Help a miserable 20something deal with her paranoid, overprotective father!
December 23, 2007 8:26 PM   Subscribe

Help a miserable 20something deal with her paranoid, overprotective father! Long story short: I need help dealing with an overprotective parent. His behavior and beliefs have been debilitating both developmentally and socially, and I can't stand to watch another stagnant year go by. I need to start living my life. I'm a 20 year old girl and a bit of an old soul. I've already graduated from college with honors and I'm almost done with my master's. I have a full time job. I'm attractive, I take care of myself, I have everything I want in the material sense, but I'm miserable. I don't have friends. I've never dated. I don't go out. I have no sense of enjoyment in my life. I don't know how to interact with people or cope with my anxiety.

I grew up with an extremely overprotective father. He's from the Middle East, so it's largely a cultural issue, but he is paranoid to a pathological extent. The interesting thing is, he's a perfectly intelligent and logical man in every respect except this.

Growing up, I couldn't have friends or go to birthday parties because my friends might have fathers and fathers rape children, and unless he knew the parents, I couldn't go, and he wouldn't meet the parents because they're probably sick people, etc. etc. Typical thinking of my father. (My mother, on the other hand, is completely normal. Unfortunately, married to my father, she has no say in anything, so everything was always up to my father.) For a period of time, I had a boy's haircut and he encouraged me to wear male clothing. Forget about ever wearing a sleeveless shirt in public. When we went to the beach as a family, everyone sat in their bathing suits. I had to wear an oversized t-shirt and shorts. So obviously at an early age I had this idea ingrained in my head that I was ugly, my body was something to be ashamed of, etc. This, among other things, set the stage for the eating disorder I later developed.

I certainly made friends as a kid-- the social anxiety did not come until later-- but it was obviously difficult to explain to my peers that beyond school there would be no sleepovers or trips to the mall, etc.

By the time I reached high school age, I was depressed to the point of suicide. Understandably, people lose interest in you when they believe you are constantly blowing them off. I stopped talking to people entirely. I could easily spend a day at school without opening my mouth once, and even my teachers stopped interacting with me. Of course, my father was oblivious to my emotional issues. His reasoning was that I had everything I wanted or needed in life, and "some kids don't have parents who love them," and so I was ungrateful to "act" so sad. His still believes this today. He invalidates all of my feelings because I have nothing to feel bad about. According to him, he's the best dad anyone could ever want, however I am too ungrateful to realize it. Afterall, he did pay for the majority of my education, bought me a brand new car, pays for my insurance, etc. I don't know if I'm wrong in feeling this way, but while I fully appreciate his financial help, I still feel disrespected when he refuses to see me as a mature adult who is capable of making her own decisions.

After my first suicide attempt at 15, I did see a therapist and psychiatrist, but they offered little help, and eventually my father stopped allowing me to go to my sessions because he wasn't thrilled with the 'ideas' they were supposedly putting in my head. I tried to warn both my therapist and psychiatrist, but interestingly, they told me not to worry, my parents wouldn't do that, etc. (Yet another example of having my feelings invalidated...) I never saw them again.

As far as where I stand today, I'm an introspective person. I fully understand how and why I ended up the way I am. I understand that at this point I need professional help if I ever want to be normal. I'd love to find a good psychiatrist and therapist again, but my insurance is through my father, and I wouldn't be able to hide it from him... or would I?

It's also worth mentioning that I suffer from an eating disorder. I lack self-esteem and confidence entirely. I still suffer from general anxiety disorder, although it has gotten worse. I am visibly tense in public places and new situations, but I am comfortable around a few people I've come to know and trust. People tend to shy away from me because I appear arrogant, when the truth of the matter is, I don't even consider myself equal to anyone. I believe this idea that I'm arrogant comes from the fact that I don't open up to others easily, I don't smile, I have my guard up at all times (major fear of rejection), I have a hard time joking around and making small talk, and I dress myself in a manner than only makes me look like more of a snob. (The appearance bit is another can of worms -- I spend major cash on nice clothing, shoes, bags, beauty treatments, etc. I'm stuck on this idea that I can only establish my self worth through my outward appearance.) Everyone who knows me well jokes about this a lot because, according to them, once they get to know me, I'm actually a friendly, funny, and insightful person. It kills me knowing I have these qualities, but I can't allow them to be shown.

Everyday things tend to worry me and I unconsciously focus on the worst possible outcome in every situation. Few things in life are effortless for me. I've turned down my opportunities both directly and indirectly because of my lack of self-esteem and self-respect.
Today I can joke about my father's neuroses, but it's still something that has affected me, and continues to affect me, deeply. I think on some level my father realizes his mistakes. My parents raised my sister (I am the first child) completely differently. She was allowed to develop socially in a normal manner, and she's a happy girl. I can't help but think that could have been me. At 15, she's talking on the phone and making plans with friends. At 15, I was locking myself in bathrooms and mutilating my body.

Despite all of this, I managed to perform very well in college. I had to turn down a competitive graduate program in another state because of my father's unwillingness to let me move (clearly, it's not safe!), and instead take part in something less desireable, but there is nothing I can do to change that now. I plan to apply to medical school soon, but of course, only to schools in states in which my father is willing to live, because he's coming with me. I met a lot of nice people during undergrad, but I never allowed myself to get close to them, never returned calls, etc. and eventually they stopped calling. Again, I never dated. I didn't go to a single party. I studied and established by self-worth through my grades and academic endeavors, which I'm not even proud of. I still feel like a fraud.

So with all that explaining, the problem is, I'm miserable. I want to have friends, I want to go out and meet new people, I'd love to start dating. I'm always told that I would meet so many guys if I simply just went out, but I'm too scared. Of intimacy. Of letting someone into my personal space. Of just having a close friend. I don't know what any of that is like!

I realize at this age my father can't force me to abide by his rules, but when for 20 years you've grown up with this idea that the world is unsafe and people are twisted and you're helpless and incompetent, it's very difficult to just get up one day and conquer the world. It just doesn't work like that. Most people who know me well are surprised to learn I live in such seclusion, because I don't appear as someone who would. Outwardly, I am attractive, presentable, articulate, and can put on a smiling face. On the inside, I'm terrified of people and rejection ever more so.

I went out to lunch with two female friends the other day, and it absolutely killed my father to watch me leave the house. When it's such a hassle to do something a simple as meeting up with some friends during the day for lunch (only having to rush home as soon as possible to show that I'm alive and okay), I'm not inclined to keep making an effort to socialize.

I also recently went on a lunch date with a guy I'm very interested in dating. (I've recently decided that I absolutely need a boyfriend, and this will bring me happiness and contentment. Flawed logic, believe me I know, but I'm lonely and desperate). We're compatible and completely on the same page, and I want this to work, but yet I know it never would when I know my father is halfway out of the driveway at 9 p.m. if I'm not home from work. What's even more pathetic, I have to drown myself in benzodiazepines if I want to simply interact with the guy in any manner. I'm sure if he knew this, he'd cut off contact with me immediately. I actually threw up from anxiety the other day after working up the nerve to call him and make a date.

So I guess I'm just looking for general advice. How can I explain to my parents that I need to be in therapy? That my crying and perpetual frowning and starving is not an act, but the only way I know how to cope? That I truly am unhappy? How can I get them to give me more independence and trust my reasoning (when they have no reason not to)? How can I make them see that I've already done so much at such a young age, that I have a good head on my shoulders, that other people are proud of me, that going out and having fun will not be a detriment to my health or future?

