How can growing up with an ill parent impact my mental health?

My mother had a chronic illness. She was diagnosed when I was a teenager. She talked to me about her lab work and all aspects of her illness. I had to cook and clean as a young teen due to this. Her condition is chronic, not terminal. I am now almost 40 and she still tells me it will be her last Christmas or all she wants to do is spend time together. She was unloving. Probably told me I love you 5x in my entire life. I always say no matter how great my life or moments are she always takes a little piece of my happiness.
Asked by BG


It sounds like you went through, and continue to go through, some challenges experiences associated with your mother. It's impossible for me to say to what extent, if at all, your upbringing impacts your mental health today. Two people could go through some of the same trauma or neglect and be affected differently. 

To look at how your mental health is impacted, it can be helpful to look at what protective factors and risk factors that you've had. Protective factors can reduce the effect on your mental health. These are things like having strong, healthy support from others (feeling loved even though you didn't feel that love from your home), being involved in activities that you enjoy, taking medication and participating in therapy if you need them, setting and accomplishing your goals, etc. There are also risk factors that could impact your mental health, such as having a genetic predisposition to certain mental health disorders, have limited support from other family or close friends, etc.

So while your mom may not make changes in her life, you can absolutely make changes in yours, and I don't think you'd be reaching out for help right now if you didn't suspect that you have been affected by your relationship with your mother. It could be affecting your relationships with others--maybe you feel that others will abandon you or maybe it's difficult to open up to others and believe that they truly care about you. Maybe you have difficulty expressing your emotions, feeling heard by others, or maybe you have difficulty being there for others when they are going through a difficult time. Maybe you blame yourself a lot for circumstances or feel a low level of control over your life or have difficulty recognizing your strengths, having low self-esteem. The good news is that all of these things you can work on. I encourage you to reach out for help if you do feel like you have been affected by your childhood experiences. Therapy can be a great way to explore how your mother's relationship with you continues to impact your life. 

If you have any additional questions or need help, please just let me know.

Take care,

Nicholas DeFazio, MRC, LPCC-S, LICDC