Ask The Therapist: My Extended Family Aren’t Nice People …

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues such as 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 serves to aggravate the individuals suffering. For the women who cannot seek out full-time therapy, or simply need advice about their problems, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained counsellor. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

Dear Team,

I read a post on your Instagram and it made me want to message you. I’m a 24-year-old girl living in London. I’ve gotten a job as a civil servant, and I’ve completed my degree and masters from Kings College London. When I look at the career aspect of my life, it looks like everything is going for me. Everything is perfect as if nothing can ever go wrong. But when I look at myself as a person, I’m broken. I am originally from the (United) States. I was born there and lived there till the age of 10, and came to London when my Nan fell terribly unwell – and from then on, we settled down here.

My mum and dad’s side of the family aren’t nice people. They leeched onto my mother to provide for them and give them everything we had. I’ve been through a lot in life, I can’t say all the details here and now, but I’ve been through way too much. My mums 3 sisters hate me and they’re all 33+. They have jealousy in them, and hatred, because I have things, or do things they couldn’t at my age. They’ve felt the need to compete with me and treat me badly, harming my self-esteem over the years.

It’s been 14 years since we moved here. I’ve been going through a lot. It’s only now that I know I can’t take any more. My family has just started to realise this too, and see that I suffer from depression. Only a couple of weeks ago did I realise myself, when it started, and why. I realised that it all sprung from my self-esteem being shattered as a child, and continuing to be broken, almost like a slow burn over the last 14 years.

I am a really sensitive person, full of emotion, full of love and sentiments. I can’t see people cry. I cannot see people in pain, and I’ve been selfless my whole life. I’ve wanted people’s happiness, even if it came at the expense of my own. I used to think at least someone will be happy.

I know I’m giving you very brief and vague descriptions, but I have too many haters to count. These are people that my family has labelled as envious, and they even admit that they are jealous of me. My self-esteem and confidence are so low that I don’t know how to let things not affect me.

Since I’ve realised what I’m experiencing is depression, I’ve tried antidepressants, which didn’t work. I’ve started reading books to educate me, which helps to a certain extent. I also visit a psychologist, but it doesn’t actually do much for me. Maybe because it’s the NHS free service? But I can’t afford anything expensive.

I pay for the mortgage. All the salary I give to my mum as the only earning child, helping to fund my brother’s wedding in June this year. My house is getting done up, I have another job I do in the evenings after my first office job, and I also work 10 – 6 on the weekend.

My brother’s fiancé is also jealous of me and she admitted it. She treats me like trash and just does whatever she wants to do, or even says whatever she wants to. She’ll move into my house after her wedding, and I’m genuinely worried because she’ll take away what’s mine. I just can’t take a stand for myself.

I know I need CBT but I don’t know what to do. I pray to Allah SWT, I try mediation, but I don’t know what else I can do. I try and not let things get to me, but I get so hurt that it’s unreal. People walk over me and I let them. I have no self-confidence or belief. What should I do?

Dear Anonymous,

Your credentials are truly impressive, and kudos for being able to accomplish so much at a young age. But do our accomplishments need to ensure that we feel whole, and good enough all the time? No!

At a young age, you went through a lot of change. You faced grief and moved countries. That’s a lot to take in for a 10-year-old. 

It seems like you have begun the journey towards self-awareness, which is the most valuable gift you can give to yourself. The emotions you described experiencing, the love and sentiment sounds deeply powerful to me. It’s great to hear that you really care about your loved ones and can’t see other people experience pain, but how about yourself? Can you see yourself in pain? Is other people’s happiness worth the cost of your own? Can you take care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself first?  You have a really hectic routine. I hear that you’re doing a lot for your family, but I don’t hear you doing anything just for yourself. If the responses to the above are no, then I’d say it’s not worth it. 

You mentioned you are facing depression, and I assume that you have been diagnosed with depression via a qualified psychiatrist. However, medication will help ease down your system. It will not take away how you feel, though. You need to acknowledge your emotions and work through them. Has avoiding the situation made it any better for you?

Perhaps try out a different therapist. Sometimes it takes one, two, even three tries before finding one that suits you. If you are looking for someone cost effective, there are many counsellors who take on clients through Skype who are very cost effective as well. If you need a reference, feel free to contact me.

I’m sorry to hear about your mothers’ sisters, who strike me as being envious of you and your accomplishments. You have accomplished a lot and you need to be proud of yourself for doing that. It is seeming like you have a pattern in your relationships, where certain people are rude to you and mistreat you. I also hear you say that people walk all over you and that you let them.  

While you may feel that other people are the catalyst for you feeling a certain way,  you are the guardian of your emotions. Other people’s behaviour may be making you feel drained, or as if they’re stepping all over you, but you are responsible for how you reactYou need to set healthy boundaries for yourself where you feel safe. If you are consistently feeling a certain way after interactions with a particular person(s), you may want to talk to them about your relationship or choose to spend less time with them. Be open to examining your own part in the relationship, rather than assuming that the other person is entirely to blame. Therapy will aid you in this.

Many times we feel that our emotions may be irrational or a sign of weakness. In truth, they allow us to express ourselves and communicate with those around us what we are experiencing. Your emotions are clues which indicate what you need to do next. So, in your case, when you are around certain people and you feel your energy depleting, a sinking feeling, or that someone is walking all over you, it is a signal. Pause and assess.  You are suffering from low self-esteem, but this is something that slowly and steadily can be rebuilt via therapy, medication, mindfulness, and the will to be better from achieving a higher sense of self-awareness. 

For you, your goal is to be able to have a healthy, full range of emotions without allowing our emotions to function as the sole barometer of what is true, or to lead you into destructive behaviour. 

You are entitled to how you feel and nobody can take that away from you. 

When experiencing painful, unexpected, or intense emotions, accept that you feel a certain way instead of beating yourself up, and recognize that you have the ability to choose how to respond to that feeling, 

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.

We at Mashion realize the sensitivity and widespread nature of issues like this and have a committed interest in bringing more awareness and exposure to topics and stories like these. Haya Malik is a certified Humanistic Integrative Counsellor and psychotherapist. She will be answering mental health questions weekly on Mashion, to send in your questions, email support@mashion.pk. All questions will remain anonymous. 

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