subjectivity and objectivity living with someone else’ depression
April 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
It appears I have made a fundamental shift, at least for the time being, from being subjectively consumed by my husband’s depression to being objectively compassionate toward him. It is a welcome relief. I can tell that I am feeling better because I have put a chicken in the slow cooker so dinner will be ready when we get home from work.
It is painful to begin to describe the toll secondhand stress has taken on my life course. I think it is safe to say that I have lived with the effects of secondhand and firsthand stress since I was a young child. I am defining secondhand stress as the effect of having a loved one who is suffering from some form of mental disability, whether it is active alcoholism, paranoid schizophrenia or ongoing depression. These states of mental illness affect their ability to form a healthy and sustainable mental, emotional and physical attachment. As a child, my parents were unable to provide me with the most basic necessities for healthy emotional and mental well-being. I grew up in a state of profound emotional neglect, mental abuse, and physical insecurity. In these relationships, the people I am attempting to form an intimate connection with, my parents, are actually emotionally and cognitively impaired. They are unable to reciprocate my efforts to form a healthy attachment.
I am defining firsthand stress as the direct result of abusive, depriving, denying and invalidating behaviour toward me, as I have tried to form an intimate bond with these people. The fact is that, although I love my mother, I will never be able to actually have a healthy mother-daughter relationship with her. Her demands for certain qualities and characteristics of our relationship will always take precedence over what I might need. I will always have to subordinate my needs to hers in order to have a relationship with her.
The same is true in my relationship with my father. He is utterly incapable of being honest about the harmful attitudes he holds toward me, or the ways those harmful attitudes are manifested in the ways he talks to me or his behaviour toward me. It doesn’t matter if I bring up a harmful incident minutes after he has done it. He looks at me blankly and says it didn’t happen. I will never be able to have a healthy father-daughter relationship with him. It will never be emotionally or mentally safe for me to spend time with him because I never know when he is going to say something that invalidates me, denies my reality, devalues my person, or disrespects my character. He can’t help himself. His inability to take responsibility for the harm he perpetrates on me means that I never want to be in a social situation, much less one-on-one with him again. I will always have to subordinate my needs for a father to the reality that my father is not a safe person to be with and I must avoid him to safe myself.
Consequently, I have developed, since a very young age, unhealthy coping skills to help me survive the chronic state of deprivation that I have endured in these relationships. My unhealthy coping skills have led me to form a kind of secondary mental illness. I am anxious, codependent, hyper vigilant, prone to bouts of extreme sadness and explosions of rage in my frustration at failing to sufficiently bond with these people.
By making this shift from a subjective immersion in these relational conditions to an objective assessment I am giving myself an opportunity to separate myself from the pain and sorrow and sort out what, where, when and how I want to do things. This feels good.