Dear Thelma: I'm 23 and my parents are driving me crazy

Dear Thelma: I'm 23 and my parents are driving me crazy

"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.


Dear Thelma,

I've written to you before in 2013 under the pseudonym Cinderella and since then, nothing has changed. I'm 23 years old now and I feel more frustrated than ever.

My parents are so conservative that they rarely allow me to go out. My mum would ask for my friends' numbers and call them whenever she can't get through to me. This is so embarrassing. Sometimes I have classes, so I put my phone on silent mode. I feel so caged and my anger is building up.

Horrible memories occupy my thoughts. I often experience breathing difficulties because I feel anxious and stressed. I want to be able to go out with my friends without having to worry about my dad yelling my brains off when I get home.

I feel envious of friends who have loving, supportive families; they can sit down together to discuss things and have fun, too. As for me, I should be grateful if there are no blow-ups for a day.

I'm being denied life's simplest pleasures. My parents are not understanding at all. I want to do what I want, when I want, without having to worry about conflicts at home.

I've spent the year meeting a counsellor to manage stress and all those bad memories of being beaten up by my dad and brother, but lately I feel as though the same encouraging answers don't work for me anymore.

I cannot allow fear to govern my life. I want to be free from my parents' paranoia. I have tried talking to my parents, only to be told that they have walked the earth (possibly alongside dinosaurs) longer than I have, so my words don't carry weight.

I have often thought of running away from home. I'm on the verge of insanity. What should I do? - Cinderella2

See also: I hate my twin because she has my dream life

Dear Cinderella2,

I believe that the last time you wrote in, you were advised to be patient and understanding of your parents' background. The situation needs reviewing now that you have revealed you suffered beatings from your father and brother. Given all that you have been through, you have developed symptoms of stress such as anxiety and breathing difficulties.

You should not stop seeing a counsellor. The counselling will help you deal with the physical symptoms of stress which can be very debilitating. Counselling will help you work with bad memories that are engulfing your thoughts. These have to be dealt with to enable you to handle anxiety. Some people believe the past should be left behind. However, if you do not address the root cause of your problem, you will find anxiety cropping up every now and then. The longer your leave it unattended, the worse it becomes.

Your parents' behaviour is an example of anxiety gone unaddressed. It causes them to over-react when you do not pick up your phone. You cannot be expected to answer their calls when you are in class, in a meeting, or watching a movie in the cinema. The reasonable thing to do would be to wait for an appropriate time for you to call back. If, after a period, you did not return the call, then it would be understandable if they proceed to contact your friends.

When anxiety is unaddressed, it clouds judgment and leads to poor problem-solving skills. Anxiety is learnt. It is not something that is inherited. It is likely that your parents have developed this kind of behaviour to cope with what they perceive as stressful situations. They care for you and your safety but their way of showing it stifles your growth and development.

Things like curfews and rules are there to allow growth in children. Providing boundaries means there are limits to their behaviours. Allowing them that space also means that they have room to grow. They learn what is right and wrong, and learn to make their own decisions. Controlling their behaviour, on the other hand, stifles growth.

Human beings crave for autonomy. Some people are afraid of autonomy because it means they have less power and control over others. And this is the ultimate issue with your parents. They think what they know is right. They think they have power over you, and exercise it by controlling you.

This is no longer love. When it stifles and causes more harm than good, it ceases to become love. It becomes toxic. Your home environment stopped being safe when your father and brother started beating you.

If you are still a student, you may have to live with your parents a little while more. Once you get a job and can afford it, it may be necessary for you to move out. Moving out may help you feel a little less anxious because your environment itself has become stressful.

Moving out is not about you leaving your parents behind or cutting ties with them. Neither is it about you disrespecting them. It is about you doing something within your means to help yourself.

Just bear in mind that moving out would bring its own set of anxieties for your parents. Predictably, your dad will react strongly, and it won't be pleasant. After you have moved out, your parents would probably not stop calling you to find out where you are and what you are doing. You have to devise a way to communicate to them that you are safe, and yet have them respect your boundaries.

Communication is key here. Perhaps a WhatsApp family chat group may work. This is something you can start straight away. Send a message just before you switch your phone to silent mode to let them know you will be doing so. This may allay some of their worries if you don't answer their calls.

Send messages periodically to alert them of your whereabouts. If WhatsApp is not possible - not everyone has a smartphone, after all - call them periodically. A quick call or text message before you go to class, or before you are about to enter a meeting or group discussion, would help. Don't see this as reporting to them; see it as a strategy that will help you, ultimately.

Initiating communication with them means they won't have to contact your friends or potential employer to find out where you are or what you are doing. Such initiatives may convey to your parents that you are a responsible daughter.

Ultimately, though, your parents will have to address their own anxieties and take responsibility for them. There is only so much you can do to make someone feel safe. You may have to accept that your parents will probably behave in ways that may have unpleasant consequences when they are worried or anxious.

You have to be patient a little longer. Wait until you can afford to move out and then you will start to experience some of the freedom that you desire. It is said that good things come to those who wait. -Thelma

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