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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

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Depression & Abuse

Depression and Abuse

From: Karen
To: drirene
Sent: Saturday, April 10, 1999
Subject: my abuse story

hi dr. irene,

hi. my name is Karen. I'm 21. recently I've been in a relationship that was troubled by my depression, negativity, and inability to overcome my issues with my family. I'm trying understand these issues. I feel overwhelmed and angry and guilty. I just want someone to tell me that my dad has been unfair and then help me deal with the situation.

my life long depression has been fairly obvious to my parents. but they blame my brain chemistry, not the chemistry of their relationship. (Do your parents know that studies demonstrate that adult early in life can create chemical pathways that predispose to depression and other disorders?) I didn't talk about my mom very much. I'll tell you about her here. she neglects herself and plays the martyr. (Poor thing!) she never took care of me. (Ouch!) she would neglect me as she neglecting herself. (Yes.) when I tried to get her to help or came to her with a problem, she would always be like," oh you poor child to have such a terrible mother as me. I'm such a terrible person to neglect you as I do . I hate myself." etc etc. Basically she wasn't capable of helping me for whatever reason. (Correct. It is good that you see she did not have the "stuff" to be a better caretaker, and that she coped by trying to guilt you for what she could not provide.)
it hard to be objective about my family because I have nothing else. I've never had any friends or other sort of outside support. (It's time to get some now.) my parents don't have any friends either. it is like we are our own sad little sovereign country. (Dysfunctional families typically live in isolation. They "protect" the family secrets. You don't have to.) I live with my mom and dad a 14 year old sister. my dad is a very sad and verbally abusive man. he is constantly negative and belittles us. my mom is an over responsible person with no self-esteem. there is a constant tension between them. I hate the way my dad abuses me, my mom, and my sister. he also has this weird tendency to turn any and all topics to his favorite subjects. this is his hatred of black people and how certain liberal politics are ruining the country. (we are white) I don't see these things as even applying to us. my sister and I went to predominately black schools and we live in a black neighborhood. I used to think it was my duty to tell him he is wrong. I found his views to be just plain evil. (Yes. Evil, sad and destructive.) that was when I was about ten. even though I was just ten and his daughter, he would proceed to argue with me as though I was an adult and a peer. he would be very ugly. often he would say these sort of racist things to me to provoke me. (Ouch!) and when I would just stare at my dinner plate, he would say," black people should all be shot-don't you think so Karen?" and then I would say," no." without looking up from plate. and then he would press me to tell him why I didn't think so, until finally we would be arguing. that was then. now I refuse to engage in discussions with him. (Good!) he also always wants to talk about himself. he can talk for hours and hours. telling you how wonderful he is and how everyone else is stupid and incompetent. you can break all eye- contact with him. you can give every indication that he is irritating and boring and fatuous. and yet still he will go on. you can get up and move to another part of the room and he will follow you. our house is unsightly because he's been 'remodeling' it for ten years. he'll start projects, and then lose interest in them, and leave them unfinished. he doesn't ask us before he begins. and then tries to make us feel like we are the ones that make him do all the work. when we tell him we don't like the fact that our house looks like a bomb went off inside and outside of it, he'll get mad and sulky like a child, until we stop bothering him about it. (He acts like a child -- a big, selfish, irresponsible child who is out of control. Unfortunately, he has the power of an adult.) if we try to help with his projects he is so critical. he thinks everything we'll do is wrong and call us stupid and incompetent. so, dr. irene, you probably wish I would get to a point or a question. sorry for the length of this. I guess my question is,

1. how can I make him stop making us and himself miserable?
2. how can I find the self esteem that was robbed from me so long ago?
3. how can I help my mom and my sister, besides deflecting the abuse away from them and to me - which is what I have been doing?
4. I need help. I feel sad. I feel angry. sometimes I feel like killing myself. I'm not trying to scare you with that latter statement. it scares me though and I wish that I wouldn't feel so helpless and impotent with my family.
thank you for reading this very long message and I hope that you are able to respond.

Dear Karen,

I am going to get to the point, that is to your questions at the end of your email:

1. You can't stop him from making himself and others miserable. Again: You CAN NOT stop him from making himself and others miserable. You CAN stop him from making YOU miserable!

2. On self-esteem, I doubt you ever developed any from the way you describe your family. That doesn't mean you don't deserve it, can't develop it, etc., etc., it just means that from what you say, it is unlikely that your family was able to appreciate all the wonder that is YOU -- you will have to do that for yourself! And you most certainly CAN.
3. You can't help your mom or your sister They have to help themselves -- sorry, no other way. They may choose to do so, or, they may not. You can help yourself. Only yourself. You CAN do this.
4. I agree that you need help. You are so young, yet you talk about life-long depression. Depression, whether it is genetic or environmental or both, is a chemical disorder. It is real. It is a physical
illness and you need to get help immediately!
Talk to your family doctor for starters, perhaps show him or her this note. There are medications that are very effective in treating depression. Then get yourself a therapist because you will need some guidance. (I always advocate for dumping the depression at the outset. You have emotional work to do. It is easier to do that work when you don't have to carry a load of bricks as you walk uphill.)

Karen, you have every right to be sad -- there is much to grieve. You have every right to be angry -- furious even. In fact, you would be "crazy" if you weren't angry!

The sad truth is that your parents did the best they could, though they did not do a very good job. Perhaps I am naive, but I have never met a parent who has set out to hurt their child; it happens because they cannot deal with their own life. What they did/do doesn't really matter. What does matter is that you understand that you do not have to repeat their mistakes! You can stop the insanity now, with yourself. You are the only one who can fix your life, and you owe it to yourself to do so. Also understand that, as much as you may want to, you do not have the power to fix anybody else's life. That is what codependents try to do, and it does not work.

My best advice to you is to get some professional help, both medical and psychological. Immediately. The good news is that you CAN get out of the emotional (and physical) place where you live!

Good luck to you,

Dr. Irene