Comment on this story
Adapted from an online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: After years of living too close to my narcissistic, self-absorbing mother and extended family, my husband and I escaped to the opposite coast, then to Europe. We have been living abroad for almost five years and are thriving; we are mentally and physically healthy and happy. We have limited contact with my family and I can easily enforce boundaries. My parents visited us once in Europe; my mother hated it.
We had planned a trip home to the US but canceled it due to covid. We had a terrible fight after my mom tried to guilt me into keeping our plans, crying about how much she misses the grandkids.
I have NO desire to return to the United States. Always. My family is toxic and being around them for too long is dangerous to my mental health. I don’t want my kids to spend too much time with them either. I don’t feel guilty about it; I’m fine with never coming back. But should I feel guilty about keeping my children from my parents and extended family?
Expat: Ask for this with a two-word addendum: “for now.” At the moment you are supporting your family on the continent’s expanse.
Then answer it: you have your reasons, so, no, don’t feel guilty.
But you also know that life is fluid. We’re all making it up as we go along, and you’re fine as long as your priorities are in the right place: the health and safety of your children. When the fundamentals change and it becomes impossible to shake the feeling that you’re doing something wrong, then you can review your approach to blending your children with your extended family and perhaps make different choices.
Dear Carolyn: During the pandemic, the relief from social pressures, especially around dating, also eased my social anxiety to the point that my mental health honestly feels better than it has in years. I expressed this to a dear friend, and her response was troubling: that I close myself off and deprive myself of fulfilling experiences because I feel safer, and that the pandemic was a convenient, if valid, excuse.
I’m content with my semi-hermitage, but I wondered: How do I know if I’m doing the right thing for myself or just avoiding my anxiety triggers at all costs, possibly to my long-term detriment?
— Happy hermit or budding agoraphobe?
Happy hermit or budding agoraphobe?: Can you think of times when you’ve needed, supported, or simply enjoyed your social network? Are there times when you got over your initial hesitation and had fun with others?
If so, even to one of these, that’s an argument to step out of your comfort zone at least sometimes, enough to keep your social muscles in shape. It doesn’t have to be (even close to) the type of circulation you had before. Just a little to prevent atrophy and make sure you don’t hide.
Dating has its own consideration, depending on whether you feel lonely for this type of connection. If so, you may want to circle more for the purpose of finding new platonic friendship connections. This can then expand your dating pool in a lower way and get you out of the social pressure circumstances of dating to date.
Otherwise, learn this about yourself and build around it.
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