What should I do about my relationships with my parents?
July 28, 2018 12:37 AM   Subscribe

I grew up in a very dysfunctional household. I'm now 24. My parents seem to blame me for my disability and just told me that they're thinking about giving up on me, though my mom is willing to chat online at least one more time, tomorrow. Is it possible to have healthy relationships with them?

Content note: abuse

First, I'll provide some backstory. I feel like some of the ways that my parents have treated me over the years have been really problematic. Growing up, my dad would regularly scream at me and at my mom (though mostly me) over things as small as him knocking over a cup of water that I put in the fridge. He's say things to me like "shove it up your ass." I feel like in some ways my mom was kind of in on it, too, because she'd sometimes say things like "I'll tell Dad when he gets home" knowing I was scared of him. I have cognitive issues, and she'd say things like "I hate having to spell things out for you," which she still says these days. From the age of 6, I made attempts to run away on my own and attempts to convince my mom, who I was less scared of than my dad, to take me and leave him, but she wouldn't leave, which she told me as an adult was because she was worried about where we'd go and what to do for money. I have difficult feelings about how both of my parents treated me and how my mom didn't protect me from the more difficult parent, but I understand there's some nuance, so I don't necessarily condemn her for that. I also tried to get help from adults, but they didn't seem concerned, and I guess the problems couldn't really have been proven, anyway.

I eventually left home and went to assisted living. The turning point of me leaving was when my dad was angry that I missed a call from him while I was at a dance and said, "Maybe I should take my anger out on the cats." I arranged for a shelter to come get the cats and moved out.

He has charged towards me, slammed things on a table, threatened to steal my table, and once threatened to cut off my finger.

My parents believe that I'm struggling to take care of myself as someone living independently because I'm just not trying hard enough. I disagree. It's so hard for me to think that I can't figure out how much food to buy when I go grocery shopping. Every friendship or relationship I've attempted (aside from someone who started chatting online with me a few days ago, which has been going well) has gone terribly for me, which I suspect is because my dad's treatment of me made me more vulnerable to future abuse from others. My parents have yelled and sworn at me because they think I ask them for help too much. Not that it necessarily justifies how needy I've been, I guess, but things always go wrong with professional supports, too.

For example, one therapist said, "You won't get to have friends because people would be too busy to be friends with you." A couple of sessions later, she raved about how awesome her friends are and how they've supported her through hard times. I felt gaslighted. I told another that someone stole $700 from my mom (almost a month's worth of income for her) and I called that person an asshole, and the therapist was so offended I'd refer to a major thief as an asshole that she didn't want to talk to me again. Today, the latest therapist things fell apart with accused me of not doing enough to find my missing clothes. Some clothes of mine disappeared, and I tore apart my apartment maybe a dozen times looking for them. I decided to just move on and replace the clothes, but she kept going on and on about how I didn't do enough to find them even after I told her I didn't want to talk about it anymore. She said some strange things, too, like "Maybe your mom took them. Or did you have strange men in your apartment (wtf?)" There are more stories like this, but I want the main focus of this post to be on my parents, since I don't want to overwhelm posters asking for help for too many issues at once. I'm just sharing about this in this post to illustrate that I've tried finding other sources of support besides my parents. Like I said earlier, friendships or relationships haven't really worked out. I've tried Crisis Text Line, but they all have said basically the same thing: "I understand that you're having a hard time. Try doing fun activities to distract yourself." I have a lot of really deep, painful, and complicated problems, so that isn't anywhere near enough. Maybe their line doesn't have the capacity to support someone like me. Okay.

Everything seems so complicated, hard, and painful that I always feel very drained, which my terrible sleep compounds the effect of. I've been chronically stressed for probably my entire life, and I've read about how stress affects the cardiovascular system, immune system, etc. Today, after things fell apart with the recent therapist, my parents at first were supportive, like "It sounds like you had a hard day," but then suddenly tonight, they picked me apart for two and a half hours straight. "You're just making excuses." "Bullshit." "We can do it, so you can do it, to." "You must like being this way." "Why didn't you leave (mental health organization) sooner?" and ironically, the contradictory, "You should give them a chance. They're not perfect. I say try again." (I had tried to make it work with this organization for at least five years. I've had enough).

