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What to Do When Your Family Affects Your Mental Health

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Ah. Family. Sometimes we can’t live with them and sometimes we can’t live without them. It’s an age-old saying and yet still incredibly accurate. Every family has arguments and a little bit of drama, but what do you do when your family is a huge source of your mental ailments?

I remember, as a young girl, always being told how shy and “backward” I am. My mother and I would be in the grocery store and I wouldn’t talk to people or say hello. I would do odd things to avoid making any sort of contact with people. If I was going to go down an aisle and there was one person coming from the opposite direction, I would completely walk around through an empty aisle and come down the same direction as the other shopper. Turns out, I have social anxiety.

I even told my mother this on a few occasions, but she only rolled her eyes and told me to “get over myself.” At 10 years old, I didn’t really know what that meant, but I did it. I never mentioned my “shyness” again.

Around the same time period, I began writing poetry. I could churn out a pretty decent little poem (for a fifth-grader) in three minutes flat. I had notebooks full, scattered all over the place. I only let my mother read one of them. She threatened to make me go to therapy if I ever wrote anything like that again. I was devastated. Writing poems was the only thing I enjoyed doing and was what I was known for all throughout my school days, even up until high school. I wrote sad poems mostly but also verses about love and joy. Perhaps I did need to go to therapy. Maybe if I had gone when I was 10 or 11 years old, I wouldn’t have the same issues I have today. However, in my heart I believe not having that support from her did more damage in the long run.

I started receiving diet books and drinking a dietary supplement around the sixth grade. I had always been a heavy child and my mother (and other family members) never let me forget that. I know she didn’t mean to contribute to the bottomed-out self-esteem I struggle with and she only meant to help me. However, when your family starts calling you “fat” at age 12 and goes so far as to tell you, “Maybe more boys would like you if you lost some weight,” it’s no wonder I often cry in bed to my now-fiancé because I worry he will leave me for someone thinner and prettier.

My mother is not a bad person. The rest of my family who contributed to this in some way are not bad people. I truly believe they just don’t understand mental health and the effects things have on children. My parents and extended family are all older, more old-fashioned. In the time they grew up, no one cared if you beat the snot out of your child, let alone tortured them mentally and emotionally. To people who grew up in that era, your children were your property and you could to them what you pleased. Mental health was not a trending topic, especially for children.

I love my family and would do whatever I needed to for them. However, I will never forget the contributions they’ve made to the gradual downfall of my mental health. I still do not share things with my family. They do not know I’ve written a handful of articles for The Mighty; they do not know I’ve spoken with a therapist on multiple occasions and it is highly unlikely they ever will.

What I would suggest for anyone struggling similar family issues is this:

1. Defend yourself.

Don’t let people (family or not) talk down to you or make you feel inferior. Standing up to a family member is difficult. Just remember that even though you love them, it does not make their actions OK. Sometimes the person may take it fine and solve the problem. That won’t always be the case.

2. Find a group of people who are supportive.

For me, my biggest support has come from my fiancé and his family. They have been very supportive and respectful of my mental illness. I also have a small group of friends who I know I can talk to about anything in the world. I have also found Facebook groups can be a great way to connect with people and find support if you’re not comfortable talking to someone you know personally.

3. Don’t keep toxic people around for the sake of family.

Personally, I have not gone zero contact with my family. However, that may be the right or the only solution for you. I know many people who have had to step up, say “enough is enough” and cut off contact from their families, if only just for a little while. Know your limits and don’t allow toxicity to make your life unbearable.

4. Get the help you need.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help, whether that be going to a therapist in your area or using a service like BetterHelp. Please get the help you need and take care of yourself. People love you, care for you and want to see you making progress.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you or a loved one is affected by emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

 Photo by Marina Khrapova on Unsplash

Originally published: November 2, 2017
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