Ask The Therapist: “I have a different personality from the family around me. I am sensitive and feel things…they have never understood me.”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I am a 20-year-old girl. Since childhood, I have a different personality from the family around me. I am sensitive and feel things. They are materialistic. They have never understood me. They have made me lead two lives and have not let me be who I am. Siblings and parents all have gone on this way, except me. They keep making kind of propaganda behind me, because I am different and it hurts their ego when I show my actual self and live my actual self. They have also tried to, and have gone emotionally physically violent with me many times. Now, for my protection, I don’t show them my actual side. I have become very timid. I have distanced myself from them now, and it is also unpleasant to them, because they just satisfy their egos. I have stopped explaining myself to them. There lies a rebellious self in me too. They want to hide how wrongly they use their power.

I am done living a dual life. Like, it’s been 20 years. I want to leave the house and be independent fully on my own, but right now, I feel they will harm me more. I want to live my life fully now, but can’t, it’s killing me inside and outside. I have male friends, which is so normal. But, they are way too filthy to understand this all. I cannot be me, it’s so disturbing and eating me slowly inside. Siblings, parents, they all make propagandas behind me. I want to protect myself too and can’t live my life fully. I am so done living this dual life. I cannot afford a therapist, I am a student. But I need help.”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Hi Anon,

It must be so difficult pretending to be someone you’re not. I know first-hand how tough that can be, and it really sounds like you want to break free from your current environment, and just feel free to be who you are. Let’s explore this a little further and see what you can do within your power to make the best out of your current circumstances.

The Masquerade Within The Home

There’s a certain sense of irony that surrounds the idea of having to pretend to be someone you’re not in your own home, yet that seems to be a norm in a place like Pakistan. Ideally, you would want to be exactly who you are within the confines of your home, and unfortunately that’s not always the case. You may want to be a certain kind of person, but your family doesn’t approve and may even find ways to punish you for it. In a way, you being who you are poses a threat to your safety, and as per the guidelines of human survival, you will do whatever you can to keep yourself safe. In this case, Anon, you hide yourself away. 

As members of society, we have what is known as a false self. This is the “mask” we present to the world. This is natural, and at times, even necessary. However, when we continuously act in a manner that is inconsistent to our true selves, it can lead to a certain level of internal chaos, which can manifest in the form of anxiety, depression, anger issues, etc. It is important to find a balance, and try to access your true self as much as possible. In the case of you and your family, Anon, there are certain steps you can take to help you move towards a more authentic and grounded sense of being.

Surviving In Your Own Home 101

In Pakistan, it’s culturally common to live with your family, sometimes even after you are financially independent. When we’re younger, it becomes difficult to separate ourselves from the family unit because of the financial aspect of living separately. So, what can be done in the meantime?

Do What You Need To: as stated earlier, at a younger age, it’s difficult to separate from the family. So, given those circumstances, it might help to be mindful of how to make the best of your circumstances, till such time you are in a position to make a change – in other words: finding a way to survive (and thrive) in your current ecosystem. This may involve just doing what needs to be done in order to keep the peace. 

Create Spaces Where You Can Be Yourself: while you may not be able to be your authentic self with your family, try looking for/creating spaces or people where you can be yourself. A best friend? Their home? A group of friends? Other family members? Make the most of those relationships where you may not feel the need to pretend, and where you can be your most authentic self. 

Financial Independence: one thing that I have come to realise is that you are recognised as an adult when you begin to earn your own money. What’s more is that there is a certain level of authority and power that comes with it. It becomes easier to establish boundaries – so even if you are living in the same house, you might have a bigger say, especially in terms of your own choices. It might be a little tough to establish those boundaries at first, so I would recommend starting off small, and working your way up. 

Create An Exit Strategy (if that’s what you would like to do in the future): some people do opt for the option of disconnecting from their family unit and living independently. Of course, that can take time and a bit of work. You would need to find ways of financially supporting yourself, then finding a place live. You may even choose to move to another country. The point is to see what option works best for you in this case.

Therapy And Alternatives To Therapy: Sometimes it does become difficult to find a therapist, especially when you don’t have the capital. However, most therapists do have a sliding scale, and sometimes they would even be willing to take whatever you can provide. You can try contacting CPPD (Pakistan), the Trauma Release and Wellness Centre or Therapy Works, and they would be able to help you find a counsellor. You can also look into online support groups. The Trauma Release and Wellness Centre also offers mental health support groups, and even provides a discount to students. Otherwise, you can also look into apps that help promote wellness. I would personally recommend Headspace and Calm, that are centred around meditation. Reading up on certain topics might also help you gain a certain amount of insight and sense of awareness, so you can even look into building up on your psycho-education and self-awareness.

Anon, I know it’s tough having to live in a house which does not welcome you for exactly who you are, and you deserve to be you. I hope that you are able to find the answers that you are looking for. I wish you all the best on your journey towards healing. Good luck and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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