My parents have always swung back and forth like this, between being nice and supportive, and making me feel judged, condemned, insulted, like I have to justify everything to them, etc. I tried explaining myself to them, such as when I said, "This isn't the life I want at all. I want to have a career, a social life, be able to cook delicious meals, etc. I can't just be commanded into it. It's like telling a car with no gas to run. It'll take time for me to get there." But they didn't seem to believe anything I said, kept questioning me, digging, saying a lot of "ugh" and "rolls eyes" and angry emojis. This was in a group online chat.

Some of the things they want me to do to fix my life involve going out in public. I understand that's necessary, but it's difficult for me. For example, I cry a lot, which feels impossible to control, and sometimes I get more disoriented than usual. That's just a couple of my various difficulties with being in public, so it's more complicated than that.

I know it's my responsibility to get better, but it's a lot harder when I've had a lifetime of chronic severe stress with no break and no end in sight, and when no one seems to be on my side, even people who've been paid to be. My previous therapists don't think that I qualify for a caregiver, yet I qualified for assisted living before, and still do. However, at the last group home, a lot of people hit me, broke my things on purpose, stole my things, etc. I feel like I need to live alone after all of this trauma so that I can have a space that's just mine where I can have peace.

I know it's my parents' right to not help me if they don't want to. It still hurts, though, but I won't try to force them, either. However, is there any way to get it through to them that I'm trying my best and not just making this up or whatever? Is it a good idea to try to salvage my relationships with them?
posted by Psychology Hearts to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
No, I do not think that it's possible to have healthy relationships with your parents at this moment. They seem to be dragging you down more than they are lifting you up. It sounds like they are mostly adding stress and unhappiness to your life. Those are things you're better off without.
I would at the very least take a break from them and stop interacting with them for, say, a year. After that, it's early enough to see how you feel without having to deal with them: better or worse?

Your life sounds hard. You, on the other hand, sound tough, smart and thoughtful. Here's wishing you that your circumstances improve sooner rather than later.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:16 AM on July 28, 2018 [23 favorites]

Oomph. I am sorry you are having to go through life with the difficulty level turned up so high. There is so much here, I just want to point out that you don’t have to answer the question of whether you can have a non-damaging relationship (which may be the best that could ever be hoped) with your parents For All Time; you need to answer it for right now. And from that perspective, I think it might be clearer to you that the answer is no. They cannot be the people you go to for support about, e.g., issues with your therapist, because they are incapable of providing it and what they offer instead is exacerbating already bad situations. Focus now has to be on finding those support people and building relationships with them, because I realize you have no one else. That comes first.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 4:26 AM on July 28, 2018 [9 favorites]

No, it is not possible. Have you attempted no-contact before? What was it like? It takes many people a few years of lower contact and multiple attempts at no-contact to entirely disconnect from abusers.

Often, that's because the survivor is terrified horrible things will happen if they disengage. Sometimes that fear is about trauma and mental health difficulties, and no-contact is much easier than expected. Sometimes, though, the survivor is worried about the abuser's response, with good reason, as it turns out to include attempts at retaliation.

People here are talking about pulling away from someone who has threatened to hurt pets to upset you and threatened to permanently injure you. I think they're giving good advice, long-term, but right now you are the only expert on how your parents (particularly your father) have treated you before and what they might do now. I don't know if you will benefit from talking to a domestic violence/abuse hotline about safety and risk, or if you should warn the people you live and work with about this situation in case it's relevant. You would know better than me if those are good next steps.

You might find Why Does He Do That? helpful. I'm sorry that this has happened, and I wish it hadn't.
posted by bagel at 5:26 AM on July 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think if you continue to turn to your parents for help you’re going to get hurt (abused) every time. What a horrible thing to realize! But if you can begin to see them as people you simply can’t turn to—at least right now— you can begin to heal.

Your problems do sound complicated. I hope an expert chimes in but as a layperson, it seems to me a LOT of therapies involve challenging patients on their assumptions with the goal of causing them to think differently/realistically. So while this is helpful for, say, a person who fears she will be fired for making a single mistake when that’s not the reality, perhaps it’s not an effective model for someone with your particular set of concerns. I can see how this approach falls badly short for you and makes you feel even worse. Maybe you can request not simply a different therapist, but a different kind of therapy altogether?
posted by kapers at 6:22 AM on July 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

Today, after things fell apart with the recent therapist, my parents at first were supportive, like "It sounds like you had a hard day," but then suddenly tonight, they picked me apart for two and a half hours straight. "You're just making excuses." "Bullshit." "We can do it, so you can do it, to." "You must like being this way." "Why didn't you leave (mental health organization) sooner?" and ironically, the contradictory, "You should give them a chance. They're not perfect. I say try again."

