Listener’s Letter: Episode 102 – How Do I Know Who I Am?


Our listener in this episode describes a crisis of identity. After a lifetime of squeezing into the mold created by her mother, she is questioning who she is and how she fits into the world. She has spent so long accommodating everyone else, she asks for help figuring out what to do next.

Identity, boundaries and people pleasing is something we hear often in letters and from the community. Without a strong identity and sense of self, our boundaries can become eroded and we’re left vulnerable to abuse. If this is something you recognise, take a peek at our online Identity Building course for practical tips and guidance on how to form your own identity in the wake of emotional abuse.

Episode 102 is available now.

Here’s the letter in full. If you’d like to send your own question for Helen and Katie to answer, we’d love to hear your story.

This letter contains discussion of alcoholism.

Dear Helen and Katie

I’d like to start by thanking you wholeheartedly for what you do. I have had lots of
therapy in the past for various things, but I’ve never felt as heard, validated and
understood as I do when listening to your podcast and the Patreon.

I have had so many lightbulb moments and feel that I have really grown.
So much of what you talk about rings true for me and I appreciate how you gently
highlight that we have responsibilities too, that what may have served to keep me
safe in the past, may be detrimental to me now. I feel that my safe relationships have
grown stronger and I’ve had the confidence to hold firmer boundaries and even go
no contact with my parents.

I’m struggling though. I felt intense despair and heartache when I made the choice to
stop talking to my parents and only communicate through text and email. They’ve
both declined this and keep pushing to talk on the phone, or even in person (I can’t
think of anything less appropriate right now!) so I’ve not heard from them for about a

I believe my mum may be narcissistic and my dad is an enabler. Both are very angry
individuals and I feel they’re both “functioning” alcoholics (although I don’t agree any
alcoholism can be considered functioning!)

My relief from the no contact has been huge, but now I’m reflecting back, with this
new found freedom of mind (not having to consider whether what I’m thinking, saying
or doing will upset my mum somehow), and I’m feeling confused and lost.
Who am I? What of my thoughts, feelings and choices have truly been mine? How
do I separate what was her and what is actually me?

There are some stand out moments now I think back that really aren’t me:
I gave birth during the first lockdown of covid. I’d done an online hypnobirthing
course and had chosen to listen to the Harry Potter books as I find them relaxing. I
also love fairy lights, so I packed those (as recommended by the hypnobirthing

When it came down to it, I declined to have my audiobooks played and I refused to
have the lights put up. I didn’t want to put anyone out or take up any space. I didn’t
want to be selfish and choose the music, I didn’t feel I had the right. “Oh no, don’t
worry, it’s fine thanks, I’m not bothered.” Was my default reaction when I was asked
by numerous people.

It wasn’t the birth I wanted and it started with this.
Don’t get me wrong, it was fine, and I didn’t mind. Except looking back, it wasn’t okay
and I did mind.
I’ve always been a bit much. Too loud. Too chatty. Too big. Too controlling. Too
much, but also, never enough. I didn’t want to cause a fuss, it made me
uncomfortable to ask for my needs to be met. I didn’t want them to think I was selfish
or trying to take over. They were only wants, I didn’t NEED Harry Potter and fairy
lights. It’s a bit much to have that. I mean, who do I think I am?!

When I think hard as to whose voice was telling me I couldn’t/shouldn’t have my
music and lights, it was my mum. Don’t get in the way, she would often tell me
growing up.
I was so relieved mum couldn’t visit me after my son was born. A perk of national
It was hard getting pregnant. It took us nearly 3 years and we were waiting for ivf.
I am adopted.
My mum had a harder time than me trying to get pregnant. She tried longer and had
ivf. She had to give up smoking and drinking for two weeks a month, it was so hard!
But don’t worry, she made up for those two weeks in the remaining weeks of the
But it was really hard for her, I’ve no idea how traumatic it was for her.
I’m very lucky I didn’t have to go through what she went through.
I felt like a comrade when it was taking so long. With each test and investigation it
felt like I was joining this club with my mum. It felt so good. We were in it together.
She understood.
Except it didn’t feel good. We weren’t in it together (I’ve never felt so alone in my
whole life) and she didn’t have a clue!
I was devastated. I became very unwell. I had insomnia (not as bad as mum of
course, she only gets 20 minutes of deep sleep a night, amongst her 6-8 hrs).
I was getting an increased number of migraines, which meant time off work as I lose
my vision. (Not as bad as my mums migraines though, obviously – although hers
mostly come in the morning after heavy drinking the night before and she only gets a
headache, not any other symptom of migraines…)
I was diagnosed with moderate-severe depression and anxiety.
Mum was really struggling at the time too.

