This is Matthew 6:34, and a bible verse that means a lot to me. I grew up with a mother who, while delightful otherwise, is also one of the world’s great pessimists. So a pattern developed between us that worked/works like this: Mom worries about something. I try to reassure her. She worries some more. I list all the arguments why the situation is not as bad as that. She leaves somewhat comforted. I feel utterly drained.

Of course it’s not bad in itself to try to comfort people who are worried. It can become damaging (for one side, anyway) if it turns into a kind of emotional vampirism. I am grown up now; I have talked the matter over with my mother and she understands that there are some topics which worry her deeply which I am only prepared to discuss with her occasionally.

Having spent many years with a person who tends to borrow trouble more often than not, I now believe in limiting worries: Consider carefully what the results of an action may be, but do not worry about maybes until they actually come to pass if you can’t change a thing. Not that it works all the time!

Next week, we are expecting a visit from a relative whose father has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Surgery is imminent, but so far we don’t know much about how bad the situation really is. A few days ago, my husband spoke to said relative, and the latter said that he and his wife had researched the sort of cancer his father is thought to suffer from online, and that they had found out it was very bad and there was little cause for optimism. The visit will take place just after the surgery, but long before there are any results from the biopsy.

I now dread the visit, which I had really looked forward to. This relative, as fond as I am of him, is a carbon copy of my mother. As a result, the patterns I have developed with her function like a well-oiled piece of machinery with him. And I am far from blaming just him: He is a very nice guy, and I am the only person in the family he pumps for emotional support like this, so it’s obvious I am half of the equation.

So all through the visit, I will have to pull myself very tightly and not offer more than a short sentence of encouragement. Instead I will try to repeat, mantra-like: “We don’t have all the relevant information yet. I’d rather wait for it.”

How do you deal with emotional vampirism? Does the saying “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” have any special meaning for you?

– Rike Horstmann

About the author

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High school teacher. Soccer fan (Werder Bremen, yeah!). Knitter and book-binder. Devotee of mathematical puzzles. German.