Dear Annie: As long as I can remember, my parents have controlled the majority of my actions. They've told me which classes to take, which subjects to pursue, which extracurriculars to participate in, which colleges to apply to. Over the years, when I've tried to speak up, they've shut me down — especially my dad. Throughout my childhood, he was quick to yell and berate my sister and me when we didn't meet his high expectations. I've learned that my thoughts and feelings don't matter.
As you'd imagine, this has adversely affected my adult relationships. Even after moving out, even after finishing college, even with my own self-sustaining income, I still feel under their control. My brain doesn't know how to act on my own wants, my own needs that go against their will. I know it's my life and I need to do what's best for me, but mentally, I feel entirely subservient, and I hate it. For instance, my parents are insistent that I will be going back to school (to get a master's), even though I've expressed that I'm not sure I want to go. (I am sure that I don't want to go.) They insist that I'm giving up on my dream, but it's not my dream; it's theirs. I've heard from friends that grad school is really difficult and that it's virtually impossible to succeed at it if you're not fully committed and passionate about what you're studying. So it'd be a huge waste of my parents' money — yes, they'd be paying — for me to go back to school.
I've told them what I want to be doing with my life, but they won't listen. I feel trapped. I'm terrified of not meeting my parents' expectations and of having my dad yell at me. But I can't keep living like this. — Parental Pawn
Dear Parental Pawn: If you need my affirmation, you have it in spades. You should not go to grad school if you don't want to, even (perhaps especially) if someone else is paying for it. You're doing the right thing by taking ownership of your decisions. This is your life, and you seem to have a pretty good idea of how you want to live it, though your parents' domineering behavior might make you temporarily forget sometimes. I don't think you need my affirmation at all.
I can tell you all this, and you can tell yourself the same things, and you can know, intellectually, their validity. But to feel that they're true is a different story. To reach that point, it might require the aid of counseling. There are therapists who specialize in treating adult children of narcissistic or controlling parents. I encourage you to ask your medical provider whether he or she could recommend any such counselor (or could point you in the direction of someone who can). Be sure to look for a therapist who is licensed by your state. Make an appointment today — and don't feel obligated to tell your parents you're doing so.
Dear Annie: You recently printed a letter from "Continually Cautious," about burglars targeting homes during family funerals. Please tell your readers about a similar scam: Crooks have been known to take advantage of bereaved individuals by contacting them and asking them to repay a "debt" that the deceased loved one incurred. These scammers say, "I lent your departed loved one money, but he/she didn't want you to know." In truth, there was no such debt. Don't hesitate to contact your local law enforcement agency if you're unsure of the validity of the request. — Also Cautious
Dear Also Cautious: Thank you for this word to the wise — and shame on these scammers and their dearth of decency.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]