encontré con el Sr. Marcus Baur, el hombre que más tarde me hizo ser un vampiro. Este hombre me dio una razón para confiar nuevamente. Muchas gracias Sr. marcus baur por todo lo que ha hecho por mí, y no puedo dejar de agradecerle hasta que le digo al mundo entero lo bueno que es, puede contactar al Sr. Marcus por correo electrónico: marcusbaur0101@gmail.com

  • Diana

    Anyone relate to this, but about their father? The first time I had the courage to set a boundary with him, he said, “Excuse me for living!” I get panic attacks around him. I’m in my thirties, mind you. I have always been a shrinking violet around him. He encouraged me to be a quiet girl. Any woman with a semblance of a voice reminds him of his mother and he shuts it down. He hates his mother. It angers me that this shaped me. I still shrink around him. As soon as he goes away, I’m back to being the real me. The real me isn’t always quiet like the one he sees. This story resonates with me because it’s always about him. It’s always about what he wants people to be (especially women). I tried hard to be what he wanted. A quiet, agreeable daughter, even at the expense of my identity and boundaries. This translated to me being that way in the other parts of my life too (until i started changing that). When I move away, this will change around him too. I’m bracing myself for his offendedness of my boundaries and real self. It’s getting harder to hide them to “keep the peace”. He’s continually a victim of others, in his mind. He loves talking about it, endlessly. His life is harder than yours. Theres no room for you to struggle. I have been there listening and listening and listening. His very presence exhausts me. Thank you for reading.

  • Yeray Saul

    My mother is a little different than the original posting and some of the comments of other mother’s here. I noticed my mother is emotionally distant ( shows no support, encouragement, rarely ever says, “I love you” etc.) It made me feel like she didn’t care about me much while growing up or loved me much. Which has lead me to go find that from my other family members and friends often asking them, “What they think of me” or “Do you care about me” and when I tell others that I love/care about them and they don’t tell me that back I get hurt and it makes me feel that they don’t love/care about me. It’s like I am always seeking reassurance/validation from others because my Mother lacked giving me that while I was growing up. I noticed at times my friends want space from me and that hurts. I don’t mean to be that way with my friends ( nor do I like that they want space from me) but it’s important for me to hear those things from them at times too. It hasn’t ruined any friendships yet that I know of but it certainly seems they feel strained at times. I plan on seeking counseling soon and I hope that helps. I have told my Mother how I felt several times and she gets super defensive and thinks I am nuts that I feel she’s emotionally distant and doesn’t see anything wrong with how she was towards me. She told me she wasn’t raised like that and she is fine, I think to myself well I would think each generation wants to be better than their parents were to them, *shrugs* who knows, but maybe that is just something she is unable to give or just doesn’t know how perhaps. WIth her it’s like talking to a brick wall I never seem to get through to her, so I just gave up and let it be what it is. I don’t hate her or anything, but I just keep the peace to keep the peace whenever we visit. I do wish she was able to give me that or change that about herself but I realized it’s never going to change with her, it’s like beating a dead horse. All I can do is work on me and my feeling of feeling like I am not loved enough. People have told me actions speak louder than words and I agree they do, and I do notice the kind acts from others towards me, but for me I also like to hear that I am loved, appreciated, cared about, etc it feels good to hear those things as well. I hope therapy can really help me stop seeking this reassurance/validation from others. Has anyone else here experienced this kind of situation with a parent??