How to cope with the pain that comes from my family's abuse/rejection?
March 19, 2017 2:06 AM   Subscribe

My very conservative family has abused me over my dating life and career choices for years. Living with them has caused a lot of emotional pain and health problems, but leaving is taking a toll on me as well. What can I do?

I have been in a very dysfunctional, abusive living situation for quite some time now. My parents are South Asian/Indian, and have always given me a very hard time about everything, especially my career, and most especially, my dating life. I'm 28, but not treated like it. My Dad doesn't even want me to go for walks or go to the store after 9:00pm and takes the house key from me whenever I try to leave the house around that time (sometimes even sooner). He also doesn't want me to visit my long-term boyfriend because he is Latino; he takes the house key from me when I go see him as well, and has a history of yelling across the driveway at me when I leave, telling me not to come back. My boyfriend is also not allowed to enter the house. Even on occasions when I'm very sick, my boyfriend's not even allowed to bring me soup or try to come help me. He did take me to the doctor a few times, and my parents never had the decency to thank him, or even him allow him to enter the house to use the bathroom. My Dad's a highly dramatic and manipulative man, saying he'll disown me if I ever marry my boyfriend.

My Mom is a little better, but not by much. She's always given me a hard time about dating and has called me terrible, derogatory names when I do date someone. There's a lot of shame and guilt around sex and relationships, even though I'm in a monogamous relationship. They both have never expressed any pride in my educational background or job (I have a Master's in English, and am aspiring to be an English instructor; possibly a Career Counselor or Academic Advisor. I currently work as a preschool teacher while searching for a job on the college level, and I love what I do). Overall, it's a very toxic environment, with very little respect for me and a lot of anger toward me. (Meanwhile, they fully approve of my younger brother, who's an engineer and follows all the cultural protocols they've brainwashed him with from a young age. He gloats whenever he comes and visits, and makes constant remarks about how I'm a failure because I don't make as much money as he does).

So, to make things even stranger: my parents have been saying over the past few years while I've lived with them (I moved back home when I was 25 and finished grad school), that they want me to leave. About a year or so ago, my Mom offered to pay for an apartment in order to get me out of her house; she said she'd rather have me gone, than have me live with her and not comply with every ridiculous rule set forth. I spent several months refusing, wanting to tough it out, and not wanting to live off someone else's money. But, after the holidays, things around here had gotten so bad and I decided to take the money and leave, just to save my sanity and health. (I should add in that about a year ago, I started suffering from several mystery pains in my body; mostly in my bladder and my legs. I also have PCOS and ovarian cysts that are very painful when they burst. It all hurt so bad at one point that I couldn't work for a long time and had to stay in bed--otherwise, I probably would've moved out with my own money a while ago. Since all my medical tests come back normal, (I've always had PCOS, but it was never painful or debilitating until recently), I attribute a lot of this pain to stress and feel that it's best I just take the money my Mom offered and leave, to save my own life.

Now, the decision has been made and an apartment picked out; but how do I cope with the feelings that come with it? I have a lot of guilt about taking the money and a lot of heartache over how I'm being asked to leave because I don't fit their agenda. I just tried so hard to be a good daughter regardless; help out around the house, and take care of them, but it was just never enough in their eyes. I am seeing a therapist about all the emotional abuse, but it still doesn't alleviate my mental pain, and even my physical pain isn't fully gone yet.

Also, I have a lot of anxieties about the apartment itself, mostly about noise. I need a lot of sleep because of my depression and pain issues, and I know apartment buildings tend to be loud at times. I'm afraid I won't able to sleep due to thin walls, loud neighbors, traffic noise. And I think just the big change itself will be a very difficult for me. I struggle with depression and anxiety as it is. So, what are some ways to cope with the anxieties around moving as well?

Thanks in advance. I know this was such a long a post and a lot of information, so thank you for reading!
posted by summertimesadness1988 to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You deal by with the feelings by going through them, and being kind to yourself. You have nothing to feel guilty about: you did the best you could with the cards you had.
At least your deeply crappy parents are now giving you a tool that you can use towards building yourself a happier life. Take that tool and use it: giving their children this kind of tool is what parents are supposed to do. This is them being good parents for a change, even if they tell themselves and you that they are just doing it to get you out of their hair. See this for what it is: a path towards freedom and happiness.

The change may be difficult but it will also be deeply rewarding. The problems you will deal with will mostly be material and for the most part you will be able to figure them out. They will be far, far easier to handle than being judged for who you are by people who are supposed to love you and care for you, and treated like a child when you've been an adult for years.

