My happiness or my family's?


My happiness or my family's?


your avatar   Kat, 19-year-old woman

I moved around quite a lot as a child because my father's occupation required it. He was gone a lot, and I have many memories of myself crying when he left because I never got along with my mother. She was verbally, emotionally, and (occasionally) physically abusive. My father would never do anything about it; he would say "That's just your mother. She loves you." I idolized my dad, even though I never really knew him. He was the opposite of my mom. However, as I grew older I began to resent him for letting my mother treat my sister and I the way she did. She kicked me out of the house with no shoes or jacket in a blizzard for no logical reason; she constantly called my sister a "fat-ass whore" and would criticize her for hours on end. I guess that as a result, my sister and I became very close.

My sister and I both got into drugs and alcohol at the age of 13 and 14 (we're a year apart). This, needless to say, increased all of my problems. I cut myself, had to get stitches for my wrists, attempted suicide a few times, was hospitalized, ran away, etc. Finally, at the beginning of my senior year in high school, after coming home so drunk I pissed and puked on myself three nights in a row, my parents became fed up - and so had I. I was going to drop out of school (and they were going to let me), but in an odd act of compassion they got me on the homebound program and started me on therapy. After 6 rough months and some very bad incidents (I became a bit promiscuous, ruined friendships, was threatened by people), I quit drinking and doing drugs. I got good grades in school; good enough, in fact, to get a full paid scholarship to college. I also earned high ACT scores to get an additional scholarship. I couldn't have done this without my wonderful teachers who came to my house to teach and encourage me. They made me feel like I had potential - they drew it out of me. My psychiatrist also helped me - he taught me how to turn my feelings of worthlessness and frustration into accomplishments. After graduating, for some stupid reason I waited a bit before going to college. I was afraid of falling back into my past. I worked, stayed home, and generally kept to myself. I saved up money for a car and only associated with two people (my sister and a friend) who didn't "party". That was my life for a year.

I know this is long, but it's important that I describe my past before I ask my question. Just five months ago I met a person who made me feel alive - who made me care and feel compassion more strongly than ever before. He really took me by surprise. He had moved into town for his job (he's 4 years my senior), which pays nicely, so right off he had my complete respect. He is a hard working, admirable person with similar goals and values as me. We became each other's best friend. He was new in town, and I was pretty much a loner, so our relationship was very much one-on-one - no group dating. We spent many hours at his place just discussing our lives and where we were headed. Needless to say we "clicked", and he became my best friend and confidant within our first month of talking. I fell for him so fast! He encouraged me to take advantage of my scholarships and to move out of my parent's home. With him in my life, I felt as though my "transformation" was complete. He helped me gain the strength to go all the way with my accomplishments my last year in high school.

We want to build a future together (nothing fast like marriage, just continue our relationship the way it was, be involved in our growth together), but this man that I love moved. It's been two weeks. He is now 45 minutes away with his job and I miss him terribly. He works full time as a manager, so seeing each other is hard, especially with the both of us living at home (he moved in with his parents because he didn't have time to find a place of his own). I am not working or going to school. I have basically been doing nothing the past month. I am waiting to start my summer classes at college, which is 15 minutes from his town. I will be getting my own place with money I have saved - which is a plus. However, I suddenly feel these worthless feelings coming back. I can't sleep, I'm loaded-up on meds and I still feel twinges of anxiety. I worry constantly about my boyfriend when I don't hear from him; often times my sister is on the phone late and this ties up the line, so I won't hear from him for 2 or 3 days. This is a weird adjustment, since I used to be able to drive down the street to see him.

He was my best friend, and I miss him. I love him. With college, I'm so scared I will mess up and fail a class. I don't like admitting this because I feel that if I do, I will curse myself, but its true... what if this happens? I haven't been in school for 2 years. I kept a job and I liked it too! Also, moving out of the house will be hard for me - as much as my mother has been a thorn in my side, I still love her. I see her losing more of herself everyday...she's depressed, and she clings to me. Now that I am older, she treats me like a best friend because my dad is never home - although she is still incredibly rough on my sister, who has two years left of school. I know my sister will end up dropping out of high school as well, and my mom doesn't care. I don't want my sister to drop out, but I know that she can't take living with my mother. (My mom once took a pair of knee high Doc Marten combat boots and beat her back with them to wake her up in the morning - then screamed at her. (I live in the basement, so luckily I don't see all this). They fight constantly. My dad recently hit me in the face, the first time ever, because I woke him up coming in the house. He's never hit me. I hit him back and we fought until my sister broke it up. It broke her heart seeing us fight, because she still idolizes dad, and seeing that made her realize that he isn't perfect. I hate being the one who showed her that.

