One of the books I read a while back, that really hit home with me and I felt the need to recently re-visit was “My Parents’ Keeper: Adult Children of the Emotionally Disturbed (Paperback)”. I bought it shortly before I started this blog back in 2006… and before that point, I never heard of an ACMIP (Adult Child of a Mentally Ill Parent).
Up until that point, I hadn’t really taken the time to look into the history of mental illness on my mother’s side of the family… or thought too much about what her problems might be… and/or how this all may have impacted me. When I finally started researching a bit on the taboo subject (because it was never something really admitted or discussed openly around my house), and started really trying to learn more… really tried to understand things – so much made sense.
The following excerpt from this book was one of those things that hit home for me:
One error that people frequently make when communicating needs and feelings has to do with personalizing the problem. Personalizing means assuming that other people’s behavior is always determined by their feelings toward you. For example, you may assume they act the way they do, because they don’t care about you or dislike you.
As an ACMIP, you felt responsible for everything that went right or wrong at home. The mood swings of an unstable parent always seemed related to something you did, or failed to do. Little wonder that, as an adult, you assume the feelings and reactions of others all have to do with you.
As a child, experiencing yourself as the center of the universe, it may have been difficult for you to understand that the inadequate parenting you received was not aimed at you, and was not an attempt to hurt or punish you. Only when you got somewhat older could you see that your disturbed parent behavior had little to do with you or what you deserved.”
I read that, and was like – “wow! that’s me!”. When I read the middle paragraph in quotations above explaining WHY a child with a Mentally Ill parent would feel this way even more so than average – it made so much sense.
I have ALWAYS, for as long as I can remember, have taken full responsibility (or blame) for not only my own actions, but often everyone around me too. I do it so much that for years I have joked about it – telling my friends, “just tell (whomever) that it was all my fault”… and even though I said it half jokingly – the truth is, I always DID feel like whatever happened was usually “my fault”. Like I had some invisible power over my friends or situations and I should have been able to do something to change them/things/whatever.
My closest friends have commented for years that I’m too hard on myself… or that I often over analyze and feel guilty over too many things. I’ve written about feeling “guilty” in this blog several times. I realized a huge part of that guilt comes from this “personalizing”.
When I was a child, I absolutely felt responsible for my mother’s mood swings and so much more. I did try to do whatever I could to make her happy, to not set her off on a tangent, to keep the peace between her and my dad, etc. I was always on the “look out” – anticipating her moods and needs. Not to mention literally feeling like it was my responsibility to “save” my own father’s soul. Hello??? Talk about pressure!! No wonder I “personalize”.
When I learned this – it was helpful to know. It didn’t really help me stop doing it all together… but, it helped.
The same book goes on say about “personalizing”:
People have hurts, priorities, yearnings and losses that you certainly have not caused. You are NOT the center of their universe, only your own.
When you’re feeling responsible for, or hurt by someone’s behavior, you can do two things:
1) Assume that you are probably personalizing.
2) Make a list of at least five explanations for their behavior that have nothing to do with you.
Easier said than done, I’ve found… but, worth a shot to keep trying.
It has helped, in hindsight… to realize that things my mother did or said that really hurt my feelings or whatever, really had nothing to do with me… but, rather were a result of HER illness… her problems. Not only this, (because I think I figured that out a while back) – but, realizing that it was MY own interpretations of things – my personalizing things – that made the hurt and resentment even worse. Not that I didn’t have good reason for feeling like that as a child… but, as an adult, I can now understand more and really let go of negative thinking and deep rooted resentment and hurt in the process.