Since the Death of My Father, I Don’t Trust Anyone

Reader’s Question

I’m 31 years old and married. Life was cool, but since the death of my father things have changed a lot. I live a bit far from my parents’ house and I used to go there every 3 months. I had planned to go to my parents’ place one week later, but he died one week before my arrival. This was a big shock for me, as he was not ill, and I have a feeling of injustice. It sounds stupid, but deep inside I feel I missed him by just one week.

Since his death, I have seen my closest family change attitude, making my mum’s life become a hell. I end up now having no family except for my mum and husband and in-laws. I have a brother, but he lives in another country.

I’m having a big problem in trusting people these days, including my husband. Whenever I see a woman close to him I start inventing stories in my head that he might be betraying me. I don’t want to go to my hometown, and going there for Christmas has become a stress. I feel that if I meet my father’s family who have made my mum’s life a hell (though they love me a lot), I might end up hurting someone. As for my married life, I’m deliberately testing my husband and spoiling my married life. To add to this, I also discovered that my previous boyfriend who is now one of my best friends and with whom I spent 7 years had an affair when he was with me. It seems to me that all my ‘loved ones’ can’t be trusted.

Psychologist’s Reply

The situation you describe is not uncommon following the death of a family member. The changes in your extended family and your behavior toward your husband is also not uncommon. Some thoughts and recommendations:

  • The death of your father has destroyed your sense of stability, justice, trust, and fairness. You have been traumatized by his sudden and unexpected death — as have other family members. You are now experiencing a distrust that anyone very close to you may also leave — not through death as much as just leave, maybe through infidelity. His death has changed your view of life, and you now view life and relationships as unstable and not to be trusted. Once we experience an earthquake, we suddenly lose our sense of security in all tall buildings…that kind of thing.
  • Your reaction to this experience of life insecurity and distrust is likely amplified by your bereavement process. You can expect a depression and bereavement to last about 18 months. As part of this process, you will be preoccupied with guilt, the what-ifs, the one-week too lates, and the I-should-have-told-him thoughts. During this time our brain fills with negativity and depressing thoughts. Our behavior becomes socially withdrawn, anxious, angry, and even emotionally unstable. Everyone around us irritates us. Those thoughts about your husband are very common. You “trusted” your father to always be there for you. Now all loved ones seem untrustworthy. It wasn’t your father’s fault, and it’s not your husband’s fault. I’d recommend that you stop testing him and recognize that you might be depressed. Take a few depression screening tests on this website. If you’re showing signs of depression, start with consulting your family physician or seeking counseling.
  • Some members of a family are hubs…and some are spokes. Your father was a hub and when he passed, the family wheel came apart. His family may be treating your mum poorly for several reasons, even blaming her for his passing as part of their bereavement. If there are dysfunctional people in his family, the stress of the death will make them more dysfunctional and nasty. Some of his family may be pressuring your mum to sell his items/property or do other business things against her wishes. A friend of mine recently lost his father and was approached at the funeral by a family member who said “I’m sorry about your father…are you going to be selling his car?” In the middle of this extended family turmoil, try to stay calm, don’t promise anything to anyone, and support your mother who is currently undergoing the most stressful event an adult can experience.
  • Depression and grief always contain a life review — emphasizing the negative. You will be watching a mental videotape of your life, identifying all those people who betrayed your trust. This is part of depression, and if you’re not careful, will distract you from what you need to be doing — recovering from the loss of your father and supporting your mum and husband. It doesn’t matter what happened five years ago, only what is happening now.
  • Celebrate a difficult Christmas with your Mum and family. Prepare a “press release” for friends and other family members — a brief statement about the loss of your father that you use with anyone who asks. When your father’s family is around, work as a team with your husband. If they get nasty, allow your husband to intervene (not assault!) and move you out of the situation politely. If they are making your mum’s life difficult, you’re under no obligation to visit them or invite them to Christmas events.

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One trusted loved one has left you. It was unfair, unjust, and unexpected. Everyone else is still here, although like you experiencing a bereavement related to the loss of your father. Rebuilding your trust with your mum and husband is very important. You are the family now and over time, may need to take your place and turn as the family hub. For that assignment, you need to be strong and secure, not suspicious and insecure. Like your father, you will need to trust those you love.

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