Mother/daughter co-dependancy confusion

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I am 35 years old. I left home at 18 due to domestic violence (my brother beat and terrorised me ever since I could walk). Mum and I were always close. Mum left my dad when I was 2 and, after a brief stint of living with my grandparents, we moved into the house that she still lives in. She began a relationship with the single father who lives next door and they are still together, but they have next cohabited and remain living next door to one another. He is quite a simple chap. He was never a father figure and I don’t think mum really wanted him to be. He has health problems and has developed a sort of agoraphobia as he has aged. He does not want to go anywhere ever or do anything. I have no contact with my real father and never really have. I only have memories of him making dates to me, and breaking them at the last moment or not contacting us at all. Through all this, my mum and I were close. The boundaries were possibly blurred as I used to tell her all the teenage stuff that is usually kept well under wraps. I had various medical problems growing up (several operations on my eyes and also a severe skin disorder that required hospitalisation). Because of these, I experienced a bad dose of bullying at school as well as at home at the hands of my older brother who beat me and wielded knives on a pretty regular basis.

When I left home, it was in a panic following an attack by my brother that was witnessed by my then boyfriend. I left and never went back. I did take legal advice at the time but mum did not support moving my brother out as she felt it may cause her to resent me. She did try to help when he bullied and beat me, but missed a lot of what happened due to being at work and perhaps never realised how bad it really was as she put a lot of it down to sibling rivalry. I have a very strained relationship with my brother to this day. He has never admitted any fault and I still think he would love to give me a bit of a kicking. To be frank, I only invite him to family events for the sake of my mother. I would not have any contact with what I believe to be a truly hateful human being if it weren’t for the fact that I know she would find this upsetting.

In the years following my leaving home, I had very poor mental health. I have attempted suicide twice and was hospitalised as well as having various types of therapies and medications. The last diagnosis (of which there have been a few) was BPD thought to relate to an abusive childhood. I am better now than I think I have ever been, but my life is still a mess in many ways and I do not do well in interpersonal relationships. Granted, there has been a fair whack of what feels like awful damn luck, but it is also true that I push people away and set high expectations for them. I think in black and white and feel betrayed easily.

My mental health has also had a negative effect on my work. Ironically, I work in mental health, but my managers have failed to understand how ill I have been at times and HR have strict rules that they want followed that are always too much of a reach for me. Part of me feels like a fraud. I know that I am ill. I know what it feels like when I am REALLY very ill and cannot work, but I spend my time off second guessing myself and talking badly to myself. The result is, of course, a longer time off.

A lot of this is just background. I will try to wing my way to the crux. Bear with my scattered thoughts… I am struggling to contain my thoughts at present.

So, over the past 15 years, mum and I have remained close. There has rarely been a Sunday that we have not spent together and she has been a constant supporter through various health issues and all of the mental health fall out that I have had. She has been there for me when I have been very ill in a time when no one else was. I am grateful for this.

More recently (over the past 3 years), as I have been feeling stronger, I took mum on a holiday overseas. This is the first time she has been anywhere abroad for about 30 years. I really wanted to do something good for her and show her some of the world (I have travelled quite a lot in between episodes of poor health). It didn’t go quite as planned. She felt bewildered and scared for almost all of the time and struggled to walk the distances between things. She is coming up to retirement and, aside from the fact I wanted to give thanks and make her smile, I thought the trip might open a few doors for her and enable her to have a more active retirement given that her sort-of partner certainly wont be making the most of the time. This isn’t what happened sadly and I think she is more fearful of travel now that ever before.

For my part, my life here really sucks. I have a job I have grown to hate (mostly due to HR and changes to the NHS), I can’t afford to buy a house and so rent in a tumble down house, I live alone bar for two cats, I struggle to pay bills and every time I try dating, it fails spectacularly and I have no friends bar for mum. I feel doomed to be alone, or, more likely, living back with mum until one or other of us croaks it with the other following closely behind.

I have always had the idea that I could make a better life for myself elsewhere. I have investigated various possibilities and have points enough for Canada or Australia, but favour the idea of working on an eco farm in Europe. This sounds like a whim, but bear in mind that you are only getting part of the thinking here and also that despite my poor mental health, I have been able to accomplish a lot of things that others perhaps wouldn’t think of doing (maybe) such as hosting charity events, solo travel and a variety of other projects. The point is, I don’t lack motivation or courage (perhaps sometimes with a tinge of kamikaze). Through all the wild ventures I have made (none of which have ever actually failed despite my own self-doubt) mum has always spun a negative on it. Don’t in a horrible “don’t do that!” sort of way, but she has always said she doesn’t think it’s a good idea and then has been surprised when it works out. She says she does this for a reality check, but I suspect that actually she does it because whatever I take on seems scary to her.

