Scared and alone
June 21, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

I’m in a pretty desperate situation at the moment and apart from going to the doctors and probably receiving medication and a referral to a counsellor (with a long waiting list), I have nowhere else to turn.

So, where do I start? Its a family problem. I am extremely upset about how my family are treating me and the emotional abuse I have suffered for years.
I have two older brothers and one older sister, and throughout my life, they have emotionally and sometimes physically abused me. I am ashamed as I haven’t been able to stand up to them. I have tried to retaliate, but their nastiness and ability to keep up with the intimidation, abusive remarks, is more than I can handle. I’ve never been strong enough to cope with all of them. I spent most of my childhood/teenage years in misery. I’m now 35, and they continue to treat me like a piece of shit. Most of the time they ignore me, but when they do speak to me, its some kind of abusive remark. I avoid any family gatherings and am fearful to visit my mum’s house (where my sister lives also) as when I do go, my sister will start verbally attacking me and telling me to leave. I’ve kind of accepted that they all dislike me and have no respect for me. What is really upsetting is that my mum is siding with them and has more or less cut me off completely. She makes up things and tells them things I have said which I haven’t. She kicks up a fuss if I argue about anything with her and feeds back to them, only for me to get more abuse and loatheing. Before my sister moved back home, I was visiting my mum everyday, taking the dog out (which I have brought up from being a puppy), cooking her tea, cleaning her house.

I don’t have any support network and am feeling so low and depressed. This situation has never changed and has only got worse. I have decided that the best thing may be to move away from the area and cut myself off completely. I feel so bitter about the way I have been treated and am looking for advice on how to deal with this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
1. Find a support system. If the waiting list for a doctor is too long, find a support group of abuse survivors, or join a club or go to church, or something where you can find people who will at least be nice to you.

2. Get the hell away from your family. They sound toxic.
posted by xingcat at 7:13 AM on June 21, 2010

First of all, big hugs to you. I am truly sorry you're going through this.

You should not feel the least big guilty about cutting your family out of your life, at least temporarily. You have no obligation to remain connected to people who verbally abuse and mistreat you.

If you have already told your mum about the way your siblings have treated you and she refuses to support you, you're not even under any obligation to explain why you're detaching. The therapy is a very good and necessary first step of helping resolve your feelings about your family, but for the time being you should simply cease any contact with your family.

If you haven't got any friends in the area, maybe check into free support groups for abuse victims - there shouldn't be any waiting time for that. Reach out to any extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) who might be supportive. Take care of yourself in the way you've been caring for your mother - make yourself tea, run a hot bath, spend time doing things you enjoy. Focus on yourself and your wellbeing.

You are not alone. Separating yourself from your family is right and necessary, and you will get through this one step at a time. Again, hugs to you.
posted by ladybird at 7:15 AM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure why you would have to move away from the area in order to disassociatre yourself from your unfriendly relatives - if you are concerned that you could run into them in a grocery store (etc.) you can still ignore them. But depending upon the size of the community that you live in, there may be a point to moving away. It's easier to avoid people in large cities than in small towns.

People often feel that they have an unavoidable connection to their relatives, but that is not really the case. If anyone treats you badly, you are under no obligation to asswociate with that person in any way. I don't know why your siblings are so hostile to you, but in many cases people are hostile simply because they enjoy attacking someone who appears to be vulnerable to their attacks; this then gives them the joy of victory in a contest that you, their vanquished opponent, never even agreed to enter. There is no point in dealing with such people.

Of course, then you have the problem of being, as your question is entitled, scared and alone. Let me tell you that you do not have to be alone. There are lots of people who have similar interests, similar personalities, and similar lonliness to your own, who would be happy to get to know you. They are out there, waiting to be met. You can meet them on the internet, or at various organizations, gatherings, events, or random locations. People are everywhere in our crowded world. You might as well spend your time with the ones who like you, rather than the ones who don't. If I were in the situation that you describe I would not spend another second with my poisonous relatives.
posted by grizzled at 7:16 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hi there. I'm really sorry to hear you're going through this. It does sound like your family is toxic and the best thing for you to do is separate yourself from them. The free support groups are a good idea, definitely seek them out. If you do move to another area, you may be able to find support there too.

Even if you're not religious, you may find immediate support from a church or religious organization if you can't find any other resources.

Be careful when seeking support. You're vulnerable right now. Don't let anyone take advantage of you or become intrusive.

