Relationship Advice

The Family

happy young couple

I grew up in a very abusive family. Physical, mental, and emotional abuse were the norm. My father was the most abusive, but my mother echoed his sentiments and couldn't see why we were unhappy with what he was doing to us. Add to this sexual abuse suffered at the day care center they dumped me at, and I was hurt, confused, and losing myself.

After one particularly nasty fight I told my father I had enough. He couldn't hit me anymore without me going to the police. He turned it all on me by saying my parents never wanted to have kids, and I was getting what I deserved. By 19, I felt so awful about myself I attempted suicide and thought about locking myself away in an institute to be safe from my family.

I moved to Australia to study and met a nice boy. I'm 23 now, engaged, and we are planning a wedding this year. Since moving I've attended counseling, and I'm taking antidepressants. But my parents still run my life from thousands of miles away. They send me the most hateful e-mails and told me unless I get married at the family home, they will not consider me family.

This they then retracted, but they call incessantly--which I don't answer--and criticize me over and over. Without asking they send money that I hate accepting, but it seems they always seem to know when I need more. They're honestly destroying my life. I feel so much guilt and sadness inside I am getting a facial twitch. My doctor told me my stress levels are rocket high, and that I'm slowly killing myself.

My partner is very supportive and his family as well. They've suggested severing ties with my family since I am suffering so much stress and since I'm an otherwise bright, funny and bubbly person. But I feel obligated to my family to solve their problems and make them happy with me.

How do I stop the guilt? What if my family hates me? I'm 23. I can't imagine going my whole life without them. Even if they're completely worthless, they are still my family.

Lynne


Lynne, some people have an allergy to shellfish so severe eating shellfish will kill them. The only safe thing is to give up shellfish totally. But what if a person can't see living their life without eating shellfish? Then shellfish will kill them.

Andrew Vachs, an attorney and child welfare advocate, said something we believed in long before we heard it. He said, "Family should be an operational term, not a biological term." To say it more simply, a man is your father because he acts like a father. A woman is your mother because she acts like your mother.

Some people are born in poverty; some people don't get a chance for an education; some people grow up in homes with severe abuse. Wishing things were otherwise changes nothing. For people who grow up with severe abuse, the only way to save themselves and have a decent life, may be to walk away from their abusers.

In the final Godfather movie, Michael Corrleone tries to escape from organized crime, but he finds it impossible. "Just when I thought I was out," he says, "they pull me back in." Your family is trying to pull you back into the cycle of abuse. In your own words, "They're honestly destroying my life."

The behavior we would never tolerate at the hands of a stranger is sometimes routinely accepted inside the family.

Your father was abusive in every way, and your mother supported him. Unlike Michael Corrleone, you have a choice. You now have people in your life who support you, care about you, and love you. Delete the e-mail and change your phone number. Choose the people who deserve to be in your life.

Wayne & Tamara