Recently I told her about my idea that I would like to move abroad and she told me that she would “die without (me)”. I suggested that she could come with me and she told me that she would “not want to die abroad”. I asked mum if she wants me to be happy or be here? And she said both.

I feel so torn by this. I appreciate every second of help and live that mum has given me and certainly would not have gotten through it without her, but I feel that I am now tied and cant break away to do what makes me happen. I realise how selfish this sounds but I have not been happy and do not expect I ever will be here. I dislike every aspect of the culture and mostly feel like an alien (no disrespect). So, what do I do? She won’t come with me. I feel tied here, but know I could make better for myself everywhere. We have gotten caught in this weird co-dependent relationship that has come from a very good place, but has now consumed us both. I could not bear to hurt her. I do believe that she would die without me and then my mental health is kaput and I would probably off myself out of the guilt.

Please help. Any perspective that isn’t my own has surely got to be a good thing at this point.

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18 Replies

  • Posted

    Hi Amy this is just an opinion from a mother to a son with Mental Health issues, so only giving food for thought. For now leaving your Mum out of it please remember where ever you live all your past goes with you as does any medical conition and all Mental Health issues added to this Health care is not free in many of the places you name, so until you are happy in your own skin you will have the same problems where ever you go to live or work, on saying all this remember your Mother is making choices that she feels will make her happy and you have the same rights without being blackmailed we are not responsible for everyone elses happiness just for making our own lives as good as we are able to first step forward is try not to waste any more energy on the past and your brother as you cannot change it focus only on what you can make a difference to as really reading your letter you are doing far better than you think so drop the pressure you are putting on yourself good luck Amy
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    • Posted

      Thank you katylynn

      I do appreciate the issues with medical assistance. But After the lonf war i have waged, i do feel that I have dealt with most of what has been and have built up a toolkit of resilience strategies, but yes, you are right. I would make sure I have an exit strategy and emergency plan in place if I should need it.

      Thank you again smile

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  • Posted

    Life Amy is for the living, and it is intended to be lived and enjoyed, and not in any way supposed to be filled with regret.

    I can quite understand the very close ties that you have with your mum and her with you, but that in no way should be the reason why you should have sacrifice what you want to do because of someone, anyone even that close to you.

    Once you have decided that this new life is really what you to do, then unless you do it then that is exactly what you are going to be left with - a big lifelong regret.

    If it doesn't work out for you then you can always come home again.

    As for your mum, well I feel sure she will realise that you are at the end of a telephone line, and therefore not on another planet.

    Once she gets to grips with the fact that you are making every effort to be happy and fulfilled I'm certain that her fears for herself and for you will subside.

    I have given this same advice on two previous occasions, and on those occasions the people involved took it.

    On the first occasion the chap (a 32 year old) wanted to make a life for himself in Spain, but didn't want to leave his mother (a widow).

    He did go to Spain, has succeeded there, and both his mother and he have both thanked me for pointing him in the right direction.

    On the second occasion the daughter of a friend (29 year old) wanted to settle in New Zealand and farm there.

    I gave her exactly the same advice that I have given to you, and she took it.

    The story from there is very much the same - another success story for them all the way round.

    So the essence of the story is live your life to the full and follow the dream because you only have one shot at it after all.

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    • Posted

      Thank you archemedes.

      My heart (and even my head) say that you are right. I just wonder if the guilt will actually make it a 'hollow victory' of sorts.

      In an ideal world, she would come too. She would feel secure and I would be able to care for her in her old age as she has care for and supported me over the years. I just dont think her anxieties will allow it.

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    • Posted

      Two powerful feelings 'regret' and 'guilt'.

      Of the two I find that guilt is like a bitter dissolving pill in that it is bitter while you take it, but better once it has gone down.

      Regret on the other hand is more like a weight around our necks that gets heavier with time.

      Yes, you may suffer from some guilt reaction because that is normal, but to offset it you could always invite your mum once you have succeeded, and in the meanwhile keep regularly in touch with her by phone or Skype.

      Regret on the other hand, well I really do not know how to cope with that one. I am 71 years of age and when I was roughly your age I had the offer of going to live and work in Sweden. I turned it down and I have regretted it ever since.

