Dear Therapist: My mother and I are very close. She has struggled with severe anxiety and depression for YEARS. Recently, it has gotten worse. She is in an unhappy marriage, her mom passed 3 years ago, and she feels lost and alone. I feel like I have kind of taken on the role of a therapist for her and it’s taken a toll on me. Of course I will be there for my mom whenever she needs me but recently it’s been a lot. She wants me to come over every day, she calls me at 3am crying, she gets upset when I don’t come over, and it just feels like a “responsibility” now. I have issues of my own and I feel like I put my needs and feelings on hold just to tend to hers. I’m lost on how to set boundaries for her and how to help her in a healthy way for both of us.
Frame Therapist Mary Barbour weighs in…
Setting boundaries with a parent can be very difficult especially when there’s emotional closeness. It sounds like your mother continues to rely on you for emotional comfort to get through her day and that you’ve been very supportive throughout your mother’s challenges. It’s hard to see a parent suffer and it’s normal to want to be there for whenever she needs you. You have really shown up for her and she is lucky to have you.
I’m curious how open your mother is to trying therapy. It seems like a gentle encouragement to talk to a professional about her grief around her mother’s passing might be a good way to start that conversation with her. You might also validate her experience and let her know that a professional may be better equipped to help her manage her feelings of anxiety and depression. If your mother is resistant towards therapy, then your next step may be setting firm boundaries. Perhaps you can set a schedule of your available times to talk with her during the week and limit the time spent on the phone or in person. You might have to keep repeating your boundaries to her for her to hear them. There is also the possibility of pushback from her. I find repeating my needs multiple times in a firm yet patient voice eventually gets heard and respected.
It’s important for you to take care of your needs as well. In my experience I find that everyone suffers when we ignore our own needs in the service of others. Instead of reacting immediately to all of her concerns, you may have to create some distance between you and your mother. It might be helpful for you to seek a therapist to help process the feelings that could come up around boundary setting and other feelings around your mother’s needs.
About the Therapist: Mary Barbour is a licensed therapist in California and through telehealth in Florida. Mary specializes in trauma, eating disorders, and psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. Mary integrates talk therapy with EMDR and Somatic therapies and is influenced by attachment theory, internal family systems, and accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy. Follow Mary for more tools @marybtherapy
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