Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

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

11 thoughts on “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

  1. Lynda X

    Oh, Rike, you have my great, great sympathy. Your role is totally exhausting. So often, it seems useless, without power to try to cope with the pessimist’s determined certainty that the worst that IS going to happen. I have been both the champion pessimist and the person who tries to comfort the pessimist, who tries to break into the obsession. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to break the loop of someone “awfulizing.” What do I do in situations like that? First, I first try to avoid these people, when possible. Second, if I can’t, I just listen to the person and let him/her wind down (this can take a long, long time). When I am perfect, I just listen and I don’t try to reason with him/her. Third, I ALWAYS try to couple my visit afterwards with something I can look forward to. I go out for cake afterward. I buy myself flowers. I listen to my favorite calm music. I read comfort books. I pamper myself in any way I can. I call my friends and complain and get some closure, and if I’m fortunate, some perspective and humor. I pray. I try to limit myself, when I get to “awfulizing” myself to literally counting my blessings and telling myself that 99% of what I have feared in life never happened. When the 1% does come to pass, I just hold the hand of the person and keep saying, “We’ll go through this together. You are not alone. I’ll be there.” And I try the best I can. It sounds as if you do too.

  2. Rike

    Lynda, your idea of pampering oneself after dealing with the pessimist is wonderful and actually made me laught out loud. That’s what I plan to do next week now, and it has already lightened my heart. Thank you!
    Keeping the contact with the pessimists as short as possible is not always an option. I love my mother dearly and am very fond of this relative. I enjoy their company a lot as long as they aren’t in one of their moods. So I want to see them, albeit not without a bit of dread. The other thing I am planning for next week is doing a lot of cooking so that I can disappear into the kitchen at times!

  3. Leigh

    I don’t think of myself so much as a comforter but as a listener and I have been in situations where the individual just goes on and on about a situation. You do want to be supportive but after hearing it two millions times I lose patience. And honestly I limited my contact with her. Which is not the best way to handle it.

    Do you have things that you can do to keep busy. It might take his mind off the pending diagnosis. Snap green beans, play cards or some type of game like scrabble? Is this person an expert in some field – like gardening etc? I guess what I am saying is distraction, distraction, distraction so they don’t have time to think about it and then talk about it.

  4. Tee

    I know how exasperating it can be to have to listen continuously to someone like you’re describing. In the case of your mother, it appears to be an ongoing issue with everything and you’re tired of it. And with the case of your relative, he seems to be similar in nature. But what is happening to him right now has got to be horrible, especially in his thinking of it terminally. He doesn’t have any answers and his mind is playing games with him. Since his visit is only temporary, maybe your listening to him is all he really wants, a way of thinking aloud all those thoughts running through his mind.

    I think repeating the phrase that you mentioned about not having sufficient data to anticipate the next step is a good one, because it’s true. And then Leigh’s suggestion about distracting is excellent. Refocusing on something else is not a bad thing to do when what to do next is not clear at the moment.

  5. Blythe

    I use this phrase a lot in my house, and while I know it’s from the Bible, what first drew it to my attention was when Frank said it…in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander! One of my sons is what we call a “glass half empty” kid, and has been since he was little. When he gets going about everything that MIGHT happen, I trot out “Sufficient unto the day…”

  6. maggie b.

    I look at these as mands for attention and reassurance. Sometimes telling the person how great they are and how much bigger they are than the problem is all that is needed. IE – Yes, things may very well go badly but aren’t they lucky to have you? You handle this kind of situation. You’ve been such a good son I am sure he is grateful to know you will be handling all this for him. etc, etc;,

    Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. :-)

    If you can find a way to encourage them to journal their worries that helps a lot. I have seen people drive away friends and family because they can’t control this type of verbalization. Sometimes having an outlet for it helps.

  7. LeeB.

    Half-empty people probably think half-full people have it wrong. ;) But really, it can be emotionally draining to deal with naysayers. I try to keep it short and sweet. It is so hard to change another person’s beliefs.

  8. Rike

    Blythe, what you said about your son made me smile. My second-youngest niece is exactly like that! I will have to find the German translation of Matthew 6:34 for her! (It’s not quite as snappy and never sticks to my memory.)
    maggie b., I can’t really reassure my relative with the fact that he’s been a good son, as the relationship has been strained to some extent for many years, and they live at quite a distance from each other. This, I guess, may be part of the reason for the present agonizing. (It really proves again how important it is to invest in a good relationship with your aging parents WHILE they are well.) I like the idea with the journal, but for him, I guess it would be too much of a woman’s thing.

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