Maybe your apartment building isn't loud. Or maybe it is and you can find ways to deal with that: earplugs, white noise. Worry about that problem when it actually arises, but not before; or rather, tackle it as an adult does.

Look for things that you can't do right now and will be able to do once you've moved. Focus on that. Think of ways to make your new living space your own, and a pleasant place to be. How do you want it to look? That's up to you now.

You have lived through all this abuse for years. You are stronger than you think and once the sweet scent of freedom fills your lungs, you will start to heal and feel better. You can do this.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:27 AM on March 19 [8 favorites]

I am so glad you're getting out of there.

Even though you realize it's a crazy scene, not until you leave will you be able to see it with a bit more objectivity. Like a camera in a movie dollying back, the whole scenario opens up to you as you pull back from it.

It's funny, the crazier a relationship is, the harder it is to leave it. You and your parents have a huge intimacy going on there, not at all a healthy intimacy but pretty much all-encompassing. It's really difficult to leave a deep intimacy, even if -- or maybe especially if -- it's really difficult to leave a deep intimate relationship that is a boundary-breaking mess. That's why ppl keep going back to marriages that they know are history, or, rather, should be history -- they miss that intimacy. It's almost like a drug, a powerful drug, it's really intense.

And there is love in it, almost certainly. It's all a weave, love and control and fear and I don't know what all, and neither do you, you can't begin to know until you get out the the dust begins to settle. My family was a big mess also, a bunch of control bullshit and a bunch of love, sometimes so close together that you can't see which is which or why. An old favorite book of mine stated that love is as love does, and while your parents might think -- and would pass a lie detector test, too -- your parents think that they are doing what they are out of love.

The biggest lie people tell: My parents totally love(d) me. Also: I totally love(d) my parents.

You're 18 months at least from letting all of the confusions slide / subside, from beginning to find out who you are, what you want to do with your very own life.

You do realize that I have to say that you would benefit from support of psychotherapy, and yes, you can afford it. In fact, you can't afford to not have that help.

I'm glad you've got a sweetie. Someone to go to movies to etc. Please don't get married until you sort out who you are. And that's going to take some time.

Last. Noise in apartments? Ear plugs. Run fans for "white noise" -- I've got two running right next to me right now, sound great and feel great. You'll get plenty of rest just being away from the stressors of living with ppl who are harassing you day after day after day. By the way, be prepared to let their calls go to voice mail, and deal with them as you are able, and not when they tell you to jump up and down.

You're doing great.

I damn sure wish you the best in your new life.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:01 AM on March 19 [21 favorites]

I heard this book is good (have not read it):
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:48 AM on March 19

As the great Steve Miller once sang, take the money and run.

You are being offered a great gift, which is your freedom. I realize there is a lot of guilt to unpack regarding expectations in your family and culture, the residue of years of emotional abuse, and how to be your own person in a new world. I am quite familiar with those feelings and circumstances: you are going to do great at this thing called life.

How do you let go of the past? You make a little daily journal that lists something amazing that you learn about yourself away from the controlling environment you were being held in. Something as simple as writing down "Today I left the house at whatever time I chose. I felt night curl around my shoulders as I locked my own front door and wandered to the corner shop for a carton of milk." You are going to need to take back the joy of being an independent person and remind yourself how wonderful it is to trust your judgements, feel your feelings and be responsible for just yourself and your opinion of yourself.

Embrace the anxieties and remember every new independent adult has those same anxieties, but yours may feel a dozen times worse. Take pleasure in that you are feeling alive by wondering if it will be too loud, or if you will have neighbors who bicker... and try to find the joy in it. You'll have new sounds to adapt to, new people to say hello to, new sunrises to look at. Mostly, knocking the sadness back by celebrating every single moment you get to be you without being told how you can be!

I want you to remember: You are a good daughter. You are a good human being. You are beyond good enough.
posted by missh at 3:53 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]

I suggest doing everything you can to make sure that your parents do not have a key to the apartment.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:28 AM on March 19 [29 favorites]

Can you move in with your boyfriend?
posted by Kwadeng at 5:58 AM on March 19

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, i.e. don't maintain the awful status quo just because you can't resolve every issue at the same time. Do the incremental thing that is within reach and that will make life better. The first incremental improvement will make the next one easier.