I hate sneaking around, and I'd really like to avoid an arguement, but everytime I've asked my father these questions, I've received the same response. He's older and wiser; therefore he knows what's best. He's a black and white thinker, so the second I ask for independence, he screams and interprets that as saying I don't need him at all. Very childish... I suppose I think I already know the answer to my questions: I'll never be able to change my father or the past, and the best solution is to move out on my own. But that's easier said than done, when you were raised to believe you are incompetent. Help!
posted by sansgras to Grab Bag (51 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
You're not fully adult until you turn 21. Can you wait until then? It's not all that long.

Then move out. Move a long way away -- across country. Get a job in a different city. If he says "no", do it anyway.

You don't need to "ask for independence". It's yours by right. The Constitution says so, and so does the law. Once you turn 21, he has no more right to give you orders than I do.

But you have to do it. No one can free a slave who refuses to be free.

(And, though I hesitate to say this for fear of being branded a racist, please, please try to avoid becoming a statistic, OK? If you think he might decide to respond to this with an "honor killing", don't give him that chance!)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:32 PM on December 23, 2007

Wow. This is pretty intense. I think, although this sounds impossible, I'm sure, that you need to move out of your parents' house. You are 20 years old and have a degree. You can quite easily sustain yourself. Read some of the Ask Me posts about living on your own, early adulthood, etc. It isn't too tough, really.
posted by k8t at 8:35 PM on December 23, 2007

I think you have too many problems to solve within the context of your current environment. Find a socially conservative graduate school that will give you a single room on campus and go get a second master's degree. Being on your own in the academic world is like having a permissive parent, and having a single room will give you isolation (or privacy) when you want it.

It seems extremely unlikely that you will be able to convince your family to make even the smallest of the changes you need. You don't sound unhealthy, you sound like you are having healthy responses to an unhealthily situation. Getting some distance from your family could be the cure that you need, and the break your family needs to see you as your own person.
posted by ewkpates at 8:36 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't need therapy. Well yes, you need therapy, but that's like #10 on the list of things you need to do.

#1 would be to move out of your parents house. These friends you went to lunch with, call them up, ask them if you can live on their couch until you can find a place to live. Do this now. Don't think about it, just do it. Pack up what you can fit in your car and when you're father is out of the house you leave. That's it. No negotiation, no warning, you just leave. Leave them a note saying what you have done, BUT NOT WHERE YOU HAVE GONE.

I don't know what your financial situation is. If you're father is as controlling as he seems he may have his fingers in all of your finances, do your best to disentangle them now. If his name is on your checking account, open a new checking account in your name only and transfer it all immediately. If this is the case, do this before you leave and make sure the money has cleared.

You are an adult. It appears you have the ability to be self sufficient. You do not need to reason with him, convince him, talk to him, nothing. His opinion is irrelevant. This is your life, it does not begin when he says it does.
posted by whoaali at 8:42 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need therapy or drugs. You need to move out and have some fun.
posted by unSane at 8:45 PM on December 23, 2007

As hard as it may be, I think you need to move out as soon as you're 21, and basically sever ties with your father. Since you're 20, and practically have a master's degree already, you can definitely move out on your own and be absolutely fine. It really is impossible to change people; if your father can not and will not change, you may have no choice.
posted by fvox13 at 8:48 PM on December 23, 2007

I realize at this age my father can't force me to abide by his rules, but when for 20 years you've grown up with this idea that the world is unsafe and people are twisted and you're helpless and incompetent, it's very difficult to just get up one day and conquer the world. It just doesn't work like that.

I don't think the answers are paying enough attention to this statement. It's hard to just leave. Like any woman in an abusive situation should do (and this one is most definitely abusive), she needs to formulate a plan and find a network of support. When you can't even leave the house, let alone talk to people, without drugging yourself up and risking breakdown, it's hard to do either.

OP, you do eventually need to leave, as it's the only way to jam the message into his head that you are an adult and can make your own mistakes. In the meantime, forge relationships with people outside your family so that when you want to one day make the break, you have some people you can depend on.
posted by sian at 8:53 PM on December 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

Reading Sian's comment, I'm reminded of advice to battered wives regarding how to get out of their abusive relationships. In addition to counseling, which you note being interested in, I think it's very important to set concrete goals and a specific plan to achieve them.

So, two thoughts: you need support from someone outside of your family, and you need to make a plan for becoming independent.

Do you have someone--one of the female friends you mention going to lunch with, perhaps--in whom you could confide all of this, if you haven't already? I know that it will be incredibly difficult to share this information with anyone, but you'll need support from people who care about you if you're going to make choices that will anger the people who supposedly care the most about you. If you know that you need to move away and take charge of your independence (rather than persuading your father to "grant" you your independence, which will not happen), then the next step is to make a plan for it and outline the specific steps you need to take in order to make it happen. Discussing this with your friend will afford you a sounding board for ideas and a support system for when you feel incompetent or otherwise unable to do it. Figure out how to pay for a move out of your parents' house, look into potential jobs, etc. This will be very hard given your upbringing and emotional state, and will certainly upset your father once you put your plan into action, but you can do it. It may mean that you delay med school if you have to pay for it on your own, but it will also mean that he will not be able to control you throughout your medical training by living with you during that time.

There's no quick-fix to transport you from your father's house to your own apartment/job/life, but it will only happen if you make concrete plans to take charge of your own life, and it will be a lot easier to make your plan for that move with the help and support of a friend.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:09 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

For a lot of women, school is the way out. Med school will probably provide you a health plan, so you will be able to get therapy without your father knowing. A mental health professional will also probably be able to provide you with resources for breaking ties with your father.

If you don't go to med school, there are some free clinics that can help you without your father knowing. I know women who have gone to them. Look for them at nearby universities and hospitals.
posted by melissam at 9:10 PM on December 23, 2007

slan is right: your father is abusive. one resource that may help is the national domestic violence hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.
posted by kelseyq at 9:14 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You definitely need to move out. Also try to become independent financially. Stop asking your father for advice.

I think the fact that you already realize how negative his influence has been on your life is already a good sign that you'll be able to find yourself without feeling dependent or ruled by him. I didn't live under exactly the same conditions that you have been living in, but similar, and I didn't realize how incredibly different and abusive my family's behavior was from everyone else's until I moved out and had difficulty interacting with people in a normal way. I realized it at 21, and I'm still dealing with it at 25. The thing now is that now I'm desperately fighting the urge to hate them and remove myself entirely from their lives.

I wish I had a good answer for you, but I can only say that it does get better. Find someone in your family you feel like you can trust and confide in them, and if you can't find that, seek someone outside of your family. Really listen to what they tell you. Also stop drugging yourself up because you will regret it.

One thing I learned was that abusive people and nurturing people have the same power over you emotionally. You will meet both types in your lifetime. You have to choose which ones influence you as a person. Learn to believe the people who care about you.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 9:22 PM on December 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Many good responses above, but does your school have a counseling center for students? Many will offer a set number of free sessions to anyone enrolled. Sometimes they can also refer you out, independent of your insurance. And it would be confidential, and often during school hours, so there'd be no suspicion about where you were. It could be a start until you can get into a more permanent therapy situation.

You do need to strike out on your own and start living your life soon. You have all the means necessary to be just fine. But one step at a time.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:23 PM on December 23, 2007

I was in a similar (thank god, not same) situation. Here's what I did:

1 - Move out. This is not impossible at your age.

I was working a part-time job while attending college. The job paid something like $9.50/hr. My annual "salary" was less than 10K. It can be done. I wasn't at all miserable, because you know what? Poor & free to do as I wished was better than having luxuries and living at home. I spent my first New Year's in my new apartment with no furniture and no electricity with Burger King and cheap vodka and I consider that one of the happiest memories I have. I was exactly your age.