I am guessing they don't have the patience to talk about your problems in long sessions like this. It might work to have them in your life with the limited expectation that you can meet up in public for coffee a half hour at a time, but not count on them for drawn-out discussions. Journaling might be a good way to get your feelings out with no constraints on time.
posted by lakeroon at 6:56 AM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding talking to a domestic violence counselor. Emotional violence is as damaging as physical violence. Your family is not just dysfunctional it's extremely abusive. You need to cut your parents out of your life! Sometimes that's the healthiest thing you can do. Fuck people who think it's up to you to forgive and find a way to have a relationship with them.

You're obviously very smart and you write beautifully. Are you in college, or have you considered going to college? You parents' income shouldn't count anymore for financial aid since you're 24, check on this. Colleges can make all sorts of accommodations for people with handicapping conditions. Find a college at some distance from your parents and don't look back.
posted by mareli at 7:21 AM on July 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

I will agree with the people who say that the parents you are describing are not likely to behave in ways you are nourished by, and also second the recommendation for a therapist with experience in domestic violence.
posted by PMdixon at 7:53 AM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's so hard for me to think that I can't figure out how much food to buy when I go grocery shopping.

I can't help you with the shitty parents, but I can help you with that. I used to find the process of regularly shopping for provisions extraordinarily stressful, wasteful and ineffective before I got a bit systematic about it.

Start keeping the itemized register receipts from your grocery shops. Get a clipboard and clip them there in reverse date order, so the newest receipts are on top.

Any time you find yourself throwing out food that's remained unused for long enough to go bad in storage, find the most recent receipt for that item and mark the item with a - symbol.

Any time you find you've run out of some ingredient you need in order to make something you want to make, find the receipt for that item and mark it with a + symbol.

When you're making your next shopping list, go through the receipts looking for the items you're writing on your list and see whether they have + or - marks next to them. If they do, copy the item size listed on the receipt to the shopping list, and also add the + or - next to that. That way, as you're working through the list while you're shopping, you can easily see whether you need to be buying more or less of any given item than you did last time, and you have last time's package size ready to hand to let you make that comparison.

If you're putting something on the shopping list that you haven't already got a receipt for, just trust yourself and the process: it doesn't really matter how much of it you get, because the process will compensate next time if you get too much or too little this time.

Over time, you will find yourself needing to put fewer and fewer + and - marks on your receipts as your body habitualizes the acquisition of your regular staples and bypasses the need to think about them until there's some really good reason to do so.
posted by flabdablet at 8:08 AM on July 28, 2018 [27 favorites]

There is no way in hell that your parents deserve any more contact with you. The sooner you can cut them out of your life the better. The "therapists" you have been seeing are worse than useless if they are saying the sort of things they are saying to you. They should be focused on making you more effective at living on your own and building your confidence through the attainment of life/coping skills. What you should be doing is doing all you can to attain employment and independence, and cutting out all people from your life that act anything like your parents. Your situation sounds complicated and difficult, and I am not qualified to help with all your issues, but I just want to weigh in on the side of not interacting with your parents (or anyone who acts like them) again if you can avoid it. Do everything you can to become your own independent person, it should be your first priority so you can get away from all these shitty people.
posted by hypercomplexsimplicity at 9:13 AM on July 28, 2018

Holy @$#% *&^ fracking *!@! The question should be Do you want to have a relationship with these people who are abusive and mean? I would be distant, non-confrontational, civil. They have taught you to view life through a horrible, negative, I'm worthless filter. You deserve, love, friendship, fun, respect, and more. You deserve a big hug.
posted by theora55 at 9:32 AM on July 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

Besides nthing many of the other suggestions that have been addressed already, a couple things that might help if you haven't explored these options yet:

-Can any of your therapists (or place that you lived in before since it sounds like you still qualify) help you find what additional resources might be available for you in your current community? This would include volunteer organizations. So what occurs to me is that you might benefit from having a social worker and/or an occupational therapist, but someone that can help you with strategies for some of your individual challenges (i.e., shopping strategy, etc.). I also think that it if you do this, you might not need to go to your parents with everything.I think you could aim for all the skills that you want to acquire, whether it be how to such to eventually getting a job, or getting out more, etc.

