Dear mom,

I wanted to write you because I’ve been processing some things with my therapist and it’s important for me to tell you about it because you’re part of it. I didn’t realize how much the “less than nurturing” events in my childhood have affected me until recently. I’ve always thought of my childhood as being great, considered myself lucky, talked positively about both you and dad etc. It wasn’t until I became aware of some issues of co-dependency and being unaware of my own needs started coming out in my relationships that I started to look back on my childhood in a different way. I want you to know that even though I’m going to express some things that may be hard to hear, overall, I feel blessed and lucky that I have you and dad as my parents. I’m not as angry with you as I was when I first started becoming aware of this stuff. I’ve worked through a lot, accepted and can even appreciate a lot of it now. But I’m still in the process of doing it too.

I’ll start with some of my current issues that lead me to seek a therapist who helped me relate them to my relationship with you. I have a lot of co-dependent tendencies (low self-esteem, lack of appropriate boundaries, not knowing what is really going with me most of the time, dependency issues, and issues with moderation). That might seem extreme to you and you may be wanting to dismiss it because from the outside I look like I’m doing ok. And in many ways I am! For the most part, I’ve been able to keep things under control and function appropriately enough in relationships and worldly endeavors. But something has been gnawing at me for years and my relationship with Ryan has been a catalyst to explore some of my long-standing “unskillful habits” as I like to think of them. This still sounds abstract so I’ll give you some examples of what I’ve been struggling with:

  • I usually feel like I can do everything myself but want people to notice (aka mind-read) if I could use some help and then help me. If they don’t, then I’m resentful and upset that they aren’t helping and I start thinking that everyone is out to just blow me off and not be there for me.
  • I’m constantly worried about other people (but especially my partner), what they’re thinking, what they should be doing/learning/feeling, and comparing my worth to everyone around me
  • When I feel let down or rejected (sometimes even from a simple harmless thing such as Ryan  coming home 15 minutes later than planned), I feel worthless, disregarded, like I’m unlovable and no one will ever be able to be the kind of partner I want/need
  • I feel like things are always either really good or really bad in almost every situation- in other words I have a hard time experiencing things moderately
  • I’m often very disconnected from my needs (sometimes even of most basic needs such as feeding myself nurturing food, having a good work/life balance, when I need physical nurturing or emotional support). Because I’m not aware of what I’m needing, I don’t ask people directly  for support but then I’m still needy and get what I need in a roundabout way. For example, maybe I’m just feeling kind of stressed and could use a hug, but instead of asking Ryan for a hug or just hugging him, I’ll pick a fight so that we make up and then I get the hug. So there’s all this extra energy around just getting a simple thing
  • If I mess up (like we all do), I feel a lot of shame and judge and criticize myself very harshly.

*I see myself doing a lot of the behaviors I saw you doing such as having (sometimes unrealistic) expectations of others but not making a valid request and instead waiting for the person to not meet them and then being mad and passive aggressive about it. Also, taking other people’s behavior really personally, feeling like the victim and having a shame attack and feeling like you’ve been taken advantage of or slighted in some way, wasting time in relationships that aren’t meeting your needs, hating your body or appearance, being out of balanced with work etc. are all ways that we are alike.

The memories that stick out the most from you were mostly teenager or right before the divorce. I know I was angry and acting out but I was also really worried about you and spent a lot of mental and emotional energy trying to keep you happy and make sure you were ok. It sounds weird to say but I’ve always kind of felt like I needed to take care of you even when I didn’t know how because I was a child. I also don’t feel like you saw any of the effort or acknowledged it but instead, I got the message that it wasn’t enough. That I still was not pleasing you or not meeting your expectations or not taking care of your needs for you and moreover I think I got the message that I was hurting you and neglecting you. Now, as an adult, I can see that my actions as a teenager were childish and maybe mean but you were the adult, how could I as a child hurt you? Why couldn’t you have seen that my behaviors were a reaction to everything else going on and instead help me and meet my needs? I mean I know why, because you were in pain because of the divorce and you were unable to stay in your healthy adult self because on your unresolved stuff and therefor unable to take care of my emotional needs. I understand that and have compassion for you for that but I want to acknowledge it because I’ve been carrying around the responsibility of taking care of your emotional needs for too long. It’s time for me to become my healthy adult and care for myself so that I don’t repeat the cycle.

I want to tell you these things because I want you to know my experience, to know me as a person and to give some of these emotions I’ve been carrying around for you back to you for you to hold and heal. I know you didn’t technically ask me to carry your emotions or to take care of you. In fact, you’d probably say that you were self-sufficient and didn’t need anything from me but my experience was different. Somehow in a very insidious and subtle way, I took on your emotions, I cared for you, I worried about you, I spoke for you, I advocated for you, I put my own needs/wants behind yours, I felt almost all of your emotions as much or more than you and I’ve had a lot of resentment about that.

I never understood why I felt so irritable around you in my early adult years until very recently when I realized the energy/pressure I was feeling to take care of you and make sure you were satisfied.  I feel some shame or guilt as I write this because I worry that it’s hurting you. See, I can’t even express myself and my own honest thoughts without worrying about you! I want to be happy and healthy and responsible for my own emotions so that I don’t dump them on someone else. I want to maintain my boundaries when others try to dump their emotions on me. I want to be close to you in a healthy way where we both are aware of our own responsibilities and can support each other without being co-dependent. I love you very much and appreciate so many things about you. I just really need to work through this.