Writer and broadcaster

I’m desperately unhappy with my family. Should I leave home and cut ties? The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I am 30 and my relationship with my parents is gradually becoming non-existent. I am consumed with resentment.

During my childhood, I had a close bond with my mother; my father has always been a distant figure. I have an older sister who has always felt “out of bounds” and resentful. 

I don’t recall having particularly close bonds with other children, but was friendly. Secondary school marked a downturn. My fading memory is of feeling constantly tense and staring down at my feet. I was horrendously bullied, every aspect of me was unacceptable to others. I was fat and gay. I became withdrawn, my grades slipped; the bullying would froth up until I would explode at home and my parents would go to the school. This pattern would repeat until I left. 

I left sixth form with terrible grades. After school, I felt awful, awash and clueless; my sister told me I was useless and could never achieve anything. I took myself back to college, got some qualifications, went to university and had total financial independence. 

I finished my master’s six years ago, graduating into the depths of a recession. I was obsessed with job hunting. I constantly scrutinised my CV and watched videos on interview techniques. I felt lost, betrayed by my own hard work and determination. 

I had a meltdown one evening and raged at my parents for their lack of interest and lack of emotional and financial support. My mother comforted me. My dad watched TV. My sister (under instruction from my mother) got me a full-time job answering phones and my mother was ecstatic. I was grateful for the money, but it felt like a huge step back. 

I pushed even harder for a job using my qualifications, despite being scolded by my family for going to interviews. Within weeks, I got a job I had wanted since I was 17. When I told my parents, my mother said: “You won’t be able to afford to live by yourself.” 

I moved back to the family home to pay off all the debt I accumulated during and after university and have also managed to save up a few thousand pounds, but not quite enough for a deposit for a house. 

Despite the seemingly happy ending, I feel exhausted. I grieve for my 20s as I spent much of them struggling financially and feeling awash with no direction and no hope. Everything I have done, I have done through sheer determination and bloodymindedness. I am gritting my teeth and stashing money away for a mortgage. 

I wonder if I am being spoilt? Part of me does not care any more and I wonder if I should leave and cut ties. My unstable job and the sensible part of me that is saving keeps me here, but if I am honest my family make me feel desperately unhappy.

I don’t think you’re being spoilt. I had to heavily edit your longer letter but one thing that really struck me was the push-pull in your family and the way, for some reason, you are kept very much in your place.

I turned to Dr Myrna Gower, a family psychotherapist (aft.org.uk). She thought you had obviously been a “very important” child but that your relationship with your mother may have been exclusive and so prevented you from having “gone through any of life’s expected developmental transitions”.

It doesn’t seem as if you were encouraged to be independent or make your own way – this may not have been done on purpose and it doesn’t mean it wasn’t done out of love, but you seem to have been held back.

“The pattern of attachment,” explains Gower, “doesn’t permit your natural evolution. Your mother’s warnings seem to confirm your worst doubts about yourself.”

We went through your letter carefully and it seems that at every point of independence something has called you back into the family – “you were reabsorbed,” says Gower. Was it a sense of duty, responsibility, a lack of belief in yourself that your family in some way reinforced? Being at home makes you unhappy. You don’t seem to be yourself at home, so you are denying yourself and that can make a person feel utterly wretched.

Gower feels that you are asking permission to “be an adult” and be independent – and actually, it’s not about should you, but that you have to be.

What you have done is incredible. You must have an amazing strength of character. When you are away from family influence, you seem to fly, but something about being home reverses this. “You’ve really got something [about you],” says Gower.

Your parents should be proud. You should be proud. Despite what I would say is a fairly suffocating home environment, – even loving ones can be – you have not only survived but also flourished. I’m not surprised you feel exhausted. Your 20s were a struggle but I believe your 30s could be the time everything comes together for you.

Both Gower and I feel it is important you leave home as soon as you are able to. Your family may not like this change, because you are challenging established positions, but you need to do it to be who you are and to continue to grow. You, too, may find it difficult – I fear you may feel disloyal. But try not to. You can leave home, and grow, and be your own person without cutting ties. You can still be part of a family without being fused with it.


This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 9 December 2016.