Selfishness, Guilt, and Separation: When Parents Take Precedence

GoodTherapy | Selfishness, Guilt, and Separation: When Parents Take Precedence“You’re so selfish!” I hear this phrase too frequently when working with people who have trouble with separation and individuation. When children hear from their parents that they are selfish, it is typically understood as, “You are thinking about yourself when you should be thinking about me.”

In my psychotherapy practice, I meet many adults who grew up having internalized the experience that they are selfish if they choose their own needs and desires over those of their loved ones. Many continue to deny their own wants in favor of what they believe is best for their parents. Some have transferred their worries to include other relationships and, in the extreme, may avoid feelings of selfishness by providing for everyone else’s needs rather than their own. In most cases, people who believe they are selfish believe they are bad people. This guilt interferes with the ability to develop into separate individuals who know what they want and are comfortable getting it.

The power of guilty feelings about selfishness makes it very difficult to consider that selfishness is not by definition a bad thing. Selfish implies exclusive or excessive interest in oneself. It is unfortunate that parents who use “selfish” in an accusing way tend to use the term if the child’s focus on self in any way (not exclusively or excessively) conflicts with the parent’s needs.

I am going to briefly describe two people with whom I have worked who were severely limited by their inability to individuate because of their guilt over perceived selfishness. In our work, an important goal has been to understand selfishness as exclusive or excessive and to feel emotionally entitled to prioritize one’s own needs some of the time.

“Kate” felt trapped. She came into our session looking very agitated. “I can’t take it anymore,” she said. “I told Alan and the kids I had to visit my dad on Thursday night to help him make decisions about selling his apartment. I promised I’d come for dinner. My daughter Kim has a soccer game, and Alan is mad that I’m choosing my dad. He says I neglect our family. No matter what I do, I feel so selfish. They don’t get how painful it is for me to choose my dad over them. But when my dad needs me, if I say no, I feel the most selfish. He’s so helpless and upset when I’m not there for him. I know my mom will have some ideas, but he really relies on what I think. He’ll get anxious if I don’t come and advise him about this. I tried to tell him that I needed to come on another night, but he said, ‘It has to be Thursday. I’m your father, Kate, how can you be so selfish?’ ”

I reminded Kate that she was responding to that word again: “selfish.” I asked Kate what happens to her when she thinks she is being selfish with her father. I asked, “What buttons get pushed? What is the experience of thinking that you are selfish that makes you feel so trapped and unable to say no?”

Kate responded: “I feel like such a bad person. There is so much guilt. How could I upset my father? He gets so disappointed in me. I can’t stand that I could be such a bad person. You know, when I was a kid and this kind of thing happened, he would get a little teary and walk away from me and leave the room.  I felt like I hurt him so much. In those moments I thought he would never come back. It felt like a punishment. I guess I still become that scared little kid every time he asks me for something. I have no choice but to give in to his wishes. I’m not sure I even know what my own wishes are.”

Kate had come to therapy because she was having problems in her marriage. She frequently got caught up in trying so hard to please everybody that she never seemed to express or know herself. Her husband complained that he felt like there was no one there. In our work, Kate came to realize that in early relationships with her parents, she had been so attuned to their needs and wishes that she had not developed her sense of an individual self. She was beginning to recognize that in order to protect herself from feeling like a bad person, she had unconsciously neglected the development of her own desires and feelings. This was now creating a problem in her relationship with her husband.

When childhood years do not provide the conditions for separation and individuation, the repercussions for adult relationships can be serious. In particular, anxieties about selfishness toward parents can generate intolerable feelings of shame and badness that can exert a powerful influence in adult life.

“Tess” came to therapy feeling depressed and anxious. She was 25 years old, working as a clerk in a bookstore. She felt isolated and lonely. Her main social contact was her parents. Tess looks back on her childhood with mixed feelings. On the one hand, she has fond memories of enjoying school, being close to and having fun with her friend Isabel, loving her piano lessons and practicing. At the same time, she said, “Maybe I didn’t have enough friends or should have gone to extracurricular activities in school. But I didn’t really mind. I liked being by myself, and kids were nice to me. I just didn’t talk a lot or do a lot of stuff with them.”

I asked Tess, “So what makes you seem so uncertain about whether you had a positive experience growing up?”

Tess was silent and thoughtful and then said, “I guess I thought things were pretty much OK, but my parents, especially my mom, always seemed to think I should be doing different things.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, she was always telling me I should call other kids or join a club or invite kids over. She compared me to herself and how many friends she had. She said she was worried about me since I seemed so socially awkward. Actually, I felt OK, but I had the feeling she thought there was something wrong with me. I was right. When I was about 12, I overheard her talking to my dad. Really, she was crying, not talking. She was very worried. She called me antisocial and said I was going to have real problems. The worst part of that memory is her crying something like, ‘I feel so hurt, she’s so different from me. She doesn’t seem to care about how this makes me feel.’ I was shocked! I ran up to my room and started to cry. I felt really scared. I didn’t know I could make my mom feel so terrible. I think that was the beginning of feeling it’s not OK to be me and that I was selfish not to be the daughter she wanted. But I also felt like if I was me, they would think these terrible things about me. After that, I just tried to please them, especially my mom. But I spent so much time trying to please them, I never thought about what I wanted.”

