My parents wish to control my life
I am a 17-year-old girl from a conservative family. They were furious when they discovered I was dating. My boyfriend is of a different race and nationality, which exposes the underlying racist nature of my parents.
Since then, they have made my life stressful. I understand that this is shocking for them, but I do not believe it justifies their behaviour: making threats to send me elsewhere, cutting off my education, using money as a means to control me, saying hurtful things and hitting me. I live in a conservative country that disregards human rights and there is no way for me to seek legal help. They say that I am ruining my life, even though I have the highest grades in school.
We differ on many issues, such as religion and nationalism. My parents are in an arranged marriage, highly toxic and unhappy, as are other members of the family, who stay in unhappy relationships for the sake of it. My parents have stressed that they value their reputation in society over my happiness. I do not want to end up like them.
I am grateful for everything they have done for me, but this conflict is starting to take a heavy toll, amid the stress that goes with being in the last year of high school.
My boyfriend and his family have been very supportive. I have attempted suicide, but each time I was too scared to go through with it. I feel helpless.
I have no means of being financially independent and my only hope of doing so is getting into university. I am not sure what steps I can take to ensure I remain in a healthy state of mind, and prevent them from jeopardising my future.
The answer to the letter: You are an articulate, brave and mature 17-year-old. But you live in a country where culture and tradition mean that you are expected to conform. You need to keep yourself safe, and sane, so that one day you can go far. Your talk of suicide concerns me. Living in a situation that you do not agree with, while trying to stay authentic, puts enormous pressure on a person. I hear that there is no one within your family that you can talk to, but is there someone outside it? A supportive teacher? Someone you could speak to safely who could provide psychological support?
Myira Khan specialises in cross-cultural conflict suggests, “The question is not so much around your relationship but about how you stay safe and healthy in a family and culture that has such a strong hold on you.”
Controlling parents, controlling people – wherever you live – are never more so than when they know the object of their control is starting to move away from them. All around them, your parents have people who confirm what they believe – that makes them feel safe in their life choices. They probably look at you, with your different ideas and your whole life before you, and feel wretched – jealous, maybe – and afraid, even unconsciously. And there is only so much negative emotion one person can hold before projecting it on to others.
This does not excuse what they are doing: your parents’ behaviour is totally unacceptable; you have a right to live free from fear and abuse. Your parents are using religion and tradition as an excuse to be controlling and abusive, but, for the moment, you are reliant on them. That is tricky. While you have a real need to show them you are different, that you are more progressive than they are, they will only see this as defiance.
You say that your only key to freedom is to get to university, so you need to do whatever you can to get there safely. You are not going to make your parents change, however much they need to. It is great you have your boyfriend and that his family is supportive, but at the moment this is causing more friction, so downplay his role in your life.
Khan says: “You are very bright. You’ve not taken up a position of helplessness. You are self-aware and have self-belief. But you can’t jeopardise your future. We can’t change your parents, but you can change what you focus on.”