2 - Set ground rules: the apartment is yours, and they're not welcome there without your invitation. Do not accept any money or help without the express agreement that it comes no strings attached. If you suspect that they won't or can't be truthful about "no strings attached," don't accept any help whatsoever. If you're anything like me, the guilt card works every time so don't give them any guilt cards to play. At any mention of "come home," end the conversation, by force if necessary (hang up, leave house.) Even if this means avoiding calls and doing some hiding. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GIVE THEM YOUR ADDRESS. Do this until they understand you're not coming home.

3 - After that: Talk to them. Stop letting them know how miserable they're making you, because they don't care. (Well... they care... but the more miserable you are the more they think something's wrong with you. Wrong approach.) Instead, tell them how you feel moving out is the best thing for you. You have to do this in the way that counselors and therapists talk about all the time: Use "I" phrases ("I feel...," "I think...") and avoid "You" phrases ("You did this..." "You made me feel..."). Be as honest as you can, and keep in mind that they are older and they are your parents, but that does not make them right. That also does not make them wrong. Evaluate each statement as it comes. Respond. Repeat.

4 - Get therapy. Your college will offer severely discounted counseling. You can also find a sliding-scale counselor outside of college, and you can ask your school counselor to refer you. You're not that much more screwed up than most (I don't think), but therapy was the second best thing that I ever did, and it helped me see life a lot differently. It's something I think everyone should go through. And the first? I moved out.

Someday, you'll be standing on your balcony in the wee hours of the morning with a beer and a cigarette (or like, soup and a sandwich) and your boyfriend still sleeping on your bed. You'll wonder how you ever put up with it for so long.
posted by reebear at 9:25 PM on December 23, 2007 [6 favorites]

There are some good ideas from other posters, so I'll make my post an addendum to theirs. The big idea is: do something, no matter how small. It sounds like you know what to do. Just take a step, then another, and another. Once you've got something, don't let go of it. As long as you keep moving forward, you'll get there.
posted by systematic at 9:29 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think those who have compared you to a battered wife are very astute. Your father has left you completely reliant on him by knocking down, or never allowing you to develop, the tools and resources (inwardly and outwardly) with which you might maintain independence.

I agree that seeking out resources for those in domestic violence situations would be helpful. One specific point: it's clear from your post that you are still financially dependent on your parents, and that your father is using that as leverage to control you. As much as you can, begin building a monetary foundation for yourself - a bank account that he doesn't know about where you sock away money that you yourself have earned, for example. I imagine that for someone who is used to being provided for, the idea of being financially insecure may be terrifying. You can do it - you can get by with no car and med school loans if you have to - but for now, just focus on saving what you can. Think of it as an independence account - a way to build and measure your own power, one dollar at a time.
posted by granted at 9:39 PM on December 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

This post makes me want to cry. What everyone else said--get out of there. There are no halfway measures, get out of there. God bless you and good luck.
posted by LarryC at 10:07 PM on December 23, 2007

Having known a similar (I wouldn't dare say "same") situation with someone very close to me, the younger sibling being able to do a thousand times more things than the older sibling rings true. Dad seems concerned with keeping his station as dictator of the household. He wouldn't want to give off the impression that he was mistaken about the dangers of the world and the million other things he filled up the OP's head with over the years if he reversed his position and lightened up on the OP in the same way he did her younger sister.
posted by dr_dank at 10:20 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you are but one is an adult at 18 in the US (even though one has to wait until 21 to legally drink).

I am not Middle Eastern, but I too had the experience of having my father stop me from seeing a shrink (when I was 7) because he didn't like the things she was saying. He also uses the word "woman" like anyone else would use the word "bitch" and allowed my brother and his friends to go unpunished for plotting something for which they should have been held legally accountable...all this while trying to pass himself off as a gentle, emasculated martyr. I had twentysix years of shrinks and most of them were about "let's find the magic answer to brujita's problems, but we won't take a good hard look at ourselves, because it's only brujita who makes this family difficult...when shitty things happen we smile and pretend nothing's the matter even though they still keep happening"

What I'm inferring from your father's "older and wiser" is "I have the penis, which makes me superior and gives me the last word". This may fly wherever he's from, but is not the case in the states. However, you can't change him. Like others in this thread, I'm concerned about honor killings, but I don't know about your full situation.

Prince Charming does not exist. Happiness and contentment are things one has to obtain oneself.

You don't have to explain your needs to your parents; you just have to fulfill them for yourself.

I would think that there are grants and loans for the graduate program you wanted to take. Don't let your father's controlling the purse strings be the deciding factor in this.

Good Luck!
posted by brujita at 10:53 PM on December 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've always been a bit of an introvert myself.
I started keeping a journal some time in 11th or 12th grade.
I'd try to type out what I was thinking and feeling into a password protected file on a usb drive.
I have to be careful, because to a degree writing things out forces me to dwell on them and make them worse than they are - and it winds up bringing me down.
But it's also great to look back every now and again and see how far i've come.
(sometimes I will look back and realize that I wrote this sentence or two that perfectly describes what was going on inside my head at the time)

Journaling might be an option for you.

Also, going to college really has had an impact on me.
It wasn't so much college as it was living away from home and putting myself in situations that were outside of my comfort zone.
I ran into a guy I went to high school with at a party, and he couldn't believe that 'the most antisocial guy at [his] high school' was there.

It sounds like you're trying to put yourself in situations that are outside your comfort zone - keep doing that, it's healthy.

I agree with some of the previous posters that you seem financially dependent on your parents. At the least you are living with them. Make finding a place to live away from them a priority.

You listed several things that you wanted and also several barriers.
I think that on some level everyone is anxious and everyone doubts themselves on some level. It may be amplified in you, but don't let it own you.
If you want to see this guy, give it your best shot. If things don't go well then the worst case is that you're not with this guy and you probably will learn something from the experience. If you avoid this guy, nothing happens - you're still not with him.

I think I may have rambled a bit, but turnabout is fair play ;)
(your post was actually very articulate)
Good luck
posted by itheearl at 10:54 PM on December 23, 2007

I'd just like to point out that if you are scared to move forward with your educational plans without your father's support, that you do not have to continue with these plans, at least not right now. You can make a new plan that works for you as an independent person--whether that is moving somewhere where you can get a low-stress job and easily support yourself (book store; call center; library assistant, SAT tutor), or seeking a less expensive education, or just find a way to be a young person. You have worked so hard all your life just to keep this madman's judgement at arm's length, and it sounds like you have never had a moment of peace.

As I read your post, I thought "this is a girl who needs to dye her hair pink and stay out late drinking beer in the cemetery and crush out on local musicians and oversleep and miss a midterm." Maybe you can't do these things while you live at home, but you can do them, and you should. You'll discover there is some really lovely grace in trusting that the world will continue to spin and people will like you even if you don't wrap a tight fist around your own behavior. You can fuck up, and it doesn't make you a bad person. Be kind to people--especially yourself. When people see that you are not perfect and proud, they will find you more accessible, and feel less insecure around you.

I think you need some strong female role models in your brain to help you get to the next place. Go read about Marina Abramovic the performance artist, especially the work she did before she began collaborating with Ulay. Imagine yourself acting out these performances. Some of them involve cutting and self-abuse, which I hope won't be a trigger for you to hurt yourself--rather, I suggest you think about these conceptual acts because they all add up to a statement of courage, independence and becoming powerful at her most vulnerable. Ditto, Yoko Ono and "Cut Piece." Listen to Patti Smith and X-Ray Spex and Bikini Kill and Liz Phair's first album. Read biographies of women you admire. Read about the feminist movement. Remind yourself of how strong you must be to be as self-aware and efficient when you have essentially been brainwashed since childhood. Read about brainwashing, and about children who grew up and away from cults.