As Tess and I continued to talk, we became aware of how she was extremely reliant on her parents for feeling good about herself and for guidance. Tess was struggling with what to do with her future. She was considering graduate school in speech therapy or education. She also talked to me about her love for poetry and how maybe she would like go back to school for writing. “My parents think I’m better off with something more practical, so they suggested speech therapy or education,” she said. “I got some information about programs, but I can’t seem to get myself organized to apply. Speech therapy is my mom’s field, and it makes her so happy to think that I would be a speech therapist. I feel so good when she is happy because she approves of what I’m doing. When I think of pursuing poetry, I feel so selfish and so guilty. I know it brings up feelings in my mother of me being so introverted and awkward and makes her so miserable. I know I rely on her too much, but I hate to give up how good it makes me feel when I make her happy. It feels less scary when I go to them, maybe because then I don’t have to feel so bad and selfish if I consider what I want. … Maybe I don’t even want to be a poet.”

Both Kate and Tess were stuck in the dynamics of their early relationships with their parents. For both, the impact of their parents’ anxieties, aggression, and judgments had made it emotionally necessary to comply with demands regarding who and how they should be. Both had parents who were narcissistic and needed their child to be attuned to and accede to their wishes and desires. Not to do so was experienced as the child’s selfishness and wounding to the parents.

Hurting a parent can feel like inflicting a wound. This can make a child feel that the parent is impaired and unable to take care of the child and/or that there will be some retaliation. Terrible shame for being so “bad” and “selfish” is experienced. Kate and Tess, in order to protect themselves from these intolerable feelings and sustain a relationship of positive regard from parents, gave up knowing what they wanted and needed. In the safety of not knowing, they never fully developed their sense of self. They are unable to be clear about what they want for themselves, and rely heavily on parents for recognition and self-esteem.

But change is possible. Through their struggles, they can succeed in letting go of seeing themselves as selfish when they have a need or desire which differs from someone they love. This will allow for the emotional freedom to know what they want, think, and need. They can become their own, unique, individual selves.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Beverly Amsel, PhD, Individuation Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Travis

    October 10th, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    I don’t think that it is always a bad thing to be “selfish” as there are times when I know I am looking out for myself when no one esle will. I have to take care of my own needs too and that doesn’t mean that I am allowed to ignore others but on the same train of thought that doesn’t mean that my own needs should have to then be neglected either. There has to be some kind of balance so that everyone in the family or a relationship gets the attention that they need, and sometimes one person does have to take precedence over others. But it is always going to go back and forth- sometimes we all need a little more,and sometimes we have to be equipped to give a little more. It’s that whole system of checks and balances that keeps things even.

  • donna g

    October 11th, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    I want my girls to be able to spread their wings and fly, not always having to rely on me to tell them what they should feel and the path to take. I would like to encourage a little more independence than that and let them know that their actions won’t hurt me unless I don’t think that they are living up tho their full potential.

  • Brayden

    October 11th, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    There is no time or situation when it is alright for a parent to make a child feel guilty or to make him or her feel like it is their fault that something did or did not happen.
    We are adults and have to be able to recognize that the thoughts and feelings that we provide our children with about themselves now are the things that they will carry with them about them selves always. . . from here on out, and they are only exxagerated as they get older. Do you want them to carry this kind of guilt with them?
    As parents we have a responsibility to love our children and yes we want them to be with us, but we don’t want them to lose out on finding out who they are because they are expected to remain so wrapped up in us.That is being selfish of us, and not providing them with a mosel of what a responsible and respectable parent should look like.

  • Jill

    October 11th, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    When my husband’s parents are visiting or we are vacationing with them his cocus seems to ne primarily on pleasing them. Decisions about what to do are made by him in accordance with what his mother wants including things such as what to have for xmas dinnner at our home, where to go when visiting jackson hole on vacation,….there is never time for our family to do something together that suits us all.His constantly calls his mom and vice versa about everything from work to our kids. In addition, he is known for attending every event that involves work or acquaintances even when it impacts time with me or our family. I do not need to be the center of his universe but i would like to be on par with his parents and others. Could this be asa result of this type.of upbringing? When i try to discuss he talks abput the right thing to do and sees nothing wrong with these decisions. He believes that I am too needy. Thankyou for any responses.

  • Toni

    October 12th, 2013 at 4:48 AM

    My mom and dad split up when I was real young so my mom always wanted me to be around. I guess you could say that she made me into more of a friend than a daughter so as I got older she wanted me to be the one that she confided too and this never seemd comfortable to me but of course I was the kid so I listened. Eventually it turned to not wanting me to do things with other frineds from school and stuff because she was jealous I guess, and you can imagine how I felt torn, you know, this is my mom and she needs me but I want to be with kids my age too. I still have a hard time with those kind of boundaries with her because there are times when I just want to be the daughter and I feel like she wants/needs so much more and I will never be able to fulfill that for her.

