Dear Thelma: I'm depressed because of my toxic parents


Do you need a listening ear? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

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Those 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 family, social and community care centre (011-1959 8214 on WhatsApp); or Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929/ email sam@befrienders.org.my/ befrienders centres in malaysia).

Dear Thelma,

I am a Form 6 student. Since I was young, I was always pressured to study hard and get good grades.

My parents have always had too many expectations of me since I was a kid. It has gotten to a point where I can't bear this anymore.

They have always told me that they wanted me to get a job in the medical field. They have ingrained this into me since I was a kid. I always thought my parents were right and I should always listen to them as they're doing this for my own good.

They told me to enter the Science stream so that I could pursue my education in medicine. When my SPM results did not meet the criteria to do medicine, my parents constantly told me how disappointed they were in me. I was shattered. I put in so much effort so that I could achieve good grades.

I picked up a binge-eating habit along the way. I got very stressed during my SPM year yet they didn't care about my mental health and continued to blame me for not meeting their expectations.

I also put on a tremendous amount of weight because of my binge-eating disorder. Now they've started to comment on my weight. They make sarcastic comments about my body and frequently body-shame me in front of other people.

I did so many things so that I could be their ideal daughter. I wanted their validation in everything and I wanted to please them. It has gotten to the point where I've started to self-harm.

I talked to them, explaining how their words and actions towards me have caused me stress. I even asked them to send me for therapy as my mental health was getting worse. I needed help and I asked them for it.

They made jokes about it and said I was being dramatic. They even saw the cuts and burns on my hand but they did nothing. They made jokes about them too.

I don't know what else I can do. I need help and advice.

Depressed daughter


I'm so sorry to hear of your troubles. Please know there is help.

I'll start by pulling all the points together, discuss what is going on, and then make suggestions for fostering positive change.

Your parents practise "conditional love", which is where the child is only loved if they live up to specific conditions. This parenting style is well-known for damaging mental health.

Our parents are our foundation, we look up to them, and we want to please them. When they tell us we're not good enough, we believe them. We suffer.

Children who grow up with parents practising conditional love are more likely to become anxious and depressed. They are also more likely to self-harm, turn to drugs, abuse alcohol and more.

Binge-eating, bulimia and other disordered eating issues are commonly associated with anxiety and stress, too.

I find it especially problematic that your parents are body-shaming you, and laughing at your self-harming. This suggests not simple ignorance but active cruelty.

Please know that you're a good person, whether you get As or Bs or Cs or whatever. It's your heart that matters, not what some bit of paperwork says or what job you hold.

So, how do we get you into a better space?

You are very young and under a lot of stress. If you learn to manage and reduce your stress, many of your issues will become much more manageable. Some will disappear.

Here's how to get there.

Please call one of the numbers above and make an appointment. Tell them you are depressed, self-harming, and at risk of suicide.

You'll need a mental health professional to assess you for depression and anxiety. This may be a medical doctor.

Once you have a diagnosis, you need to see a mental health professional. They'll talk with you, and also teach you some simple approaches that will help. This will take several regular counselling sessions.

As part of the process, they will help you map your support network.

Next, you need to learn how to manage your bulimia. A series of counselling sessions and a bit of cognitive behavioural therapy should help with that.

But mainly, you need to address the core issue: Your parents. I can't tell how old you are, if you're a 17-year-old sixth form person or almost 19, and this may make a difference.

Adults who laugh at their child who is self-harming and bulimic should attend counselling or take a parenting course. If you have younger siblings, I hope someone in authority steps in and forces change.

But should your parents refuse, and if you are older, then you may have to learn to cope with your family in your own sessions. For this, you need a counsellor skilled in working with abusive families.

Please understand that as it has taken some years for your family to drive you to this stage, it will not be an overnight fix. You will have to spend time processing what has happened and learn new behaviour.

With depression, anxiety, self-harm, and bulimia plus abusive parents, I would expect a person taking one weekly counselling session about a year or so to get back on track.

This is not a problem! You're clever, I can tell from how you write, and so you'll learn quickly. Also, there are plenty of counsellors in training working at NGOs who need hours.

If you decide to go to college or university, there will be counsellors and people in training there too.

The important thing is to start now. Please contact the above numbers to get you set up, and then invest your time in support and healing.

Should this sound like a lot of work, consider there are many young people in your position who have made positive changes in their lives. You can do so too.

Please make that first call now and know I'll be thinking of you.

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