A letter writer needs help but is scared to talk to her family.
Can our elder persuade her to tell them about everything she’s been holding in?
I sometimes wish that I could just die. I’ve thought about it and the many ways I could, but I feel like I don’t have a right to feel this way. I have a loving family and I go to a prestigious school, I was never abused or neglected, I never suffered or anything, but I’m scared that my family would give me away. I don’t have any parents now – my mom just died; my family now has no reason to keep me. I feel so alone, I sometimes wish that I could just go and live a different life or do nothing at all. School is a struggle for me. I am smart, I know I am, but I just can’t put in the effort to do well in school. I just never cared because I didn’t think it mattered when I was younger but now that I’m older it’s like I have a pressure on me to do better. I’m having problems with my schoolwork and now I’m scared that they’ll talk to my family and I’ll be a disappointment. Almost all of them are graduates of top tier schools with stellar grades and my constant failures just feel like another addition to their disappointment.
I guess the reason I want to die is to not feel like a burden but I’m too scared to hurt myself because they’ll feel sad. I want help, talk to a therapist or something but I’m too embarrassed to talk to my family. I’ve realized that I’ve never really talked to my family about feelings. I’m even embarrassed to say ‘I love you’ so how am I supposed to tell them that I need help?
First, I’m very sorry about your mother. Losing a parent is a wrenching pain, no matter how old one is, and to lose your mom when you are still young must be even more painful. My own mother lived to be 101, so I was already a senior citizen when she passed – and I still grieve for her, every day. My heart goes out to you.
Before I say anything else, I need to remind you that I don’t know you or any of the other people in your life, so of course I am missing important parts of your story. That being said, here’s what I think:
I believe there are two things you need to do, and both of them involve talking.
One: you need to take a deep breath, summon up all your courage, and begin to talk to your family members about the things you’ve been holding in. You are going to discover that most – maybe all – the things you expect to happen will not happen that way. I know you don’t believe me about that, but it’s true. You’re afraid that they will feel sad, that they will be disappointed in you and think you are a burden. On the contrary. As unhappy as you have been lately, the people who care about you have noticed and have been concerned, wondering what’s wrong and what they can do about it. When you begin talking to them and telling them the truth about what you’re feeling and thinking it will be a great relief: in the same way that you imagine what they will think (and imagine it in the worst possible way) so they are probably imagining what’s going on with you (and fearing something dreadful). When you finally let them in, they will be very relieved that you’re not shutting yourself off, but asking them for help instead.
How are you supposed to tell them you need help? “Dad, I need to talk to you and I’m scared to death to do it. Can we sit down together, and will you help me tell you about what’s been going on for me?” would be a good place to start.
Yes, it will be embarrassing at first. Yes, it will be hard to find the right time and the right words. Yes, you’ll be scared. Take a deep breath and do it anyhow. You need them – and they need you.
And do include telling them that you’d like to talk with a therapist. Wanting professional help doesn’t mean you’re crazy, or that there’s something seriously wrong with you. It simply means that you need some help sorting yourself out. If you feel sick, you don’t find it embarrassing to go to a doctor; doctors have tools to help heal whatever is wrong. Therapists have tools to help you deal with emotions that are painful and out of control; that’s what you pay them to do. (I’ve worked with a therapist myself, and it really helped me learn to think more clearly and take better care of myself. You deserve the same.)
The second kind of talking you need to work on is what you say to yourself. You’re doing a whole lot of negative self-talk: “I’m a burden”, “I’ll be a disappointment”, “I don’t have a right to my feelings”, “My family has no reason to keep me,” “I’m a constant failure.” All of that in one short paragraph. No wonder you feel lonely and scared – beating up on yourself like that all the time is bound to have that effect.
Here’s how to change your negative self-talk: First, make a list of about a dozen or so things that you’d like to believe about yourself – things that you’d like to have been told when you were small, and things you’d like to be told now. Things like, “¥ou’re smart” and “¥ou’re special” and “¥ou don’t have to do everything right” and “I’ll always be here for you” and just plain, “I love you.” There’s a little girl, deep inside you, who is terribly hungry to hear those things – and instead, you’re telling her just the opposite. So, whenever you catch yourself saying a mean thing to yourself, do three things: 1) congratulate yourself for noticing; 2) tell yourself something from your list – right out loud, if you’re alone, or inside your head if others are around; 3) give yourself a hug (if you’re alone) or a loving pat on the hand or arm (if you’re with others). At first, going through these steps may feel silly or useless, but keep it up anyway. Even though the grown-up you may not believe what you’re saying, the little girl inside will take it in and begin to believe in herself again. Give it at least a month – you may be surprised at what will happen.
I’m glad you wrote to us, and I hope some of what I’ve said will make sense for you. Do write back if and when you feel like it; I’d love to hear from you again and learn how you’re doing.