"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.
I am a confused and miserable 18-year-old. I am the youngest child in the family, and have two elder brothers. Friends come to me for advice when they have problems, and I am very good at counselling them. I give them a shoulder to cry on, and help to wipe away their tears. I like to keep the people around me happy. Ironically, I have no one to turn to when I need help. I do not like to burden people with my problems, so I keep everything bottled up. No one knows the pain I have to endure every day.
School days were the happiest times of my life. Now that school is behind me, I spend more time at home and I find it difficult to meet the expectations of family members. My life has become a nightmare. I am very hurt by the actions of family members. They turn their anger and aggression on me, and curse me. I get blamed for almost everything. I am a sensitive person, and their harsh words tear my heart apart.
When I try to speak up, they say I am rude and arrogant. I have absolutely no rights at home. Nobody appreciates me. In fact, they say I am useless. All I can do is cry to myself. The pain gets more unbearable each day, and I have thought of suicide. I am a burden to my family. I feel so hopeless, lonely and miserable.
What is life if you are forced to hide your inner turmoil and put on a brave face every day? I feel so depressed and oppressed. Please help me. - Breaking down
Dear Breaking Down,
It is disheartening to hear a young person like you speak of death when you have your whole life ahead of you. It is even worse knowing that these thoughts are present because you feel unwanted and unloved by family members.
Family is supposed to be this safe space where one is protected from the cruelties of the outside world. Alas, not everyone is blessed with such a family. Yet, we are never victims. We may be stuck in a bad situation. Sometimes the situation seems so bad that we think there is no end to it. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
School gave you a healthy distraction. You felt appreciated and wanted. Now that you have left school, you miss the affirmation you used to get.
Many of us have this desire to keep the people around us happy, but it comes at a cost. We take it upon ourselves to hide our true feelings because we do not want to burden others with our problems.
Eventually, resentment builds up inside us. We feel upset and angry that no one is there for us when we go through bad times, though we are always there for them when they need something. We feel unappreciated, unloved and taken for granted.
All these feelings are justified. However, we have to acknowledge that this is all our own doing. No one is to blame for it. How can we expect others to take heed of what we are feeling when we ourselves refuse to acknowledge it? How can we expect others to give us attention when we do not give ourselves the attention we need? How can we blame others for taking advantage of us, when they have never asked us to put aside our needs in the first place? We have to take responsibility for our own actions.
The point is, no one is responsible for another person's happiness. We can never make other people happy. They have to make themselves happy. You have to realise this. Hiding your true feelings is not going to make others happy; it only makes you miserable.
"Love yourself" is a common mantra now. It is about accepting ourselves and respecting ourselves. We have to respect that we have wants and feelings. Loving yourself means expressing these wants and feelings in appropriate ways.
No one is expecting you to deny yourself happiness. You took that upon yourself. Now you can do something to change the situation. Stop seeing yourself as the one responsible for the happiness of those around you. The best way you can make people happy is to not commit acts that will hurt them. That is the only thing you can do.
You cannot change other people. You can only change yourself. Your family situation sounds far more complicated than what you have revealed in your letter. It is doubtful that the problems are within your realm of control. You just have to accept that people's moods can change. People cannot be happy all the time, so you should not expect this of them. Just give them space and time, and they will probably return to their normal mood.
Just because someone is angry, or directs their anger at you, it does not mean that they do not love you. People use harsh words when they are angry. It is not fair that you are blamed for things you did not do. When the time is right, you should let this be known.
Most importantly, you have to stop expecting people to treat you nicely just because you have made sacrifices for them. If you want to help them, you should do so without expecting anything in return. You have to remember that you can only help someone if they welcome help. If you try to do so when help is not wanted, you may be called a busybody.
You may be used to doing this with friends who approached you with a problem, expecting you to help. It sounds like your family members don't do that, yet you are intent on helping them when they did not ask for help. That is why it is unappreciated. It is not that they do not appreciate you. You have to be able to separate the two.
There is nothing wrong with crying. It is a normal reaction to various emotions. Your crying is not just about you feeling sad for the way you have been treated. It is also an expression of the feelings and emotions that you have denied yourself over the years.
Feeling sad is part of life. Feelings come and go. They are a result of the way you view the various situations in your life. Problems come and go, too. Life is all about overcoming adversities, and emerging stronger. It will take a while, but it will work out.
The solution is never to kill yourself. It solves nothing. When times are hard, we may need to get some help. If help is not within your circle of family and friends, there are professionals who are always ready to help. A lot of this help is also free and just a phone call away. Organisations like the Befrienders have trained counsellors to help you through those moments when you think you will never see light at the end of the tunnel.