Woe Is Me! “My Parents Keep Putting Me Down. How Do I Stand Up to Them?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
My parents keep on calling me mediocre all the time. As per them, I should be waking up at 4 a.m., studying 12-14 hours a day, reading, doing whatnot. Despite having topped my school in 12th, despite studying for 14 hours a day for the last 10 months, they keep telling me I’m not going to do anything and that I should stop making castles in the sky about what I’m going to do. They go on and on about how I’m just a mediocre person; that I’ve done “nothing” and achieved nothing, and they tell me to shut up every time I reply, telling me that I’m “answering back.” I’m severely depressed, but my parents refuse to get me help because they say that I’m just “reading too much on the internet.” I’m struggling with severe topical steroid withdrawal because of my eczema right now and am in pain all the time. I have wonderful and ambitious goals for my future, but my parents are shattering all of it day by day by calling me “low IQ“ (which is funny because I scored a 140 in the MENSA IQ test and learned how to read and spell at the age of 2!). I feel hopeless about my entire future, and my withdrawal side effects are making it worse. How should I deal with this?
— Enough is enough
RN: I’m so sorry that this is happening to you. I would say plan for work or education in another city and leave home, but I assume you wouldn’t be writing in if that’s an option. However, this doesn’t mean you have to be in your house all the time physically. Are there ways you can step out every day, on some pretext or the other? Can you perhaps “study” elsewhere — at a park, cafe, a friend’s house, anything? It seems like even if you are living in an oppressive atmosphere right now, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a few hours’ respites where you make time for yourself. If you’re earning yet, please try to access therapy online — your parents don’t need to know about it at all. If you’re still studying and don’t have your own money yet, can you try doing a few freelance gigs that will be just enough to cover therapy costs? Or else, you could discreetly start a fundraiser online. But whatever you do — please, please don’t set any store by what your parents say about you. They are likely projecting their insecurities and failed ambitions on you, and it is NOT your obligation to fulfill or satisfy them. It may sound trite to ask you to believe in yourself, but I would add that mediocrity as a concept is tarnished, and you should try not to set much store by that word either.
Why is mediocrity a bad thing? Instead of running away from it, why not run towards contentment, whatever that looks like? Our society has attached our self-worth and joy to “productivity” so much that we can’t imagine ourselves thriving without aspiring to whatever level of output or work that pushes us outside “mediocrity.” Right now, you seem to be working hard to reach your parents’ definition of success, but these things are meaningless. At your current pace, you are hurtling hard and fast towards burnout. If you can, please try to pause and introspect about what will make YOU happy. How can you work towards your hopes and dreams without worrying about being mediocre? There is something to be said for how liberating it can be to embrace mediocrity instead of fearing it — it would be unfortunate if one’s entire life is defined solely by their perceived success in terms of work. The sooner you detach yourself from the idea of mediocrity, the better the chances of you getting to blossom into whoever you were meant to be. Take care, good luck, and I hope you find a way out of your parents’ toxic orbit soon. You don’t deserve that one bit.
PB: Hey, seems like they’ve got some issues to work out that they’re taking out on you – and that’s unacceptable. I, of course, cannot presume your circumstances of living. Still, suppose you have the ability, the means, and the desire to leave this highly toxic situation behind. In that case, I urge you to find temporary accommodations with maybe a friend or a sympathetic relative. Since your parents don’t sound understanding or in any means empathetic, then reconciliation seems to be a thing of the future. Standing up to family is the most challenging thing of all – but I’d say it’s better to sever burnt ropes than try to douse them. If none of this is an option, which is understandable- then it seems your only option is to brave their idiocy until you can be independent of them.
To paraphrase Phoebe Bridgers, “We’ll find a new place to be from.” Until then, good luck.
SS: If your parents hate the internet so much, weaponize it. Use this list of therapists who offer subsidized/free therapy for young adults to get yourself a counselor who will at least hear you as a human being. Do you have any relatives in your family you feel comfortable confiding in? Do you think you could reach out to them? If not relatives, are there any friends’ family members who you feel comfortable talking to? Abusive families usually are terrified of the “log kya kahenge” business. If they understand that people are noticing the way you are treated, they might withdraw a little. But make sure you have a safe space somewhere — say a friend’s or a relative’s that you could go to, if things get worse.
DR: I’m so, so sorry you’re going through this. It sucks when one’s very family treats them this way. Do you think they’ll understand if your try to sit them down and explain to them just how much their attitude is affecting you? If not, and also if you don’t want to do the emotional labor that would entail, I suggest you figure out a way to, well, RUN! Getting admission to a college far away from home might buy you a safe space away from their degrading opinions about you. I genuinely feel that the sooner you can get away the lesser damage you will deal with from being treated this way. But if creating a physical distance is difficult, I would strongly urge you to seek therapy — not through them, of course; clearly, you’ve tried that and failed. Several lists have been circulating online since the pandemic began, which mention mental health professionals providing therapy for free or at nominal costs. I think you must reach out to them so that the trauma of being in the situation you are in doesn’t affect your sense of self more than it has.
SK: Can I just say: you’re not mediocre. There’s nothing wrong with being mediocre, too, but you just don’t fit the bill by the conventional sense of the word. Irrespective of how often and how brutally your parents may say this to you, your first act of resistance has to be not to believe them. It sounds like you’ve tried speaking to them, reiterating your mental and physical pain. I’m sorry that didn’t lead to much. I hope you find the courage to extend this resistance to looking after yourself and your health. People are offering accessible and free therapy — via text or call — to whom you can reach out (I hope you do!)
The future is a beautiful and hopeful thing. It may seem like it’s lightyears away, and the current toxicity only adds to that feeling. You deserve to fulfill your dreams and ambitions; if not achieve, then at least pursue them the way you like. Start with identifying the people in your life who can help you in your journey — distant relatives, friends. Please make a list, write down your dreams, create an action plan; it’s common to lose track and get discouraged with abuse hurled at you day after day. I hope this anchors you. It’s a long journey, but something about your resilience so far makes me believe you can tide through some years of living in a toxic household.