My Parents Keep Hurting Me

Dear Edahn,

I have a terrible relationship with my family. I've never really had a good relationship with them as they have always been hyper critical of me, and have never offered me any kind of support or encouragement. If they do it’s minimal, and usually paired with a slap in the face. I guess it should be inserted somewhere here that as a kid, I was physically abused by them and now that I’ve reached adulthood, it’s just a continuation of that. 

My stress levels are really high after seeing and interacting with them at times. Sometimes it's positive, and other times they end up saying something unkind and hurtful. There's no telling when or why with them. In the hopes of having a positive relationship with them, I've tried working on it with them, and even tweaked the way I act to be more understanding, but I feel (and outsiders have also noticed) that the relationship is very one-sided with me being the giving, tolerant one. They have a way of either imposing their rude judgements and comments, or taking the extreme of ignoring and tuning me out all together. 

I cannot point to a single person in the family who has my back. The other night at dinner, someone threw an insult at me that just made me say: "that's it," and I just come to the conclusion that they are rotten people who are not going to change. I’m still really hurting from it and shaken up. Distant relatives and people outside the family have weighed in saying no family is perfect, and I'll live to regret not having a relationship with them, but I feel like my well being is really at risk here. Is there a better way of dealing with this situation?

YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY to avoid putting people in harm's way but what most people forget is that that responsibility extends to you personally, too. You can't let yourself get mistreated and belittled because it's wrong. Since they're your family, I can understand why you wouldn't want to abandon them altogether. So, I think you're going to have to pull back far enough that you don't keep getting hurt but not much farther.

Pulling back your feelings doesn't mean you repress them or ignore them. It means you don't let others have such a strong say in how you feel about yourself and life. All you really have to do is talk calmly. It's actually that easy. If you always talk calmly with them, you'll start to see that your reactions will be less extreme and painful.

So when your parents say "You don't know what the hell you're talking about, so just shut up," you say "Ouch. You really hurt me when you talk like that. No one should be talked to that way." When they say "Why don't you go find another boy to use you and dump you," you say "I don't know why you're so bitter, but I won't let you take it out on me" and walk away.

At first this'll probably feel awkward, but eventually it'll start feeling familiar. What you're doing is setting up boundaries and teaching yourself new responses to triggers. Instead of getting tragically hurt, you'll be moderately hurt, but you'll be able to navigate through it and move on with your day. You won't always know what you're doing or supposed to be doing but that's okay--that's part of the growing process. You do your best and when you mess up, you adjust. If you follow that philosophy, your life is destined to improve.

It's important that you react with the same calmness and composure to both mean things and nice things. Instead of indulging in the nice comments and compliments, just say thank you, offer a quick smile and move on. If you let yourself get wrapped up in compliments, you'll let yourself get lost in the insults. Why? Because you're giving other people the power to determine your mood and self-worth. You don't even need to worry about all that though. Just start with talking calmly and honestly.

If you follow that rule, you're going to notice your moods balancing out relatively quickly. Stick to it. You'll start reclaiming your self-worth and you'll start seeking your own approval instead of theirs. Hopefully your good communication will start to wear off on them over time. But if not, you tried.

tl;dr -- Keeping your voice calm will regulate your responses so you won't be so hurt.