Thriving as an adult after a dysfunctional authoritarian childhood?
May 7, 2011 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Resources for adults who have trouble living day to day after growing up in an authoritative family in which abuse was present?

My apologies if this has already been asked - I was unable to locate what I'm specifically looking for.

I'm a 25 year old woman. Only two months ago I began seeing a new psychologist who specializes in concurrent mental illnesses and abuse in women. I like her, but she is suddenly taking a 6-month leave of absence. I want to find resources on issues she has raised so I can continue to work on improving myself.

It is her belief I am not quite a sufferer of mental illness in the ways I've been lead to believe from being a psychiatric patient, but someone who has been severely distorted by authoritarian parenting that was also physically, emotionally and psychologically abusive. While I do firmly believe I've experienced mental illness and abuse, I think what she is encouraging me to do is move away from focusing on it as a disability and instead look at its causes in order to deal with where and why it has put me in the place I am today. And I think that is probably a helpful thing.

A little background (TMI warning):
This past January I stopped taking Paxil, which took me a year and 4 months to entirely wean myself off. Paxil withdrawal was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced. I was on it for 8 years, and it really made me act like a damned fool most of the time. Glad it's over, and feel proud of myself for accomplishing the withdrawal.
I've suffered from depression, anxiety, off-and-on suicide ideation and trichotillomania (hair pulling) since I was about 9. My parents completely ignored my behavior, reprimanded my emotions with more physical discipline/violence, and ignored the phonecalls requesting meetings from my teachers (in grade 5 my school contacted children's aid, someone spoke with me, but nothing was ever done beyond that). About two years ago, a doctor diagnosed me with a personality disorder and referred me to a mental health hospital, which completely rejected the PD diagnosis once I was assessed by their personality disorders/interpersonal therapy dept. Instead, I received CBT therapy for depression, it kind of worked, but it did not address deep-rooted self-hate that has governed most of my decisions in life.

So now I am without a therapist, but am lucky enough not be in a hopeless state of depression. Because I've already worked through coming off of my medication, and have made other big steps in feeling better, I feel capable and motivated to working on this alone for now.

I've already read Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child, and found it to be helpful although it really triggered me emotionally. I'd like a recommendation of books or resources for redeveloping one's personality and/or self-image in regard to growing up in an authoritarian family structure.

I'll be using these tools in conjunction to what I've already learned in CBT. Ideally, I'd like to find a guide outlining how to not obsess and fear authority, how to feel that I am worthy of agency and able to make decisions for myself (intellectually I know I am, but psychically there is a big wall), how to listen to my own intuition, how to stop 'acting out' in self-destructive ways as an adult, how to uphold and adhere to my own personal principles, and more. If such a book exists, please let me know.

Please and thank you.
posted by GEB's fun world to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Your references to worthiness and wanting to live by your own values makes me think that Brene Brown's work on shame, vulnerability, and authenticity would be worth considering. I have yet to hear (or read) her addressing abuse directly, but I think that her focus on being compassionate toward yourself and believing in your own worthiness could be helpful to you. You can get a sense of her work by watching the short videos on her website.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:43 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might like the book Dance of the Dissident Daughter about a woman rebelling against authoritarian and patriarchal aspects of Christianity and eventually finding a self-affirming spiritual path of her own. I liked the depth with which she chronicled each step of the process, from anger, to timid steps to create her own rituals, to a quiet strength and confidence. The book does focus on spirituality, feminism, and Christianity, however, so it might be too much if you're not interested in those topics.

From Publishers Weekly
The author's journey to capture her feminine soul and to live authentically from that soul makes a fascinating, well-researched and well-written story. Kidd's successful pilgrimage from her Southern Baptist roots and away from the patriarchal and fundamentalist Christian religious systems surrounding her is an account of anger turned to courage, creativity and love. A mid-career realization that she had lived without "real inner authority" and with "a fear of dissension, confrontation, backlash, a fear of not pleasing, not living up to sanctioned models of femininity" produced in Kidd the new mindset that made her journey possible. Additionally, her extensive knowledge of many subjects, including theology, mythology and the arts, made possible the copious references and cross-references that will prove invaluable for readers who wish to follow her in this same search. While Kidd cautions that each woman's path will be unique, there is no question but that many women will find in her book a mirror of their own present conditions and a hopeful call to self-discovery.

posted by salvia at 2:03 PM on May 7, 2011

Google "Sedona Method". It helped me to stop obsessing with my problems and start living.
posted by bambola at 5:12 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour. And her columns.

One of the hardest things for me was learning to interpret the signs of respect and contempt, and finding effective ways to respond. Asking friends was no help, because nobody is explicitly taught manners these days and so everybody interprets this stuff in a very self-serving manner and pathologizes people whose individual preferences don't match their own.

If you keep reading Miss Manners, you will learn the most exquisite modes of assertiveness and kindness that skilfully navigate and transcend individual preferences, and you will know that you are always treating yourself and others in the best possible way. Plus, she's funny.
posted by tel3path at 4:08 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

The silver lining is that when you get to the other side of this, you are one tough cookie. My father is a very smart man and an abusive jerk. I turns out that the world is full of these people. And when you get to the place where you understand that behavior and you don't react and just move on with your plan and your life and your vision, you've got a unique skill set indeed.

I am 45 and after years of therapy, estrangement from my family, anger and depression, I have to say that I am happily married and possessed of a certain insight and calm in the face of agression and unreasonable people that others around me just don't have.

So keep going and claim the gift you parents gave you. It's there.
posted by alcahofa at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh! and! Why Men Love Bitches is another must-read.
posted by tel3path at 3:33 PM on May 8, 2011

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