DEAR AMY: When I was growing up, my father called me terrible names, almost always centered on insulting my intelligence (calling me “stupid,” a “nitwit,” etc.). When I did well in college, he questioned how challenging my school was. My mother also insulted me, usually about my appearance (calling me “fat,” etc.), and questioned why a man would ever be attracted to me. I am adopted and both parents seemed to think that my many flaws were genetic. Now, my parents are senior citizens living in a nursing home, and I am 50 years old. The rude comments continue. I’ve been quiet about it over the years, out of respect for my parents. But the last straw came today when my dad said to me, “Enough of your stupid writing. You need to quit that and get a real job.” Amy, I’ve been a freelance writer for eight years. I love what I do, and I’m good at it. Prior to my writing career, I spent many unhappy years in a different career, and my dad made snide comments about that, too. I am at the breaking point. If anyone else was this verbally abusive, snarky and insulting to me, I’d tell them off and cut them out of my life. I am not a doormat and will not put up with disrespect, but I don’t know how to handle this. I’m thinking that for my sanity, cutting my parents out of my life might be the only option. Can you help?
Daughter at a Loss
DEAR DAUGHTER: Before walking away from your parents all together (which would be your last resort), you should start to speak your truth in a way where you would at least feel you’ve stood up for yourself.
These two people are not likely to change substantially, although you may be able to retrain them.
The next time you are outright insulted, you say, “Mom and Dad, you’ve insulted me off and on my whole life, and I’m asking you to stop.”
Expect them to be bewildered by this sudden change in you. Give them a few examples of what you will no longer tolerate. Tell them, calmly, “I am always kind to you. I expect the same. I’m letting you know that in the future, if you insult me, I’m going to get my coat and leave. Do you understand?”
And then — let it lie. Give them an opportunity to behave differently. And always have your coat handy.
Stating your intentions, and then calmly following through, will liberate you from the grip of these putdowns.
DEAR AMY: I’m separated from my husband right now and living with my family. I’m not really fond of this situation because the house is crowded. My husband and I separated because it got to the point where we couldn’t talk to each other respectfully. So I left. We’re working on ourselves now. Since I’ve been back home, I’ve been thrown under the bus by my grandmother at church (I doubt she realized it), had remarks made about me and my husband and now I’m being accused of not making any effort to talk to anyone while I’m here. This is making me miss my husband! How do I deal with the pain of feeling used — but not wanted — while I’m here, trying to fix my marriage?
Feeling Rejected and Used
DEAR FEELING: If your family’s home is so crowded, maybe other family members aren’t all that thrilled about having another person in the household, especially one who is “working on herself.” Are you being used? Because your family members may feel they are being used.
They might be trying to clue you in about the household strain your presence has caused.
Have you conveyed your gratitude? Are you going the extra mile to be helpful? Or are you so focused on your situation that you have forgotten that other people also have needs and problems?
Trying to see this from their perspective might help you to communicate.
DEAR AMY: My heart broke when I read the letter from “Worried,” the young girl whose father died. I was in elementary school when my father died, and reading her letter I could remember the anxiety and confusion I felt. I thought your gentle and encouraging response was right on. I hope she has more adults in her life who will treat her so kindly.
DEAR GRIEVING: Me too. Thank you.