I think you can make a good life for yourself, but you'll have to find the courage to cut the poison cord between your father and yourself. No more contact--as soon as you can manage it. Then your own life begins.
posted by Scram at 11:06 PM on December 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

First of all, as others have mentioned, you need to leave. The hardest part is going to be providing for yourself- you can't take money from your parents any more. They're using it to control you- if they pay for your lodging, food, clothing, car, school- they own you. As long as you are depending on your father for your day to day sustenance, he will continue to view you as his to control. Can you survive without a car? You may not think you can, but if you live in any sort of urban area, it's not bad. Moving out and being independent will probably freak you out. If you've been sheltered, do you know about living on your own? Do you know what rent (and deposits) will cost, how to ride public transportation, how to open a bank account, and how to change your mailing address? Do you have your social security card and birth certificate? Be prepared to deal with the panic that comes with missing a bus stop, or dealing with a clogged toilet. As much as you can, prepare yourself. Get a map of the city, read up on basic maintenance, anything you can to to prevent a situation where you panic because you don't know what to do.

Second, you need to realize that your dad may never change his views. He may be blind to any personal success and point out any failure (real or perceived) as an example of your shortcomings. He will most likely always maintain that he did the best he could and that you should be grateful to him. Your father may be different, but be aware that getting him to change his views will be extremely difficult for you emotionally. You should never have to try to sell your good qualities to a parent, and that's what you're going to have to do.

If you don't have the means to be financially independent right away, then take a self defense course. Tell you father that you want to be able to protect yourself when he's not there- be prepared for him to say no, but you know how he thinks, so prepare defenses for his arguments. A self defense class will provide you with a greater sense of control, and should provide a good boost to your self-esteem. If you can't take a class, buy a DVD.

Whatever you do, be very, very careful about getting in a relationship. You're vulnerable, and probably looking for someone to validate your worth as a person. This neediness can bring out the worst in someone else, so as much as possible, work on getting yourself in a good emotional state before dating. You seem to be very intelligent, but all reason goes out the window when emotion takes over.

And realize you will probably never be "normal", but someday you will be strong. You don't need to live like this. You've already taken the hardest step, which is realizing it, and asking for help. Keep asking and keep trying.
posted by andeluria at 11:08 PM on December 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

Can you start by getting access to therapy through your school? You sound like you need someone to talk to on a regular basis, before you can find the courage in yourself to move out and start your own life on your own.

Talk to the medical services in your school, make an appointment, and don't tell your parents. You really need help and there is no reason to give your father the opportunity to deny you this help.

In the back of your mind, you can try to realize that at 20 years old you have your whole life ahead of you, and you already have a college education. You are capable of more than you realize.
posted by cotterpin at 12:27 AM on December 24, 2007

Nthing the idea of therapy. At my college/grad school they had counseling as well as psychiatric services through the student health center.

I can see how it would be hard to just get up and move after being terrorized for 20 years. A counselor could help you formulate a good plan to get out safely.

Also, you could look into graduate student housing through the university. Living in the dorms might be less intimidating than getting your own apartment.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 1:31 AM on December 24, 2007

I was you. I'm not a woman, and my father isn't Middle Eastern, but culture and gender stop mattering when you're in a situation where the person who was supposed to be taking care of you, loving you, and teaching you to survive in this world becomes a hindrance to your survival. I was almost shuddering with anger that your father would do this to you while I was reading your post, because trust me, I know how it feels. I wish I could be there and knew you well enough to offer you a spare bedroom and help. You deserve better. As it is, my email is in my profile, and I'm always available to talk (luckily I work from home :) ).

My father was very much like your father. He insisted on protecting me and using the family finances to control us, an obsession of his that ultimately broke up our family and freed me from that cycle, which forced me to learn to survive outside of it. My parents separated when I was 11, but their finances were continually intertwined, and while I was living with my mother, we never had enough, really. And he would visit on the weekend, berate, scold, and remind us that we weren't enough, didn't know enough, weren't capable enough. During those years I had to spend every ounce of myself not to believe him. When I was 14 he drew blood hitting me for the first time, and we finally got a restraining order. By the time I was 16, he was out of my life completely, but I was also living in a house where EVERYTHING was overshadowed by the fact that we didn't have enough money, in a town where there were no opportunities or anyone I felt like I identified with, while dad had enough and lived in a major suburb with options I felt like I could get myself involved in. We had partially made up by that time, so, I moved in with him, and while for my social and educational life that was one of the best choices I've ever made, living with him caused a whole new bout of assaults to my self-esteem. He was abusive, harsh, and constantly reminded me of the fact that he controlled the home finances, paid for my car (and later when I bought my own car, insurance), and it was on HIS sufferance, since I was a minor, that I was living in his house, in this town, with more opportunities than with my mother, and that he could fuck up everything with a phone call or two. I felt helpless, oppressed, and angry, and ran away more than once, even though I had a job and much more independence than you seem to have.

When I was 17, I started university, moved out for good into the dorms, and he STILL hovered in the background, offering and offering and offering help with money, with this, with that, and on the few occasions I took that help, I regretted it. It wasn't until I was, yes, 20, and had decided to study abroad, that I finally shook him off. All the broken promises, all the emotional blackmail, all the anger...they took a long time to fade.

I moved to China, and I stayed. Anything rather than go back to a life of that. It was painful at first, but I made it. I'm okay. Everything I own, all the friends I have, everything I've learned, I did myself. It's all been hard-won, and it wasn't easy at all.

They're right, in this thread. You need to escape. You have the training and skills to make it anywhere in the world, all it takes now is the will to make that first step and not look back, and a safe place to put your foot when you do. If I can help, let me know (I mean that, I'd do anything rather than see someone else go through this), and if I can't, know that I and the other posters here understand and have seen many other people escape the situation you're in. You should not have to live this way.
posted by saysthis at 2:16 AM on December 24, 2007

This may be a stupid idea but I'll put it out there anyway. You need to move out and you also need a support network because living on your own can be hard enough even without all this baggage. Given that, one possibility is a free or low cost volunteer program that involves traveling to some place and working with a group of people for a specific amount of time. Googling 'free volunteer travel programs' brought up a bunch of results, but I have little experience in this so can't make specific recommendations.

Also, you do have some friends, even if they're not close ones. And you managed to go out on a date with someone you're interested in, which would be nerve-wracking for anybody. That is a big deal.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 3:21 AM on December 24, 2007

Also, if it's realistic at all, you can try to enlist friends and family to go out of their way to talk positively about your newfound independence with your father. Things like "you must be so proud of her" and "what a strong woman, she gets her strength from her father" or whatever other crap. He might be well beyond the point where this does anything, but you can talk with relatives he is close to and see if they think it's worth a try. It doesn't mean you have to stay in close touch with him, the goal would just be to have them help him find a way to save face and maybe even find a new way to feel like The Man. They can do this in the background while you've moved to the opposite coast and see him at most once a year.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 3:31 AM on December 24, 2007

One last thing.

I still feel like a fraud.

Who doesn't? (Maybe your father.) Don't worry about it.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 3:41 AM on December 24, 2007

Your father doesn't seem very logical or rational to me. It seems he wants to keep you pure, to shield from the filth of the world, but this is an ideal that is difficult to achieve and practically impossible to maintain. What are the costs? When he passes away, would it really matter to him whether or not you're pure? Eventually when his hold on you wanes and you set yourself free, all that's left for him is major disappointment in more ways than one. He doesn't see that his actions are ultimately hurting himself.

