I spent most of my life believing I was responsible for other people’s feelings. I blamed it on a variety of things: I was an empath, a healer, a witch, a stable onlooker who could provide support. I could make people feel better, I thought, and I adopted the idea so deeply into the universal truths of my body that I felt responsible when someone in my direct circle was affected by negative feelings or circumstances. I wanted to help everyone, and as time moved forward, I began to believe that my way of doing things was the correct way, and that other ways of processing emotions, information, and events weren’t always valid. Suddenly, it felt that anyone else’s emotions were my emotional responsibility: if they couldn't help themselves, someone had to help, didn’t they?
I was wrong. The idea that I was responsible for the feelings of other people, that I alone could solve the problem at hand was ignorant at best and judgmental or harmful at worst.
In trying to help in the best way possible, I often alienated the people I meant to support. I undermined and invalidated forms of emotional processing that don’t follow my personal values or methodology, and pushed people to make decisions they may not have been ready to make. I used words like “you need to” and “you should” to describe next steps. I defended my methods. I validated blame placed on others. In short, I became a mirror of the problem they faced, not a solution.
I absorbed the emotional responsibility so easily, forgetting that the emotions I felt were not my own. I was resentful of people I loved. Angry with those I cared about. How could they allow me to take on so much extra with no concern for my mental health? How could they expect me to run to their rescue every time something fell out of place? Why wasn’t I appreciated more? I became wounded by my inability to maintain boundaries, my obsession with being right, and my desire to feel needed. I minimized my value to the degree that without someone else to take care of, I no longer knew what to do with my life.
After a series of complex events, I have been able to identify this problematic behavior and to begin moving forward in a way that is both authentic and personal to me. I recognize that I am responsible for my own emotions, that I am sensitive to the needs of others, and that to be helpful, I must first be accountable for my own health and safety. I have learned that healing, in most situations, is a delicate balance of holding and releasing space. Not everyone needs the same space. Not everyone’s emotions look or feel the same. There are not always solutions to problems, or words to convey the depth of condolences. I know I can’t always help.
Codependency and enmeshment are active problematic relationship structures that can be present in friendships, families, romantic relationships and even communities. These structures can leave trauma with all members, and can change pathways in the brain to accept certain actions, behaviors and words from others that may not be tolerated otherwise. To learn more about enmeshment and codependency, check the resources below.