Do I Owe You?

I have a plethora of family and friends who have been stepping up to help me over the past 3 years.  I am grateful, but nervous.  In my world, when someone helps you, you owe them.  Some of the people who have stepped up, when I’ve expressed concern that I can never pay them back, have been surprised by that.  They say they help because they want to, not because they expect anything in exchange, and they don’t understand this feeling of indebtedness I have.  The past few weeks have illuminated this issue for me.

My mother and brother have beach houses right next to each other.  For legitimate reasons I won’t go in to, I’ve been spending most of my time at my brothers house.  This has upset my mother.  Tremendously.  She has made snide comments like “I haven’t seen you in weeks and you don’t come over to say hello” and “I guess you belong to them now”.   For reference, my mother is a very active, perfectly healthy 81 year old, who golfs, swims, walks, parties, volunteers, cooks every night, etc.  It’s not as if she can’t walk next door to say hello to me.  Her most recent comment, directed at my sister-in-law, was simply bat shit crazy (BSC).  She commented that she was going to start  calling me Becky, since I’m her new sister.  Becky is my sister-in-laws dead sister.  She died when my sister-in-law was young.  Becky was in her early 20’s, and she died in a tragic car accident.  Her loss has been extremely painful for my sister-in-law, which my mother knows.

At first my sister-in-law thought mom must be losing her mind, because she’s never been on the receiving side of mom’s BSC behavior.  I knew immediately though  that I am in big trouble.  Mom has given and given to me over the past 3 years and I owe her.  I owe her big, and not staying at her house, not submitting to her rules and routines, not attending her dinners has been unacceptable.  She is furious with me, and with my sister-in-law.   That comment, while completely BSC to my sister-in-law, is the normal every day behavior I’ve gotten from my mother for years.  When my sis-in-law told my brother (her spouse) he said “well of course she said that; she’s BSC”.  This was before she or I used that term to him.  He gets it, because he’s also been on the receiving side of it.  My mother is extremely charming and generous, as long as you don’t “turn against” her.  Once you do that, her BSC personality comes out.  That is what my sis-in-law is experiencing.

Her BSC behavior is probably exacerbated by the fact that I have stopped sharing divorce issues with her.  In what I can only describe as the 1st actual boundary I set with her, I told her, in no uncertain terms, that I would not discuss my divorce again until something happens.  I set this boundary because every time I talked to her I had to reiterate what is happening legally and why it is taking so long.  And, in answering why it is taking so long I have to defend myself, as if I am the one dragging things out.  Now, if she asks a question, I change the subject.  If she continues, I say I have to go, and I leave.  This is the 1st time in my life I have set a boundary and stuck to it.  It has been liberating for me, insanity making for her.  Essentially what I have done is unleash the BSC personality; the psycho that is constantly boiling behind her mask of civility.

This is why I hate accepting favors.  In my world, favors are never free.  Favors come with strings attached.   Favors mean I am permanently indebted to the giver, that they can treat me any way they want and I have no recourse.  Once I’ve accepted favors I must submit to the givers’ every whim, do whatever they want me to, behave the way they want me to behave.

Recently my therapists found out they were not allowed to bill my insurance.  There is no way I can see anyone who doesn’t accept my insurance.  There is no extra money in my budget for extras.  Literally.  Both of them know that, and they each offered to see me pro-bono.  I was extremely grateful, but I declined.  The thought of adding 2 more people to the list of people I owe is not something I can do.  I owe too many right now.  I was talking to my sis-in-law about this and she was puzzled.  (this was before she experienced my mom’s BSC; she might not be as puzzled now).

I’ve been staying with her daughter (16 year old) and her dog while she goes back and forth between the beach and her new home in NY, and she asked me if she owes me because I’ve done that.  The thought of that was ludicrous.  I would do anything for her, and she will never owe me anything.  She went on to say that sometimes people do things for others because they just want to.  Maybe someone helped them once and they want to pay it forward, or maybe they just like me and want to help me.  Or maybe, it is good for them professionally to help me.  Whatever the reason, if they are offering to work with me pro-bono, most likely I would not be indebted to them.

I want to accept this.  I want to call them and say yes, I need your help.  I am still a mess, and I still need help.  I just can’t bring myself to do it.  My stomach is in knots at the thought of seeing or speaking with my mother, knowing that BSC mother is the one I’ll be dealing with.  The idea of possibly creating a similar situation with someone else……I just can’t do that.    In fact, I am not only concerned about what I owe her, I am also concerned about what I might owe others who have stepped forward to help me.  How am I supposed to know who expects “payment”  for what they’ve done for me and who doesn’t?

