What do I owe to myself?

What do I owe to myself?
Sunday April 19, 2009

Dear Alice,

I am a 56-year-old woman who is just now learning to accept the fact that my parents were emotionally abusive to me, both as a child and as an adult. My mother, particularly, suffered from depression and probably alcoholism for all of her adult life, and she would viciously lash out at me or my siblings or my father. As the oldest, I became the family caretaker and peacemaker while still in grade school. As I grew, my mother set impossibly high expectations and yet was also jealous of me. My father was an aloof, detached, conflict-avoidant authority figure in the family. I never had children of my own (nor did my two sisters) in part I now realize because of my horrible childhood, and also because my mother always used to say “Never have children; it’s the most thankless job in the world.” I was married to an alcoholic whom I divorced over 20 years ago, and have had several serious relationships with men who were emotionally remote or who had substance abuse problems of their own. But I take pride in my successful career as a human resources manager, my friends and my brother’s two boys, now teenagers, with whom I have a loving relationship.

I realize now that I have spent my life making excuses for my parents’ behavior and insisting that of course I loved my parents. They are both still living very near to me and in deteriorating health. For the first time last week, with the help of a very wise therapist who recommended your book “The Body Never Lies”, I was able to admit that I do not love my parents. I feel loyalty, compassion and concern for their well-being, but I cannot truly call it love. I am struggling now with how to balance my compassion for their real need for me at the end of their lives with my newly acknowledged and very fragile anger at them. What do I owe them? What do I owe myself? Any words of wisdom you can provide would be so welcome.

With great gratitude and thanks for your wisdom,

P.S. You may publish this letter showing it as coming from “CS” if you choose.

AM: I think that your question “What do I owe to myself” is very important and brings you the answers you absolutely need to get at the moment. Only you can find them. Take them seriously!