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.



11 Responses to “Personalizing”

  1. Linda Athis Says:

    Hi Samantha, saw this post and remembered emailing back and forth over “Forgiving Mom.” My Mom was a religious zealot and my Dad was an atheist too! By the way, I took the poems you read (that I wrote) and put them in a book. Can I send you a copy? If so, what is your address?

    Linda Athis

  2. tobeme Says:

    You have learned a great lesson in reading this book. Thanks for passing on what you have learned. Many people would live a much calmer life if they realized that other peoples moods are simply their moods and reactions and have nothing to do with us.

  3. samanthamj Says:

    Linda –
    Hello. Good to see you, and to hear about your book. I’ll email you and check out your website for info on it. I think it’s great that you’ve had this book published. You have an awesome gift and story to tell.

    tobem –
    Thank you for the comment and kind words. I guess “Personalizing” is probably a common problem for many. It was interesting to read the how and why it might apply even more to people like me… who grew up with a parent like mine.


  4. chris Says:

    speaking of personalizing, Its a little brighter in here! I like the new look!

  5. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    Perhaps I mentioned it before? That all our feelings are just that, OURS? And NO ONE or NOTHING outside of ourselves is responsible nor accountable for what feelings we experience?

    What you experienced dearest, is now what is being called “vampirism”, where your Mom, quite innocently and ignorantly, projected the *sick* and ill-at-ease thoughts and emotions upon anyone and everyone most likely.

    Human psychology is not a matter of analysis, that’s a head game. It is a matter of awareness and it is true: the blind cannot see.

  6. Paul Says:

    I like that you posted this. Challenging one’s own need to personalize is a very healthy thing.
    also- Don’t believe it when someone (like the last commenter) tells you that Schizophrenia is not real, or that it is a form of vampirism, or whatever. That is BS-Schizophrenia is very, very real.

  7. samanthamj Says:

    Chris – thanks… yeah… I couldn’t take the tiny print and darkness anymore. Besides, I feel like I am in a much “brighter” place in my own head regarding what this blog is about – than I was when I started it. So, it’s only fitting. Glad you like it. =)

    Sue Ann – Thanks for your thoughts. Yes – we do need to take responsibility for our OWN actions… or reactions to things… but, NOT accept the responsibility (or guilt) for how OTHER people react. It’s amazing to me how I could get the first part of that equation so easily… and struggle with the 2nd part so much.

    For years, my mother’s illness was not recognized by, explained to, or acknowledged by me. It is still not recognized or acknowledged by her. So, even though I don’t have the same illness sh does – when I was a child I was sucked into her confusion of what was real, and what was not real. Of course, it wasn’t her fault. I know that now.

    I do think it’s rather sad that I had to figure out so much the hard way… rather than have someone explain to me early on that she was sick… and that I should not, COULD not, believe everything she said. “Awareness” can be difficult to acheive without some kind of “analysis”, don’t you think?

    Paul – Thanks for the visit and your input. Working on improving our own health IS a challenge – isn’t it? Oh, and I don’t think Sue Ann meant that SZ or mental illness isn’t “real”. I THINK she meant that the *projection* of the illness – the way it afects all those close to it – is the “vampirism”.


  8. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    How ’bout if I used the word “synthesis” smj? Synthesis is a process that ADDS ideas together, where “analysis” is a process of picking things apart. AWARENESS is not a product of “analysis”. It is a product of “sensitivity”.

    Was/is the behavior pattern your Mom was taught, SENSITIVE to others? The answer would be ‘no’. The behavior pattern was/is one where it is ‘all about her’. HER ideas about what is real. And it is the pattern to insist that EVERYONE support her version. This is what I meant by “energetic vampirism”.

    Next question the nature of Reality. There is “subjective”, which is what goes on inside our heads and then there is “objective”, which is whatever has happened. Objective reality would be a building fell down. Subjective reality would be how we perceived “building falling down”. What your mother believed was real to her, because she’s the one that made it all up and decided to believe in it. Was it Real? Only to her and anyone else she happened to talk into believing likewise.

    Bring any memory up and we will find that our minds do not know the difference between this ‘memory’ and the real thing. Our peptide production will be the same. It is paying attention to the realities playing inside our own heads, that we come to understand our creative powers over reality. This understanding coupled with what quantum physics is now proving, gives affirmation to what has always beens said: we reap as we sow.

    “Virtue” means strength, INNER strength, expressed by and through our emotional coping skills. Those of us who do not have, seek to take from others what we feel we need.

    The pattern of give and take is only for those of us who do not “have”.

  9. mariana Says:

    “Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks
    I’m God Almighty.”

    Personalization is caused due to an unbalanced ego, and it makes you switch from feeling a complete looser or the most brilliant person” Megalomania is in the root of the problem. Which makes you have a distorted vision of reality, and a high amount of unnecessary suffering.

    • samanthamj Says:

      Interesting, Mariana… thanks for commenting. However, unlike John Lennon, I have never felt like I was “god almighty”. LOL

      I’ll admit.. I had to look up the word “megalomania”… and, here’s what it said (for any others like me out there who didn’t know):
      –noun 1. Psychiatry. a symptom of mental illness marked by delusions of greatness, wealth, etc.
      2. an obsession with doing extravagant or grand things.

      Luckily – that is not (and was never) me at all.

      Personalizing (or blaming) refers to the tendency to take it all personally – to blame yourself for every failure; to assume that if something fails, it is always your fault. Or, conversely, it may refer to the tendency to never accept responsibility for our errors and to blame someone else, instead.

      I didn’t do the “conversely part”… I was all about taking full responsibility for whatever went wrong. It’s still have to force myself to take a step back sometimes, and realize when things really are not my fault.. or my problem… or my responsibility to try to fix.


  10. mariana Says:

    I did not meant to say that you where the one who thought it was god almighty neither that you where the one that personalized, sorry if it sounded I was criticizing you. Foreign languages might play tricks on you. My excuses.

    It is good that people review when they are blaming it all on themselves (personalization), without considering that not everything happens cause of them.
    Notice that personalization is tightly related to megalomania, cause persons have to believe they are extremely powerful, to think that everything depends on them.

    I guess it would be harder for you to become a rock start, since you have to believe you are the almighty (at least a little bit), to have so much confidence in yourself.

    Do you have a new blog?

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