A Baffled Look

The straight dope on mental health

Month: August, 2012

They Just Don’t Get It

What to do if you’re mentally ill and your family doesn’t support you.

Part 6

Living well is the best revenge. Make frequent lists of what you’re grateful for in your present life. They tell you to do this in twelve step meetings, but it can work for anyone. Think of the little things that make you happy. Make a list of things to do that will soothe you when you’re upset, but make the list of these things while you’re feeling well so you can read it later if you get upset. Try to plan these soothing activities for after you see your family. If you’re having a hard time thinking of things then have a close friend help you with suggestions.

Try to remember people who were supportive within & outside your family when you were having a hard time. Think of the times when you were resilient. List your accomplishments. Try to imagine what your life would be like if you gave up the expectation of support from your family. What would your life be like if you surrounded yourself with supportive people? You can’t change the past, but you have control over your future. Look ahead. Make goals for yourself. What are the things you’ve always wanted to try but have put off? As you meet your goals you’ll feel better about yourself. You can’t control what others say and think, but you can control your reactions. You can choose to be content.


They Just Don’t Get It

What to do if you’re mentally ill and your family doesn’t support you.

Part 5

Another option if you don’t want to minimize contact with your family is to confront them. Bring a friend with you. The more you prepare for a confrontation, the more likely you’ll experience positive results. Review the past times you have appealed to them for support. Make a list so you can address the specific times they let you down. Don’t say, “You always…” It will only make them feel defensive about the situation. By giving them concrete examples of how they have hurt you the less they are able to deny their behavior. Explore any ambivalence about your role as family scapegoat. Maintain awareness that it isn’t your fault for having an illness. Try to anticipate possible reactions so you can come up with a plan on how to cope. Imagine a realistic scenario based on how you expect your relatives to respond. Explore your fears about how your relative might react. Write a letter (but don’t send it) expressing the response you want.

Confronting your relatives is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. It can backfire and make you feel worse. You may want to role play with a friend the worst response you can imagine. The trick with this option is letting go of wanting them to support you. Just expressing your feelings of rejection to your family no matter what their response might help bring closure. And something unexpected might happen; it might bring them around. You never know if you don’t try.

A guy in one of my support groups was afraid his parents would disown him if he confronted them. That’s a valid fear. He had to frame his questions very carefully. He started by asking his parents what they experienced when he first started showing symptoms. He framed the whole situation as a “misunderstanding” to give his parents a way to save face while expressing how he felt about this “misunderstanding.” His parents didn’t change how they treated him, but he felt better after asserting himself. After that, he accepted them the way they were.

They Just Don’t Get It

What to do if you’re mentally ill and your family doesn’t support you.

Part 4

Cut them off or minimize contact. If you’re getting worse every time you’re around these family members then it may be best to stay away from them until you’ve built up a support system of friends. Create your own family. Tell yourself that you’re doing the best thing by distancing yourself from them. That way you won’t feel as guilty about it.

Make your visits to family short and always have an escape plan. Bring a supportive friend along who can make up an excuse to leave rather than being forced to justify your escape to your family. Have your friend drive you or drive yourself so you don’t have to rely on your family if you need to leave.

I’m not minimizing how difficult and painful this is to do. This is something a support group might help you with. I’ll bet there are people in your support group who have experienced the same thing. Ask them about how they cope.

You might be able to find supportive relatives that are not part of your immediate family. Look for relatives who are estranged from your immediate family. They also may have experienced a similar situation to yours.

There’s a real possibility that distancing yourself from your immediate family might help you in the long run. I know a woman who improved dramatically when she separated from her husband. She now has a supportive boyfriend. If that can happen to her then it can happen to you.