Tell Me About It

I am treated like a hated presence and nuisance in the house

I have unsupportive parents and my brother and his girlfriend have broken me down

PROBLEM: I am an 18-year-old female about to study abroad, but I feel burdened by feelings accrued at my current location and I have no adults to speak to outside of my family.

I have always been a good student. After finishing school early and coming to live with my brother and his girlfriend, I felt more confident than ever in my abilities to grow and express myself.

However, in the past six months, I have become deeply indebted to my brother and girlfriend for helping me get into college, get driving, go to doctors, anything you can imagine to jump-start a totally ill-equipped adult life and make up for my un-cooperative and unsupportive parents.

So I have these feelings of debt and gratitude. However, I feel I have been repeatedly broken down, criticized and called obscene names on a regular basis. I have been subject to violent arguments and irrational anger. I am treated like a hated presence and nuisance in the house. When I make the smallest mistake I expect confrontation that never ends (even after an apology) until I am left alone to cry myself to sleep. I am leaving with the lowest self-esteem I have ever had.

I feel sad that my own family member has treated me this way and has watched his partner physically and verbally attack me in his house. The fights are all around things that I see as arbitrary but have haunted my life for six months: I put my shoes in the wrong place, a blanket is not folded, etc.

When I try to voice my pain, I am ungrateful and inconsiderate. I’m having a pity party. I have been told that I will get nowhere and that I am not smart enough to get into the colleges I have applied to. Neither my brother nor I can respect each other. He sees me as inept and selfish and I also see him as selfish and unsupportive for only giving me negativity, helping me just to use it against me. I feel vulnerable and more broken down leaving than I arrived; although I now have a future in my hands.

ADVICE: You are only 18 and the lack of sane and wise adults in your life has had a detrimental effect. You do not speak a lot about your parents but it might be the case that your brother has also felt unsupported and unloved and has visited on you what has been his experience of being parented. If this is the case, it might allow you a more sympathetic perspective on your time living with him. However, this does not excuse his behaviour towards you – it helps to understands it.

All adults are responsible for their behaviour and are more culpable than those in their care and so you have some justification in complaining. However, you are now embarking on another phase of your life and education and it is worth considering the kind of adult you would like to be and how to put substance behind this ideal. We are very influenced by those we live with and it takes deliberate action not to give back what we receive in any close relationship.

You say that selfishness seems to abound in your family and you know what it is like to be in receipt of this – frustration, anger and resentment. If you are not to repeat this characteristic, it requires that you develop self-confidence, courage in responding to injustice and equanimity in your person.

In the first instance, you feel rejected by your brother and slighted as an ungrateful sister. Can you treat him with respect and calmness with the aim of demonstrating your own core characteristics – as you are no longer living with him, this may be more of a possibility. The aim here is to develop into the adult you would like to see present in your family. The second aspect is to challenge the notion that you are selfish and the only way to do this is to genuinely care for others: can you extend yourself to care for your brother?

Good care of him requires challenge to his criticisms and anger: if he is to develop into a rounded human being he will benefit from this provocation. This will require courage and steadfastness from you. You may be tempted to never speak to him again but this will not solve the developmental needs in either your brother or you. Love (or care that is at the core of families) is what you have been aching for and if you are to reject it now in your relationship with your brother, you may struggle to recreate it in your future. Take the long-term view and use every opportunity for contact to exercise the best aspects of relationship while not accepting slights or criticisms.

It seems that your family has offered monetary support and there is some aspect of care that is ongoing – this is slim grounding but nonetheless it is real and you can use this as a base to become the adult you can be proud of.