  • thomas

    October 14th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    For most of us we don’t realize how much we are being torn in 100 different directions on a daily basis. This makes it hard for everyone, because you know that there are choices that have to be made and geenrally there isn’t a choice that is going to make everyone absolutely. The ideal would be to strike a balance between taking care of yourself and your family, but it rarely works out that way. So what do you do? You have to make compromises, with yourself and with your family. But you do in some way need to try to keep yourself primary, because nothing is going to work out too well if you are stressed and all out of sorts because of the different directions in which you are being torn.

  • Beverly Amsel, PhD

    October 15th, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    It’s very rewarding to see the comments to my post and see how most of you understand the importance of balance and compromise and that having needs is not selfish. I’d like to reply to Jill and let her know that she is not needy. It is reasonable to want balance in having your needs, your husband’s needs and your family’s needs met. You might try to ask your husband how he thinks the two of you should handle the differences between what he thinks is the right thing to do and what you think is the right thing to do. In life and relationships there is often more than one “right thing.”

  • Lilly

    April 8th, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    It breaks my heart to imagine my child being affected like that. Sometimes he worries about me and I say “I’m the parent, you let me worry about mommy”. Is it normal for a 3 yr old to worry about his dad being cold at work? I had an educator tell me he seemed to exhibit OCD behavior. I want him to feel accepted, loved, and not responsible for others – but it seems daycare workers are always saying “be nice” or “look how he’s sad, can you share” where is the line between caring and over-caring and how can I help my son “be a kid”

  • anon

    April 2nd, 2015 at 4:11 PM

    My mom doesn’t talk to me much, but she loves to point out my mistakes. Say we go to a family party, after she’ll tell me how embarrassed she was of me saying something to someone. She makes me feel like im a loser that can’t do anything right.

  • Tania

    April 16th, 2015 at 4:08 AM

    My mom and I have been extremely close since I was a kid, but now that I’m in my twenties, I’m more aware of the things that I should do in order to be happy, and it’s making my relationship with her very difficult. She’s a codependent of my alcoholic father, and she knows it. Yet, she expects me to behave like her, to manage people-situations like her, and when I don’t do this, oh boy… the guilt trip. She says I transform into the coldest person ever, that I must think she is less than nothing because I don’t even want to talk to her about certain issues. She gets so mad she starts crying, yelling and saying why am I hurting her, that I’m selfish, egocentric, not humble enough. I love my mother, but separating myself from her noxious ways it’s so hard. I don’t know what to do. I want to be happy by doing the things that I like, but I’m seen as a rebel at my house and I even get threats from her If i don’t do the things she wants me to, like “I will stop sending you money for university.”

  • Jenny

    November 14th, 2019 at 10:04 AM

    I could have written this myself, I am 5000% in your exact boat. The guilt is ripping me apart. She wants me to be a mini her and will not even address or consider my feelings about anything. Anytime I tell her why she upset me (her family is EXTREMELY toxic to the point where she chooses her siblings over me any day) – she says I am mean, cruel, selfish, snobby, stuck up, and the most recent one is that I ‘need to have a child so I can learn to love someone more than myself’. Incredible. All I have done differently in the past 2 years is separate myself from toxic family, move to the city (! hour away) and focus on my career, health, marriage and own life. I am constantly guilt tripped for that. Anytime I am around her, she thinks I am a horrible person because I am not exactly like her. We had a falling out today and while it kills me, I am no longer backing down and enabling this treatment. She does love me very much so I feel guilty, however I have to remember that I love her very much too and don’t put this guilt on her. Good luck and you are not alone <3

  • Sammy

    May 24th, 2015 at 2:13 PM

    My sister and I were raised by our single mother. I am the elder sibling. Looking back my mother was controlling of everything I did. When I was little she told me I will grow up to be a doctor because everything else doesn’t make enough money. When I got bad grades she was extremely disappointed with me so I would dread bringing my report card home if it was mediocre. Near the end of highschool my grades were terrible because my mom chose which courses I was to take even if I told her I was bad in that subject. When I hung out with friends she would become suspicious and angry that I was doing bad things and said I should be studying instead. It got to the point where when I hung out with friends instead of spending my time studying or working I would feel guilty, even if it was only once a week. When it was time for me to apply to universities she insulted me and said I didn’t have good enough marks or enough money and that if I can afford university I can afford to pay rent as well. She always told me and tried to instill into my mind that men are bad and not to be trusted. I am not older and have had to re adjust the way it think about how I want to live my life. I’m lucky I can ignore her guilt trips now even if she considers me heartless I don’t care, I don’t allow her thoughts about what I should be doing and how I should be acting to effect me anymore. I have moved out with my fiancé and I feel like I have escaped.

  • Janae

    May 25th, 2016 at 4:54 PM

    Wow…I admire that you did that, that you was able to pull yourself together and not let her guilt trips get to you anymore and was able to move out and can breath now. I honestly just cant wait to find the strength and heart to do it, I feel selfish and bad right now for even writing this post but my mom just doesn’t understand I am human to and I need a break from everything right now and a simple three days doesn’t mean I don’t love you or don’t want to do anything for you, it just mean I’m on edge right now and simply just need some time/break to refresh myself so that I can be all that I can be.

