“My parents sent me away to school and I still bear a grudge.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I was born to an expat family and sent to school in England in my early teens. I held a grudge against my parents over this, and in an act of rebellion I left school, stopped their financial support and never returned “home”.

This decision shaped my life for good and taught me values beyond those acquired through an expensive education in some stuck-up toff institution. My relationship with my mother has greatly improved, and I talk to her as a friend, but with my father it’s still that of a worried dad to an angry teenager.

 My career and lifestyle keep me on the move, hopping continents, and I’ve missed out on some prime dad-son years. When I see my family I feel like a bystander. I’m not fitted into the schedule; there is always something more important. I don’t get treated as an adult or friend.

I just want to make up for the years lost, for us to get to know each other, but he blocks all emotions, which makes us both very anxious when we are together – it feels like mutual guilt. I have a feeling that my dad disapproves of my lifestyle and career choice and the fact that I did not follow in his footsteps. I think it hurts him that I have decided to get on with life without involving him in it.

This problem first appeared in the Observer.

My thoughts:

Your teenage anger is audible in the first few lines. Feeling terribly rejected, you decided to reject them back. This is a kind of ‘didn’t want to come to your stupid party anyway.’ However, it’s a worrying beginning because you have translated hurt into anger instantly – bearing a grudge is very different from being devastated. And I think you were devastated. The inverted commas around “home” make it clear that you felt you had been cast out of home forever. In response to that feeling, you never returned.

I think the ‘stuck-up toff institution’ that you rejected is your father, not just the school he chose for you. Again you are saying you didn’t need him or what he offered anyway, you taught yourself better alone. This is a narcissistic regression in response to pain. Instead of processing and understanding the pain you felt at your father’s rejection, you have become completely, defiantly, self-sufficient and rejecting. While your father’s rejection was unconscious, yours is very conscious, though its results baffle you.

You say you speak to your mother as a friend, though not as a son, but that your father still treats you like an angry teenager. You sound like an angry teenager, presumably your defence against feeling like a lost little boy. It seems as though you were never able to let either parent see how lost and abandoned you felt and, perhaps, you never really let yourself know about it either. You don’t mention whether or not you have other siblings, but it sounds as though being cast out by a couple who remained more or less happily together was a crushing defeat and possible castration for the Oedipal child in you, one you have not been able to think about.

You have coped with your despair by constantly acting out the rejection meted out to you in moving countries a great deal. If you leave first then perhaps you won’t be left, won’t be abandoned. You don’t say so, but perhaps you have defended against your enormous feelings of envy of your parents’ relationship and their self-sufficiency in not needing you, by becoming enviable. I suspect you are wealthy and have a lifestyle you expect others to envy. This is supposed to stop you feeling needy and envious but it doesn’t work, of course, since it is removed from the real source of the problem.

You say you have become a bystander and that your parents make no room for you in their schedule, either because of their own cruelty (perfectly possible) or because of your making very clear to them that you do not need them or want to see them. Perhaps, sadly, both. You say you would like to get the time back, that you would like to have now what you missed out on then. This is very moving and suggests that you are partly still in touch with a boy who loves and needs his parents, who regrets his counter-rejection of them and would like to make things better, to get the love and care he wanted at the time but refused to come “home” for. [I suspect you make yourself a bystander in all of life by not getting into dangerous intimacy with people or even a country – the unacknowledged fear of rejection will make that impossible.]

You talk about mutual guilt and anxiety and I think that’s right, but what you then do is to project your feelings into your father and then to perceive them as real. You say your dad disapproves of your choices, your life, the fact that you did not follow him. You say it hurts him that you have got on with life without involving him. The truth is exactly the opposite – you disapprove of the choices he made regarding you, the fact that he did not follow you to England, did not want to be with you. It hurts you that he got on with his life without involving you.

Perhaps if you were able to discuss your pain and sadness with your family instead of showing them your anger and manic independence, there might be some chance of real healing.

(There is a lot of unprocessed sexuality that I think you are trying to escape from in your travel, narcissism and rejections as well, but since you do not give much detail I won’t give reign to my fantasies.)

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

About Anna Blundy

Honorary psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychoanalytic Theory and another in Psychodynamic Clinical Psychotherapy. Novelist - Author of the Faith Zanetti quintet - The Bad News Bible, Faith Without Doubt, Neat Vodka (US - Vodka Neat), Breaking Faith, My Favourite Poison. Also a memoir of my father, Every Time We Say Goodbye and my most recent thriller - The Oligarch's Wife
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