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Coping with Authoritarian parents
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greenpea posted:
I am a 21-year-old who comes from a background of privilege and support. I am the oldest of four sisters and I'm graduating in the spring from Brown. It's an anxious time. I don't know where I'm going to live two months from now, much less what I want to do with my life. I'm home for winter break.

My parents are both lawyers, strong-willed types who address conflict by screaming. They are obsessed with authority. Anything they perceive as undermining it is wrong. They avoid apologies at all costs and believe that their children do not deserve mutual respect.

In high school, they punished me constantly. I briefly saw a psychologist and began to think the situation was not normal, that I might be right in seeing error in their ways. I went to college and avoided it. I thought it would end and they'd begin to see me as an adult.

This Thanksgiving (my birthday) things blew up. My mother and I had some petty fight caused largely by me. Lots of screaming. Honestly I can't remember what the substance was. She told me to get out of the house, that she didn't want me there if I was going to be rude. I said, "So you don't want me here?" and she replied, "NO!" Maybe I provoked her. I left and refused to come back until she apologized, though my sister begged me not to go. I felt both selfish and wronged. I cried in a park until 7. No word from them.

My father finally called and demanded I come back, not ruin Thanksgiving, that I was selfish, that I only wanted to win. I said I wouldn't until mom told me she wanted me home. Long story short, my mom never got on the phone. I came home, and my dad yelled at me for being disrespectful and said that we WILL ALWAYS have a relationship where, verbatim, "I'm the parent and you're the subservient child." I said that's not a way to foster love. He said he'd rather have respect.

I told my father it felt like he did not love me. My parents often harp on my lack of respect and selfish sense of entitlement. When I've expressed this feeling in the past my parents have been shocked. My mom cries and then screams at me for saying such a thing. My father says sarcastically, "yeah, we don't love you, I'm a terrible father," gets into how entitled I am for suggesting that.


He said that he shows love through the financial support he has consistently provided for me. It's true: I've been given everything. When I said financial support was not love, even though I am grateful and know I am incredibly lucky, he turned red-faced and sputtered. I told him I did not accept "subservience."

Later, he came up to my room with a champagne glass he'd given to my mother on their wedding night. Come downstairs, he said, it's a night for family. That was his olive branch.

I am strong-willed, too, I know. I've barely looked at my father since Thanksgiving. After being away for a week, I forgot my sister's girl scout ceremony. The first words he said to me on the phone were derisive, that I was obtuse, etc. He will not apologize.

He instead says "look at yourself, you think you're infallible." I HAD APOLOGIZED for forgetting. I messed up—but so did he! It's hard to be sincerely contrite and admit my failure when the example is so poor. I know I should be the bigger person.

My mom told me to wait. This morning, they asked me to go to my sister's basketball game and help with her diabetes. I said "Sure, I guess." They started to yell at me for the surly "I guess." I brought up that my dad had not apologized for the nasty remarks. They said they didn't want my help. Dismissed me.

I'm leaving again for school. I feel so bitter. We barely speak. I dread encounters. What can I do? Is it wrong of me to want their apologies? I know I'm their child, but they make me feel worthless and small. They have small kids and work full-time. There's no attention for me--and no respect, and no love.
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dfromspencer responded:
Its usually the eldest child that gets all the attention, not so in your case, i see? No, it is not wrong for you to want respect from your parents, that is, if you give it? Respect is a two way street, one has to give respect, in order to recieve it. Your parent's demand for respect is wrong, in my eyes anyway. You are an adult now, and feel you should be treated as one. I honestly don't know how you can do anything diferent, and not expect the same results?

Keep trying to get them to see you as an equal, and not JUST as their daughter, it may work? Give them some time to adjust to this new adult you, ok? It could be a very long wait, but don't give up! You deserve respect as much as they do!

Best of luck to you!!!

Dennis
LIVE LONG, LOVE WELL!!!
 
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rohvannyn responded:
My .02 USD:

Subservience is not equivalent to respect and that is something they need to learn. I am not sure how they will learn it, however, since they sound very set in their ways. If they insist on fighting and screaming to get their way, it might not be possible to change their mind. You can't teach a person who doesn't want to learn.

Please don't buy in to their tactics, een if it means you have to cut off contact. Don't take any help from them either unless they do it with MUTUAL respect. They probably love you very much and are terrified of losing you, but that isn't a reason to allow yourself to be abused. You are an adult. You do not have to be subservient to anyone. You can respet them, you can be assertive, you can stick up for yourself, and you don't have to be aggressive.

If you can, find someone you can learn good behavior patterns from. A counselor, a wise older friend, a mentor of some other kind, even a good self help book. Be careful with those! It's good that you realize there are problems. If you take steps now to develop your personality in healthy ways, you will thank yourself in your future relationships.

To reinforce: their behavior isn't normal. You don't have to put up with it either. You have the right to fair treatment, and the responsibility to be fair to others, but don't let yoruself be walked on. Best of luck to you!
Roh

'Your focus determines your reality.' --QGJ
 
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD responded:
It sounds like the conflicts are happening in response to you maturing and now having space away from family while you are at college. This kind of struggle is not unusual because going to college is a time of transition. I suggest that you see a therapist at your school's mental health center (which I'm hoping they have). Not only can it be helpful to have a therapist assist you in sorting this out, but the therapist will hopefully be experienced in this kind a problem.

In the meantime, you are working on trying to figure out your needs separate from what your parents are dictating and from the pressure of your family culture. Keep it up. With time and continued effort, you will hopefully find peace in your heart -- even if you don't ever see fully eye-to-eye with your parents.


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