A friend of mine has a horrible family, with a particularly horrible mother. Well, maybe there are mothers who are worse than this, but this one has my and Carrie's blood boiling.
My friend - whom we will call Ellie - is the sweetest person you would ever meet. I met her through Carrie, basically (or maybe I met Carrie through Ellie, I don't remember), and ever since then she has been in this terrible situation. She was working (and still is) at this company where she was being exploited like, really, out of the pages of Das Kapital or something. They had he training people who then they promoted over her, ignored her for promotion, but always moved her from one problem area to another, basically because she's good at solving problems. She hates doing so, specially after she had finally managed to get in good terms with her team, and yet, she still keeps with the company, submitting to their moving her from one area to the other and never recognizing her efforts, and even standing in the path of her studies. From what she has told her, the company makes her cover for her coworkers who attend to college, but refuse her the time to do so. Also make her cover for others' vacations but pull her out of her own whenever needed.
She complains to us, her friends, but doesn't actually does anything to improve her situation. She remains in a situation of evident abuse, taking it and never speaking up. It can be nerve wracking, so we have tried to understand why is this happening to her. Is it that she needs the money? Well, we all need the money, but being that this job hasn't really let her finish her college degree - she has been struggling through a 4 year block for over fourtheen years now - so it's not really taking her anywhere. One could also say that she already got used to it, but if it were som why is she still complaining for the treatment she gets?
Then we've got it: it's her family. Ellie lives with her two older brothers and their mom. Both her brothers are professionals and have college degrees, and yet she's the one stuck with paying the bills at home. Her mother demands it so. Her mother has a pension, which is enough for her to travel to places like Peru, Dubai, Chile and whatever strikes her fancy. Clearly, money isn't an issue at home. The mother don't defend her against he brothers, but she actually makes her feel bad if Ellie as much as dares to complain. The abuse have been taking quite a few interesting shapes. For instance, Ellie's mother raids her daughter's closet and simply appropiates for herself whatever she finds pleasing. As result, Ellie has no formal clothing, only her work clothes and whatever geeky clothes she can find. At one point, Ellie's mother took all of Ellie's sweaters and hats, leaving her with nothing, and not bothering with giving them back to her.
As part of this behavior, her mother also has no qualms when it comes to giving away Ellie's things without asking her, and again, when she has complained about it, her mother has replied that she shouldn't be so selfish, and besides, Ellie has money, so she can buy the stuff again. On top of all of that, Ellie tells us as a funny thing how her mother puts down her skills constantly. She can's cook, she can't clean, she's useless, she can't do any sort of art or craft, and so on.
For a while now, her mother has been particularly demanding when it comes to gifts. Ellie keeps spending quite large sums on gifts for her birthday, Mother's Day and Christmas on her, taking her out for dinner wherever she wants to go and whenever she wants to go, but in return she has been getting pretty much nothing for her birthday and Christmas. Among her siblings, it seems they don't give each other anything, but the mother demands gifts and treats, and then - at least in the case of Ellie - she can't care enough to reciprocate. For her last birthday, the only thing Ellie got was a cake. Ellie doesn't eat anything sweet.
In the light of this, suddenly I understood what was going on with Ellie: she's already accostumed to abuse. For her, taking abuse at her workplace is natural - inspite of the fact that it hurts her - because that's what she's used to at home. She doubts her own feeling because they have been systematically invalidated by her mother, thus, when something hurts her, Ellie tends to believe that she's the problem, that if others do things to her it's because that's alright, and her feeling bad about it, instead of grateful, is wrong. Ellie, even though she's such a sweet girl, can't really appreciate love because she has been denied of it so much, she doesn't love herself either. She knows Carrie and I love her, but I wonder how she matches that knowledge with what surrounds her everyday.
After Ellie's last birthday - the first time ever Carrie and I spied the begining of tears in Ellie's eyes as she told us about how off handedly, carelessly, her family dealt about her birthday - Carrie and I were furious. Long after the birthday, the knowledge that her only semblance of a celebration came from our silly gifts and us taking her out for dinner wherever she wanted to go, the knowledge of how her family abuse her burned us. It is hurting her, maybe it's finally getting to the surface. Carrie wishes we could do something, and I wish too, but after much thinking, I realized that this is now our battle. Trying to distract her, take her out as often as we could isn't a solution because her mother could (rightfully) think we are trying to take her away from her family, and forbid Ellie to ever talk to us (inspite the fact that Ellie is already well in ther 30's), with which we would accomplish nothing. This is Ellie's fight and Ellie must fight it in her own terms, at her own time. Even if we could "solve" this for her, Carrie and I would only perpetuate a vicious cycle, making her feel useless and in need to be saved by others.
No matter how much we wish to help others, there are battles people have to fight themselves, with their own weapons, their own skills. The conquering of self love is one of them. You can't love someone into loving themselves, and it's dangerous to let them take your love in replacement of their own self-esteem. Dependance of other's love to feel worthy is nothing but masking the problem of low self esteem. So as a friend, what can you do? Support. Be there, listen, hold hands, reassure the person and remind them that they can count on you, but don't fight their battles, those must be wielded by themselves.