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Living With Abusive Family Member

by Lisa

My mother comes from a very religious family where the men are highly favored, and the women are treated like servants and usually not regarded well at all.

I am a 37 year old single woman temporarily living with my mother. I will be moving out by next year. My younger brother lives with my mother as well. He is 26 years old. I feel very uncomfortable around him due to his attitude and general disrespect towards women in general.

A few months ago, my brother was cleaning the bathroom. I had to use the bathroom before I left the house to drop our sister and her kids off at home. I thought my brother was finished (with the toilet, floor, etc), because he was in the hallway wiping off a towel rack.

After I went into the bathroom, he asked if I could use the bathroom downstairs. I had already relieved myself and was changing my feminine product. I told my brother I was almost done and would be out soon. He started yelling about how he could not stand me, and began calling me a fat *ss, etc. He said those things in the presence of my mother and my sisters. No one said a word.

After that incident, I have been even more leery of my brother. I feel as if I am walking on eggshells, and that if I do anything to make him upset, he may go from verbal to physical abuse towards me. He already disrespects my mother in passive/subtle ways, and she caters to him, buys him food, lets him use her vehicle, and makes excuses for him.

Since then, he has occasionally made comments when I would watch television in the living room "no one wants to watch that!! Turn to something we all want to see!!" (I record shows on the DVR and do not have a television in my room, but he has one in his room).

He has apologized for the bathroom incident and did admit to having problems with anger. Most of the time, I dread coming home from work. I hate it in my mother's house. I feel like a guest. I want to get out of here so bad! I am afraid of not being able to be financially independent, of not finding my own place, and of not being free from this and ending up with an abusive husband.

My father was also verbally/emotionally/physically abusive. He is deceased. How do I set boundaries? What can I do to ensure my safety (emotional, physical)? I also deal with emotional eating and find myself eating like crazy all the time.

Please advise.

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Lisa, and thanks for telling your story here. I am really glad you reached out here for help. I will try to help.

I think you have lived under a sort of oppression all of your life, and in some ways (not all ways), it has temporarily made you think less of yourself. There is nothing wrong with you, and yet you have learned all your life that you are less valuable, capable, intelligent and worthy simply because you're female. That is a very powerful and subtle form of abuse, and it is very, very wrong.

I think as long as you're living with your family, you will continue to feel incapable of independence. You just have to make the leap, and you can do it. Find a place to live, make a deposit, and move out. Don't discuss it with anyone, just do it. Get friends who believe in you to help--if you don't have anyone in your life that will support you completely, then do it alone.

You will start feeling more powerful as soon as you're on your own. And you will be afraid...but that will pass. You can do this.

Please read this page about the angry woman, and you will find specific help and guidance to empower you. Your concerns about getting into an abusive marriage are valid, based on your background. However, it does not have to happen. Read Getting The Love You Want by Dr. Harville Hendrix, and it will give you the guidelines for breaking these cycles in your relationships.

Do not expect your family to change. This is all about you. Forget setting boundaries in your home. That just won't work. You have to get out of that destructive family system. You will likely just feel worse about yourself, the longer you stay in that house.

There is nothing wrong with you. Do not accept the definition that your family has given you. You are worthy and good, just as you are. And you have everything you need to create a good life for yourself. Believe in yourself, and never give up on your dreams of the life you choose.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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