Yeah, this is definitely not the first time I’ve written about this but you know what – a bitch got stuff to say so I’m exploring it again.
Codependency has been playing on my mind the past few weeks partly because of the kind of content I’ve been consuming lately. I’ve recently had a brilliant addition to my life in the form of the Mark Groves podcast. Also known as @createthelove on Instagram, Mark creates content about relationships, the soul path, codependency and the connection between conflict and inflammation in the body – just to name a few things.
The first podcast episode of his that I listened to was one about “ghosting”. It brought me a lot of peace because I’d recently had an experience akin to ghosting with regards to my last relationship. Something I saw from Mark Groves more recently was this post about codependency:
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Do you "feel" other people's feelings? And how do you set boundaries when you feel so deeply? I get asked so many variations of this question! • So, here is my answer… BUT, boundaries are a practice, and always a work in progress. So if you need support on this process then sign up to my new Boundaries course – we start next week! Link in bio! #createthelove
Hearing this information was like being majorly called out. Because even though I’ve set boundaries in the past with my Dad (and still continue to), a major blind spot for me with regards to codependency has been my relationship with my Mam.
Our relationship has been strained pretty much my whole life – but even more so lately. It goes something like this:
- we get on well and have a good balance
- she feels safer with me so starts messaging me more and more about all the things she’s doing and how she’s feeling
- this makes me feel like a responsible source of connection and counsel in her life because she lives alone – I pity her
- I start to feel suffocated and smothered and like my needs come second (which triggers me because of shit with my Dad and also because of memories of her past alcoholism)
- I become frustrated, impatient and angry and snap at her
- she gets hurt which also hurts me deeply because there’s no space between our emotions
- I feel guilty and ashamed
- I acknowledge the pattern and take some distance from her
- things start to feel better and like I can breathe a little
- and repeat
A few weeks ago when I was still in therapy, I’d taken a longer break from speaking to my Mam and things had started to feel a lot better. But then like the frog in boiling water experiment, things gradually got worse again and this is where I’m at now.
When I was much younger, and my Mam’s drinking was pretty bad, I stopped speaking to her altogether for a while. I was probably 13 or 14. I was staying at my sister’s and my auntie – who is a full-blown alcoholic and had been drinking – came over.
“Why have you stopped speaking to her?! You’re hurting her!” she challenged me.
“Well, she hurt me,” I replied. She had this perplexed look on her face like the idea that my Mam’s heavy drinking could be negatively impacting me was something she hadn’t even considered. Mental. Talk about denial.
So I suppose that’s an early example of being guilt-tripped by my own flesh and blood for setting a very rational boundary.
Now the whole thing is a bit more complicated. Because my Mam doesn’t drink anymore. We don’t even live together. Yet I feel smothered. I spoke to a friend about it the other day and she said it was pretty crazy that I still felt so responsible for my Mam’s emotions when we don’t even see each other often. Which is a valid point.
But I think the fact that I don’t see her often, and that she doesn’t see any of her family often anymore, makes me feel more responsible for her. Which is crazy – I’m her youngest child. It’s not my job to be her counsellor, her confidante or her best friend. I don’t want to play any of those roles. You don’t repeatedly abandon your child in favour of drinking then thrust these roles upon them as soon as they hit adulthood. I’m angry.
I’m not nice to be around when I’m frustrated like this. And the whole thing is so enmeshed that I can’t keep her close whilst managing my anger. It’s impossible. And it’s difficult right now because she’s just lost her Dad (my granddad). So of course she’s more emotional than usual but unfortunately this has also brought things to a head for me.
I messaged her the other day and told her for the first time that I thought our relationship was a bit codependent and that I felt terrified to say how I felt; that I was scared of hurting her. This was in response to her asking if I was annoyed at her after a brief phone-call with me. Her asking me this brought on another wave of guilt and I knew I had to be honest.
By the way, I know how this sounds. How could you push your Mum away right after she’s lost her Dad? That’s something I’ve been struggling with, too. I guess it’s because her oversharing has gotten even worse in the wake of this happening and that just happens to coincide with a difficult patch with mental health for me. I simply don’t have the capacity to hold it all right now. I can’t do it. I’m checking out.
I can’t be fighting self-destructive urges at work, dealing with abandonment issues and trying my best to regulate my erratic emotions right now – then also have to hear about how emotionally unstable my Mam is and how she’s been crying all day. This is also a massive trigger for me because she had a mental breakdown when I was 11 or 12 that I had to be held witness to. Enough is enough.
I remember feeling terrified to look at her reply to my message – this is how difficult I find it to express myself sometimes. Expressing autonomy and voicing my needs was often met with hostility and withdrawal when I was a kid – I’m often terrified of that happening again. And that it’ll confirm some limiting belief I hold about myself.
Her response wasn’t as bad as I expected but she did say that she felt hurt – cue the guilt again. But it’s like what Brené Brown says: What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and generous towards you? I can’t be truly kind and generous with my time when a lack of boundaries makes me frustrated and angry.
I’m still a bit confused about how to proceed with this situation but I’m going to try and listen to my gut more. If I need to have more difficult conversations to express myself and get my needs met, so be it. The only person I’m truly responsible for is myself and you teach others how to treat you by how you treat yourself. If we keep giving people unlimited emotional access to us, then they will keep offloading. If we say: actually I’m not comfortable with you sharing that with me – then they’ll stop.
And I invite people to communicate and extend the same boundaries to me if they ever feel I overshare. It’s a two-way thing.
Thanks for reading. What are your experiences with boundary setting?
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx