I (18F) would like to preface by saying that I come from a Slavic family that currently lives in the US. I was born in the US./u/yuliaburdak, /r/relationship_advice
As far as I can remember, yelling has always been something that frequently occurred at my house. My parents constantly argued, and to this day consistently argue.
If something wasn’t done, screaming. If something wasn’t done the right way, screaming. Screaming over every little thing possible. My mom is the worst. She’ll scream and yell and it feels like she throws a tantrum because she either is not having a good day or something sets her off.
My dad always took pride in the fact that he was a “good father.” But I literally don’t have fond memories of him. He always insults my brother and I and talks down on us, and did his fair share of yelling.
Things have progressively gotten worse when my mom found out last year she was pregnant. It was a surprise pregnancy. The baby is 5 months old now.
Every time I hear yelling I just can’t stop crying. I feel sick to my stomach and nauseous and at times think about ending my life. I feel like I’m at my wits end because I just can’t handle this anymore. I’ve asked them to stop yelling when they’re upset but they just don’t care.
I don’t know what to do anymore. Moving out is not an option. If I leave the house too much, my mom complains that I don’t get things done around the house. My parents hate it when I hang out with my friends. I’m just so exhausted.
I am really sorry to hear that you are going through this. At eighteen, you should not be at a headspace where you feel emotionally unsafe around your parents. At difficult times like these, as sad as it is, it is necessary and imperative that we – as our parents’ children – parent our parents.
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. 1878.
This is a quote I personally like to repeat to myself and keep in mind often when assessing difficult and toxic family relationships. It is a brief yet incredibly poignant looking glass through which we can understand why dysfunctional families perpetuate the dysfunction internally within the family. The quote itself is deceptively simple, but the nuances run deep. At its core, the quote states that there are numerous types of dysfunctions within a family unit that can make that family dysfunctional. And in order for a family to be happy, that happy family needs to avoid all the pitfalls and successfully manage all the common dysfunctions. It is why every happy family resemble each other in its bountiful peace and harmony, while each unhappy family suffer from its own unique concoction of dysfunctions.
In any perpetual problem, we need to first consider the Why (as in why did it happen first), the How (as in how does it keep happening), and the What (as in what do we need to do to manage it better). Let’s start with the why.
The Why is actually very straight forward. It could be that your family’s conflict management skills are culturally inherited. It could be that both of your parents were raised in their own respective households where as kids they saw their own parents resolve conflicts through yelling. And because that was how they were raised, they used their respective parents’ model for conflict resolution and continued to use yelling as the only viable conflict resolution method for themselves. Think of it as a time-warped reflection of what you are currently seeing through your parents.
The How on the other hand is a bit more complex. You’ve already outlined a couple different points in which the conflicts within your family is perpetuated and dilated through echo.
First is the way your mother perpetuates the verbal abuse. In short, your mother appears to lack any proper self-soothing measures. In psychological terms, this is specifically called grounding or self-soothing techniques. Healthy adults implement calming tactics to manage their difficult emotions and feelings. For example, a person who has a good self-soothing management skills might deal with a bad workday by taking some self-care time in the evening to listen to their favorite music or taking a long bubble bath. It could be that your mother acts out and screams in order to receive the emotional validation or support from her loved ones, often at the hefty price for those who do provide support. If she was raised in a family where this type of behavior has been normalized, then this behavior is already a well-paved pathway extending decades into her past.
Second is the pandemic. We are all currently going through a pandemic-induced societal trauma where we are all put under immense emotional distress through extreme social distancing. Humans are by default social creatures, and being sequestered to our most immediate family members – even in the most happy and healthy households – can be difficult. As such, it could be that both of your parents as well as you and your brother are all low on emotional resources that would have otherwise been used to manage difficult feelings.
But the most obvious is the surprise baby. Taking care of a newborn is one of the highest emotional, physical, and financial stressor anyone can take on, even when you plan for the baby. And as such, it is very likely that your parents are both driven to their own respective wits ends maintaining the household harmony, even less than prior to discovering that they were expecting a third addition to their family. This in combination with pandemic adds a compounding mechanic that exacerbates the tension within the house that never gets resolved and worsens over time. As you said, your newest sibling was a surprise. And if both of your parents were not totally on board upon discovering that your mother was pregnant, it could be that there is a lot of internal marital tension between your parents that are now unfairly and unfortunately coming onto the surfaces of their relationships with both you and your siblings.
Now let’s talk about the What.
It sounds like you already took the right first step in trying to de-escalate the situation, albeit unsuccessfully. I think it is time to relate, then to clearly state your boundaries with your family. Both of your parents need to sit down and understand how their actions make you feel. A productive dialogue might sound like, “When you do X, I feel Y.” Here is an example. “When you yelled at me for coming home late after spending some time with my friend, I felt really depressed and unsafe in our home.” This will help your parents understand how their toxic actions are correlated with your and your siblings’ respective headspaces. They need to understand that their behaviors affect others, intentionally or unintentionally.
Once they have a better understanding of how you feel, then it is time to state your boundary. The actual boundary might vary, but a good starting point could be this:
“I will not have a conversation with someone who is screaming at me.”
Then go into detail about a hypothetical scenario that outlines what you might do if they yell at you. You have a couple different options to de-escalate a situation where your parents are screaming at you. First is to physically remove yourself from the situation. Go on a walk or step away from the house until they have learned to better manage their emotions. If removing your physical self is not possible, then closing your eyes and disengaging from the situation entirely is a viable option for you as well, as a way to mentally step away. Meditating in particular can come very handy even if you aren’t facing your parents. So you can even practice before you have the next abusive situation arise.
If necessary, kindly remind yourself and your parents that you are still an adult even if decades junior.
I already mentioned meditation, but self-care for you will go a long way in order for you come up with and maintain your own self-soothing tactics. It is very easy to get trapped into a codependent mindset where you are stepping into manage your parents’ feelings instead of managing your own. In particular, if you are finding it difficult to assess your own needs even when it is only in mild conflict with your parents’ needs, it might be time to take a look at that list to figure out if you are developing a codependent attachment to your parents, and then determine what you want to do to acknowledge then grow past your codependent habits.
The last thing I’ll mention is that you said that right now living apart from your parents are not in consideration. Sometimes, physical distance is the best boundary you can establish with your loved ones. In these times of social distancing, it is especially important to know how close you can let your family in while also keeping them at a distance to maintain your own sanity. That could mean establishing some proactive future-oriented plans to become financially independent from your parents so that you can maintain that safe distance from your family by living on your own again.
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