I feel emotionally unsafe…

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I suppose the issue I am having now, directly relates to issues from my childhood; so I’ll start there.
My parents separated when I was pretty young, so I grew up in a single parent household. Which, suprisingly, is not the problem. My mother has OCD (along with other emotional problems). We were never allowed to be sad, or mad, or anything else that wasn’t happy. She would literally get angry with us. “What’s wrong with you?” she would say in a disgusted tone. She yelled a lot.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been my mother’s “therapist”. I’ve heard many things I probably should have never heard, let alone at a young age. Still, I am that person for her. I am utterly exhausted. She constantly needs reassurance, she is terrified that people don’t like her, and I am the one who is always there to tell her everything is okay. She has a different problem for me to help her with almost everyday. She can’t understand why I don’t come to her with my problems. Part of the reason is because I never feel that she is emotionally stable enough to hear someone else’s problems, and part of it is because she’s part of my problem. It goes deeper, but I’m trying to keep it brief. Suffice it to say that I don’t feel that sense of “mom is there for me”.

Enter, my husband. This is the problem that has caused me to seek professional opinion. Our relationship used to be fantastic. I felt very safe with him. My husband is aware of most of my emotional scars. The problem is this, today, while doing an everyday task, he yelled at me. Now, I’m not talking about volume, I mean he said something to me in a nasty, impatient tone. I’m not a fan of this at all. Over the years I’ve expressed my feelings about his snippy temper. So, when I told him not to yell at me, he said “Your mom must have yelled at you a lot when you were young.” and “Your problem is that you don’t like people yelling at you because you carry emotional baggage.”. When I told him that nobody likes being yelled at, and that if I tell him not to yell at me it’s because HE is yelling at me not because my mom used to, he disagreed and proceeded to tell me that if I am ever going to get through my issues they need to be pointed out (apparently by him). I told him that was not therapy and that he was taking something that I trusted him enough to tell him and throwing it in my face. This is not the first time he has brought up some of my “baggage”. I felt that he was using it as an excuse to relieve himself of his responsibility in the argument. To which he said something like “fine, I’ll never bring it up again.” Is it just me, or was that not nice? I feel the emotional burden getting heavier, I’m slowing down and less able to bounce back and let things roll off. How am I supposed to know if my -standing up for myself- isn’t just me overreacting. Please help me understand.

I want to point out that I love my family, my mom is as great as she is capable of being; and my husband, who sounds quite icky in this instance, is actually a very nice man. I would trust this man with my life. My emotions, not so much.

A: The way I see it, you and your husband are cooperating in this argument. Instead of dealing productively with whatever the issue was, the two of you got completely distracted and derailed by an argument about what’s fair to bring up in an argument. It makes me wonder what was so difficult about the original issue that you went off on such a painful tangent.

Yes, you have baggage. Who doesn’t? My guess is that you could find something to pin your husband’s defensiveness on. Yes. It’s a betrayal of sorts whenever someone we trust uses something they know about us to hurt us – or to defend themselves. But arguing about that will only continue the argument about an argument. You can react without overreacting. If there’s a next time, simply calmly say something like “I’m sure we could go down that road but we’ve got a problem to solve. Is there something about it that is too upsetting?” Stick with the topic at hand and you’ll find out more about each other.

Meanwhile, I’m sorry that your mother wasn’t able to tolerate any emotional variation in her kids. That must have been very, very hard. As a kid, you couldn’t do much to change it but you can now. I think it’s long past time to refer her to another therapist. You can’t forge a close mother-daughter relationship as long as you take the role of a combination counselor and parent. No wonder you’re exhausted! If your mother won’t go initially, make an appointment for yourself and do some groundwork. Then you and the therapist can invite her to join you. Gradually, your therapist can help you shift over the responsibility for your mom so that you two can start to have some fun together. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell her: “Save that for Dr. Shrink. Let’s go to a movie”?

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Aug 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). I feel emotionally unsafe…. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/31/i-feel-emotionally-unsafe/