'Am I being punished for my wild past?'

'Am I being punished for my wild past?'
PHOTO: The New Paper

Dear Thelma,

I am in my late 30s and have built a successful career. My mother has a dominating personality but she is a good listener and I often turn to her for advice. My father is a retired businessman who keeps to himself.

I have a very rebellious streak. I hate it when anyone tries to control my freedom. I have been struggling the past four years to contain my rebellious heart.

When I was 25, I was so rebellious that I left my family and stayed with a man whom I thought loved me. I was so angry with my parents for controlling my every move that I went against them and got married in Thailand.

After three months, I came crawling back to my parents and begged for forgiveness. They took me back and I had my Thai marriage annulled soon after.

In 2007, I remarried but got divorced a year later. In 2011, I moved to KL. I decided to take care of my parents and they moved in with me. I am bugged by the following issues:

1. My parents have voiced out, on numerous occasions, that they prefer that I stay single. They feel I am better this way and will not lose focus on the family. They seem to like the idea that I will always be available for them.

2. My mother has always been my greatest supporter and critic. However, she lashes out at me or shouts at me when she is unhappy with small matters such as my driving style or online shopping habits. I have to keep my mouth shut as I had messed up before and they still accepted me into the family.

Since 2011, I have not gone out with any friends. I have closed my Facebook account, too. It looks as though I do not have a life. I enjoy being at my workplace for long hours; I don't know why. I feel stressed out and irritable when I am with my parents. Everything I do is monitored by them.

I wanted to join a speed dating service but my parents objected. I feel as though I am being punished for my wild behaviours in the past. Do you have any advice for me? - Rebellious

Dear Rebellious,

Everyone makes mistakes. Some mistakes are small; some are not.

When a mistake is made, people get hurt. There will be disappointment or even anger. Those who have erred must take all this into consideration when they apologise for their mistakes. Apologising is not just about saying you're sorry. Asking for forgiveness is a process whereby the ones who have erred are fully aware of the impact of their actions, seek an apology, and work to ensure the mistake does not repeat itself.

The afflicted persons are not obligated to forgive. That itself is a different process. It comes with them being able to deal with their disappointment, hurt and anger. Forgiveness takes time. However, this does not mean that the afflicted can hold this against the person who has erred, and make that person a "captive" of sorts.

From your account, it seems that this is what your parents are doing to you. They use your past mistakes to exercise control over you. And you allow this to happen. You can't seem to let go of past mistakes. You think you deserve to continue being punished for them.

There is nothing wrong in your decision to bring your parents to live with you. They are old and need to be looked after. But what was your motive in doing so? Was it real concern for their well-being, or was it guilt? It may not seem like a big deal, but things like this play a big role in how we behave towards others. If you did this out of guilt about your past, it would have been reflected in your actions and words to your parents. This would signify to them that they have power to wield over you.

This does not imply that your parents are mean and manipulative. But the situation is such that they have been able to manipulate your feelings to their benefit. They are older and have a very different understanding of people and their behaviours. They probably do not see it this way. It is likely that they think this is what you deserve for your past actions.

What has now happened is that there is a blurring of boundaries. Your parents no longer recognise or respect you as an independent adult who is capable of making decisions for herself. They probably think they are protecting you from further harm but their over-protectiveness is stifling you.

You are an adult. Why do you need your parents' permission to do things? Who asked you to cut yourself off from your friends and not have a social life? Did you parents explicitly ask you to do that? Or did you take it upon yourself?

Old people will have their own opinions - on Internet shopping or speed dating. It is not what they are used to. Of course, they think the "old way" is the best way. You should see it as just that, and not take it to mean more than what it is.

Your parents may say they think it is best for you to remain single. It is perhaps the weight of your past that you carry around with you that makes you interpret what they say as a punishment for your past actions. It looks like they are concerned you may shift your focus away from them once you have other responsibilities. They are feeling insecure and afraid that they may be neglected should you move on with your life. Of course, they don't want you to get married because the way it is right now, they have all your attention. You have to find a way to reassure them. It is best that you do this in a way they know and understand.

Stop blaming yourself for your past actions. Reflect on it. Understand what you did wrong. Learn from your mistakes, and move on. Live your life the way you want it.

Understand your parents' worries, and see them for what they are - the concerns of people who care for you and are probably afraid of what they don't know. They think it is safer for you to remain single. They don't understand that you crave for the kind of connection that comes from being in a relationship.

Help them understand. If they don't, you will just have to let them know that they have to trust you and the decisions you make. You have to be sure of yourself. You are successful in your career. Obviously, that means you are capable of making important decisions - and the right ones, too. You have to trust that you can do the same for your personal life.

It is most important that you forgive yourself for the past blunders. You did what you did then because you thought they were the right things to do. Now you have the benefit of hindsight and can view the past differently.

If you don't let go of what happened, neither will others. You have to learn to trust yourself. You are intelligent and capable - and you have to believe this yourself. - Thelma

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