I feel like if I leave my family, it will tear them apart. I don't want that responsibility on my shoulders. My sister will not listen to me when I tell her about the importance of school. She just says, "You don't know. You were on homebound for a year", and "Mom likes you better". On top of this, my best friend and my love isn't here for me to confide in. Our phone conversations are wonderful, but we only talk on the phone 3 times a week, and see each other once a week. Our relationship is strong, but I miss the way it was.

Right now, I am in such a tough spot. I can't sleep and I am constantly nervous - I worry for my family, for my boyfriend, and for me. It's like I am finally at the edge of the diving board and ready to take the plunge.but then I walk back. I don't want to be a failure but I am so scared, and my classes start in June. I will be closer to my boyfriend, which excites both of us, but I still feel bad for my family. I love them.


I am sorry this is so long, but if I was wondering if I could get a suggestion as to what I could do to balance this out and stop the insomnia and anxiety. Should I ask for a higher dosage of meds? Does this mean my meds aren't working? Yesterday I took a two hour nap around noon and slept right through a doctor appointment. This is what scares me - my irresponsibility. Any response would be greatly appreciated. I know there are worse problems than mine, and I acknowledge that. Thanks for reading.


    Jerry Button, L.M.H.C.

Dear Kat,

My first piece of advice is to for you to get out. You say that your work with your psychiatrist helped you to turn your feelings of worthlessness and frustration into accomplishments. You also recognize the help you had from teachers who encouraged you to believe in yourself. The environment in your home is undermining all of those good things and you will lose all of your gains if you stay there. It is, unfortunately, a situation that psychotherapists who work with children and young adults run into every day. The family environment which was usually a major contributing factor to the young person's problem in the first place undoes all the progress the person has made in therapy. Family systems are resistant to change and attempt to get the person to change back to the way things were before. So, first of all save yourself. I know that you feel guilty about abandoning your sister and for deserting your mother, who now seems to need you. However, you will be unable to help them if you are dragged down by the family system. If you escape and have some physical and emotional security in your own place, you will be in a much better position to help others. You will have more strength to do battle with the negativity in your family.

It's important that you have people in your life who value you for yourself - for who you are. It sounds as though you have found one such person in the man who has become your best friend and that you love. Having even one such person can do much to help you gain strength and to regain your good feelings about yourself. I would be concerned for you if I felt you were latching onto someone like a life preserver, but I do not get that sense from what you write. It sounds as though you two have a genuine and supportive relationship and I think such a relationship is worth more to you than all the medications in the world. This brings me to my final thought. You're wondering if your medications are not doing what they need to do right now. Of course, that's impossible for me to know. I don't even know what medications you are taking. However, what I do know is that there is no medication available that relieves feelings of worthlessness. What relieves feelings of worthlessness is having relationships that demonstrate to you that you are not worthless. You've experienced such relationships in the past with your teachers and your psychiatrist, and you are able to experience one now in the relationship with your friend.

I hope that you will be able to move away from the negativity of your family environment and that you will regain your positive feelings about yourself, be able to go on to college and to have a happy and fulfilling life.

Good Luck!

Jerry Button, L.M.H.C.

This question was answered by Jerry Button. Jerry is a psychotherapist, personal development trainer, workshop presenter and relationship coach practicing in Delray Beach, Florida. He believes that the key to quality of life lies in relationships. His approach to interpersonal and emotional problems is relational and psychodynamic. Jerry is experienced working with individuals, children and families and welcomes challenging opportunities.For more information visit:


Feeling stuck? Stop. Breathe. Ask yourself, "What options are available to me?"
"Forget what hurt you in the past, but never forget what it taught you."
Shannon L. Alder
You are not alone. There is always someone out there who knows how you feel.