You need self-esteem. Find new experiences ON YOUR OWN.

Let your father know that you need to know the world, its good and its bad. Assure him you will use common sense, when dealing with the bad things of the world, but clearly assert that you NEED to deal with the bad things. He needs to release his grip on you for you to do this.

You will need to move out, with or without his support, eventually.
posted by gttommy at 3:57 AM on December 24, 2007

Nthing the advice to move out, and to get therapy, and to look into (if not necessarily activate immediately) domestic violence protection.

I also recently went on a lunch date with a guy I'm very interested in dating. (I've recently decided that I absolutely need a boyfriend, and this will bring me happiness and contentment. Flawed logic, believe me I know, but I'm lonely and desperate). We're compatible and completely on the same page, and I want this to work, but yet I know it never would when I know my father is halfway out of the driveway at 9 p.m. if I'm not home from work. What's even more pathetic, I have to drown myself in benzodiazepines if I want to simply interact with the guy in any manner. I'm sure if he knew this, he'd cut off contact with me immediately. I actually threw up from anxiety the other day after working up the nerve to call him and make a date.

IMO what you definitely need is more friends, whether or not you need a boyfriend. It seems from your situation that you haven't much experience socializing with men on any basis at all, let alone romantically or sexually. I strongly advise making friends with more men and more women, particularly ones who have a lot of friends themselves - ie, a social support network, and particularly ones who can and will understand your family situation, and who you can have fun with. Do you have relatives, or people of the same ethnic/religious background who are not blood relations of yours, but might as well be? Are there any of these who are adapted to Western culture, who you like, and who your father doesn't outright dislike? Can you hang out with them more? Maybe even stay with them for a while?

I met a lot of nice people during undergrad, but I never allowed myself to get close to them, never returned calls, etc. and eventually they stopped calling. Again, I never dated. I didn't go to a single party. I studied and established by self-worth through my grades and academic endeavors, which I'm not even proud of. I still feel like a fraud.

You really, really sound to me like someone who doesn't have enough joy in her life. It's bad enough that your father is so harshly limiting your freedom - promise yourself that you won't do it to yourself too. Say 'yes' to more things. Take your freedoms whenever and wherever you can. Those people who eventually stopped calling - do you have their numbers? Are they on Facebook or something? Call one you really liked, and invite them to lunch.

Anyway, back to the guy: please consider that what you expect of him might not be what he thinks you expect of him, if that makes sense. It seems he knows very little, if any, of your problems at the moment; however if he is to be your boyfriend, he needs to know (he'll figure out, if he's got the least bit of insight) that you are on emotionally shaky ground. It's not pathetic to be on medication for a psychological illness. Actually, that you called him to make a date is extremely admirable and brave, and he should consider himself complimented.

You mention that your sister has it much easier - how emotionally close are you with her? How much of your problems is your sister aware of? (If she's not, is it possible that you're equally not aware of problems she has?) Can she, will she, help? Even though she's young, she may be able to provide some emotional support, and some practical assistance. Consider this: you have a ready-made, presumably father-approved reason to hang out with her any time you both want to - she needs transport, and it seems reasonable for your father to be in favor of you 'supervising' her (which would probably also be helpful in terms of your father seeing you as an adult). Friends of mine who grew up in strict families often collaborated with siblings to cover for each other, to get out from under the parental thumb, and also found it easier to stand up for each other than to stand up for themselves.

Three major things to remember: you're not alone, you're not the first, and this is in no way your fault. MeFi members can be emailed through the site; take up the offers above to talk things through over email.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:27 AM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Make an appointment with the doctor who is prescribing your anti-depressants. Take a print-out of your question to AskMeFi with you. Stress the need for complete confidentiality. Ask for a referral to a therapist who can help you build the strength to get free. (Pay for this by skipping the shopping.)
posted by Carol Anne at 5:50 AM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

One really scary thing about living on your own is the idea that you don't have a safety net. I want to emphasize everyone else who pointed out that there are oodles and oodles of resources for women leaving abusive family situations. Any women's shelter out there is going to recognize this pattern of forced isolation as abuse and will help hook you into the resources you need to start your life, most likely including a safe place to live while you build your own life.

All abusers start with this type of fierce isolation coupled with the "safety" rationalization and guilt before they escalate. Your father has given up his rights of fatherhood by emotionally abusing you. Your mother and other family members have given up their rights of contact by failing to protect you, at least for now. You will have a family of choice someday that you will love and who will love you back without strings. Don't let your current family suck you back in, because they will all try. Always assume that any shred of information you share with family or family friends will return back to your father and be used against you to bring you back. Others who have said to not share your address are totally correct.

In my experience with overcoming anxiety, the best thing is to build on small successes and to give yourself credit for even trying. You've done some amazingly brave things lately! Don't get too frustrated comparing where you are now with where you want to be. The really important thing is that you're moving forward and showing more courage than most people would show in your shoes.

However, using psychiatric drugs (benzos) to control anxiety outside of the supervision of a psychiatrist is extremely dangerous. In my experience, even general practitioners aren't ideal for prescribing psyche meds.

So, yes, you need a therapist and probably a psychiatrist if you intend to keep using anti-anxiety drugs. But just seek out a therapist for now and ask them to refer you to a psychiatrist if that sounds too difficult. A big piece of therapy is finding a therapist that you trust and feel safe with, so if you don't feel comfortable with the first therapist that you find after several sessions, ask them to help you find a new one or to talk about what they can do better. They will totally understand, because that is their job and that is their training. A really great therapist that you get along well with is better than gold.

Whether or not you are moving out on your own right away (maybe you do have to just pull the band-aid off, but only you know the answer to that), you will need a support network, which is why it is vital that you get connected to resources for survivors of abuse. Someday you will have your family of choice, because allies and fellow survivors in this fight are all around and you just haven't met them yet.

As much as I understand loneliness, I also understand that serious romantic relationships make changing yourself, building an independent life and becoming a better person more difficult (at first). That's because when you fall in love (and you will), you don't want to jeopardize it by changing, even if you're becoming better, because, "what if that changes the love too?" There's a threshold of self-confidence where a person is comfortable enough with who they are and who they are becoming where they can accomplish all that with a supportive partner. So, I would be really wary of falling into the romantic comedy trap of thinking that love will save a person. Even logistically, moving to another city and starting a new life will be difficult if you are in a relationship.

The YWCA is a strong resource for someone in your position. My local YWCA has wrap-around services from housing to therapy to employment that could touch on all of your needs. These services 100% exist for you, so don't worry about it. (Also, the "Christian" part is just a hold-over from an earlier age, they are not particularly affiliated with any religion, at least not significantly/noticeably so and I've utilized many of their services and I'm hypersensitive to that kinda thing).
posted by Skwirl at 5:55 AM on December 24, 2007

1) You have a sense of loyalty to your parents. This doesn't make you weak. It makes you a good daughter.
That being said, you probably know that parents are not always right. In fact, they can be wrong a lot of the time.
And sometimes you know better than them. And because you know better than them, you need to do what is right for you.
Lying to your parents is OK sometimes. A lot of people do it, and it doesn't mean you are a bad daughter.

Loving your parents doesn't have to mean letting them do what they want all the time. You can love your parents and do the exact opposite of everything they tell you. You can love your parents and lie to them.

I know many good people who have lied to their parents in their youth. They were good then. They are good today.

2) As much as you might love your parents. You need to love yourself more. Much more. And although it is OK to lie to your parents. It is NOT OK to lie to yourself. Not for something as serious as this.

3) Be VERY careful not to meet a man who is like your father. Too many times, people end up marrying their fathers/mothers and in your case, this would be a bad thing. Very careful. He might seem strong and brave and everything your father isn't at first. But always keep your eyes and ears open. I cannot stress how careful you have to be.

