My mother has always been a high-strung and dramatic person. Most of my childhood involved having to manage her emotions to some degree, and this got progressively worse the older I got. My teenage years were especially difficult, what I now understand to be an extended and severe Borderline Personality Disorder cycle. I’ve come out of it bruised but whole, and I’m a happy and functional adult with a good grip on my own emotions. Except for one admittedly large issue: I think she used up all my empathy reserves. If friends are struggling, my default response (albeit inside my own head) is anger and annoyance. It’s a defense mechanism that protected me from her instability as a teenager, but I seem to apply it to everyone. I know this is unfair, and I know my friends aren’t doing the same “I WANT to be unwell!” (a direct quote!) thing my mother did. I know if people are grieving for an animal or relative they aren’t going to take it to the same bizarre extremes as my mother did. I know that nobody is going to do any of the abusive and manipulative things my mother put me through. I am extremely empathetic in the abstract, noticeably more so than a lot of people when it comes to issues like addiction, mental illness, homelessness, etc.
But when it comes to people I actually know and care about, I can’t seem to muster up any actual empathy or even much sympathy. I’ve done therapy on and off over the years and come to terms with my childhood and been empowered to call it abuse, but this seems to be one hurdle I can’t get over. More therapy isn’t an option, both financially and logistically. I want to be a better friend and a better person, and while I try to be supportive I’m sure my internal emotions are limiting my abilities to do much more than material help like sending care packages. I just can’t seem to switch off this reaction or even have a more caring reaction alongside the initial anger/annoyance!
—Son of My Mother