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Author Topic: Family Issues  (Read 758 times)
bern4606

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What is your sexual orientation: Straight
Who in your life has "personality" issues: Romantic partner
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« on: December 13, 2015, 10:42:50 PM »

Tis the holiday season and gathering of family and friends. Unfortunately, I currently have a dilemma right now. Mental illness is dividing those that I love. I feel like I have to navigate between sides. The only side that I want to stand on is the side of love.  As I have grown up in both healthy and unhealthy environments, what I have learned from healthy feel good environments is that trust, openness and transparency is extremely important. Rather than focusing on judging, there needs to be a culture of forgiveness and loving someone for who they are. For the background, I have a mother that is mentally ill but a wonderfully supportive father. My mother has episodes of paranoia but inherently loves me. I realize that she can't help her behaviors. My father is one of the most supportive people in my life and he has always been there for me.

My mentally ill mother last April had an episode of paranoia. In the episode of paranoia, she yelled and stared down my BPD girlfriend. My girlfriend, having been abused by her father, felt triggered. Since then, my girlfriend will not set foot in my parents house and needs me to let her know with at least one weeks notice to "prepare" for my parents visit.  Before our thanksgiving trip, after having not seen my parents for 6 weeks, my parents wanted to see us. My parents (and my mom when she is in a more "lucid" state) love my girlfriend and wanted to see her. My girlfriend in the weeks before had a rough time with a co-worker at work (she felt that he was making sexual comments towards her). Consequently, she had been emotionally a mess. Given that when I tell my girlfriend that my parents are coming, she will worry about it for a week. When she is worried, it hurts me and pains me to see her suffer. Needless to say, I didn't tell her until the day before and when I told her she cold shouldered me for a few hours and told me that she needed me to give more notice. We agreed to stop in a restaurant for around a half hour.

This weekend, my parents wanted to come visit and spend more time with me. My girlfriend had a music gig scheduled. I thought it was going to be in the afternoon when she had the gig but she then told me it was in the evening. I still wanted my parents to come and visit because I wanted to spend some quality time with them. Given my girlfriend's problems at work, I didn't want to stress her out. I ended up not telling her and then telling my parents to spend some time with me somewhere else before she left for her gig. This evening, my parents called me saying that they wanted to wish my girlfriend happy holidays and I told them to not mention yesterday's visit. My mom, given her mental state, doesn't fully understand why my girlfriend doesn't come and visit but now she had to be told the truth. I am worried now that my mom will now feel anger towards my girlfriend. She seemed visibly upset on the phone.

In surveying the situation, here is what I know and hold true:

- My girlfriend is a beautiful person who has done a lot for me. She has always respected me and we have shared lots of happy memories.Despite being abused as a child, she has worked hard to overcome obstacles. She holds a full time job and is a terrific teacher. At the same time, she is emotionally dealing with challenges. She has the tendency to dissociate when she sees "triggers." My girlfriend deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and have people appreciate her for who she is. I do not want her to feel like anything is her fault.

- My parents have done a lot for me and I do not want to shut them out of my life. My father is even keeled, hard working and loving. He loves my girlfriend and wants to see us happy. My mother, while she has suffered serious mental illness, has a loving heart. Around 90 percent of the time she will be loving but has episodes of paranoia. Additionally, I value going to my hometown and reconnecting with my childhood.

- I value and love my girlfriend and my parents unconditionally for who they are.

Now, to the DILEMMAS,

- I often feel like I have to battle between being honest and protecting my girlfriend's emotional state. I realize that when I add stress into my girlfriend's life, she will disengage from reality and sit miserable and alone watching horror films for hours. At the same time, part of me feels that my girlfriend needs to come to terms with understanding herself so that she can tackle the inevitable adversity that life brings (and the blessings that are hidden in the adversity). However, I realize that given all the stress she has gone through, she deserves to feel comfort in her space.

- My mother is seriously mentally ill and is heavily medicated. She does not grasp reality and has some symptoms that are similar to dementia. How can I start building effective base line communication between her and my girlfriend? No, my girlfriend doesn't need to stay in my parents house but having a cordial phone conversation or even a short visit.


I find it overwhelming to have to deal with all this drama due to mental illness. It is hard for me to see the emotional suffering. It is hard for me to walk into my apartment at night and see my girlfriend depraved of all energy. It is hard for me to go several weeks without seeing my parents and then bypass their home when traveling by during thanksgiving. All this mental illness around me is cruel and goes against my core values of respecting everyone for who they are.
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Notwendy
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« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2015, 07:10:35 AM »

Welcome to this board. Dealing with mentally ill family members, who you care deeply about, is not an easy task. You mentioned that it can take a toll on you, which is understandable. I think this happens in any relationship where one takes on a role of caretaker. It is known that caretakers can experience burn out. One thing caretakers need to learn is to take care of themselves. They say on an airplane- to put your own oxygen mask on first. I think caretaker personalities tend to give the oxygen to others first. They see themselves as kind, compassionate people to others, while somehow forgetting that they need to extend that same kindness to themselves.

