Your Family Does Not Define You

By Anna RogersAugust 4, 2020

Growing up, nothing seemed out-of-the-ordinary. I had a two-parent household in the suburbs, siblings, a house full of pets; I never knew life could be much different. My earliest memories of my parents place them within the confines of their jobs. With both parents working full-time, I found it increasingly difficult to create an emotional connection. I remember tagging along with my mother as she cleaned houses, and how those days felt like an eternity but otherwise looked like a six-year-old spinning around in an office chair whilst pretending to answer the phone.

From a very young age, there were two crucial lessons made apparent to me:

  1. My parents worked tirelessly to provide for my siblings and myself.
  2. Work was stressful.

Over time, what I deemed as my father’s “stress” warped into more harsh and passive tones. He would say, “I love you” on occasion, but it was always conditional. My grades and achievements in sports were never on the receiving end of his praise. Instead, the brief times we saw him outside of work we were met with a man full of bitterness—as if my siblings and I were the cause of his shortcomings.

Day after day, my father’s words pierced the air and were soon followed by bribery and manipulation to keep me on his side. I began to believe what he said: I wasn’t thin enough, ambitious enough, and didn’t have any friends. I started to think that he was right and began to blame myself for our less-than-perfect life. These thoughts and the pressure of keeping everything together surrounded me like a thick fog.

As a result, my suffering self-image impacted my friendships, performance in school, and how I viewed authoritative figures. I was never able to hang out with my friends past a certain time, even as a young adult, because he demanded to know my whereabouts at all times.

It wasn’t until much later that I saw his “strict parenting” for what it truly was: verbal and emotional abuse.

I realized that I could no longer bestow that control to him. My life had to be my own, and I was done remaining silent while he attempted to alter the trajectory.

This is not simple, nor is it an overnight task. Maintaining a healthy and balanced relationship with the family members who have created a sort of trauma within me is one of the most difficult, yet courageous things I have done—and am still in the process of doing.

I recognize that the most counterproductive thing I could have done was practice and express the same resentfulness toward myself and my future children. Instead, I refuse to allow the same toxic cycle of verbal and emotional abuse to continue with the potential to last for generations.

I know I will likely never be on the receiving end of an apology from my father. There is a part of me that may always remain curious as to why he acted the way he did. But identifying his behavior as abuse, and accepting that I can never travel back in time to my childhood to change that, has allowed me to heal and move on as much as I can. Even more so, I now have a firm foundation for how healthy relationships are supposed to look and how joy can be found in those spaces.

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Comments (8)

  1. Jamieson

    I can relate even though I am much older than most. My parents, especially my dad, were the same as you described. My dad was constantly putting my mom down. He also put me down with being too thin, not pretty enough, or anything to mess with my mind. School was painful because I did not have any self-esteem. I tried to make straight As because this was the only time my dad would praise me for anything. Eventually, I went into deeper depression unable to maintain my dad’s expectations. As an adult, he would embarrass me if a boyfriend was around. Finally, I just quit dating and concentrated on my career which seemed to please him. I will never forget the last words he said as he was dying. He said, “you’ll might find somebody…there’s someone for everybody”. This really hurt me. I’m 57 now. Three years ago, I fell in love with a man and became his fiancé. The wedding was all set. Two months before our wedding. He packed up all my things and told me to get out. I was devastated and never saw it coming. He married another woman about 7 months later. I attempted suicide, but I failed. I’m not suicidal now but very alone. I have a half brother who is thirteen years older who is as toxic as my dad. Our mom died in 2010. He has not spoken to me since her passing. I had to pay for her funeral all alone. At this time, things are very difficult for me. I do not leave my home. I see a doctor about every three months. I’ve received treatment and therapy for twenty years. I finally stopped counseling because it made me feel worse about myself. I just keep taking my meds and keep reminding myself to breathe in and out. That’s my story.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      Please know how sorry to know that you have been enduring and struggling with these things. None of this is easy. We hope though, that you know you are not alone and that you deserve love and support and better days. We’re glad you were able to connect with Anna’s story, there is community to be found there. If you would ever like to share more or are in need of encouragement, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at [email protected]. We’re here.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  2. Beth

    Thank you Anna,
    Your truth resonates deeply with me, although it was my mother who was verbally and emotionally abusive. I work everyday to have healthy relationships with my husband and children (who are now adults). I also refused to allow the same toxic cycle to continue, and know I will never receive an apology from my mother, or any acceptance for the person I have become now that she has control over me.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply  |  
  3. Ambra

    Thank you for sharing this. I can relate to you except it was my stepmother who verbally and emotionally abused me from age 5 on. I didn’t realize that what she was doing was wrong until I was like 8 or 9 because I would causally talk about the things she said or did nonchalantly to my peers and teachers and other family members and none of them ever stopped to say “that’s not normal or healthy”. An example would be like I’d see something like an aerobics video and I’d be like ” My mom says I’m to fat for my age and I have to lose the weight so she makes me do these videos for hours everyday until I can get skinner” like it was completely normal. My mom.found out from my stepsisters that I’d been talking about the stuff she said and did to teachers and I got in MAJOR trouble for it so that’s when I figured out if she doesn’t want people to know it must be wrong. Anyways it caused me alot of truama that I’m still recovering from but I make sure that my kids never have to feel bad about themselves or have to ever hear cruel,harsh,mean,etc things about themselves. I am constantly building them up and complimenting them and working hard to boost their confidence soo that they will be able to approach life in a way I never was able to. I don’t know if I’ll ever really get over the truama because alot of the things I do and things I think are because of how I was raised but I work at it everyday.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      We are so sorry that you were met with this language and verbal abuse as a child. We are also so glad you recognized that the things being said to you were wrong from an early age and have made the conscious decision to not continue this treatment when it comes to your own kids. We hope that if you need the space to share, process, and cope, you’ll look for a counselor by visiting You can also email our team at [email protected] for a safe space to share and ask for support.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  4. Courtney

    Thank you.
    I just recently had to move back in with family.. because homelessness and being Ill.
    Realizing how badly I was treated as a child with emotional abuse and it not changing because its happened all over again. Being told they are still my family and to get over it..has been hurtful and making me want to get out more. Thank you for posting this

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      We are so very sorry that you were living in an unhealthy environment as a kid and are back in that situation now. We understand how incredibly difficult and heartbreaking this has to be.

      We thank you for finding the energy and courage to voice all of this. And we’re very glad you found these words. Would you email our team at [email protected] so we can learn more about you and your story so that we can offer you some support and encouragement?

      With hope,

      Reply  |  
  5. Leslie

    Thank you for this! I went through a VERY similar experience with my own father. Your article has validated something I’ve struggled with for 2+ decades. I used to chalk my dad’s strict rules, etc up to the generation he was born into but I learned as an adult that he could have chosen to be more compassionate, caring and open to helping me grow, instead of making me feel like I wasn’t good enough and my dreams were unrealistic. I know he could have chosen differently because I did. I almost went down a rabbit hole of anger but chose to pull myself out of it for my kids.

    Reply  |  
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