4) You need to think of a good lie that will be able to get you out of the house, and out of the city without your father. If I think of something, I will contact you through the MetaFilter mail system. If you do not want me to, let me know either in this posting, or through MetaFilter mail.
posted by bitteroldman at 6:37 AM on December 24, 2007 [5 favorites]

It was very brave of you to post this. It sounds like it has been a long time coming.

I believe you realize at this point that a bit of sneaking is going to be required to help yourself out of this situation (after all, I'm pretty sure you didn't share this post with your father).

My suggestion would be that that sneaking take the form of therapy/counseling. You need someone to talk to who is outside the situation, and more importantly time to sort things out slowly and in bite sized chunks rather than in massive brain dump followed by dramatic action.

You're definitely in a tough spot, but developmentally you're right on track. Our twenties are all about separating from our parents, and it's almost always ugly at some point or another, particularly if one side hangs on too tightly.
posted by tkolar at 7:18 AM on December 24, 2007

nthing therapy. your dad has a problem, probably many problems, and they've become yours. you need to address them. your dad is abusive, and you need to learn to stand up to him.

i disagree with steven above, though--by 18, you have achieved full majority in the eyes of the law. you can do everything but drink, but that doesn't sound like much of a priority anyway. so while you may need a year to get a plan organized, you -can- leave anytime.

i would call an abuse hotline or the ywca. really. they can help you come up with a plan and give you strategies to deal with this in the meantime. you'll have to live a double life for a while--you'll have to pretend to go along with your dad while secretly formulating your plan. you'll probably have to slowly move your things out in the middle of the night. you'll probably have to leave a lot behind. (the most important things you'll need are your identification--everything else is replaceable). but i believe you can make this break. it will probably be the hardest thing you ever do, but probably the most important.

good luck. i have no credentials, but mefi-mail me if you need moral support.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:39 AM on December 24, 2007

I think you're over thinking this. Just move out. I don't think you need more drugs or therapy or anything like that. You're in a stifling situation. You need to get away from that.
posted by chunking express at 7:55 AM on December 24, 2007

Also, I know many an idiot who has managed to survive living by themselves. So even if you are as incompetent as your father would have you believe -- which I doubt -- moving out isn't something to be scared of.
posted by chunking express at 7:59 AM on December 24, 2007

My heart goes out to you. First, please know that it will get better. It really, really will.

I grew up in a situation almost identical to yours. Really, some of the details you described were exactly my experience too. After about -- wow, has it already been this long? -- eight or ten years of intense struggling, I feel like I'm in a much better place. I feel stronger and saner and better; I feel like I can choose how I deal with my father (and the rest of my family), because they no longer have the power to make me hate myself.

I'm writing this thinking about the things I wish that somebody had told me when I was just starting to break free from my own awful situation. I recognize the place where you are right now -- feeling frustrated, anxious to get out but not sure how to do it, reaching for tools that will hurt you along with tools that will help. I hope that my thoughts will be useful to you, and I hope that you'll stay brave and trust your feelings and be kind to yourself. Really, be much kinder to yourself than you think is reasonable. Your father has trained you to be your own harshest critic. To undo that, you're going to have to be way way way easier on yourself than you feel is right. Trust me on this. It will pay off.

And now, some bits and pieces of advice. I know this is long, but I hope it's useful.

1. Nobody can invalidate your feelings. Your feelings are valid, no matter who tells you otherwise. Furthermore, your feelings are a test of other people's emotional health. Your father is terrified of looking into your face and seeing how much he's hurt you. So he tries to make it your fault. That has nothing to do with you -- it's entirely, completely, utterly his problem, not yours. Sadly, there is no way that you can make your parents accept this. If you're waiting on your father to validate your feelings or understand your perspective, you will be waiting forever. You're going to have to trust yourself and take action on your own.

I think you know this already. You know what you feel, you know what your situation is. You can trust yourself. However, it's hard to feel the truth of this without help, especially when you've got somebody screaming at you all the time that you're incompetent and invalid. So, find people who help you believe in yourself. Do your best to trust them. And if it's too difficult to reach out to people right now, then find books, movies, music, and art that help you believe in yourself. Write a journal to help you remember to trust yourself. Take whatever steps you can to surround yourself with as much support as you can find.

2. As everyone else has said, you've got to get the hell out of there. Do it however you can, as soon as you can. You say you're about to apply to med school, "but of course, only to schools in states in which my father is willing to live, because he's coming with me." Hell no! Now is your chance to get out! If that means delaying med school, then so be it. If that means saying "No" to your father, then so be it. If that means sneaking out one night to a women's shelter or crashing on a friend's couch, then so be it. Look inside yourself and ask, "Am I willing to commit myself to another 7-10 years of this?" Be stubborn and be strong.

Being around your father is poisonous right now. It threatens your survival. Imagine that you had radiation sickness -- would you continue to live in Chernobyl? Or, another metaphor: can you build a house of cards in the middle of an earthquake? If you stay under your father's roof, every little advance you make is going to be counteracted by the toxic environment that he creates.

Everybody has offered good suggestions on how to leave, but only you know what will work in your situation. You've got some things going for you, including your master's degree (which means you won't have to flip burgers unless you really want to). I broke free when I was 18 years old, no money, no degree, no nothing -- you can definitely do it now with the resources you have.

3. When I started to break free, looking backwards did not help me at all. Thinking about my father (and the rest of my family) didn't give me a boost of righteous anger or cleansing grief. It just plunged me into a pit of unhelpful, unhealthy emotions -- a dirty, sticky mix of numbness, guilt, depression, confusion, rage, self-hatred, and terror. I don't think I'm being dramatic when I say it was like drowning in sewage.

At a certain point, you will need to wade back into that pit and sort out the good from the bad. But you're going to need all your strength, a support system that works, a smart and sensitive therapist, and a lot of confidence and stamina. It's too much to ask of yourself that you do it now, when you're drained and exhausted by the 20 years you've spent without respite. Don't worry right now about your relationship with your father. Don't worry about what he says or what he thinks. Don't worry about any of it -- there will be time to take care of all that later, when you're stronger and can see more clearly. If you need to cut all contact with your family right now, that's ok. You can always re-establish contact later, on your own terms. That's what I did and I'm damn glad I did it.

Right now, you've got to focus on building up your strength and taking care of yourself. Be like a kid learning to ride a bike: keep your head up and look at the path where you want to go, not at the tree trunk you're afraid of hitting. You've got precious little energy, and this will be a slow and difficult process. When you start slipping back into that pit -- looking backwards, looking at where you've come from instead of where you want to be -- just tell yourself, "I'll be able to deal with that later. Right now, I'm doing something more important -- I'm building up my strength."

4. Don't beat yourself over the head with your mistakes. Remember: lots of people (lucky people) get to flounder through the world and make mistakes and learn and grow when they're still young -- at 5 or 10 years old, they get the chance to fail, learn from their failure, and grow up a little. You didn't get this opportunity. From a very young age, you had to be regimented and careful to prevent your father from hurting you.

So when you make a mistake (as you inevitably will) don't beat yourself up for it -- rather, congratulate yourself for having the courage to take a risk. Look at how far you've come, not at where you think you should be already. It's not a race -- we don't all start at the same place. So, for example, don't kick yourself for feeling too anxious to open up to other people -- be proud of yourself that you're brave enough to try. Congratulate yourself for small or even partial victories ("I'm glad I managed to pick up the phone. Next time I'll be able to dial the number.").