  • freedom

    August 7th, 2015 at 5:31 PM

    My mother has never been able to take criticism about her upbringing me. When I tell her the things she said and did that hurt me, she automatically blames me for being spoiled. When I at their place with them (which is rare because I avoid going to their place) she autamatically starts talking about other families that have financial problems or other family problems. She tries to escape criticism by showing other bad examples and comparing herself to very abusive parents. She tries to make me feel guilty about my complaints and doesn’t care about my hurt feelings as a child and as a young adult. She always endorsed very high standards on me and made me feel guilty about my choices when I failed even just a little bit. She always talked about how hard her childhood was and how tough her parents were when she was growing up when I complain about something she did or didn’t do. She has no emotional understanding and tenderness to show me. She cannot face the fact that she made very simple but important mistakes in bringing me up as a child and uses guilt feelings to repel my voicing of her mistakes. She always interfered with the peace of the house when something was wrong, even small things like not cleaning my room, etc. She would perform long guilt trips and I would have to go and apologize to her even as a child. She would make me feel like I was the worst child in the world although I did whatever a normal kid would do. I was even pretty nice, polite and easy going child as I recall it. But she has never given any compromises when it came to her ego and her making mistakes. It has been internalized in me for so long that I have trouble recalling my hurt feelings and things that she did. Of course, she didn’t beat me up or anything but it was as though she didn’t want me to be happy and peaceful just for a moment. She never accepted any kind of error and acted as if it would lead to a painful death or the world’s ending. She always delivered negative comments, negative news and concerns. Around her, it was impossible to feel comfortable about yourself even if you performed your best in many things. She made me feel like I have something in me that is destined to be bad, guilty and make embarassing mistakes although I was just a normal child who needed some real compassion and understanding. She woke me up shouting and having a nervousness crysis in the house when she discovered a condom in my wallet when I was 15 or 16. I have been struggling with feelings of guilt about my sexuality ever since. Because I didn’t have anyone else to talk about these stuff when I was a teenager, I thought she had a point. I projected her attitude about sexuality to most other adults. As if everyone was against me having sex, etc. (And she claims to be a very progressive person because she told me how sexual intercourse and conception occurs when I was 10. She finds great comfort in the thought that she is a doctor. She feels superior to others because of that and it comforts her. She is very narcissistic.) She also made me her companion when my father cheated on her. She told me nasty things about my father even though she begged him not to leave her and the family. She tells me she didn’t leave him because she thought of my psychology, hence putting all the responsibility on me and rendering me guilty when I try to critisize her behavior in that period. In fact, she may have thought about me in the long run but mostly it was because she didn’t have enough self esteem to make it on her own. She was a nervousness ball and couldn’t be apart. Even though she has 2 sisters and a brother, she only told me about what happened between her and my father. I was her vomiting bucket only at 12 years old. She would tell me that my father was only a warm body in her bed and nothing more to her and that I was the only one left for her now. My father was also a total son-of-a-b**** around that time. I discovered his infidelity on the dinner table when I was 12. I saw a video on his phone of a woman. Thank god it wasn’t a sex video, only a woman smiling. God, she was ugly compared to my mother but I understood my father so well. My mother sucks all the happiness around her, you cannot be satisfied with yourself aroudn her, at all. I think that’s why my father cheated on her. This other woman probably treated him better, gave him satisfaction, some space and comfort, that’s why he was comforted by her. I remember the times before my discovry at the dinner table, he would some home at 10 pm, while we waited for him to dinner from 7 pm. He would have a nervous laughter with his small eyes and say that him and his buddies were chatting and time just flied. I witnessed the professionality in his lying. Well every lie has to be professional doesn’t it, if it has worked. Anyway, when I saw the video on the phone, my mother was sitting right beside me and she also saw the video. I think she understood it right away since something happened. I think my mother was crazy and my father realized that and pufff. It was just her face but my mother always assumes the worst in everything. This time she was right, maybe 1 in a million times of assuming the worst. My father yelled at me, “see what happens when you go through people’s stuff.” Son of a b****, I have a very deep anger about this sentence of him that I haven’t been able to experience. He didn’t talk to me ab out it ever again. Only once about his infidelity in general and very shallow, and advised me to not do it if I got married. Well, f***ing thanks, I could’t realize it by myself that infidelity is bad. Really thank you. The worst part is, I have never said anything about these to them. It’s not fair to me. It’s is so unfortunate and so unfair that I inteernalized all these things as they were, as if they were the normal course of things. Almost absorbing all the guilt in my mother’s personality disorders, my father’s infidelity. i understand him perfectly sometimes, I can’t spend 4 minuted with my mother, it’s impossible to spend a lifetime. But I am not my mother and I didn’t deserve the bad things that he did. Even my mother didn’t deserve that. He should have gotten a divorce or something. I jumped directly to divorce beacuse my mother will not go to couple’s therapy ever, she won’t change a bit. It happened so that I have paid the bill for their flaws. Right now, I am staying at my parents. She is sleeping upstairs. I feel so encapsulated. I have a hatred in me that is very strong but I cannot show it to them. I can but I won’t because they don’t have the capacity to understand it perfectly. And the worst part is, when I tell her about these, she only apologized to me once. The second time, she can’t face it anymore and blames me for bein spoiled and performs guilt trips. She cannot face the fact that she and my father f****d up my childhood and thus my young adulthood and possibly a good portion of my adulthood too. You do all these things and all you can do is say sorry only once. Give me comfort only once for 10 minutes and no more. Any more and she goes crazy trying to repel me. It’s been so long, I know, I just had to get these stuff out of my system. I just want to be person who chases his dreams without feeling guilty, makes his own mistakes and owns them, loves and gets loved, gets angry and can handle others’ anger. This is not asking too much of a parent. This is not asking too much of a person. This is perfectly normal. I am not asking for a million dollars. But there it is, my parents don’t have the personality to give me this. I am going to therapy and started to make new friends to whom I can talk about these at least to an extent. I hope I will get over most of these. I wanted to just write and let it out of my system as I am in a stressed situation right now. Peace out to all of you. This is a very nice website to come by. Thank you.