I have been my family's scapegoat. I have separated myself from them in the past. Now, things have changed. It may not have to be a permanent separation for you either. On the other hand, it might be. But you won't know until you try.

And you have nothing to be ashamed of. You are experiencing an extremely normal and natural reaction to a lifetime of bullying. Be proud that you have had the strength to even consider leaving, and to reach out on the green.

If you just want to talk, MeMail me.
posted by xenophile at 7:26 AM on June 21, 2010

One of the best things I ever did for myself was distance myself from my family. It doesn't have to be permanent, but it may take years, or even decades, before you can deal with them objectively. You don't have to move far away, but sometimes making a fresh start in a new city is exactly what you need.

Beyond that, if you're not a church kinda person, maybe you could find some place to volunteer? An animal shelter, or volunteer in a nursing home, or at a day care? Those are all places where the ones you're helping are going to be thrilled to be getting attention, and aren't going to be judging you. And the other volunteers will generally be kind-hearted people, too.

Also, what xenophile said - be careful when seeking support. People who prey on others (cults, scam artists, etc.) look for vulnerabilty.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2010

I'm so sorry to hear you feel so alone. Things can get better. I'd say the thing to focus on right now is that you can change yourself, but not them. You'll probably have a richer experience trying to empower yourself and work towards being more confident and happy without trying to "get back at" or change your family. That's a frustrating avenue because toxic people can keep spewing toxic stuff endlessly. It's like some sort of terrible talent they have! Yes, my mother did just say something worse than the last "worst" thing she said! I didn't think it was possible!
posted by ShadePlant at 8:25 AM on June 21, 2010

I distanced myself from my parents about 15 years ago and it was the best thing I ever did for myself. You need to surround yourself with people who treat you with the respect and kindness that you deserve. For whatever tragic reason, your sibs and your mum are not those people. I'm really sorry. Please MefiMail me if you want to talk.
posted by iconomy at 8:25 AM on June 21, 2010

Well done you for writing this question. It can't have been easy.
It doesn't sound like these people deserve to have you in their lives, and it sure sounds like you aren't getting much out of it either. There's a whole wide world out there full of people who would enjoy knowing you, perhaps it's time to meet them. Make yourself a plan, that in itself can be strengthening, and then put it into action. Fwiw, I get along quite well with my mother from about a thousand miles away. I wish you well on this next phase of your life!
posted by Iteki at 8:34 AM on June 21, 2010

Just a response to one of your comments -- Clearly, you have been "strong enough to cope" with your family -- you've been a support to your mom, and you're now taking the initiative to make some changes in your life. It takes strength to make decisions for your future, and you have the strength to follow through on your decisions.
posted by freshwater at 8:48 AM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

It sounds like a big part of the problem is verbal abuse.
It might be helpful to read up on some tactics to deal with vebal abusers. I have a verbal abuser in my life, who I had to learn to deal with - for a variety of reasons, in my situation, total dis-association was not the right solution.

Even if you do decide to total dis-associate yourself from your family, some knowledge of dealing with and understanding verbal abuse might be helpful to you.

I read several books on it, and it really helped me to deal the person in my life.
I found You Can't Say That To Me, by Suzette Elgin to be the best.
posted by Flood at 9:05 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Note that you are probabably in the marjority with your experiences and don't feel one ounce guilty about severing ties. They abused you. They don't see it. Stop the cycle by being proactive in what you can control--you being in that environment. I'm sorry you wen through it. Try to get into therapy to get rid of the past.

This is what helped me: Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life (9780553284348): Susan Forward: Books.

It was step one in realizing none of what happened was my fault.

Step two--therapy-3 years of it. Felt great. And now that it's 10 years later, guess what? I'm back in therapy. Seems that while I'm over the guilt and accountability of what they did to me, I'm not over in how it affected my life (chosing bad relationships, etc). So now I'm in part three of my life--getting over all of it and getting some "uh oh, abuser" radar to eliminate it completely from my life.

We can emapthize. Much love.
posted by stormpooper at 10:54 AM on June 21, 2010

Seconding the Elgin and Forward books. They're excellent, and I found them very helpful.
posted by zarq at 11:27 AM on June 21, 2010

Before deciding to uproot yourself and move, or cut yourself off forever from your family, why not just take a month off from them? Don't return phone calls, don't drop by your mom's place, don't return or read emails. Just take a break. That could give you some breathing room to recover and figure out how you can deal with the situation long-term.
posted by bq at 11:38 AM on June 21, 2010

I just wanted to echo everyone that is saying that you have no obligation to keep in touch with a family that treats you so horribly. You sound like a kind-hearted person with a lot to offer to people, and while you are scared and alone right now, I have no doubt that you can make things better and find friendships that will be far more fulfilling than your family ever was.