All I wanted to be was a mum. My mum was so concerned and worried I was losing
myself. She encouraged me to drink whilst trying to conceive and even whilst
pregnant. She fussed and said lots of things. I was so touched she cared so much.
My therapist even went to great lengths to tell me how it sounded like my mum was
really making the effort to connect with me, perhaps I was reading too much into it
all. It was, of course, very hard on my mum. I felt very grateful to her.
Except I wasn’t. She repeatedly ignored my concerns, dismissed my fears and told
me she had it worse. She belittled me and tried to manipulate me when I said I didn’t
want to risk drinking, just in case, given the emotional and physical lengths I had
gone to get pregnant. I was overreacting and being too sensitive, too cautious. Just
too much again. But again, falling short of her expectations. Letting her down and
making her feel bad for drinking on her own.
When I got married my mum was so kind to offer to pay for the wedding and my
dress. I was so touched.

Except looking back I felt dread about it. She tried to control all the decisions and I
ended up doubting so much because of her offhand comments. I worried constantly
that I would be held to ransom over everything, because she’d paid for it. I nearly
declined the offer actually, but thankfully my husband said we could accept and then
just pay for the bits she tries to control, to keep control of everything. Of that meant
paying for all of it, then so be it. It took away a lot of her power. Mum stopped being
so eager to see my husband after that. Suggesting we meet on days she knew he’d
be busy. I thought I was doing him a favour by obliging her suggestions, he didn’t
want to see her particularly. But I see now that she wanted me away from him. She
often would push me to answer questions without speaking to my husband. Telling
me I have my own mind, I don’t need his permission. I fell for it often. I see now that
she didn’t want him talking sense to me and calling out her BS. It was harder to
manipulate me with his sensible head and ability to call her out on stuff.
I love helping people. I will go out of my way to help people. But listening to your
flying monkey episode on the Patreon, I think I might be a rescuer. I’ve definitely
been a flying monkey for my mum with my brother.
I always believed I was doing the right thing and going of my own accord. I realise
now I wasn’t.

I’m seeing so many times in my life where I gave up on so much of myself because I
thought something was right and it felt like I wanted to do it. I have compromised
myself and bent over backwards to accommodate others. Because I wanted to. But
at what expense? Did I actually want to? Or did I feel obliged to?
How do I know, especially in the moment, if I am falling into old habits and searching
for crumbs through big gestures? How do I know if I really feel a certain way about
something, or if it’s a seed that was planted by her many years ago?! Who am I
without her? Without her voice nagging me?!
How do I find me again? I say “again”, I’m not sure I’ve been allowed to be fully me,

I get immense satisfaction when I can help people. I go a long way out of my way to
do that. It was expected of me to support my mum through stuff. She’d talk to me
about her issues with my brother. I was her support when dad was off with stress
(she was very stressed too) I would often travel 100+ miles (each way) to give
support to my parents – like lifts to appointments or being at home so mum wasn’t on
her own when dad stayed away with his mates.
I would always be the one to suggest my input, but there was also an expectation
from her and I have been in trouble for not offering help. She’d also slag off my
brother and talk disparagingly about his lack of support when he lives so close. She
always made the right noises, protesting that I shouldn’t travel all that way, but I
would insist.

A good friend recently called me out on my behaviour, I’m a gift giver. I like to give
things. She said it was too much and putting a strain on our relationship. I am so
grateful to her for this. She was so kind about it and free of judgment. She explained

I was putting pressure on her because she couldn’t reciprocate. My mum expects
gifts and gestures to prove my love for her. This has spilled into my other
relationships and I buy people stuff all the time. To show my appreciation of them
and in the hope they won’t leave me.

I was often told I was not what mum signed up for “this was not in the book, I want a
refund”. Joking that I’d be sent back. I had no stability in my formative years. Passed
from pillar to post. I’m easy to give up on. Easy to leave. It terrifies me that people
will just disappear.

I’ve gone a bit around the houses there, sorry. I’m feeling lost, can you offer any
insight? Any tips?
Thank you

If you’d like to share any words of support or solidarity for our listener, we’d love for you to join us over in our private Facebook Group.

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