NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility - Part 2

In my previous article, Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility - Part 1, I began a discussion about people who are emotionally traumatized who confuse compassion with taking responsibility.  In the current article, I'm continuing this discussion with a composite scenario as an example of this dynamic.

Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility

The following scenario is a composite of many different cases to protect confidentiality:

When Rose was a child, she grew up in a household where her mother was abusing prescription drugs and her father was usually away on business.

As the oldest child, she was more aware than her younger siblings of their mother's drug problem.

By the time she was seven, she was already cooking dinner for her siblings, cleaning and washing clothes while their mother was passed out on the sofa.

Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility

When her mother was awake, she often confided in Rose, telling her how depressed she felt.  Since Rose was only a child, she felt overwhelmed by these talks.  But she also felt a great deal of love and compassion for her mother.

So, not only was Rose taking on adult responsibilities for herself and her siblings, she also tried to comfort her mother and tried to help her to cheer up.

More than anything, Rose wanted her mother to be happy, and she thought that if she listened to her mother and was "a very good girl," it might make her mother feel better.  But, of course, it never did.

It wasn't until Rose was in her early 30s and ending her latest unhappy relationship where she was unable to rescue her boyfriend that she realized that she needed help.

As Rose talked about her history of romantic relationships, she described one relationship after another where she felt love and compassion for each boyfriend and she wished, more than anything, to save him from himself.

The men that she chose to be in relationships with were men with either gambling or abusing alcohol or drugs.

In each relationship, similar to her relationship with her mother, she felt it was up to her to rescue these men, but none of these relationships ever worked.

Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility

Each time, Rose came away feeling that she "wasn't enough" and if she had been good enough, she would have helped these men to change.

We used a mind-body oriented therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), to find the earliest memory of when Rose felt this way (see my article: What is EMDR?).

Rose remembered being seven years old and seeing her mother slumped on the couch, passed out on prescription drugs, as Rose was cooking dinner for her siblings.

She remembered feeling so compassionate for her mother, wishing that she knew what to do to make her happy so she wouldn't be so unhappy.

As an adult, Rose recognized that her feelings for the men that she tried to rescue were similar.

As we continued to process this earliest memory about her mother, I asked Rose if a seven year old child can rescue a mother.

Of course, Rose knew logically that this didn't make sense.

But, due to the way EMDR helps clients to integrate memories with new information, Rose was able to do something she had never been able to do before--she was able to feel this on an emotional level.

Then, something else happened that never happened before:  She began to feel love and compassion towards the child that she was growing up.

She realized, for the first time, how lonely and unhappy she was back then, and she imagined herself holding and soothing her younger self.

We also did an EMDR interweave where she imagined that, as a child, she had an ideal mother who would have cared for her.  She described what the ideal mother would have looked like, her scent, how soft her skins was, how loving she would have been towards Rose, and imagined this mother holding and soothing her.

The integrative process of EMDR made this imagined ideal mother come alive for Rose so that she could even close her eyes when she wasn't in a therapy session and imagine her soothing her.

Over time, Rose was able to mourn for her unmet emotional needs.

She also began to distinguish feeling compassion for someone vs taking responsibility for his well being.

She realized, on a cognitive and emotional level, that she no longer had to rescue people.  Even more than that, having worked through the early memories that were triggering her in her current relationships, she no longer felt the desire to do that.

Rose was, at last, free to nurture herself and have healthy, reciprocal relationships.

Getting Help in Therapy
The dynamic that I've described in the above composite scenario is an all too common one.

If this scenario resonates with you, you're not alone and you don't need to continue to repeat this dynamic in your life.

Getting Help in Therapy
You can get help from a licensed psychotherapist who knows how to help you to learn to distinguish feeling compassion and taking responsibility for others, and free yourself from this dynamic.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.