  • Tatyana

    January 20th, 2016 at 8:54 AM

    Me and siblings grew up with a single mom. My mom would use the guilt trip when ever I didn’t do something properly in her eyes. She would compare me to her and say “when I was kid____” then talk about how she took care of her sick mother and sisters. My mother never physically hit me but I feel like I never do anything right. I am 17 years old my mom wants me to be just like her, “go outside!” “Talk to your friends” but I don’t have many friends or they’re too busy. My mom also talks to my family about how I don’t help her out but I do. It’s hard to take care of 4 of my siblings with cleaning a big house while worrying about school. I normally go to my aunt about my problems but recently I “came out of the closet” to my aunt about my bisexuality. I also told her to stop saying “that’s so gay” since I find it very offensive. She started calling me selfish and basically everything my mom tells me I felt horrible and suicidal; told me get out of my and experience life. I honestly do try but I get anxiety for many reasons, then I feel bad because my mom was never like this. I don’t want to be a failure..

  • The Team

    January 20th, 2016 at 10:21 AM

    Dear Tatyana,

    Thank you for your comment. We are sorry to hear of what you are experiencing, and we would like to encourage you to reach out. It can often help to discuss the concerns you mention here with a therapist or counselor, who may be able to offer advice and support.

    You can find a mental health professional in your area by entering your ZIP code here:

    If you are currently attending school, it may also help to speak to your school guidance counselor.

    If you feel like you are in crisis, or in danger of harming yourself or others, please contact local law enforcement or visit the nearest emergency room. You can find other crisis resources here:

    Please know you are not alone. Help is available, and we wish you the best of luck in your search.

    Kind regards,

    The Team

  • Leanne S.

    March 26th, 2016 at 4:02 PM

    Here’s what I might say in a situation like Kate’s. “Listen, I wish do both things at the same time, but I can’t. It is very hard for me to decide which one to do, because I know how important the soccer game is for Kim. But I also know that my dad needs a lot of my help making decisions about his apartment. Again, it is very hard and painful for me to decide which one to do, because I love you and my dad both.”

    Kate can also ask how long the soccer game is expected to take. If it’s expected to be a long game, Kate can ask if she can go and watch half of the game, but for the other half, she can leave to go help her dad.

  • Jenny

    April 4th, 2016 at 9:01 AM

    Hi. Whenever I talk about how I feel about my parent’s separation and point out the negative things that they do, mainly my dad to a friend of mine, I feel extremely guilty afterwards, because I feel like I’m degrading my family and make people think that they are bad people, which they aren’t. Usually I confide in the same person, but sometimes it happens that I share with someone else as well, and then that frightens me because another person knows about the problems that are bordering me. It isn’t as if I’m telling everyone, I just have a handful of external people whom I trust and usually rant and go for advice, at first it feels good to share that and get it off my chest but then I feel guilty for sometime and start thinking whether I should have told them that or not … what shall I do? Please help!

  • The Team

    April 4th, 2016 at 9:38 AM

    Dear Jenny,

    The Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but we do encourage you to reach out to a qualified mental health professional. Please feel free to return to our homepage,, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The Team