      So there you have it, you decide which of the two has a lesser effect.


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    • Posted

      Thank you again archemedes. Very insightful.

      Funny to think, but your regrets have been an inspiration for others. So, whilst it must still burn, you have helped to inspire 3 others to begin their journey through knowledge you would not otherwise have had. Hopefully that's something of a balm.

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    • Posted

      Sadly, there is no cure for regret, either because the opportunity has been completely missed or it has come too late to cure the condition.

      Please try to remember this:

      “Moments, when lost, can't be found again. They're just gone.”  

      Just you get on with your life and enjoy it to the full. 

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  • Posted

    Very good comments their Amy I am 66 Amy and lost my husband of 40 years very suddenly a year ago this week i am gutted and lost but would never expect my children to sacrifice their dreams as I have lived mine grab life with both hands and build the life you want , we sold up and moved to live in Spain some of the best years of our life back now but no regrets at all but plenty of good memories, have a good action plan and follow your dream good luck
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  • Posted

    Amy, I'm with the others in here. You can't live your life for your mother. You don't have to abandon her, but you are two separate people.

    I have a few similarities with you, except that I was an only child and it was my father who was the main abuser (of both my mother and myself). When it came to leaving home at age 20, to train as a nurse, I was absolutely terrified that he would kill her, as he often threatened to. Fortunately, I only moved 25 miles away, so was able to go home on days off. Eventually I realised that my mother would be OK without me, and I wasn't responsible for her well-being, but I remember going through six fearful months.

    I was fortunate in that my mother didn't try to persuade me to stay, though I knew that was what she wanted. But I recognise that same negativity that you mentioned. When I said I was going to train as a nurse, I remember her saying: "You? How could you do something like that? You'd be useless at it". I realise now, of course, that she only spurred me on by saying that! I think it was also her way of trying to protect me from myself, as she saw it. On the day my SRN results (60s equivalent of RGN) came through, I remember her saying: "Well, I never thought you'd do it!" It was actually my father who tried to put a stop to it, by attempting to have me made a ward of court (one only reached majority at 21 in those days) but that failed.

    Like you, I went through periods of depression, though I'd managed to pull myself out of it by the time I got to my early 30s, in spite of the psychiatric "care" I got. (Don't get me started on the attitudes of psychiatrists in the 1960s!) I also had the same kamikaze spirit and tried all sorts of things. I even spent three years in the Army, for goodness' sake!

    However, to pick up on something Katylynn said, I did eventually realise that I remained the same person, however many times I went abroad or reinvented myself. Hers was a wise comment, but it shouldn't stop you from trying new things. Keep your spirit of adventure, but remember you're still going to be you, wherever you go. It took me a while to realise that I was constantly trying to escape from who I was, and it was only when I came to full realisation that the depression started clearing.

    My story might be seen as something of a cautionary tale, as I eventually ended up moving to a European country where I now find myself effectively shipwrecked 40 years later. I'd like to go back to the UK, but can't afford to. But I don't find that depressing, as I realise I've built a reasonable life for myself here (though it never included a permanent partner or children).

    I would, however, sound one note of alarm. If you do move abroad, don't even think about moving your mother, even on the assumption she'd be ready to go. My father died when my mother was 70 (they'd stayed together in spite of everything). It was generally assumed - even demanded - by various family friends and distant relatives that I'd automatically return to the UK to live with her. But I'd just taken out a mortgage on a tiny flat, had a career of sorts (though no longer in nursing) and a modest social life. I thought for a long time about bringing my mother over to live close to me, but my eyes were opened to the pitfalls of this on one of her week-long stays with me. I got called into the office unexpectedly one morning, and had to leave her alone for a few hours - albeit with my phone number. When I got home I found her sitting, grey-faced with fear and anxiety, in the hall. That was when I realised how stressful it would be to move her. What if something had indeed happened to me that morning? How would she have known who to call? What if I'd brought her over to live with me and then I fell seriously ill or had an accident? How would she cope all alone in a strange country (and one where she didn't speak the language either)?