Move out.
posted by jon1270 at 6:04 AM on March 19 [7 favorites]

Ear plugs or a noise machine or loud fan for sleeping in an apartment. Sorry you're‚Äč going through this and glad you are moving out. One big thing to remember, if they are paying, they still have power over you and can stop paying or threaten to, at any time. So.. start saving as much as you can against that day. That way you can assert yourself when it happens without fearing the financial implications quite so much. Also, a great first step to dealing with negative influences is to take away their handle, I.e. don't give them the info they need to start the tirade/comments. Answer in generalities, don't give specifics, avoid mentioning your boyfriend unless there's a real reason, say someone at the door and you have to get off the phone, so sorry! And even tell white lies to obscure your life. They don't deserve your truthfulness. I might give different advice to someone in a different place, ready to fight this battle. But it doesn't sound like you're ready or that you want to have this fight right now, so in the meantime, do what you need to protect and insulate yourself.
posted by mirabelle at 6:25 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

At least your deeply crappy parents are now giving you a tool that you can use towards building yourself a happier life. Take that tool and use it: giving their children this kind of tool is what parents are supposed to do.

Too-Ticky has it exactly right. They owe you this much, at least. I'm so sorry you've had to live through this nonsense.
posted by the north sea at 6:28 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

The apartment is a gift. You have a dysfunctional relationship with your parents. Some physical distance can be a very good thing. Boundaries are in order and may help you feel more adult. Living with your parents and continuing this parent-child dynamic is not good for any of you. You get to decide who you open the door for, and you also get to close it on those who treat you poorly. In your case, your parents are paying for the apartment and you might have to let them in physically, but you can still decide what kind of behavior you are going to accept.

Perhaps trying to frame the situation a bit differently might help:

1. While they may have unrealistic expectations, rules, and opinions they may also want their routine and space without adult children in the house. There is nothing wrong with this. They get to decide who lives in their house.

2. Instead of feeling bad about not being good enough (you are) and trying hard to take care of them, how about concentrating on taking good care of yourself? They can take care of themselves. You have a responsibility to take care of you.

3. You get to decide what you take personally. So, your brother brags about making more money, that's his ego talking. You can have understanding and compassion. Your father doesn't thank your boyfriend? That's on him. Not your problem and not a resentment to stew over. When we have unrealistic expectations for how others should behave, we will always be disappointed.

In my younger days I had a very resentful attitude toward my parents. This attitude and mindset is destructive. It keeps you in victim mode. So your parents are flawed human beings who use hurtful words and still treat you like a kid. You are not alone. Welcome to the human race. It hurts and it leaves wounds but you can heal. You don't have to be a victim of their behavior. You don't have to stay in helpless child mode.

As you move out on your own, and gain a perspective with time, you might reach a point where you won't take their past behavior personally. What helped me is therapy and understanding that my parents' behavior was a reflection of their wounds and dysfunctional ways of relating. It's not your fault your parents use hurtful words. That's their problem and it has nothing to do with you. Going forward, you get to decide what you're going to tolerate.

Think about how you want to live your life. Do you want to give all of your power to your parents and imaginary situations that haven't happened? Apartment noise? That's not an issue. You have the power to get earplugs, don't make it a catastrophe. Sometimes we cannot see the unnecessary drama we are creating in our lives. You have a clean bill of physical heath, keep seeing your therapist to help with feelings of shame. Shame can be healed. As you continue differentiating from your parents, working at your job, and advancing in life, you might get to a point where you are no longer financially dependent on your parents. This will give you more freedom and empowerment.

Good luck and the best of happiness and the joy of knowing that your life is yours to live and create.
posted by loveandhappiness at 6:41 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

I'm a shift worker, and I live with two extremely loud toddlers who shriek, stampede, and throw tantrums all day long. I'm about to go to sleep for the day at 10am, and with my earplugs in and a fan on for white noise, I know I'll sleep soundly all day long without hearing a peep. It's amazing what good earplugs can do! No worries, You're going to love your new apartment.

Based on what you've said about your parents, though, I imagine they will take any opportunity to hold the money they're giving you over your head and try to use it to manipulate and guilt trip you. Make a financial plan towards taking over the payments for the apartment yourself, and direct your energies towards that goal. It's going to feel amazing the day you know you're free and clear of your parents' grasp and are fully independent! Best of luck.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:20 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]

Step #1 - Change your top lock, the deadbolt one. This is super incredibly easy and all you need is a philips head screwdriver.

Wait. What's that? Holy Toledo, you're safe. Feels shocking, right? It's OK. Breathe. Stand still and breathe.

Step #2 - Therapy and Grieve. You have complicated grief, read books and blogs about complicated grief. See a therapist, you may need one 2x per week if possible, definitely weekly.