  • bonkz

    May 19th, 2016 at 5:26 AM

    And I thought that was the normal way. I have been living abroad to study since I was 16 and was made to come back and help the family business when I was 23, on the reason that my dad had some problem with his heart. 6months in, it turned out to be a misdiagnosis and it was just his gastric acting up. I tried finding job but with very little experience I managed to only find local one, and my parents were so happy that I could stay near and help out with the store. Mind you, I turned out helping them a lot, from building new inventory system to introducing the old store (built in the 70s, one computer, one fax machine) to new technological advancements and practically made their lives a lot more easier. I am 26 now, and even though it IS very comfortable living here rent-free with a side job, I yearn for freedom. Is that wrong? I have been living with my parents so long now that I forgot how to make my own decisions. I have got no luck finding love in the area either, it’s a small town 4hours away from the nearest airport, most of the townspeople are centenarians and babies. My mom is supportive of the decision cause she would like me to find my own happiness. But my dad is guil-tripling me a lot, calling me selfish to not want to stay and continue their hard-earned business, selfish for wanting to get away from the town, and told me if I go I should just come home when he’s dead. I was shocked to find such a response when all I did was bring the subject of wanting to find a new job in a different city, and maybe try to connect with more people my age, as to find my own soulmate (if he exists). Now, I have been applying for jobs and I’m sure I can score one within the next couple of months. But I feel terribly guilty about this. My dad even said to my younger sister that I am ungrateful, that he tries his best to make sure I would be comfortable but what why would I leave such comfortable lives behind for some uncertain things? I have enough trying to please everyone. I am still finishing whatever projects I have in the store but once I find a job I’m moving to a city 3-hour flight away, and it is going to take some over the top confrontation, but it’s part of the proccess I guess. What he doesn’t know is how I cried at nights wondering if I ever will be free of this town, how I wonder if someone will ever come to my life to love me, and how I hate myself for actually returning back those 3 years ago. Stopped hating myself and started sending CVs 2 weeks ago, no luck yet though. Please just tell me it’s not wrong to want your own independence and life. I am so sick of being called selfish and ungrateful cause those words sting as hell. I’m just praying that I’ll be strong enough emotionally to actually leave once I got the job.

  • Anon

    June 20th, 2016 at 8:13 PM

    This article really hit home for me, but what about only children? My parents are much older than most people’s my age and I know that as they approach their 70s that I am the only one they can count on. They have made me feel trapped and selfish my whole life and because of this in have neglected my dreams and stayed nearby my whole life, but now that they really will be needing me I just feel more stuck than ever. Thinking that I won’t be free until they are dead and I am old makes me feel like the worst person on earth.


    July 1st, 2016 at 7:15 AM

    my parents are 69,mom and 73, dad…my mother has had neurological issues for the past 20+ yrs from a braintumor that was removed, it was not cancer but it was so large that it did a lot of damage being in there and then being taken out..memory issues, motor skills..a bit of my father has been the main caretaker..however when it first happened way back i was the one out of 4 siblings, that was out of work for 6 months to help take care of her every day while my dad worked..when he was able to retire at 64 he was of course the full time care taker but she wasnt so bad as she is now. dementia has started to get worse and the host of pills she takes throughout the day really need to be carefully my father has been doing this…every now and then she will have a seizure and end up on the my father needs me to be there to speak with the doctors…i have worked in the medical field for 10+ yrs and i have learned a lot so i am able to understand more than my dad…but its soooooooo draining when he constantly needs me..asking me medical questions instead of calling the drs..or wanting me to listen to his complaints about my mother either being stubborn or needing his constant attention now. my older sister passed away from cancer in 2012 so its just me and my two younger brothers..all of us in our 40’s, all married..i do not have kids but they do…but being the oldest and the girl in the family my father just expects so much of me and relies on me for emotional needs too. i know my mother hasnt been able to carry conversations for a while and im sure my father is starved for attention and just communication really…but i work a full time job, so does my husband..and my husband is in retail so he doesnt have off full weekends like i do..he is off on saturdays right now so that is the day we do our own house chores and errands or even just relax…and i feel so terrible saying no to my fahter when he wants me to be there to sit with my mother so he has free time. my argument is that he has people to come during the week so he can do his errands and clean his house that he says he has to do himself because “nobody cleans the way he does” then he wants me to be there saturdays so he cant get things done…why do i need to be there on my weekends off when i need to get my own things done and relax, when he has options during the week?? i feel like he just wants me there because i should be there to take care of her…he doesnt want to put her in a nursing home because he thinks he can handle it now with help…but we all work we cant help as much as he would like us too…i feel so bad, he is so generous and loving and has been a great father to us..and now he is stressed out being her caretaker but im stressed just being around her for an hour or two…i know that sounds horrible but i cant deal with it…i was able to care for my dying sister and even then it was draining but i did it..she needed me, she didnt have a spouse and my father couldnt handle it while taking care of my mother too..she wasnt as bad then but still it was stressful for him…i probably need to go for therapy myself…i think i needed to vent to strangers and see what people think…

  • Layla

    April 18th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

    Story of my life, I have to make sure everyone else is happy and pleased and to hell with how I feel. If I rant, vent or cry my sister just says it’s all my fault that my life is so craptastic. Honestly, I don’t trust anyone in my family. The day I walk out and cut all ties will be a good one.

