I am 30 years old and my relationship with my parents is gradually becoming non-existent. I am consumed with resentment.
During my childhood, I had a close bond with my mother; my father has always been a distant figure. I have an older sister who has always felt “off limits” and resentful.
I don’t remember having a particularly close bond with other children, but I was sympathetic. High school marked a slowdown. My fading memory is constantly feeling tense and staring at my feet. I was horribly intimidated, every aspect of me was unacceptable to others. I was fat and gay. I withdrew, my notes slipped; the bullying was bubbling up until I exploded at home and my parents went to school. This pattern would repeat itself until I left.
I left the sixth with terrible grades. After school I felt awful, inundated, and helpless; my sister told me that I was useless and that I could never achieve anything. I went back to college, graduated, went to college, and had complete financial independence.
I finished my masters six years ago, coming out in the depths of a recession. I was obsessed with the job search. I constantly reviewed my CV and watched videos on interview techniques. I felt lost, betrayed by my own hard work and determination.
I had a seizure one night and got mad at my parents for their lack of interest and lack of emotional and financial support. My mother comforted me. My father watched TV. My sister (under my mom’s instructions) got me a full time job answering the phone and my mom was thrilled. I was grateful for the money, but it was like a huge step back.
I pushed even harder for a job using my skills, despite complaints from my family for participating in interviews. Within weeks, I found a job that I wanted since I was 17. When I told my parents about it, my mom said, “You can’t afford to live on your own.”
I returned to the family home to pay off all the debt I had accumulated during and after college and also managed to save a few thousand pounds, but not quite enough for a deposit for a house.
Despite the seemingly happy ending, I feel exhausted. I cry on my 20th birthday as I spent many of them struggling financially and feeling inundated with no direction and no hope. Everything I did I did out of sheer determination and bloodthirsty spirit. I grit my teeth and hide money for a mortgage.
I wonder if I am spoiled? Part of me doesn’t care anymore and I wonder if I should go and cut the ties. My unstable job and the sensitive saving part of me keep me here, but if I’m being honest my family makes me feel hopelessly miserable.
I don’t think you’re spoiled. I had to heavily revise your longer letter, but one thing that really struck me was the push-pull in your family and how, for some reason, you are kept in your place.
I turned to Dr Myrna Gower, a family psychotherapist (aft.org.uk). She thought that you had obviously been a “very important” child, but that perhaps your relationship with your mother was exclusive and thus prevented you from “going through one of the expected developmental transitions in life.”
It doesn’t seem like you were encouraged to be independent or to make your own way – maybe it wasn’t done on purpose and that doesn’t mean it wasn’t done out of love, but you seem to have been retained.
“The attachment model,” Gower explains, “doesn’t allow your natural evolution. Your mother’s warnings seem to confirm your worst self-doubts.
We have gone through your letter carefully and it seems that at every moment of independence something has reminded you in the family – “you have been reabsorbed,” Gower says. Was it a sense of duty, responsibility, a lack of self-confidence that your family somehow reinforced? Being at home makes you miserable. You don’t seem to be home yourself so you deny yourself and that can make a person feel completely miserable.
Gower feels that you are asking permission to “be an adult” and be independent – and in fact, it’s not about you, but you have to be.
What you have done is amazing. You must have incredible strength of character. When you are away from family influence you seem to fly, but being at home turns that around. “You really have something [about you]Gower says.
Your parents should be proud. You should be proud. Despite what I would say, it’s a pretty stuffy family environment, – even magnets can be – you not only survived, but thrived as well. I am not surprised that you are feeling exhausted. Your 20s have been tough, but I think your 30s might be the time when it all comes together for you.
Gower and I think it’s important that you leave the house as soon as possible. Your family may not like this change because you challenge established positions, but you have to do it in order to be who you are and keep growing. You too may find this difficult – I’m afraid you may feel disloyal. But try not to do it. You can leave the house, and grow, and be your own person without severing ties. You can still be part of a family without being merged with it.
Each week, Annalisa Barbieri discusses a family problem sent by a reader. If you would like some advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your issue to [email protected] Annalisa regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.
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