-With the therapist that was preoccupied with the lost clothes. There is not enough to know what happened in that circumstance, but what I wonder is: Can you brainstorm before you go to sessions what you want to work on that day or week and what is most important in your life? Then when you go to the therapist, you can use your list and tell them your priorities and what you want to work on for the next 6 months. If someone starts to go off on the clothes, you can reinforce how that is not your main goal / but you appreciate the concern, blah blah blah,

-Is there group therapy available for you? Maybe with people who have similar challenges? I've heard about group therapy for other challenges and I think it might be useful because people undergoing similar problems/challenges might suggest many different ways to solve a problem, and it sounds like this might benefit you.

-Baby steps - I think that those are great goals that you have, and that every person deserves to go after the life that they want. I wonder if it might be less frustrating to break them into smaller goals. For example, I see that you want to work, which is great. Maybe you could start with volunteering an organization that you care strongly about first. Be a regular and go there how X hours a week they request. Then work on finding a part time, job - after you do that, then look for a full time job. Does that make sense? So you do what works for you and still aim for the same destination, if that is what want.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 9:40 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just thought of a few more things.

-Are you getting help from your local Vocational Rehabilitation?

-Are you collecting Social Security? If you've had handicapping conditions since you were a kid then you should be eligible.

-Have you ever seen an occupational therapist? This kind of therapist can help you figure out how to do the day to day stuff, the clothes, the food, all of that.

It sounds like your parents have never provided you with the help you need, either out of ignorance or malice. Stop expecting anything from them, all you're gonna get is more shit.

I'm rooting for you!
posted by mareli at 10:00 AM on July 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

I am so sorry you have to deal with abusive assholes. Abuse by caregivers to people with disabilities is extremely common. Anyone who tells you that your problem is no big deal, is ignorant. Know that this shit is not your fault. Even if other people blame you— that is their mistake. Inside, you know you are strong, capable, and compassionate. You will find the resources to examine your trauma and feel better. But first, you need to detach completely from your abusers.

Are you dependent monetarily on your abusers?
If not, your escape will be a little easier.
You can tell your assisted living facility to not allow your abusers on the premises. If need be, you can file a restraining order against them. Or just change your phone number and email. Contact a domestic violence hotline or women’s shelter to get started on strategies.

If your parents are helping you pay for your living situation, it is going to be a little trickier. You need to find a way to become financially independent from them.

You don’t say a) where you live or b) if you are on SSDI. Your path to financial independence will depend much on these factors. Some states and regions have much better accommodations and benefits than others.

For now you can look at db101.org/ to see what might be available to you.

Get in touch with your social worker if you have one and tell them your intention to be financially independent. Be in touch with them regularly. They probably have hundreds of clients, so you may have to be loud and assertive (but polite) in order to be heard.

Definitely look into colleges, especially ones that can offer large or full ride scholarships. Call up their disability services office directly and find out what services they offer. Do a deep search online for colleges that other people with disabilities frequently attend. I know UC Berkeley is generally very good, for example.

Good luck! You can do it.
posted by shalom at 10:21 AM on July 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

[One comment deleted. Sorry, OP, AskMetafilter isn't really a place for back-and-forth between posters and commenters; you can read the answers and mark the ones that are most useful for you, and just kind of ignore the others if you feel they're missing the mark.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:19 PM on July 28, 2018

Cutting off parents forever or at least on a long-term-and-therefore-possibly-permanent basis seems, before you do it, to be a bigger deal than it really is. There is not in fact some magical quality of family that makes them good for you no matter what. You can't romanticize blood ties. If they're overall good for you, then of course one should forgive all kinds of minor things. But they aren't automatically good people to have in your life, and you need to take a hard look at what you're getting out of these relationships to make it worth enduring these things.

You say you're independent and I get that you're not living with them anymore, but the way you've written your question makes it seem like you're still as emotionally tied up with them as you ever were, if your mom's financial issues are becoming an issue in your therapy sessions. Maybe a break is, in fact, a really good idea. Let your parents live their lives and let your mom work out her own problems and what she wants to do with them, and then spend your emotional energy on your own life and your own problems, where it's actually going to do you some good.
posted by Sequence at 8:32 AM on July 29, 2018

« Older Motivated by Divorce, Asperger’s or Something Else...   |   Duets w/ singers just having a helluva good time... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.