She comes home apparently calm, but soon I am a nervous wreck inside. I feel anxious in the pit of my stomach and don’t know why. I ask her if anything is wrong – from experience I know that often these feelings I get from nowhere have nothing to do with me. They are hers but she somehow manages to transfer them onto me.
I don’t know how she does this. She doesn’t seem to do it to my husband (though I suspect she does it to her boyfriend). And I don’t pick up on other people’s feelings in this way. We adopted her and her elder sister at the same time. I don’t have that sort of experience with her elder sister.
She continues to tell me that there is nothing wrong. But by now I am in a frenzy of anxiety. The problem is that I know that pushing her for answers will simply infuriate her. She has an autistic spectrum diagnosis and she is not always very good at communicating how she feels to me. And I guess that she thinks that there is no reason for me to question her – she has told me there’s nothing wrong, so why shouldn’t I believe her?
So I have no option but to let her be. But then later that evening we get a message from her boyfriend – they have had a huge row and he has finished with her, but he’s worried about her, so could we keep an eye on her?
She bursts into tears when we confront her. I am now feeling enormously sad instead of the anxiety. And I continue to feel a mixture of sadness/anxiety over the next few weeks, to the point that I am wondering if I am heading for depression (which I have never suffered from).
Sometimes I get angry feelings instead – all directed at an 18 year old boy who I hardly know.
Some days are worse than others. It is useful information as it lets me know how she is doing. Her ex said that he was worried she would harm herself, that she had told him she had suicidal thoughts in the past. So it is useful for me to know when she is particularly down as I can feel it.
I feel like I am experiencing the break-up of the relationship myself. It is hard to explain – I am not mourning the loss of the ex as such, but I am definitely experiencing the feelings.
I now understand why I was so happy last summer. That would have been when they got closer after having seen each other intermittently for a while. She wasn’t sure if she wanted a relationship and then they got really close. At the time I put it down to the weather, my therapy, our new puppy……. Now I can see that I was just picking up a different set of emotions from her.
I have discussed this with my therapist, who knows me and the family well. She thinks it’s a sort of transference, where my daughter is dumping her too-big feelings onto me to deal with as she doesn’t know what to do with them.
Babies can’t manage their emotions and they need a tuned-in caregiver to help them do this.
Our daughter was badly neglected as a baby. Her birth mother had several older children (including our other daughter) and didn’t have much to do with her – she was passed around friends and family and looked after by her older, but primary aged, siblings. It is unlikely that anyone was enabling her to manage her too-big emotions and so she had to try to do it all herself.
We have always known that she tries to self soothe and manage all her problems by herself. She is very reluctant to seek help. She masks amazingly well in public and then falls apart later on. Other people are forever telling me there is nothing wrong with her – she is pretty and fun and, ,at the age of 17 has no anti-social behaviours or habits.
But it seems like things are leaking out – and in my direction.
I have tried to explain what this is like to friends. Most people seem to think that I am being too empathetic, too involved with her, that I need to set an intention not to get drawn in to her business, that I should have better boundaries. But I am not actively doing anything here. I do sympathise with her like any parent would do and try to talk to her about boyfriends and young love and I do try to remember that she is the one with the relationship (or not) here and she can handle it by herself.
But it doesn’t change the fact that I feel her emotions. It seems to me that this is being done to me completely without my permission or any active involvement by me.
My therapist thinks that I am a prime candidate for her feelings because, while she is perfectly primed to be the sort of person who needs to dump emotions on other people, I had the experience of managing my own mother’s emotions as a child, and so I am used to doing this.
It is a ‘perfect storm’ for the two of us. Her sister, my elder daughter, had a very different experience in the birth family, where she was looked after by the birth father (not brilliantly, but he did actively parent her). And my husband didn’t have to manage anyone’s emotions.
So it is something I am experiencing but I don’t know how to fix it. I have explained to my daughter how I feel what she is feeling and she is bewildered, as she doesn’t mean to do it. She is fed up with my preoccupation with this relationship – I keep checking in with her and she doesn’t want to talk about it.
The good news is that the boyfriend is suddenly back and she is euphoric – and so am I…..
The Potato group supports and informs parents of adopted teens.