Your mother and your gf are two distinct people, with their own ideas, good sides, not so good sides. Although, ideally, you wish for them to get along, that isn't up to you. It is up to them. What you wish for is for them to have tolerance for each other's weaknesses, because you do, but that is you, not them. They are both people with mental conditions. It may not be possible for them to have an emotionally stable relationship.

Having grown up in a home with a BPD mother, taking care of a mentally ill person was the family norm. My father, like your father, adored her and the whole family was set up to accommodate her needs. This all felt completely normal to me. I knew no other way to be in a relationship with someone else. However, in order for this to work in my family- to not upset my mother, to put her needs first, meant not really having any real space in the family for me. I gratefully did not marry someone with mental illness, but did marry someone with enough traits/behaviors similar to my FOO to set the stage for this pattern with me. His tendency to rage at me resulted in me doing everything in my power to keep him from being upset, so I walked on eggshells, hesitated to tell him anything that upset him, turned down opportunities to do things I wanted to do because it either upset him, or might upset him. I basically arranged my world to suit him, much like I did with my mother. Then, one day, I realized I had lost who I was. I didn't even know what I liked to eat, what TV shows to watch, and if I asserted myself, it was met with anger.

He may have his own issues, but the issues we had were in part, my creation.

It is the task of every adult to be able to manage their own relationships and feelings- good or bad. While mental illness can make this difficult, it is still their task to grow emotionally at whatever pace they can. Taking away these tasks by keeping them comfortable is in a way, taking away their opportunity to grow. We see our caretaking as kindness, but if it stunts their emotional growth, it is not kind.

Too much caretaking is defined as doing for others what they can do for themselves. This is harder to determine with someone who is mentally ill. What can they do and what can't they?

Parents, and teachers of children with disabilities face this question. How to foster independence and growth while taking into considerations the child's needs. They do so with a balance of accommodating and sometimes letting the child deal with his/her own frustrations as a motivator. The homework assignment may be tough, but doable. So let's say the kid pitches a fit over a challenging assignment. If the parent or teacher steps in to do it for them... .well because he has a disability and they feel sorry for him, then the child doesn't learn how to do it, or have the satisfaction of achieving a tough assignment. They have to step back and let the child struggle with it till he gets it.

It hurts you to see your GF upset over something but her task is to learn to deal with her upsets in a healthy way. If sitting on the couch watching TV is how she deals with it, and it isn't hurting anyone else, then that isn't a "wrong" way to deal with bad feelings. If it is interfering in her life, then that could be a motivator for counseling to learn a better way.

Your can have a relationship with both your mother and your gf. It may not be with everyone together. My H and I do not always visit our families together. It isn't because we don't get along with them. It is simply a scheduling issue- we are not always off work or other commitments at the same time. We each make some effort to see both families- again because we don't have a problem with that. But that is a choice we make, perhaps not something your gf wishes to choose. However, you have every right to maintain a relationship with both of them, and if she isn't willing to see your mother, you can see her on your own.

I think some information on what is taking care of someone who needs it and what is over- caretaking may be helpful to you, because how you were raised is in a caretaking situation. I don't think I even knew there were other ways to care about other people. Keep posting and learning. You seem to be a really caring person, and that is a good trait. You can, and should, keep that great attitude, but maybe learning to add YOU to the list of people you care about can help.

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Notwendy
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« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2015, 07:33:09 AM »

I can give an example of this dynamic with my mother. My tendency is to step in and do for her. On her end, she sees this as insulting, controlling and invalidating.

My mother, now widowed, is capable of being on her own, but one issue is that she has never managed money. Dad made sure she had what she wanted, even it meant arranging the family income and cutting back on other things, so she wasn't used to financial limits. When she became a widow, we stepped in and asked to have access to the finances to help her manage.

Who boy, that was like setting a bomb off in the house.

So we decided the only choice was to step back. It was her money.

A few years later after spending the way she used to when Dad had a paycheck, it occurred to her that her savings were dwindling. She did the math. She started to say things like "I had better not do this as it is costing too much" or "this is expensive".

She is managing money for the first time in her life, because we didn't do it for her. We thought she was being mean and cruel by pitching a fit when we "only tried to help" but she got angry because a part of her felt restricted and she felt invalidated.

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