You're right, you can't just "get up one day and conquer the world." You're going to make progress slowly, in small steps, and it will often be two steps forward, one step back. That's actually how the learning process works in a healthy environment. Mistakes are part of learning, so learn to use them.

5. Do things that make you happy. Enjoy yourself as much as possible. It's going to take a lot of work and time to uproot your anxieties and self-doubt. In the meantime, do your best to find the things that make life good. It doesn't matter how stupid or frivolous these things seem -- if they make you happy, go ahead.

A note on this: some things make you happy for a moment, then leave you feeling depressed (like, say, eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting). If you've got to do some of these things, that's fine -- don't be too hard on yourself about it. But what you really want to cultivate are the things that make you happy and leave you feeling clearer and stronger -- like, oh, I don't know, watching the sunset or making crayon drawings of unicorns or whatever it is that floats your boat. This is the stuff that replenishes your strength.

Good luck to you! This is not going to be easy, but I promise you, it's worth it. Feel free to contact me -- email/MetaMail is in profile.
posted by ourobouros at 9:03 AM on December 24, 2007 [13 favorites]

Your father is never going to just wake up one sunny morning and admit that he is and has been an abusive, controlling, manipulative asshole. So please, stop half-wishing that it's going to somehow happen, and stop entertaining fantasies that if you can just find the right combination of magic words, he will see the light and change for the better and apologize and things like that. Thinking like that just keeps him in a position of power over you, where the road to your freedom leads through his changing or his not changing, his realizations or his ignorance. You must make sure that he cannot be the issue here anymore. If you want a better life, you have to make it happen. He will react badly, that's a given. So be it.

So here's step one: you are in a locked room, and one of the keys you need to get out of it is MONEY.

Your father is using his money to control you -- given your circumstances, every dollar and every luxury he gives you (the car, the tuition) is not generosity (although it benefits his ego greatly to see it like that). It is a way of exercising control, of making you feel literally indebted to him, of not permitting you to develop the life skills you need to earn a living for yourself and thus work towards your freedom. It also benefits him that you're still planning to continue in academia, rather than being out working in the world already.

You need to get a job right away, and you don't need to tell him about it. It can be any job -- waitressing, IT consulting, tutoring, anything! Campuses are great for jobs, there's always something available in some department and they're usually flexible about hours. And note that part-time jobs at Starbucks give you health insurance.

Now, the reaction of your family towards this job will be awful. They will tell you that it is totally beneath you, a smart woman with a Master's, to be pouring coffee at the local diner (or whatever it is you choose to do). They will claim it's distracting from your studies. They will see it as an affront to their "generosity", and God knows that minor issues like your self-esteem and happiness are no match for their need to be and feel in control over your life. They will not understand.

The question is, can you stand their disapproval and anger long enough to deposit enough of those new paychecks into your new bank account, until you have enough to put down the first month's rent on an apartment of your own? Because once you have your own money and your own place, you'll be on your way. Other than pushing all your emotional buttons and guilt-tripping you in vicious ways, they won't be able to get you anymore. You'll be gone. After that, you can go to med school (or not) on student loans, or work as a bank teller or a supermarket checkout girl or whatever the hell you want to do. They'll be furious -- be prepared for that - but you, you will be free. And it's so, so worth it.

I speak as someone who went through a similar experience with my parents, though not as intense as your situation. I was once a depressed, smothered kid whose life was being planned by others to a ridiculous degree, from my career path to my friends to even what I looked like. I started to rebel, finally, freshman year of college. The only thing that worked for me was literally earning my freedom -- luckily, I was a geek, and my IT skills easily got me jobs on campus (one full-time, one part-time), which gave me extra spending money but more importantly helped build up my resume. My parents were furious about my working, once they eventually found out about it, for reasons expressed already above. Too late, though -- the resume and portfolio got me a job at IBM right out of college, which laid the groundwork for my IT career, which sent me on my way to freedom and happiness.

Princesses locked away in towers really can get out and live happily ever after - but only if they rescue themselves.

E-mail or MeFiMail me if you want to talk more. Best of luck to you.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:06 AM on December 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

And listen to ourobouros -- I would favorite his/her answer a thousand times if I could. I wish someone had been there to say that to me when I was going through it all.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:34 AM on December 24, 2007

oh honey... *hugs*

I can't say anything that hasn't been said before, but I do have to stress moving out. I would recommend a med school far, far away from your father. The response from him will be hell, but you're already living in your own private hell, and this is a necessary step in order to escape that. Med school will bring with it (if you let it) a personal life, and a group of friends that will potentially be with you for the rest of your life. Yes, you will probably have to pay for this education yourself - your dad is trying to control you with his money, and that needs to stop. Although it may seem extremely daunting, you will be able to figure this out. Loans will be your friend. There aren't many med students who don't graduate with a boat load of debt, here's an opportunity to be like everybody else. :)

Don't go looking for a relationship yet. You need to find yourself first, before finding anyone else. Once you know who you are, you can unleash that greatness on the rest of the "dating" world, but you're not there yet. Baby steps. Take it slow, but surely. And don't be afraid to ask for help. Coming here was a great first step, keep it up.
posted by cgg at 9:41 AM on December 24, 2007

Women's shelter. This is why they exist.
posted by almostmanda at 10:17 AM on December 24, 2007

I was pretty much in the same situation. No friends, and my parents always invalidated my own feelings and opinions. Even though this kind of relationship might be more prevalent in families from Middle East, don't use it as the explanation/excuse for them: I'm a guy raised in fairly typical Scandinavian town. I did not have a friend until I was 24. The definition of a friend in my case: someone I would invite to the cinema.

You need to move out, and it is very important that it is a place where they cannot show up without invitation, if at all. This is the single-most important action you can do to save yourself - you need to secure uninterrupted physical space before you can heal on the inside. You cannot start from the inside when your are in a place where your emotions/personality is constantly invalidated. I would strongly advice you to not invite your parents over, but to meet them at neutral places such as a restaurant, cafe, etc. If you bring them to your home, they will make it into their home no matter how much you try to stop them.

This will hurt their feelings, but you can't save your own life without doing so. If you don't accept that consequence, you'll waste your own life. (But they wasted your life for so long, so do a comparison: is it really that awful to hurt them after they have hurt you so much?)

After I left for college, I had my parents to visit me once. I asked them to behave like guests being at my place, and they denied. They wanted to be decision-makers, even at my place. So I never had them to visit again.

I broke the ties at 21 after a severe case of "we don't respect you". Today, more than 15 years after, I still think that breaking the ties is the best thing I ever have done for myself. My parents still kept sending me letters (I didn't tell them my address, but they got the address from the phone book as I had forgotten to be excluded from it). The letters kept denying the existence of a conflict, and after more than 13 years when they accepted I did not come back, they still denied being part of the problem, it was only me who was the bad guy. I have accepted t hat I cannot change them, and I will never be able to have them realise what kind of hell they have put me through.

Do I miss them? No. Do I miss having loving parents? Yes. That is an important distinction. Shrinks are very useful for getting such insights, but they cannot help much if you stay at home, or let your parents invade your new home. As a child and as a teenager, I had a lot of misplaced loyality to my parents. It was misplaced because it was misused by them to control me, and they did not have any loyality to me. My parents never had any friends, only collegues, and still I was the one blamed for my social shortcomings. Their judgement was "If I wasn't so lazy, I wouldn't have any (social) problems." It was always my problem (i.e. I was the source of it), never them. It was never them that wasn't able to provide a role model for how you have friends. It was never their lack of talking with me about my problems at school. I was just the lazy one.

