What is it okay to protect for ourselves?

I still can’t figure out why I’m crumbling so much trying to support my friend. Partly it’s because the trauma he’s suffered and needs to talk about is so close to my own experiences and I don’t know how to cope with my own emotions about my trauma, and bad as I feel about this, I can’t always cope with someone else’s experiences, the even stronger emotions this gives rise to in me and the overwhelming emotions they are also feeling. It’s as if I absorb the pain and feel it 3 times over – my own pain and distress, my pain for them, and their pain and distress.

But this isn’t the only reason. When there’s no link whatsoever to my experiences I’m still feeling panic, dread, boiling frustration (inappropriately), unease, fear… and terrifyingly, too many emotions that are too close to those I felt when I was caring for my mother (who was also my main abuser). My conscious feelings towards my friend are nothing like what my feelings towards my mother were so why are these experiences occuring? Very raw feelings, as well as flashbacks, hallucinations and panic attacks are increasing. For some reason the situations with his health deteriorating out of control, hopes for things being understood resolved and treated then being delayed time after time, his near desperation, his rapidly overtaking weakness and physical degeneration, even his need for me, is triggering the feelings I had when I was with her. This scares me. It’s nonsensical. He’s nothing like her. The situation is not the same. Yet I can suddenly feel just as desperate to escape. I don’t know why because he is generous, good, caring, honest, he wants to help me, he does not judge me, he worries for my wellbeing and he supports me greatly in the faith we share.

Why does his need for me scare me so much too? He tells me I’m the only person he trusts to tell certain things or to give comfort. I am thankful and sort of honoured that he trusts me but I don’t want to be the only person. That isn’t safe for him. I am only one person. Yes, I care, I pray, I do not judge (well, wish not to, with God’s help), I can empathise deeply; but I’m only a normal person. I can’t keep him safe, heal him, I am not the total good he thinks I am. God gives hope. God gives safety under His care. I am only one person. I am thankful he trusts me but I don’t want him to trust and confide in me and not the doctors or other professionals who can help. If I’m honest, I cannot be the only person because it isn’t safe for me either, as well as for him. I cannot be the only person who knows when he is in danger. I cannot carry that or keep him safe. I cannot be the only person he can turn to because despite my best desires I cannot infallibly be there and there will come a time I don’t do the right thing or the thing he most needs or that I hurt him unintentionally and I don’t want him to be in danger then.

Which brings me to: what time or mental or emotional resources can we protect for ourselves? He needs me desperately and constantly. As well as practical help, there is rarely more than a couple of hours that I’m not listening, emotionally supporting or encouraging him or at least trying to. I might be coping more stably, or having lower levels of the currently overwhelming emotions, if I had more breaks, time separate from him, time to meet my own daily tasks and duties, time to keep my commitments to others, time to pray, time just to rest. But what would he do then?

When is it okay to protect time and mental resources for myself? The Lord is with us always. He always listens, always answers and always holds us in His Heart. Jesus gives His life for us. We are called to emulate this, to join in the sacrifice He made and pour ourselves out in love. If I’m to follow Him, to offer my life too, then I need to be there for people in need, always not only when it’s easy or convenient. I have felt the hurt myself of people I’d counted good friends cutting off or cutting back contact when I got more ill and being alone when I most needed contact with friends and to know I wasn’t going to be left for my weakness.

So I just cannot limit my availability to someone in desperate need. But I’m crashing up against my own physical and emotional limitations. What is the loving response? Admittedly my friend is not my only calling and responsibility. I have a calling to my family, my volunteer work, to run my home responsibly, to manage bills and finances and so on. In a way I have a responsibility to my own health and wellbeing too, though that’s hard to admit. Though that’s a fight in my head to. I should deny myself to reach out to bring God’s love to others. Then again the Lord created me, wants me, loves me – perhaps not only so that I can be denied and weakened? At the moment every responsibility except to my friend is falling to the side. I have no reserves left for anything else. That really does not feel right. I feel more guilt for it, especially not having the energy for family, for contemplative prayer or for treating my home that I’m blessed to have with due care so everything is in disorder.

This is all very uncomfortable and I’m so tired. I need to seek guidance.

Ginny xxx

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