    She died eight years ago, after ten years of dementia. As I'm on the near Continent, I was easily able to travel back and forth but I inevitably went through all the usual guilt. But going around actively feeling guilty is a kind of cop-out. Guilt in itself can be a useful emotion, it forces us to be honest with ourselves. I eventually realised that wallowing in my guilty feelings actually stopped me from owning my actions, taking responsibility for them. I did the best I could for my mother, but it probably wasn't enough. I lived with that knowledge for the last years of her life, and I'll continue to live with it for the rest of my life. Owning my own actions has made me able to move on and become a much more caring person than I ever was before. Instead of beating myself up, I've learned to use the guilt to go out into the world and work for others. I feel I've been offered a second chance.

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    • Posted

      Alan, How do you un-vote? I feel such a tool - I checked my activities list just now and spotted I'd somehow voted for my own post (above)! rolleyes


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  • Posted

    I personally am surprised by the comments. I won't say much except, had I not been there for my mother, she would've starved to death. She was sick though and as a mom, how sad. My mother died and then I moved to where I wanted to. Do I regret? No. I'm pretty much alone except for my two young boys and it gets lonely. Wish my parents were here. Perhaps I'm wrong but I would never put my parents in a home for elder people either. I say, really think about what you want. Make sure you truly understand your mental illness and that you will have back up support there. You don't really know how you will feel once you go. Its a big step leaving the place you've known your entire life and your best friend. ..your mom. If you feel this is what you truly want and you will not be affected mentally in a negative way, do it. I just think it and follow your dream sounds simple and great but there is more to such a decision. Sorry but I just want to make sure you weigh all options and truly think about such a big move.

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  • Posted

    It was my opinion and its my culture. I was okay with being there for my mom. I was also abused and had a terrible childhood. I wanted to spend time with my mother and make wonderful memories. I just wanted you to make sure you feel this is what you want. I'm different i guess and I just think its a big decision having a mental disability, its important to know you really want this. Good luck and sorry if I said something wrong. I just like to look at pros and cons and thought I should say Something.
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  • Posted

    Oh why do we bother to have children?

    Do we do it because when we are old and grey there will be someone to look after us, or do we do it because we want someone who is part of us to be better than us, to have all the advantages we never had, to move on to pastures new, to move mountains, to make an impact on the world that we never could?

    I don’t pretend to know the answers, but as a father and a grandfather I only hope that my children and their children don’t have to struggle like I did in this difficult world. That they seek out and take every opportunity that passes their way on their passage through life, and never ever shed a tear for me.

    If they remember me when I’m no longer here, I just want them to think fondly of the love that has been poured into them, and pass more of the same to their children and their children’s children through the generations, so that all the effort will have been worth it and mankind will one day learn to live with each other in mutual respect and peace.

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    • Posted

      You are obviously passionate about this and I respect it. I had children because I wanted a family. In my culture, we stay together and help each other grow. Again, it's my upbringing and I embrace it. I want the best for my children and they live in another state. I miss them but I love them. I Respect their decisions. However. I stayed with my mother because their were things unsaid and not done. I'd do it again because it's what I wanted. I'm 40 years old and have had quite a life. I just said...make sure it's what you want. It's a big step and i'm sorry if I offended you. only my opinion and a different view for her. Ultimately, she will make the right decision for her. I have my youngest sons with me and no other family so what do I know? Just my opinion... Take care!
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    • Posted

      You certainly did not offend me.

      I believe Chacun a Son Gout, and I must admit to being personally passionate that the younger generation should have every opportunity to find their own feet, decide their own future and to be their own people - whatever it takes, without feeling the need or obligation to look after the older generation.

      After all we have had our lives, with all it's up's and downs, to live as we have designed, and I believe they should have that opportunity too.

      I am very sorry if I came across as appearing to be aggressive, as that was not at all my intention.

      I just happen to believe fervently in what I believe in.

      As an example of how I came to believe what I believe I site the case of my cousin (a male now 72 years of age and a lifelong batchelor).

      Being the oldest of this three siblings, at the age of 35 he elected to look after his mother when she became infirm and bed-ridden.

      At the time he was engaged to be married but passed that up in favour of looking after his mom.

      His mom passed away about 12 years ago leaving my cousin some property and some money, but that was all.

      So now he has absolutely nothing in his life in the way of family, no partner and no children. In fact his life is completely lonely and sterile.

      You might suggest that he looked after his mom for all those years because there were infufficient funds available to do therwise, but you would be quite wrong - they did have the money.

      It was because his mother preferred her son to look after her that this entire disaster happened.

      This is just one example of why I believe that parents should have an obligation to encourage their children to seek out and take advantage of their own independent futures, but still feel free to come back at any time for support of any kind with no strings attached.

      With my very best wishes

      Arch x


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