  • Cathie

    April 18th, 2017 at 5:32 PM

    Layla…no…hun, we cant walk away…we will never forgive ourselves…however, saying that and since i wrote this back last summer things have gotten worse with my mom, i barely go there now, she just cries all the time, barely talks and walks in circles or up and down the stairs, clearly confused and way less coherent then she was even 6 months ago but, when i was there last, 3 weeks ago, my father was short tempered, kind of harsh with her, i couldn’t handle seeing it, he has a nurse family member, retired er nurse, coming 3x a week and its been great for him, i just cant go there and see her like this, and i get angry with him, i was crying and he didnt even console me, he said you need to find a way to deal,with it, accept it for it is what it is now. I felt like saying yeah like when you couldnt handle when my sister needed you and was dying yet you were horrible to her and telling her she needed to be in the hospital because you couldn’t handle seeing her this way…yeah i was the one that took care of that situation too,,,but now i cannot find that same strength i had then, i broke a little i guess…im not that strong anymore, i lost my sister and now slowly lost my mother over years…i know he is losing too and being the sole caretaker now is stressful for him at 74…i just dont know the answer..i dont know how,to handle this…my brother that lives behind my parents, also,the favored child lol is there whenever my dad calls and is able to sop in more often but i live 15 minutes away so i cant just be there as fast…and i have bad hips and a bad back from yrs of limping from arthrits and bone spurs, scoliosis…blah blah, just sh%t everyone else deals with im sure but for me its debilitating and i take narcotics to manage the pain so my downtime is sooooo needed…i sound like such a friggin cry baby complainer ungrateful child. Its terrible, but i cant find my way out of this…some days i hate myself for not being stronger when my father needs me…but then again i have been that daughter all my life, there for everyone and always hosting dinners and holidays…my husband has been a great son in law when my brothers weren’t around to do things that my father a part of me feels they can step up now, and they have…really, ugh this got too long im sorry to bore anyone reading it…

  • Judy

    April 27th, 2017 at 9:31 AM

    This article was so helpful that I have saved it to my favorites. I will be reading it again whenever I start feeling bad about setting limits or trying to justify myself. Thank you!

  • deeps

    July 28th, 2017 at 3:45 PM

    I am so frustrated and confused with everything in life and sometimes I really want to give up. But, I don’t know, i just live. It’s horrible and depressing. I really don’t know what to do.
    Anyways.. good luck all the others on this forum.

  • Helmut

    August 13th, 2017 at 5:18 AM

    Not my real name.
    It is clear that infantilized persons with a lack of individuation are mental slaves. The problem is that unless they read articles like this and it is pointed out to them that being stirred into directions contrary to one’s life purpose through tools such as guilt tripping, and extreme reactions of parents, is FAR from normal. As a matter of fact, it is objectively insignificant and meaningless what their parents think or want, as they are fallible limited human beings. But they don’t know that, kids growing up see their parents as almost a form of God, or at least as a greater person who has extraordinary abilities the child doesn’t have. This is why I have to thank you for writing articles like this, and why I like psychology, because it points out abnormal ways of being that is so common in one’s life it is not recognized, or even suspected as a problem. But I will leave everyone with a quote, related to going independent from draining relatives: “The lone wolf recognized that going out alone into the wilderness is actually less risky than staying under the protection and authority of the alphas who beat his independent individuality out of him”

  • throwaway

    August 17th, 2017 at 10:02 AM

    This turned out to be a very long vent, so I’m sorry about that, lol.
    These feelings of anxiety for me have turned into resent. I feel that I’ve always been such an anxious child and growing up and meeting so many other people made me realize that this wasn’t normal.
    What really crushed me was coming home after spending years depressed and feeling trapped in the military. I thought home would be the best place to be. Sadly, I felt even more trapped then I did before, constantly being asked to do things by my mother in a fake nice way, and then being called selfish for not wanting to help my family if I wanted to do something else. Because of things like this, combined with the same things happening in my childhood, I feel extremely uncomfortable in my own home now.
    I’m afraid to walk around my own home because my mother might see some of my tattoos that she doesn’t know about. When I showed her the first two tattoos I got, she had nothing nice to say, asking why I got them and telling me I better not get more because she doesn’t like them. She then would tell me how much she hated tattoos, in a stern voice.
    This has led me to avoid any interaction where my other tattoos can be seen by my mother. For example, I never go swimming even though we have a pool, I never wear sandals with shorts because my ankle tattoos would be exposed. I avoid leaving my room while my mother is downstairs (majority of the daytime) so that the tattoo on the back of my arm won’t be seen. When I have to be in front of her, I walk awkwardly, trying to hide my tattoo. I hate living like this but I’m too anxious to just let her know about my tattoos when I know she’ll only make me feel bad about them.
    After leaving the military, I decided to stay at home to save money while going to school here. I’m starting to regret this decision. The only times I’ve felt like I could be myself and happy were when I left this country for months, backpacking in Europe and Asia, because I couldn’t be reached easily there. It’s funny how sleeping in a room with 20 other strangers every night made me feel like I had more freedom and privacy than having an actual room in my house.
    I’ve told my mother before that I felt trapped here and that I feel I had more freedom when I was living in Navy barracks. She told me I was right.

  • Leanne

    October 4th, 2017 at 10:39 AM

    When adults tell children that they are being selfish, or that they don’t care about others, it’s usually because the child is not doing what the adult wants, when the adult wants, how the adult wants. Or because the child does not agree with the adult’s ideas. In either case, maybe the adult is also being a little bit selfish.

