Dear Thelma: Suffering emotional abuse from my parents


By Thelma
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Those suffering from mental health issues or contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935 / 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999 / 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) family, social and community care centre (0111-959 8214 on WhatsApp); and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 or go to befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia for a full list of numbers nationwide and operating hours, or email sam@befrienders.org.my).

Dear Thelma,

I am an adult but I am still living in my parents' house because I am still a student.

My parents provide me with adequate food, a roof over my head and pay for my education. I don't think they have ever neglected me when it comes to the basic needs a parent should provide for a child.

Yet, I am not happy in my household due to the emotional abuse I am going through with them. Since I was a young child, I have been called names due to my skin complex and my body figure. They have even humiliated me in front of others as a joke. As a young person, this affected my self-esteem a lot and it still does at times. It was so bad, to the point that I would never look at myself in the mirror because I was so disgusted by my own appearance.

Recently, things have been worse because every time I express my opinions, they get so angry and lash back at me by calling me certain names and saying stuff that nobody would ever say to a stranger. Some examples: "You are such a b!+@h", "You are very hard to live with., "You are not worthy and special", "I wish I never had you as my child", "I wish you were dead".

This has led to me crying at nights, feeling lonely, depressed and even having suicidal thoughts.

I don't have anyone to confide in since I have no siblings and my friends can only help up to a certain level. I don't have a partner as well because of all the emotional trauma that I've faced since I was a young kid. I don't have the confidence to date or fall in love. I constantly have the fear that my potential partner might hurt me like my parents do. I also worry I'm not likeable, as my parents always say.

It is not easy to hear harsh words and comments almost on a regular basis from them. Their attitude demotivates me and makes me feel worthless most of the time. Every time, I have to fake a smile when I step out of the house just to ensure nobody thinks I'm suffering or that everything in my house is perfectly normal.

What should I do to feel better? How do I overcome the feelings in me? What is the solution for all the emotional abuse I'm facing from the most important people in my life?

I want to be happy. I want to feel loved. I want to feel appreciated. I want to be heard. I want to be the real me.

Broken Yet Hopeful




Dear Broken Yet Hopeful,

I'm so sorry this is happening to you. It's very sad when a family abuses one of their members.

As you have suicidal thoughts, please get support immediately. You can contact the numbers in the highlighted box above but as you're in university, it may be easier for you to start there. Counselling for abuse requires a special skills set and experience, so look for a professional with at least a Masters in Psychology, Counselling or Sociology who works with abusive families or victims of violence.

It is very hard to work on yourself when you feel bad, so the first thing that has to be addressed is your overall mental health.

They will assess you for depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation first, and then you will spend a few sessions exploring how you think, feel and act now, and how you can make some effective changes.

As your family's bullying have had an impact on the way you see yourself, especially your body, spend a few sessions on this subject. And before you start, let me tell you right now: there is nothing wrong with you! There's something very wrong with people who bully kids, but please don't think there is any truth in the nasty things they've said.

In addition to working on you, devote some time to creating a good circle of friends. Do this by seeing what friends you have now, and then add a new hobby or activity so you can expand your network.

Now, etiquette demands that we are cheery during social activities like parties. It's rude to attend a function and spoil it with sulks, frowns or gloominess. However, with personal relationships, you can be yourself. So please, don't fake happiness with your nearest and dearest friends. Let them know what's going on.

If you are shy about this, work out how to go about that in your sessions. It will be a safe space for you to practice what you say. Again, please don't worry too much. Many people have experiences with bullies, so you will find support.

The big question is whether you can get your family to become accountable for the hurtful and disrespectful things they have said and to learn new behaviour that is based on respect and kindness.

As this has been going on for years, that might be difficult. However, do talk through possibilities in your sessions. For example, if there is one family member who is different, you may be able to connect.

If not, then aim for independence with friendships that will provide the support and love you deserve.

As for dating, I urge you to wait a while. People from abusive families tend to fall into abusive relationships. It would take a book to explain why, but in short, we tend to be attracted by the familiar. That's great if you come from a nurturing family but not so hot if you don't.

Please don't think you're doomed! All you need to do is build some self-love, get good, healthy friendships going, and to learn to recognise the hallmarks of toxic behaviour like gaslighting, stereotyping, and so on. That will take a few months of prep, but then you can go and date happily.

I know it's very painful to grow up with abusive family, but please know you're not alone. Recovery is totally doable; it just takes a bit of time and support. So please make an appointment right away. You deserve to be happy.

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