Dear Thelma: Our domineering mum is ruining our lives


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Dear Thelma,

I am a 25-year-old man grappling with very strong feelings of rage and frustration, caused mainly by a difficult childhood characterised by a domineering and manipulative mother, while my father has been a passive figure in the background.

Their parenting styles have left deep emotional scars, compounded by their disapproval of my hobbies and career aspirations. Growing up, my mother's controlling behaviour really affected my sense of self-worth and individuality. She ridiculed my passion for sewing and knitting, saying such hobbies were for girls. This made me feel ashamed and confused about expressing myself authentically. She is so old-fashioned to think like that!

Also, my mother has imposed expectations for my future, insisting that I continue the family business rather than pursue a career of my own choosing.

These circumstances have left me feeling very angry and frustrated. The pressure to conform to my mother's wishes, coupled with her rejection of my interests, has aggravated these emotions, something which I struggle with every day.

My brother is also suffering mentally and emotionally as a result of our parents' parenting styles. Please help!


Thank you for writing so clearly about such a delicate subject. Many people face similar struggles, and there are ways to move forward, but it will take some work.

When you were a child, your mother used ridicule to shame, humiliate and control you. This is a form of emotional abuse.

Kids look up to their parents, and place huge value on their approval. Therefore, constant criticism will erode a child's self-esteem and mental health.

Emotional abuse is linked to increased risk of issues including anxiety, depression, and self-harm. It is also linked to higher rates of substance abuse and suicide.

Now you’re an adult, your mother insists you do not have a right to your own life; she thinks she can decide how you live. This is a form of coercion or control.

A parent’s job is to nurture and guide their little ones so that they grow up into confident, independent adults. It’s about helping kids understand themselves and teaching them to make good life choices.

Your parents have not done this. Your mother is abusive, and your father who should have protected you from her when you were a child, has enabled this situation.

Your anger comes from a sense of injustice. The emotion is spot on! However, while anger helps us pinpoint there is something wrong, staying angry is unhelpful because it poisons our daily outlook and lives.

Please know that this dysfunctional family dynamic is common. You are not alone!

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: You are an adult, an independent human being with a right to choose your own path in life.

For the first step to recovery, work on your anger, your emotions, and your self-esteem. While it is possible to do this alone, it is easier with the help of a mental health professional skilled in healing from emotional abuse. So if you can, book a few sessions.

Once you process your emotions, decide what you want from your relationship. Dealing with this issue is tricky because each person and family are different.

Some families can reset, others cannot or will not. For those that can change, the process takes time and effort; it’s not easy an easy path.

If you are currently in the mood to exit, that’s understandable. Please know that children who have bullies for parents often become estranged. Mostly this is temporary, but for others it’s lifelong.

Whatever you want is fine, but don’t make hasty decisions. Again, you may work this out on your own but doing so in the safe space of a therapy session with proper assistance can be useful. Focus on making decisions you will be happy about in the long term.

As for your career, you may reset the relationship and change your mind about the family business – or maybe not. Only you can decide. Just don’t do anything in a temper, okay?

If you want to pursue sewing and knitting, do so. Hobbies and crafts are relaxing, or you may want to be a tailor or designer. Who knows, you may be the next Bernard Chandran, Edmund Ser or Jimmy Choo!

You’ve been unhappy for a long time, so expect your own recovery to take some time. It can be intensive to tackle this issue. These recovery steps are typically easier if you have a lot of mental space. Should you be at university or living away, that is ideal.

If you are at home still, consider if distance will help you. Find a job with an income that will allow you to live away from the family home. Maybe you can stay with a supportive family member or bunk in with a friend.

As for your brother, you don’t mention his age. If he is an adult, you can work through this together. If he is not legally an adult, he will need your support while he’s underage, and you can be the path leader for him in terms of recovery and mental health.

It’s not easy recovering from these early experiences, but please be assured that many people in your situation have found a way forward. I hope that these steps will lead you to finding solutions that bring you happiness you deserve. I’ll be thinking of you.

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