(FYI, that is a real question, so if anyone has an answer I’d love to hear it.)

For now, I’ll be pondering how to deal with BSC mother, which I’ll have to do soon.  And honestly, what I’d really like to do right now, is throw my surfboard in my car and run away.  I’m really good at running away.  In fact, I’d call it one of my greatest skills, a skill I developed in response to BSC behavior.  This is, unfortunately, going to turn into a “learning” situation, because I have to face her.

So, if you see me throwing up, you’ll know I’m on my way to my 1st encounter with BSC.  Ughhh…

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4 thoughts on “Do I Owe You?

  1. All I can say is, “Me, too”. I had a similar realization just yesterday–that I am really uncomfortable, skeptical, and tend to avoid people who try to show interest in or friendship toward me. My “gut reaction” is that the other boot is about to drop, asking–as you say–for payback. Or…even worse…a knife in the back. My cousin totally confirmed that today (I haven’t talked with him for years until now.) It is incomprehensible that people can be–so hurtful–and yet they are. That said, the most helpful thing has been some crazy-sounding advice…”Going cold-turkey on judgement.” That has actually been the most best (if not most counter-intuitive) thing I’ve ever heard or tried. Sounds like you have a good path and direction going, and you are making it happen all on your own.

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  2. My philosophy is that there are ‘givers’ and ‘takers’ in the world. For those of us who are ‘givers’,it is very, very difficult to accept help. We feel it is easier and more comfortable to give than receive (take). After having to be the receiver a few times, I finally realized that those who give are providing a gift to those they help. And for the receiver, it’s a gift to accept the help willingly. There is nothing ‘owed’. We do give because we want to, not because we feel we must.
    As to the post above – I’d say those who expect more and more are really takers and we all need to guard against being sucked into a situation where we’re not ‘giving’, we’re ‘expected’.
    Giving is done with love, care and respect. Accepting the gift of help is done with love, gratitude and respect. Taking is not.
    We shouldn’t be ‘keeping score’. That’s not what true givers and receivers do.
    And saying ‘no’ should never make us feel badly.
    Remind me sometime to tell you a story about G’ma.

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  3. Growing up, my mom went through health crisis after health crisis. In situations like that, it is rare that you can ever ‘repay’ the person who has helped you. So my mom said something that has stuck with me through the years – “Pay it Forward. We can’t always help the people who have helped us, due to circumstances or ability. But we’ll have opportunities to pay it forward.”

    I struggle to accept help from others because I, too, dislike being ‘indebted’. There was actually one woman, when my mom was sick, who did many things for us for a three month time period. She spent a lot of one-on-one time with me, and being the eldest kid with a lot of responsibility while only 10 and 11, I ate up the attention. But then she ‘dropped’ me, and my family, after only a few months because we were not obsequiously grateful enough.

    Having grown up with many examples, and having gone through an experience in the last two years, I’ve realized a few things that are true for me. I am still working on walking my talk with some of these:

    1) As much as possible, I want to be there for the people who have helped me. Not because I owe them, but because I love them.
    2) Sometimes it isn’t possible to help the ones who have helped me, for whatever reason.
    3) If someone gives too much, that is not my responsibility (so long as I am not actively manipulating them). It is their boundary issues. Sometimes I point this out. Sometimes I don’t. What can sometimes work is saying, “please don’t give with an expectation that I will be able to reciprocate. That’s just not something I can promise right now.”
    4) It is my responsibility to say “No” and recognize my own boundaries to ensure I take care of myself.
    5) If I feel that accepting help from someone will put me in their power, or make it difficult for me to say “No” when I want – then I need to try and find alternative ways to get the things I need.

    You sound like you are on the right path. Hang in there. Feel confident in your “No.” You matter. Just because someone has helped you, they do not own you. However, some people use resources as a way to control, and if you don’t allow them – they can withhold that assistance. Sometimes we are better off that way.

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  4. I feel the exact same way. I guess we tend to think that because of past experiences. Well in my case that’s the reason. I used to think people were like me and my family. We helped people because we really wanted to and never expected anything in return. But when I moved here, if I did something nice to someone, they expected more and more and more until my energy was just so depleted. So in true fashion I just blocked them off of my list especially when they actually mentioned the one thing they did for me! Omg I was shocked. So now I’m extremely cautious asking others for help. I don’t mind returning the favour but not to a point where I’m taken advantage of…

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