A recurring theme in my life is that I keep friends that tend to lean on me more often than I do on them. In part, I contribute my lack of leaning on others because I am uncomfortable with doing so. I learned as a child to suck it up and move on. Suffer in silence because it made things easier for the addict. That is what alcoholism does. It silences its victims and what is left are remnants of hopeful children hiding in the darkness of the adults we become.
Suffering in silence has bled into all parts of my life. I can suck it up and move on as fast as I can blink. However, lately I have grown exhausted from running with the baton that was passed onto me as a child. As a profession, I chose one that advocates for others. I deal with problems all day long, trying to help and resolve issues. I love my job and enjoy helping others. I give a voice to those that need it. I have learned in therapy that the injustices I saw as a child have led me to my career path. I was the observant child that often seemed aloof; however, I witnessed toxicity and have vivid memories of it that play like reruns. It is the rage from those injustices that fuels my passion to seek resolution and stand up not only for myself, but for others. It is what my therapist calls, my superpower.
I am learning in therapy that my superpower can also act like kryptonite at times. My urge to help and speak out leads me to take on more than I can. I see a problem and jump into crisis mode. What is the problem? What is the objective? How can we achieve resolution? I am in constant go mode and I ignore myself in the process. I too go through things that affect me deeply. For example, the miscarriage I suffered in October [Read Here], which I am still going through the motions of processing.
I was disappointed when I shared the devastating news with a handful of friends, considering that I have always been there for them and have helped guide them to find resolutions when they needed it. I was met with a non-response by two of my friends. At first, I assumed it was too much to take in, which is understandable. However, one of them did not call to check on how I was doing. They disappeared for a few months. It was weird.
Another one of my good girlfriends called me a few days later, failed to ask me how I was, and proceeded talking about the current drama she was dealing with. I stopped her midsentence and told her that I had a full plate hoping that would nudge her into asking how I was feeling. It did not. She continued sharing the thing that was affecting her. I heard her out and told her that I had to jump off the phone to deal with my dog. Honestly, I got off the phone to cry.
It is extremely frustrating when the people you show up for and support cannot take a step back from their lives and their “problems” to reciprocate the friendship I have helped curate. I think to myself, “It must be nice to have someone to listen and help. I wish I had that.” That is sad to think and leaves me feeling empty. When people do not practice reciprocating, it triggers the little girl in me who felt ignored and lonely. The girl that had to comfort herself when hell broke loose and had to act normal so as not to offend the addict.
The act of sharing your feelings or perspective without an awareness of another’s emotional state or needs is emotional dumping. It is something that I have experienced since I was a child. I remember having to deal with my addict parents’ irrational feelings. I remember trying to soothe my parent and placate them in failed attempts to keep the “peace.” I have been dealing with others placing the responsibility of their emotional insecurities on my shoulders without acknowledging my own since the ages of 5 or 6.
Now in my thirties, I struggle when people share their emotional trauma with me without a concern about my mental state or well-being. Sometimes I do not have the capacity to take it all in. It is something I have been working on in my therapy. I have been practicing voicing my feelings and emotional state when I feel drained or overwhelmed. It has been difficult to do so and more than often I feel ignored.
When I am ignored, I go to a space in my mind I created as a child where I feel completely safe. It is the place in my mind I escaped to when my father would rage or there would be any kind of disturbance at home I feared. This place has been a sanctuary I visit in times of distress. To say I am distressed when my friends share their problems may seem like an overdramatization, but for an adult child of an alcoholic it can put us into a state of fear when we are already overwhelmed. I was forced into adulthood at an early age and learned that my feelings, needs, and desires were not important.
These feelings are reinforced when family and friends do not check in on me after I share that I am going through something difficult. Greeting me with a lack of care and personal issues is extremely inconsiderate and hurtful. I pride myself in being the kind of person who checks in on my family and friends when I know they are struggling. I want to make sure they are processing and doing something that will help them cope with their current stressors. Rather than my relationships being two-way streets, they often seem one- sided, and I often feel frustrated and lonely.
So how do I curb my superpower and prevent it from contributing to my loneliness? Well, I currently do not have an answer. I am working on finding balance by establishing boundaries for myself. I need to unlearn living in survival mode. It is this default setting that I cling onto like a lifeline, fearful of what will happen if I let it go. What will life be like if I unlearned living in a state of survival? Who will I be? All I know is that I cannot continue to be the warrior that is first to lead the charge and fight with such vigor. I need to learn how to hit the brakes when I hear a problem and let the dust settle. It is that last part that I struggle with.
The simple truth is that I cannot prevent people from emotional dumping. Most people are unaware that they are committing the act. Others are too self-involved or overwhelmed by their current drama that they spit it out like word vomit. Unfortunately, I feel the responsibility will land on my shoulders (again) to express my limits. To transform my one-sided relationships into beautiful relationships of companionship and mindfulness, I will need to draw the line and speak up in the moment. This will be a two-step process, (1) Pump the breaks and not go into crisis mode, and (2) Tell my friend or family member that I do not have the bandwidth to take on their current dilemma. As difficult as it may be, I need to start taking better care of myself. I owe it to myself to lead the charge to continue my growth and let go of past lifelines that are of little service to me these days.
We are all guilty of emotional dumping (me included). Twenty something year old me was dumping my emotions all over the place. I wince thinking about it (thank you friends for tolerating me). Sharing one’s problems is not the issue, it is lacking self-awareness that is the problem. Simply stated, we all need to practice being mindful of one another and cultivate stronger, healthier relationships with each other. It is the least we can do since we all share the same planet.
Photo Credit: All pictures are Mari Rey Originals.