Dear Thelma: I love my stepmother but really she hates me

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

Dear Thelma,

My parents got divorced when I was a kid. My biological mum left me without any explanation. Later I came to understand that she was a very irresponsible mother.

I live under the same roof as my dad and my stepmother. Life gets tougher as I grow older. The love I used to have from my dad and stepmother is fast dwindling. I feel like a full-time maid in the house. My home has become my jail, and I feel like a prisoner who is planning her prison break.

Every morning, I have to wake up before my stepmother wakes up. Otherwise she will yell at me and slam my room door. If a chore is not done, she would scold me and hurl vulgarities at me.

When I was in university, I kept away from her by taking a part-time job. It's so hard to cope with her. When there are family or friends around, she would behave very lovingly towards me to portray a happy family. I've to put up a show as a loving child to avoid the never-ending scolding. She would constantly remind me that we are not real family. I have to abide by her curfews and strict rules.

Her mood swings are getting more frequent. I have done so much for her, and I love her so much. I treat my stepsister like my own sister. My friends often pity me and try to find ways to help me. There were times when I thought of ending my life with a knife. Sometimes something inside me tells me to kill them.

Things changed when I met a man who cared for me. He gave me a reason to live, and filled my life with love.

When I introduced him to my family, everyone was happy for me, accept my stepmother. She said she didn't want to know of his existence.

I'm a working adult with a good job, yet my stepmother keeps a tight rein on me.

I have tried numerous ways to improve our relationship, but the effort is all on my side. I'm physically and mentally drained.

I have thought about moving out, but my family wouldn't allow it. - Cinderella

Dear Cinderella,

This may come as harsh news for you, but you must understand that there is nothing you can do to fix your relationship with your stepmother. This is because the problem lies with her, not you.

She wants to make you feel bad about yourself. She does this by scolding and humiliating you. Then she uses you for her own gains by showing people that the two of you have a close relationship.

What she is effectively doing is keeping you under her control. She knows that you want her love and affection, and she is purposely keeping it from you. She gives you glimpses of it for others' viewing. Seeing that she can be loving, you strive to win her love.

She belittles you to make you feel guilty about yourself, and keeps you in this cycle of emotional abuse.

What you have been doing so far has, through no fault of yours, fed into this cycle. She knows what she is doing to you - a young and vulnerable child who craves for love. She manipulated that for her own gain. Being the nice and obedient child that you are, you seem to be the right person for her to gain something to feed her unmet needs.

She has her own unresolved psychological and emotional issues to deal with. It is for this reason that she feels compelled to keep behaving this way to you.

So you see now that there is nothing you can do in this situation. She is an adult who should recognise that her behaviour is damaging. She should take responsibility for her actions and find help. However, there is little indication that she recognises her behaviour for what it is, neither will she seek the help she needs.

The only way you can get out of this situation is to first accept that there is nothing you can do to improve your relationship with her. It is what she wants it to be. You are not going to get what you want from it. This is going to be painful, and will probably be the hardest thing for you to do.

You will have to recognise the behaviours that seek to control you. One of these is her reaction to your partner. Of course, she does not approve because she does not want you to leave her. She wants you to remain with her so she can continue to control and manipulate you.

He is now a threat to her. And knowing how much you want her approval, she is going to withhold it in an effort to negatively influence your perception of him.

Her biggest threat now is your independence.

Alas, there is no other choice for you but to escape from her abuse if you want to live the kind of life you are seeking. And you have to make this decision fairly quickly as it is affecting your emotional health.

It is normal to feel sad and unhappy sometimes. However, it is not normal to start thinking about hurting yourself or other people. It is a big sign that things are not well. You have to do something about it.

The most immediate thing you can do is to move out and distance yourself from her. You do not have to wait for an opportunity to present itself. You can do it now. You are employed and financially able. So what are you waiting for?

The fact that you think you cannot move out - because your stepmother won't allow you - is testament to the kind of control she has over you. Really, what can she do to stop you? Can she lock you in the house? What can she do aside from scolding you and making this unpleasant? She may even try and emotionally manipulate you.

You will just have to be strong and recognise these behaviours for what they are - manipulating you into doing what she wants and keeping you under her control. If you want to be free of this, you must find the willpower and determination to break free from her.

It will not be easy. Her hold on you is strong because she uses the most powerful of tools - love. She withholds it to keep you in line.

There is no doubt that you love your parents. You love her despite the fact that she is your stepmother and has made life miserable for you. Do not think that moving out means you love her any less. You love her, but you need to look after yourself first. Your sanity comes first.

No one has any power over you, except yourself. Do not give up this power to someone else. It is never too late to take that power back by acting in a way that is positive for you. - Thelma