They call me a waste of space

How can I stand up to my emotionally abusive mom and stepdad? 

You can’t change them, says our elder, but you can overcome their parenting style. Set your own boundaries and build your self-esteem.


Dear EWC

I’ve had my stepdad for as long as I can remember and sometimes it feels like my mom and stepdad just don’t care about me. I’ve done a lot of research about it and all the signs point to emotional abuse. They invalidate my feelings a lot and gaslight me and make me feel guilty because I’m not the perfect child that they have always wanted. They are always comparing me to others and it’s like I will never be good enough. I really want to stand up to them and share my emotions but every time I try, they are always like, “’You are the child and I’m the parent so I know better. You don’t try hard enough.” They have even gone as far as calling me a waste of space or a disappointment. I could really use the advice on how to gently bring it up without it backfiring.


Grandpa-Matt replies

When you were a newborn, do you think your parents picked you up, held you in their arms, and said, “How can we mess up this kid’s life?” I don’t believe so. I think they wanted the best for you. Unfortunately, many of us were raised by our parents, similar to the way dogs have been taught and domesticated. What they used was a system of reward and punishment. The prize is loving, appreciation, attention, approval, caring, hugs, etc. The penalty was emotionally withholding those things and giving us expressions of negativity.

Without such intention, parents emotionally abuse their children attempting to control them by threats, criticism, blaming, devaluing, and shaming them. The parents try to motivate the kids in the same way that a jockey whips a horse to challenge the animal to run faster. 

You have the power to overcome their style of parenting! You might tell them that someday you will be on your own and need to learn from your mistakes and errors. The most you can do is let them know that you are trying your best. It might be useless to bring up the issue of their negative attitude with their judgments, opinions of your worth, and behavior. Why? 

They made up (invented) their opinions about you and will likely stick to their old ways and want to be right about their views. It is unlikely for your parents to change.    

When your folks attempted to encourage you to change, it was not about you. It is about their desire to have you show up in their lives as more acceptable to them. Their manipulation is their way to make you change your ways to be more compliant, more attuned to their wishes, and more controllable. That fact that they don’t listen to you and discount what you say enforces their desire to have you “march to their music.” They behave in a way that is typically called “controlling.” 

This is enough about them, as the rest of any change or improvement of your circumstances is about you and your value. As youngsters, we were told that somehow, we did not “measure up” to the expectations of those we looked for approval. 

I believe that you decided that you were imperfect and therefore are not enough, good enough, capable enough, competent enough, worthy enough, etc., to be OK.  What matters here is that you bought the package, adopted that firm belief, and have carried it forward to this day. I feel that it has eroded your sense of value and self-esteem. Your ability to stand up for yourself has been diminished.

How will you gain the confidence to succeed in life? We have to refute your fears that you are not enough. The question is, not enough for whom? That decision that you didn’t measure up came from other people’s opinions. Opinions are only ideas of others that they made up to manipulate you to conform to their ideas of how they wanted you to behave.

You can always be good enough for yourself. If your past behavior gives you the idea that you aren’t good enough or able enough to have success, then I suggest you devote some time to raising your self-esteem. Start by reading this article on the internet. There you will find many tips to assist you. 

With your parents, I would recommend setting and maintaining personal boundaries for yourself. Everybody is entitled to their boundaries, where we put our limits and establish our rules for interactions with others. See  

An important thing to be aware of is the idea that your mother’s opinions about you are what she made up or judged about your actions. If it were published in the newspaper, it would be published on the opinion page and not as front-page news!

It is not really necessary to stand up to them and attempt to convince them that you are OK. It is enough to understand that you are OK. It is not required that you bring up the fact that you are hurt by their lack of compassion, love, and acceptance. It should be enough to know that you are doing your best. Self-healing will come along with self-acceptance and self-appreciation. 

You will have to rely on the idea that if your parents knew better, they would do better. Hopefully, they will notice that as you learn and grow and produce some excellent results, you don’t have to be perfect. When you perform better, your actions will demonstrate that you are working hard and producing better results. Your actions will speak for themselves.

I hope this advice will be helpful to understand that you are OK as you are. Your parent’s acceptance of you would be great, but many folks survive within a less-than-perfect relationship.

Article #: 480605

Category: Family

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