Ask The Therapist: “My mother is verbally abusive and it has affected my self-esteem…I want to let this go, but I don’t know how…”

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 mother is verbally very abusive and it has affected my self-esteem and confidence, but she thinks it is normal. She will be upset all the time over anything and start saying how bad we are as children. All my life I have just tried to be a good daughter and did whatever she told me to, but she will always have something she will scold me over. She never gives me space and she always wants me to be around her – she will even make me feel guilty for being in my room and has no boundaries. She never respects the fact that I have work to do and will call me whenever I start studying and distract me. I help her with house chores because we don’t have any house help since the pandemic and I can give max of 3 hours for house chores with my classes and all that, but even after doing it for 7 hours she is not happy and will tell me that I never do anything. It just frustrates me so much. She is sick so I try not to let her do any work but then she will still say that I don’t take care of her and not give her food on time. I have not been able to score good results in college just because of that. She shouts around the house, cries all the time, abuses me without any reason honestly and then she expects us to say sorry. If not, things get worse.

I am tired of apologising without any reason. I never talk back but when she uses abusive language, I just unconsciously roll my eyes and she will be upset for days and react so violently that I misbehaved and I will have to say sorry. She also has a history of verbal abuse from her mother so maybe she thinks this is the way to go. I can never talk to her because she just turns everything into an argument and uses that against me the next time she is scolding me. I have always tried to hold a happy face in front of the world, even my father doesn’t know what is happening because he is just very busy earning money. Now I want to let this go because I can’t fix it. The most I can do for myself is think about my future; I have a lot on my plate and want to focus on that. Can you please help me and tell me how I can realign my focus? I have already wasted 3 years of my life over this.”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

It is incredibly frustrating, and even painful to care for a parent who is being verbally abusive and unappreciative of the effort you put in, while also putting your needs second to theirs. In situations involving your relationship with others, it’s a lot more resourceful to focus on the things that you are experiencing and are in control of. While you may not be able to control what your mother does, there are steps that you can take to keep yourself protected and emotionally safe from the abuse that you’re facing. 

It’s Okay to Feel What You’re Feeling

Emotions such as anger or sadness are difficult enough on their own. Throw in the cultural norm of respecting and obeying your parents, one can often feel reluctant to even acknowledge those feelings. If this is the case with you Anon, I do want to remind you that you are human and that you’re allowed to feel what you feel. Whether it’s towards your parents, your friends or just a stranger on the street. It’s crucial to acknowledge your feelings, and to stay true to your own experience. 

Creating Physical And Emotional Boundaries

In your message, you are able to recognise that what you are experiencing is, in fact, abuse. While you are empathetic to your mother’s history and the current status of her health, it sounds like you are able to acknowledge that whatever is happening to you is making you feel unsafe and it really affecting your mental health. The question now becomes: what can you do about it?

As I mentioned earlier, there are things that are within your control, and it’s just a matter of observing and knowing what those elements are:

Your reactions/responses: One of the biggest things you have within your control is how you respond to the person who is violating your boundaries. In a moment where they might be trying to engage you into that whirlpool of guilt and shame, it would help to remind yourself that most of the time, it is more about them than it is about you. This might sound a little cliché, but it is true. Every person will project their own experiences and emotions onto the world around them. In the case of your mother, it’s possible that she is taking out her own frustrations onto you. Keeping this in mind, it helps to create some emotional distance from the situation, and know that you are doing the best you can, and that this is not about you. If need be, just listen to what she has to say, refrain from engaging with her words and just walk away.

Getting Help/Support: Whether this is for the purpose of confiding in someone about what you’re experiencing, or reaching out to other family members, it helps to have a support system available to you. I would also recommend therapeutic counselling if further support is needed!

Looking out for your well-being: Taking care of a parent who is unwell and emotionally abusive can really take its toll on your mental health. It’s important to acknowledge what YOUR needs are, and how you can express what you’re feeling. Whether it’s meditation, soothing sounds, music, art, crying, having a sip of water, talking to a friend, going for a walk, or just taking a few deep breaths – it helps to know what you need in order to bring yourself to a more grounded state. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll stop feeling angry or sad, it just means that you’ll be in a state of reflection rather than in a state of overwhelm.

Anon, living with an emotionally and verbally abusive parent can be extremely challenging. Usually distance might not always be an option, especially at this time where mobility is limited. At this stage, it’s important to keep yourself safe. It may take some time to establish boundaries, just keep in mind that you have a right to feel safe and to put your needs first. I really hope things get better for you. 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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