    Instead, maybe adults should try saying things like, “I feel/felt _____ when _____,” “I would really like it if ______,” “I don’t like it when ______,” or, “I try to show respect for your opinions, so I would really like you to show respect for mine.” All of these are more respectful than telling a child they are being (selfish, bratty, lazy, etc.), that they never (think of others, clean up after themselves, etc.), or that they always (leave a mess, forget things, lose things, etc.). We often try to teach children to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. But if you think about it, statements like, “you are being (selfish, lazy, bratty, etc.),” “you always (forget things, lose things, put things off, leave a mess, etc.),” and, “you never (think of others, clean up after yourself, do as you are told, etc.),” are “you” statements that adults often use when talking to children. How are children going to learn to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements, when they hear adults and older kids using “you” statements instead of “I” statements?

  • Anue

    October 29th, 2017 at 7:51 AM

    Isn’t it time for you therapists to stop with the ‘let’s see how we can blame your parents’ game and start talking about the enormous amount of individual courage and personal accountability it actually takes to accomplish a healthy level of individuation in adulthood? I suppose finally fessing up and doing just that might not keep your clients coming back for more for so long. But the least you could do is stop impeding your profession’s growth out of it’s own adolescence by continuing to relentlessly harp on how badly our parents might have screwed us up! I mean really, haven’t you looked around yourselves enough lately to notice that we’ve now got a whole generation of young parents frightened to death that any wrong move they make might severely damage their child’s mental health that they even engage in outright parenting wars over which parenting method will bring the most perfect results. ENOUGH ALREADY with the ‘let’s see how we can blame your parents’ game!

  • Lucy

    June 8th, 2019 at 8:21 AM

    Its not about blame, it is about accountability. Ultimately the way your parents raised you or not for a number of years has a tremendous effect on people and how they live their lives. You can’t simply say the way that parents behave for 18 years of a child’s life has no affect, whether positively or detrimental. And it takes years after to correct or re-learn. Perhaps it is time for adults to think long and hard before having children whether they are emotionally and mentally well enough to have children.

  • Anonymous

    June 20th, 2019 at 9:09 AM

    throughout my childhood, I always thought I was a burden to them because anything I would do to care for myself was considered “selfish” and my dad especially would call me it and I would feel that I was doing something wrong. sometimes I would get told that I was being selfish just because I was talking/laughing too loud at the dinner table. I would always think to my self how am I being selfish if your the only one who wants it quiet. Also, I would get called selfish if I didn’t help them out with something I didn’t know they needed help with and it would always get blamed on my generation. My (and my siblings) relationship was toxic with my parents once my sisters’ bed broke and my mom threatened to kill her and how she would do it she said, “I could kill you right now, by wrapping my hands around your neck and choking you.” they would also say how they wanted us to be shipped away or say we were a mistake and it always makes us feel bad. Anyways I’m just glad I’m out of that situation

  • Akshay

    July 22nd, 2019 at 8:48 PM

    So how does one heal from these experiences? I’ve been struggling with something similar. Or at least thats what I think it is :(


    June 3rd, 2021 at 8:59 AM

    Hi, I have a question for anyone who happens to answer it.

    So my mom is going through a divorce, she has a boyfriend, is now pregnant, not even fully divorced, has five children. My dad asks to spend time with us when he can but my mom makes a big deal. Two of his uncles died from corona and my mom gets mad at me bc I defend him. My brother’s friend got sick so we couldn’t go to his house but we took the corona test and were able to go. Long story short, my mom told them that my dad is always making excuses not to see us, he’s not he wanted full custody. I had to BEG my mom for her to let me be with my dad on my bday and all she and her boyfriend (who’s always in our business) said was I’m just a kid I cant decide for myself. I have no rights, nothing to control, I don’t trust my mom at all, I feel like living with my dad and leaving, I don’t want to hurt her feelings or her boyfriend’s but I’m always guilt tripped. I have nightmares telling me I’m so ungrateful and a horrible daughter bc I want to live with my dad. My mom gets us stuff, and food, and she can be nice but I have never trusted her. Is it okay for me to be ungrateful. This one time she took away my laptop, phone, iPad and everything else bc I told the kids not to get a divorce if you don’t want to hurt your family. (I understand that this topic is sensitive because it depends on the situation but in mine it was different but I do understand some are necessary) she thought I talked bad about her and got mad. I used to be fine with her bf now I’m not and she always questions it, shows me pictures like “remember when you like XXXX” and I always feel horrible.

    My question is, is it okay for me to feel like this, is it okay not to trust her even though she takes care of me, am I being an ungrateful and disrepectful brat like she tells me.

    She literally got mad bc at spring break I wanted to stay with my dad instead of going to Puerto Rico with her and her bf. I got slapped and told I was disrespectful and ungrateful and she curse which she really never does and I told her pls don’t curse bc that’s the rule in our fam and she got mad again and threw a chankla at me. Thats her idea of disrespectful

    Any advice would really help, I’m really weighed down by this.

    Thanks for the vent…

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