I've realised that I don't like my parents as people – they're immature

When I was 16, I decided to drop maths as a subject because I wanted to study literature instead. 

My father, who was an engineer, couldn’t understand this decision, and instead of voicing his disapproval like a normal person or supporting me, he spent the following years calling me ‘stupid and useless’.

He’d make fun of me in public by saying I was going to live under a bridge and was never going to have a future.

I told him his actions hurt me and asked him to stop, only to face even more mockery because I was upset. He claimed I knew deep down he was right and that was why I was upset.

Sadly my mum was no different – she once banned me from going on a trip because I had left a pair of jeans on a chair. Whatever issues she was going through that day had nothing to do with me; she just needed to take out her frustration on me. 

I didn’t realise it at the time, but these are perfect examples of my parents’ emotionally immature behaviour. 

And as I reflect on this now as an adult, I know just how my parents’ approach hampered my own development. 

I’ve always prioritised other people’s feelings, hid my own and feared confrontation as a consequence of my parents’ emotional immaturity. 

My dad was either silent or hyper-critical. He barely ever spoke and when he did it was always to disagree with whatever I was saying. 

I always felt judged and never understood why. 

His presence was like that of a policeman; even if I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, just him being near me felt uneasy.

My flatmates considered me a clean, thoughtful and considerate flatmate, while my parents had always painted me as filthy, selfish and ungrateful

My mum was less quiet, but always dismissed my feelings by calling me dramatic, so I decided to hide them altogether.

It meant I never felt safe, protected or loved at home. 

I grew up feeling inadequate and guilty because my parents gave me the impression that I was the root cause of all their problems. It meant I had to always be vigilant, on edge knowing I could be subject to their moods or indifference at any point.

While my parents have always behaved like that – I remember refraining from crying in front of my mum when I was a kid so she wouldn’t snap at me – it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realised how much their behaviour affected me. 

When I moved to the UK at 19 to study, I discovered a degree of safety I had never experienced before, and my anxiety decreased considerably. 

I made really good friends and through learning about their relationships with their parents I came to understand that my situation wasn’t the norm. 

My flatmates changed how I thought about myself; they considered me a clean, thoughtful and considerate flatmate, while my parents had always painted me as filthy, selfish and ungrateful. 

Far from improving, my relationship with my parents worsened when I left. I was home twice a year, for Christmas and summer holidays, and even then we barely spoke. It seemed like they were avoiding me.

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We didn’t talk when I was away, either – and if we did it was just about things like the weather.

I assumed they were giving me the silent treatment for something I had done wrong.

A couple of years ago I got my first job and wanted to buy dinner for me and my parents as a gift, but my gesture was dismissed.

While I intended to enjoy my first salary with them and thank them for their financial help over the years, they interpreted it as me showing off how much money I had, and as ungrateful because I didn’t want them to buy me dinner anymore. 

I started blaming myself, as they had done, for any problems. In my early 20s, that manifested as guilt at feeling much happier when my parents weren’t around. 

Deep down, I knew I needed to walk away, but I still wanted to earn their love and acceptance.

So at 24, as we grew more and more distant, I sought therapy. 

My therapist identified people-pleasing habits in me, pointing out I simply did what other people wanted me to do to avoid confrontation. It took a while to sink in – but I know now this was a symptom of growing up with emotionally immature parents.  

It made me realise how abnormal, and wrong, my parents’ behaviour was.

It’s not normal to hide your feelings from your parents to protect theirs. It’s not normal for a child to perform a pacifying role out of concern for their mother and father’s reactions. 

After six months of therapy, I felt confident enough to be open with my parents about how I felt about their behaviour. Whenever they snapped at me I would stop them and ask them what was wrong, but it only made them shut down and cut the conversation.

I was dismissed, told I was too emotional. 

That was upsetting, but understanding my childhood has helped me establish deep emotional relationships in my adult life, and I feel all the better for it.

I still go home twice a year, for around a week at a time, and always stay at my parents’. It is always uncomfortable and impersonal, but seeing them makes me feel like we’ve not lost our relationship, so I keep my visits short to preserve my own wellbeing. 

It’s not easy, but I finally understand their behaviour.

Growing up, I was always told everything was my fault. Now I know nothing was. It has been a long, difficult road to this point, but it’s a journey I’m glad I took.

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