The first years after a cut can be difficult, so don't expect everything to clear up like magic - and a boyfriend will not help much, only plain friends. It takes time and energy, and gets better bit by bit - similar to old style body building. Don't be afraid to move. As 'chunking express' says: many people even more stupid than your father thinks you are, have succeded in moving out on their own. Otherwise, humanity wouldn't have survived.

You must get rid of the financial dependency, or they will still control you. Think of it like if they died tomorrow and left you no inheritance: what would you do then? That is what you have to do now. Move somewhere cheap, somewhere they can't visit you, and do it without any financial help from them whatsoever. Deny any financial help or gifts from them.
posted by flif at 10:31 AM on December 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

Call your local women's shelter or abuse line. They will have suggestions for you.

Oh, and btw your dad sounds like he has mental health issues.
posted by konolia at 10:48 AM on December 24, 2007

I didn't get better until some time after I completely stopped seeing my parents. I would advice you to see your father no more than once every other week, preferable (less than) once a month. Otherwise he'll keep tabs on you, and you don't get to be independent.

This cannot be solved as an "in house" problem.
posted by flif at 10:52 AM on December 24, 2007

I don't have much to add except to agree with those who say get out to a place that's safe from "dropping in" by parents, and don't accept any help from your father anymore. None. Restrict communications, severely if necessary.

I agree that a transitional place, like a college dorm or other form of rent-a-room housing, will probably be an easier first step. There might even be some women-only boarding houses left. I lived in one when I left home.

Please also be very careful with boyfriends. It's way too easy to repeat family patterns with them, no matter how much you don't want to. Get friends instead and build a life for yourself first.
posted by PatoPata at 11:18 AM on December 24, 2007

I still feel disrespected when he refuses to see me as a mature adult who is capable of making her own decisions.

Well, you've managed to complete college and have almost obtained your Master's, so there's no question you're a mature and capable person. Your father has given you every reason to believe you're ugly, but you also know that this is not an accurate assessment. And, thanks to this upbringing, you're socially inept.

Here's the good news:

1. Seeing as how you're socially inept yet perfectly capable of picking up a potential boyfriend, odds are you're not only "not ugly", but you're quite attractive; in fact, it's likely that your father's attitude is driven in no small part by how attractive you are, and have always been (aka if you were ugly, he wouldn't be worried about you being raped);

2. Social skills come with time and practice, and while there are 20-year-olds out there with amazing social skills -- having honed them practically since birth -- you are a 20-year-old who can interact with people on a daily basis (after all, you do have friends) but you've just got some catching up to do;

3. Being a mature and responsible person, and a bit of an old soul, I'm sure you recognize the truth of what I've written above.

So what's the problem? Well, a couple of things. First, you're stuck under your father's thumb, and until you're 21 and can move out (assuming you can't move out sooner; I moved out at 19, myself, and I didn't have a car or my education paid for) you're going to have a really hard time obtaining the proper perspective. Think of the abused wife, or the alcoholic's child; if they could see the situation clearly, they'd know what to do, but they can't -- and neither can you. Getting away from him is a necessary step to setting yourself up for success going forward.

Second, you seem to believe that having a boyfriend will help. I cannot stress highly enough that this is incorrect; in fact, given your level of social skills, your beauty, and the way you were raised, I think it's extremely likely that any boyfriend you have at this point will abuse and/or manipulate you. There is no question that you are an adult, but you are a very, very young adult; you have a long life ahead of you. Speaking as someone who dated and had sex very early (14) but waited until much later to get married (29) I can assure you that even the most well-adjusted and stable people of your age struggle with insecurities and stresses caused by bad relationships.

If I were you, here's what I'd do:

#1: Spend as much time away from the house as possible, but in the company of female friends whom your father knows and trusts (as much as he is capable of) without pushing any boundaries -- the goal here is to establish a pattern that provokes him as little as possible while increasing your time away from him, so that you can get better perspective;

#2: Concentrate on strengthening your current friendships, and starting new ones through association with your current ones, to broaden your social circle and get used to socializing properly;

#3: When your situation allows, move out, even if it means lousy roommates or a terrible apartment (both of which you can survive, and even if you're swapping one set of problems for another, it'll give you new perspective.)

Finally, in closing: when you become a stable, confident and happy person, you'll be in a much better place to attract a stable, confident and happy boyfriend; if you push it now, you'll attract either someone who has as many issues to deal with as you do, or you'll attract someone who will perpetuate and reinfornce everything you're trying to get away from.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 1:00 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ack, quick clarification:

"(aka if you were ugly, he wouldn't be worried about you being raped);"

When I said that, I was *not* implying that his behavior was *in any way* your fault! Only that when someone is mentally ill (as, I'm afraid, your father appears to me) in this fashion, the more beautiful you happen to be the more it might be feeding into his illness. To drive this point home, consider that he likely kept you covered up at the beach not to protect you (as he consciously believed) but to reduce his exposure to your attractiveness and so ease his own internal pressure to protect you. Does that make sense?

In short: this is not your fault in any way.
posted by davejay at 1:03 PM on December 24, 2007

also: I am a father, I have a daughter, and I cannot emphasize enough how extreme and irrational his behavior is, as you've described it. There is a big difference between protecting your daughter from actual harm, and stunting your daughter's emotional and social growth in the name of protection.
posted by davejay at 1:06 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yep, I'm yet another mefite that was in this situation. I ended up running away and living with a friend when I was 16. I was going to type this huge long thing, but decided against it in favor of this:

You are not alone. People have the capacity to be extremely loving and helpful. I don't even know you, and I want to move you in with me so I can take care of you and make sure you're okay. Weird? Probably.

Bypass therapy, at least for right now. Ask various girlfriends if you can stay with them for a few weeks. Get used to the idea of not having your father being there. Then, find a small apartment - as far away as you can manage right now without freaking out too bad. Once you get used to that, then look at moving to a different area. You said you wanted to move because of med school, so look at going where YOU want to go. It's very scary at first, to be on your own. But then you grow accustomed to it. Even now, with a part-time roommate that I've known for almost 17 years and a boyfriend, I'm still not used to it. My anxiety has never gone away, but it's gotten better. People have done this successfully for a long time now, and with much less than you have. Don't be scared.

Also, if you do really like this boy you saw, then go very slowly. I think he'll be good for you but you need to worry about yourself right now.

As for making your father understand, it took me blowing up at my mother almost 2 years ago for her to finally see all of the abuse I'd gone through. I didn't talk to her for a year. But now we're friendly and she's almost the mom that I remember having as a small child - rather than the one I had as a teenager that made me leave in the first place. Do not expect your father to understand and/or accept what you're doing. He might not ever. But as long as you do right by you, you're ok.

Final thoughts: as long as you're not robbing banks, eating babies or playing loud hair metal in your apartment at 2am, you will be a good person. So do whatever you want. It'll feel weird at first but then it'll become second nature to you.
posted by damnjezebel at 1:29 PM on December 24, 2007

I think the father would be behaving exactly the same way if sansgras looked like something drawn by Basil Wolverton; the issue isn't her looks, but her gender. See The Apple for ways a fundamentalist Muslim can fuck up his daughters.
posted by brujita at 5:56 AM on December 26, 2007

I cannot emphasize this enough: GTFO. Do not talk to this man if you do not want to either. You do not need to put up with an obsessive misogynist. You are certainly old enough to get the hell out, and can probably support yourself to some small extent, considering the fact that you have a degree (and you must be quite intelligent, considering the fact that you got your degree at 20 - I'm highly gifted and the only reason I'm getting my degree a year later than planned - at 21 instead of 20 - is because of a few grade snafus due to my anxiety).

Get some help, too; you got some serious problems.
posted by kldickson at 8:53 PM on February 17, 2008

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