Moving Away from Abusive Relationships

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Reader’s Question

I am 23 years old and have been having some trouble. I realized about a year ago that my childhood was an abusive one. My father physically and verbally abused my brothers and me and is a pathological liar. He was abusive to my mother too, although I don’t recall it ever getting physical with her. I also think that I may have been sexually molested by my maternal grandmother as a kid.

I’ve been realizing just how big an effect it has had on me. I have constant anxiety and depression. It has become hard for me to do daily things. I recently graduated from college. While I probably shouldn’t have, I put this above getting psychiatric help; I did it because I felt so much pressure to do so. Now for the past two months, I’ve been living back at home. I feel trapped, and it’s like a constant strain on my mind and body. It’s hard for me to get along with my oldest brother, 30, because he takes a position where he feels his words hold more weight than mine do. I lived with him for a year at school, and our relationship was really damaged. When I confronted my parents about how I felt about the abuse, my dad and he took a stance that I was blaming everyone for my own problems. He too is abusive towards me and my other older brother. I barely talk to him or my dad. My mom is supportive, as is my other older brother. But I’ve been realizing that they too are affected by the abuse, and I do not know if they are aware of it. I know both are afraid of being alone, and also feel they have this need to take care of me, even if they are imposing. It’s very hard for me to live with them as well because they are intrusive into my life. My mom even tries to control my diet. I feel as though every day I stay here I am taking 30 steps backward and losing more of myself.

Anyway, I have been trying to move to California from the East Coast, where I plan to seek professional counseling and eventually look for a job and live my life. I am not trying to avoid my problems, but I feel like I need to get out of this situation and confront it through getting professional help. My mother kept asking me to stay past the lunar new year, so I did, and now I’ve found out that she is going to a cancer clinic this week. My father is 70 and had his lung cancer removed last spring. Now I feel as though I’m obligated to stay, and nobody is mentioning my move, as if they are hoping that I stay. I feel guilty and selfish if I go ahead and make the move, but I know I can’t stay in this environment any longer. Please help me. Thanks.

Psychologist’s Reply

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You mention quite a few issues here that are producing significant stress for you. I would suggest that you prioritize the steps you intend to take in terms of tackling these issues. Finding a job on the West Coast may be the top priority right now for you. Allowing yourself to feel guilty for things that you want to do in and with your life will not be energy productively spent. Instead, you might try to use journaling about your feelings as a way to process them until you find some real help. Sometimes, the act of writing down what is causing us distress is an effective way to really see what is going on inside of ourselves. Try it, it may do some real good.

I am wondering what prompted you to ‘realize’ that you may have been sexually abused by your grandmother? Did you have a dream? A memory? You may want to find a therapist in your area who can help you deal with these feelings. Since you are in the US, you may be able to find a no cost or low cost clinic that offers mental health services. As for moving away from your family, and feeling guilty about it, you just may need to put the needs of your family under your needs for yourself in terms of priority on this one. Again, journaling about it is one way to work through those feelings. Also, if your family refuses to discuss your intended move, that’s fine. They really don’t need to have a running dialogue about your intentions, just know that you are intending it, and you are doing this for you. Often, a person can feel a load of relief by exercising forgiveness around issues that cause them anxiety or distress. Try it, it may offer you a lot of relief from overwhelming resentment.

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