My parents have been divorced for 10 years now and my mother has never recovered from an abusive marriage to my father. She suffers from chronic depression and refuses to work. I also have a very rebellious 15-year-old brother and they are both currently dependent on me. They live with me. I provide for them financially and because of this my life has come to a stand-still.
My boyfriend and I have decided to get married and would like to start planning for the future but with the responsibilities I have, this is virtually impossible from my side. My life has been an emotional roller-coaster. One day I decide to ask them to leave and the next day I feel guilty about abandoning them. I'm afraid that my boyfriend will get fed-up with my constant money and emotional problems and leave me. He's been a great support but I can feel that our relationship is taking a lot of strain.
My entire family has turned against me - they tell me I'm selfish and cruel for wanting to start my life and abandon my (ill) mother. Her depression has started rubbing off on me...
Is it unfair and selfish of me to want to make myself happy? Am I supposed to be responsible for my mother and brother? What would be the right thing to do in this case? Please help! I'm so confused and even contemplated suicide, although my love for life has helped me to survive up to now. I don't know how much more I can take.
In the 1970's when an alcoholic would come to a treatment center, therapists would focus on curing them and then send them back home and feel their job was done. We were surprised when they would often return drinking. What we discovered is that usually there was a person who loved them at home and the term co-dependent was born. A co-dependent person is someone who either rescues an alcoholic from the consequences of their behavior or criticizes them. The goal was to help the alcoholic quit drinking and the result is the alcoholic would be enabled to drink more by the co-dependent taking care of them. The co-dependent was discovered to be just as troubled and sick as the alcoholic and was actually addicted to the alcoholic.
In the early 80's it was realized that parents who are enmeshed with each other in a chemically addicted relationship lack parenting skills and often the family life is chaotic. The children then grow up emotionally too fast and that causes a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder called Adult Children of Alcoholics or Parentified Kids. They begin to take care of the parents and are abandoned emotionally. This is not supposed to occur. It causes addictions and co-dependence in the children. Therefore we realized that the children were troubled as well and needed treatment. People then tended to be seen in family therapy.
It was further discovered that there were certain dysfunctional rules that were followed in these families. They could be stated or unwritten rules. These were
- always be perfect
- always be in control of self and others
- if you break #1or 2 then you need to shame self and/or others
- don't feel
- don't express feelings
- have unrealistic expectations for self and others
- don't be selfish
- don't play
- be super serious
- take care of other people
These rules are crazy and impossible because they are unattainable and out of balance. It is fine to be concerned with yourself at times and great to help people at times.
In the late 80's we started to realize that most families even if they were not alcoholic were at least to some degree dysfunctional and followed these out of balance rules and so treatment was started for dysfunctional families. We also realized that people could be co-dependent without alcohol being involved. These families often act selfishly and then call the person who is being abused selfish. They are run on shame and abandonment.
It sounds as if you are suffering from co-dependence and that your family at least has some elements that are dysfunctional. If your mother has always been depressed and your father abusive then you very probably took on the role of the caretaker and your family has come to expect it. You can still be a loving person and not take care of people. The rule is care, don't take care of. I would really suggest getting some therapy with a counselor who is familiar with these issues.
Jef Gazley, M.S. www.asktheinternettherapist.com
This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.
For more information visit the site or contact information page on QueenDom.