From my own life experience be open but careful during this stage about making new friends, assume your senses and judgement are a little wonky right now and work on boundaries with your therapist. You've never really had boundaries before, you'll need them in life. Look at developing this skill as part of your recovery.


Walk around the neighborhood each moring listening to The PositiveHead Podcast or similar audio books or youtube lectures, Yoga, Meditation or meditation apps, Gardening, Running, Nature Walk, pick a favorite spot in a park and go there to read a book each day, if you used to play a musical instrument pick it up again and start playing - - you get the idea here, right? Pick something simple and do it every day because this will work better than anything else + you need something soothing to fall back on when you are so upset you can't think, and your practice is that fall back thing which saves you.

- Don't marry your boyfriend right away. This is a bad time for that. heal first.
- There will be lots of strings attached and manipulation from your parents. Work with your therapist on how to handle this, ultimately, you're going to need to move out or pay the rent on your own or get a roommate (hopefully not your bf because you need space to heal) but for now just know they will not change and you'll need strategies. Start considering a period of low or no contact for later on when you are financially independent.

You are very strong. You can do this.
posted by jbenben at 7:25 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]

I think you will be amazed at how much the relief of being away from your toxic family situation will ameliorate any of the annoyances of apartment living.

And your boyfriend will be able to drop in anytime you feel lonely! You can ask your work friends over for dinner! Maybe you're not that close to them now, but this could turn out to be the opportunity to change that.

Throw yourself a super casual, low-stress housewarming party. Just a few snacks and games, and whatever people want to bring. Nobody will care if your new apartment is a showplace, cause they will know that you're just moving in.

The eventual goal is to create a chosen family circle to replace the one that has hurt you so badly.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:19 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

My family situation is not your situation, but I was living with my conservative parents while in college and it was stressful for me. When I moved out I did feel very guilty and uncomfortable, but the guilt went away quickly and I never looked back.

If possible, seek out the support of a therapist while you are dealing with these feelings, preferably someone who has some background with your particular culture.

Seek out and strengthen friendships with people who share your values and who respect and love you. It can take time for this to happen because basically you are creating a chosen family. Be patient but persistent. It's important.

Apartment living and noise: In my experience this is what helps: 1) ask about sound when you are looking at apartments. 2) Get an apartment on the top floor if at all possible. 3) get a fan and earplugs 4) avoid housing geared for younger college-aged people.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 8:58 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

Uh, who's name is on the lease for this apartment and who is paying for it? Because unless the lease is in your name and you can pay for it on your own, this seems like a recipe for your parents to continue to control your life remotely.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:15 AM on March 19 [13 favorites]

Yeah I have to say, while I think it's great for you to be getting out of their house, I'd be worried that they'll keep controlling you via the apartment money since they could decide to stop paying at any time. I ended up with a huge car payment after my mom picked a new car to buy and said she would make the payments then stopped after a few months. Keep taking steps towards independence but please keep in mind how to protect yourself.
posted by brilliantine at 9:51 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]

You will not believe how much better you will feel just being out of that environment. Things that seem "normal" and "background" to you now will simply no longer happen and you'll realize that they were absurd and awful and you should never have had to live with them.

I can still remember, decades later, the exact moment it struck me that I did not have to live in that house anymore. Just an overpowering sensation of relief. And I wasn't even fully moved away at the time!

This doesn't mean that all problems will magically solve themselves. Unfortunately, you have a lot of work ahead of you. But, since you're apprehensive about it, I can't overstate how amazing taking this step will be for your mental health.
posted by praemunire at 11:17 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

Either have it in their name or make sure it's an apartment you can afford. I wouldn't want to risk them suddenly changing their minds and not paying rent mid lease.

A different way of seeing this: At this point, your moving away is doing something to please them. It might be beneficial to them. Without you in their home, they won't be losing their minds on a daily basis over teeny tiny things. Their stress levels will eventually diminish. And if they are still stressed out without you there, then they'll see that they need to figure out what it is that's bothering them so much. And they can work on it.

I lived with my parents until I was 28 as well, in the US. Totally normal in my culture. And they are extraordinarily controlling.
I moved away for school. Can I tell you that everything was great between my parents and I right off the bat? Hell no. It took a very long time. But I can tell you that we are all so much happier and healthier only seeing each other once a week now. They realized that they were driving themselves into an early grave if they kept stressing out over tiny issues in my life. And I needed to figure out what my identity is, beyond all the failure they berate me about. I'm still working on it. It's hard!

PM if you need to talk about it.
posted by Neekee at 6:40 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]

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