Dysfunctional family takes no responsibility
I have grown up in an extremely emotionally unstable family. My father is very abusive, sometimes violent and his mood swings are very frequent. He has also become alcoholic and has been a wife beater. He will be retiring soon and has a got a huge debt to clear. I have one brother who is a year older to me and has settled down as a teacher, a profession, which he finds demeaning and blames all his failure on parents. My parents have been arguing right from the days when I was a child. My elder brother often used to end up getting physically beaten up with different objects by my father.
The family situation has worsened gradually. My father still drinks and quarrels with mom and blames his huge debt that he incurred for elder son's education (abroad..UK) on elder son and failure in professional life on mom.
My brother blames his failure in life (he wanted to become a research scientist and ended up as a teacher in a high school) on parents. My brother and parents have already had a few scuffles.
In spite of such traumatic experiences I have worked hard and with god's grace today I am an executive in an IT company. Having been witness to such excessive feelings of distrust, hatred, suspicion and not having succeeded to bring some sanity into the family, I have decided to distance myself from my family and communication has come down drastically, a call a month at most. Honestly, I do not feel like talking to my family at all, not even my brother who refuses to take responsibility for what he is today. He got married last May and got divorced the same month. The divorce was due to several factors, sister in law's parents' and my parents' interference, my brother's inability to stand by his wife. My engagement, in the Indian context of arranged marriages, also broke.
I have tried all means to make my brother understand himself, to make my parents shed their domineering attitude and let the grown up boys manage their life. They are trying to force me now to marry so that they can die in peace. They also have threatened to commit suicide in view of betrayal by the world and their own children. They feel absolutely angry that I am daring to take my own decisions in life without their advice.
After having seen all this in life, I have decided not to marry for sometime but I am not sure how long. I always wanted to have a family but in these disturbing circumstances I do not consider it right to plunge into it.
It is when I go to sleep that I feel sometimes disturbed. My dreams of graceful parents, responsible brother and me having a happy family lie shattered today. I look with a tinge of envy and sadness when I see young parents taking a stroll with their babies in the pram. I wonder if it is worth being alive at all?
- Is it possible in any way to make my parents and brother take responsibility for whatever they have done and that the solution lies in discussions and not allegations and justification of anything however wrong they may be?
- Is it possible for me to get some peace of mind and some happiness in my life while my parents and brother are alive?
- Is it possible for me to forget the past, which is so bitter and full of unhappiness, hurt feelings, anger and march ahead towards a new future?
My heart goes out to you, brave young man! Despite incredible odds, you have emerged from this violently chaotic upbringing with wisdom, dignity and faith. What an amazing triumph! Based on that, I'd say, "Yes. Absolutely." You CAN march ahead towards a new future while all your family members continue their destructive dances. (You've been doing that valiantly all along.) And you have known - intuitively - how to do it! You have chosen to limit your interaction with your family. You have chosen to concentrate on your owns goals and dreams. Bravo!
So, based on what you've discovered, does it seem as though it'd be helpful for you to "make your parents and brother take responsibility for whatever they have done"? (How, exactly, would you do that, anyway? I mean, what haven't you tried?) Since distancing yourself from these folks has been, basically, necessary for your own sanity and survival, how would you go about teaching them "that the solution lies in discussions and not allegations"? (You're right, of course, but how would you communicate that to them?)
You seem to realize that you cannot change others, and must, instead, continue to focus on re-claiming your life. Yet, the desire for some attachment with a loving family haunts you when you see young parents with babies, or other reminders of what might have been. You did not have a loving, supportive family. Maybe it's time to mourn that loss. You didn't get the family you deserved (every child deserves love, acceptance and guidance). Maybe it's also time to acknowledge your (likely) other feelings, too, such as frustration and anger.
One of the most difficult things about emerging from a damaging childhood is the loneliness of your survival. It's very possible that you may be the only person from this family who ever finds healing and strives towards emotional health.
I'd recommend that you surround yourself with like-minded survivors as soon as possible. You'll find them in meetings of Al Anon, CODA, Adult Children of Alcoholics and many other self-help groups.
And there are very specific treatments for depression. (You sound depressed.) A caring, competent psychotherapist can educate you about your treatment options. With therapy (and possibly, medication) you could be feeling more hopeful quite soon.
Remember . . . You have tremendous strengths. In fact, you have already survived! What's left is simply dealing with emotions. It will be the hardest, but most rewarding, work you will ever do.
Margaret "Peg" Burr
This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr. She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.For more information visit: http://www.pegburr.com/