Ask The Therapist: “My aunt keeps using my mother to fulfil her financial needs…how do I stop my aunt from using us or how do I convince my mother to cut them off?”

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!

“My aunt constantly keeps hurting us and is really toxic for us, but my mother doesn’t understand this. My aunt keeps using my mother to fulfil her financial needs, but whenever she gets in touch or in contact with some other relative who can offer her money, she neglects and literally ignores us. But when those relatives’ distance themselves from her, she comes back to us and starts to use us again. My mother however doesn’t cut her out of our lives and this is affecting us mentally because my siblings and I have started to feel like we’re some kind of toy. Recently even her kids have started misbehaving with us, like blocking us from here and there. I don’t mind them cutting us off, but I am tired of this cycle which keeps repeating itself again and again. How do I stop my aunt from using us or how do I convince my mother to cut them off?”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

Familial relationships can often be very complex, especially in our society where the cultural norm is to put our needs aside in order to help another family member. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you and your siblings to be in a home environment that’s so uncomfortable and tense, and having to be exposed to it repeatedly at different points in time. Let’s see if there’s something we can do to help you navigate through this situation.

Knowing Your Limitations

When it comes to relationships, any kind, be it family, romantic or even friends, the one thing that we cannot control is someone else’s feelings and actions. The only thing that we have control over at the end of the day is our actions, and the way we express ourselves. So, the question that you could ask yourself is:

  • What can I do?
  • What is within my power?
  • What is within my realm of control in this situation?

Communicating Your Concerns And Hearing Out Your Mother

One thing that you could possibly do is communicate how you feel about your aunt to your mother. Keep in mind that she may not respond the way you would like her to, and that’s alright. The most you can do here is tell her about how you are experiencing the situation with your aunt. Whether it’s about the pattern that you have seen with your aunt and other family members, how you have experienced her treating your mother, or even just bringing up the difficulties you and your siblings have been facing during this time.

Another thing that you could consider is reaching out to another family member, perhaps someone a little older, who could also speak to your mother if your efforts are ineffective and the situation remains the way it is. Perhaps if she hears it from more than one source, she would be more inclined to listen to it, and potentially take some action.

My curiosity does also go towards the relationship that your mother has with your aunt. Is it a close one? Is this a pattern that she has? Does she do this with other family members or friends? Your mother may have a history of helping out others at the expense of herself, and might actually struggle to establish clear boundaries with those around her. It might help to understand what’s going on for her in all of this.

Establishing Your Own Boundaries

I do sense a great deal of anger and frustration from your message, Anon. It’s painful to have a family member who seemingly only uses you for financial gain, and then goes onto ignoring you otherwise. While you may not be able to control or establish clear boundaries for your mother – and it is not your responsibility to do so – you can create those boundaries for yourself, whether it’s with your aunt, your cousins, your mother or even your siblings. Establishing those boundaries is a healthy way to maintain and protect your relationships, and if someone struggles to respect them, then that’s on them and not on you. Learning to create and hold down on those boundaries is a sign that you are able to prioritise your needs, which is a sign of a healing relationship with yourself. 

Taking Care Of Your Emotional Well-Being

In times of emotional distress, it’s important to focus on your own well-being and emotional regulation. While there are several ways to do this, I will always recommend doing things that require a little more movement – perhaps dance, yoga, running, qigong etc. Alternatively, you could also explore creative avenues for expressing yourself, such as: journaling or artwork.

If you feel like you need additional support, you can always reach out to a mental health counsellor/therapist, who will be able to help you navigate what you’re feeling while also providing you with a safe, non-judgemental space for you to express yourself freely.

Anon, as much as you would want to change or convince someone to do something, one of the hardest realities to grasp is that it is often really difficult to do so, and that rarely has anything to do with you. At the end, the only thing you can do is whatever is within your realm of control, and the rest is on the other person. In all of this, I do hope that you are able to look out for yourself as best as you can, and be able to establish your own personal/emotional/physical boundaries. I wish you all the best, Anon! Best of 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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