I like bq's suggestion to try cutting them off as a sort of trial separation first ... not because I think that you will necessarily change your mind, but just so that you don't feel like you have to do anything drastic or permanent to start caring for yourself. If you do not live with them or need them for any of your basic needs, then start screening your calls or change your phone number, and start using an email address that they don't know.

As for finding a support group outside of your family, there have been some great ideas. If you are religious, church or temple might offer you a sense of family. Even if you are not very religious, you might look into joining a Unitarian Universalist congregation, as they tend to be non-denominational churches that offer a sense of community. Volunteering is another great way to get out and meet people...maybe volunteering at a nursing home or with children or other people will help you forge some connections? sounds like you want to talk to a therapist, but might be letting the possibility of medication or a long waiting list deter you. Why not call anyway just to see if you can see someone to talk to sooner rather than later? No one can force you to take meds, and you might get to see a counselor sooner than you thought. Not only that, but maybe you can be referred to some kind of support group.

At any rate, my thoughts are with you. *Hugs* You do not deserve the treatment you're getting from your family.
posted by tastybrains at 12:34 PM on June 21, 2010

It's perfectly fine to use moving out as your strategy. While you could try to create a shield around yourself by ignoring phone calls, it may require too much work, especially if they have such an emotional sway over you. You may be able to stick to a plan for a week, but eventually you'll get sucked back into their drama. I'm a big proponent of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind principle. If you're at least a 6-hour drive away, then the frequency with which they'll reach out to you will go down dramatically.

I'd try all the other methods first, but if nothing's working, and this this situation is really bogging you down, there's no lost dignity in moving away.
posted by philosophistry at 10:50 PM on June 21, 2010

I'm really sorry you are going through this. As someone who once had to move out of home due to simply being taken advantage of, not so much the kind of abuse you detail here, I can only imagine how painful this is.
One thing I would like to warn you about is that at this stage all of you in this situation have created quite a toxic "balance" as it were, and the result of taking yourself completely out of the equation can be quite intimidating all at once.

Firstly, be kind to yourself and know that yes, your deep down instinct is correct: you deserve to be loved and respected.
Secondly, start the painful process of admitting to yourself that the primary caregiver, your mother, has completely failed in her function to make you feel loved and respected.
Thirdly consider that you have been literally brainwashed into seeking her, and your family's approval, and you probably always will. You thought naturally enough you would get some recognition for visiting everyday? Not going to happen. Let this go. Read the Prodigal Son parable, you made yourself available and they took you for granted. There will be NO cinderella moment I'm sorry.

BUT, it is not and will not be forthcoming.

This fact is horrifically painful but it looks like you're ready to do something for yourself.

withdraw slowly, take whatever strategies are available to you from the self-help market, tell yourself in the mirror every morning that you deserve better and stop taking phone calls, cut down on visits, start to leave when the abuse starts, then make the spacing further and further until you have locked this down to a manageable time for you. If that is once a month, once a year, that may be what it takes.

You love that dog? Make the dog the reason for your visits in the meantime, "I'm just going to see X, how pleased x was to see me, what a reception he gave me!" , etc., etc., rather than focus on that horrible cutting remark from your sister. You say you're 35 so having a sister move back home suggest she has a problem or maybe didn't like the fact that you were the daily help for your mom, for whatever toxic reasons. You cannot allow the opinion of any of these people to have any validity: that is: yes they will hurt to hear but they are not true.

Simply accepting that the abuse is false is a good start, write yourself a little list initially of why the comment was actually incorrect, practice saying this in a calm and dignified fashion to the abuser in front of a mirror, then burn the list and seriously focus on letting that one go. Rinse and repeat as often as you need till this becomes second nature. When you're at home and hear a comment like that eventually you will be formulating that list in your head automatically which gives you a certain emotional distance that will help. I promise.
I know a young woman who found that her verbal abuser had a physical similarity to Homer Simpson so she would mentally repeat his comments in Homer's voice in her head (watch out for this one as he hit her when she started to smirk but she has developed a coping strategy now that works for her)

Initially there may be an intensification of their abuse as they are used to getting a response, even if that response if a hurt silence. Believe me they will notice any increase in your confidence which is why I'm advocating a slower start to this.

good luck, be strong, you can do this.
posted by Wilder at 4:21 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

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