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Some Background

My girlfriend's family moved to the US about 2 years ago to escape their home country (which is going through political and economic turmoil) to start over. Her mom sells insurance, and her dad works in IT.

My girlfriend (17) is the eldest of her siblings. She has a brother who we'll call Sebastian, and a sister who we'll call Valeria.

We've been dating for a year.

The Problem

I have strong reason to believe her parents have an emotionally abusive relationship with my girlfriend and her brother Sebastian, which has gotten physical at times.

Many times have I witnessed them lie blame on and guilt trip her for issues that aren't her fault, minimize her problems and make her feel sorry for trying to tell them about issues she's dealing with, deny or change promises they've made previously, and give little to no trust with no reasoning.

The result is a seriously damaged self-image, almost constant self-loathing, depression, not being able to stand up for herself, and giving up on any help fairly easily. She is constantly apologizing for herself, saying that she is a bother or that she is abusing her relationship with me.

They aren't the most responsible parents either.

Just recently, her dad and uncle could have gotten in serious trouble while driving drunk. Her uncle had fallen asleep at the wheel. Luckily, nobody was hurt and the car was fine.

What makes matters worse is that her dad on multiple occasions has driven her family while drunk. If caught (especially with her and her siblings in the car), it could ruin everything they've worked for in the past two years as they dont have their citizenship status yet and a charge like that (DUI with minors in the car) could result in deportation.

Examples of Unhealthy Behavior in the Relationship

In the past, her parents have looked at pictures of her on social media (Instagram & WhatsApp) and criticized her appearance, pointing out specific features and saying that she looks ugly or unattractive. She now has no posts on her instagram, her whatsapp pic isn't even her anymore, and she has very low confidence.

Her parents are constantly asking her for money she gets from her job, which is somewhat understandable since they send some of it to the family she has left in her home country. The issue is they get upset if she uses her money to buy things she needs or wants (clothes, food, makeup) and they also complain when she doesn't have any money left to save. They've also threatened to make her quit her job if she doesn't pay them. Her parents also seem to want 100% control over what she wears, what she does to her hair, and what she buys.

They only trust her/us when it's convenient for them. For example, if they've forgotten to pick her up or they know they'll be really late, and if I'm with her I'm allowed to drive her. Otherwise, they'll go out of their way to make sure she's never in my car.

We FaceTime pretty often and on two or more occasions her parent's have punished her saying that she was changing or was indecent in front of me (which was not true, she left me in the other room). Both occasions where based off of dramatic assumption and she was punished without need for proof. The first time it happened her mom told the rest of her family and she was so embarrassed she cried herself to sleep.

Recently she wanted to go to a concert with me. She bought tickets for both of us and I was gonna pay her back with some money from my next paycheck. Her mom told her to buy a ticket for her (since she obviously doesn't trust us) and said that she would also pay her back. Now, when my girlfriend is asking her mom to pay her back, her mom scolded her and told her she was an "ungrateful child".

Her mom has also said to her in the past "Your life does not belong to you, your life belongs to me", "You could never live without me" and other similar phrases of unhealthy dominance.

My Question

My girlfriend has realized that some of the things her parents do are not right, but she has become so used to the way they treat her that she thinks most of these things are normal in a parent/child relationship. How can I help her see that these behaviors from her parents are unhealthy and also help her defend herself from verbal attacks and manipulation from her parents?

What We've Tried

She has tried confronting her parents over problems she's dealt with and they continue to mock/mimic her or call her crazy or delusional.

I've tried to be there to listen to her and be that shoulder she can lean on when things get really rough with her parents. I remind her that what they're saying holds no actual truth and that she has never been annoying/bothersome. I am also constantly reassuring her and reminding her that she is intelligent, talented, and beautiful and that she is her own person (she would be able to live without her parents/they don't own her).*

*I've seen improvement with her self-image and confidence though the timespan of our relationship; however, quite often she'll fall back into that cycle of self-loathing and feeling helpless.

UPDATE

I have provided more information as well as an unfortunate update in this question.

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Thank you to everyone that can help (and that has helped thus far)! I really appreciate it!!

  • 2
    Please don't write answers in comments. Comments are used to ask for clarification or to point out problems in the post. It decreases quality control, because the ability for the community to give up or down votes helps find the best answer to fit the situation described. Please feel free to write your answer below, with an explanation of why that works and how it would work out. Comments that do not ask for clarification of the question will be deleted. – ElizB Aug 4 '18 at 1:16
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    Have you asked her how long she has been caring for her parents (in terms of money and getting self-esteem by devalueing her), and if these parents have always been dependent (who was caring before her)? – Martin Weitzmann Aug 4 '18 at 7:52
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    @MartinWeitzmann She's been providing money for her parents since she got her job (about a year). – ZYR Aug 6 '18 at 3:42
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They sound not only manipulative, but they are derogating her too, her mother in particular seems to be the issue.

I think she needs a professional help. Psycho-dynamic/psycho-analytically orientated psychotherapy would be of help to clarify her problematic relationships, which drag on since early childhood, I presume. The socio-economical context just make these toxic relationships more pronounced.

You can interfere only when you are present. It's interesting by the way, what is their attitude towards you. But I'm afraid you can fix only that part if there is anything to be fixed. Because it seems there your girlfriend is unable to look at her mother and their relationships from a more distant view. Good luck! Tell us how it goes.

  • Agreed. When I am around they act friendly for the most part, however I know this is just a facade and have been able to usually figure out what their actual feelings towards me are. Also, I have added some more information as well as provided an unfortunate update to the situation in this post. – ZYR Aug 13 '18 at 4:00
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I would ask this in a comment, but lacking reputation at this point, How old are you? Do you both go to the same school? Are you of the same culture/religion?

These may seem like non-sequiturs, however, each of these (tip of the iceberg, by the way) could be additional indicators of the dynamics involved.

Immigrants (especially recent immigrants) regardless of the turmoil in their home country, usually still want that connection culture and religion can be huge factors (akin to abandoning the family).

Age, of course, is a big factor. Right or wrong, at 17, she is a minor, and the parents are responsible for HER -- they (reasonably speaking) cannot control you. However, if you are within a year or two of her, As a "prospective courtier", the parents just might have expected more in terms of respect, such as the father's permission. If you're significantly older (3-5 years+), you might be seen as a threat (back to her abandoning the family).

... but I digress...

REGARDLESS, The actions described are abusive. Her actions to attempt to standup to her parents are commendable, especially given the circumstances, HOWEVER, YOU cannot help beyond being supportive. AS I assume you are not a doctor (and if you were, you could not medically treat her), She will likely require therapy to unravel and relearn appropriate relationships -- but that is out of your control!

If dating is supposed to help us determine those aspects of the other that are suitable for a long term/marriage relationship, then (and Please, PLEASE, understand what I'm about to ask next... this is no slight at all intended against her...) I ask YOU: For you, what makes this type of person continue to be suitable for such a relationship. Is there some benefit that YOU derive from (potentially) being able to "save" her? Someone once said:

If you rescue a damsel in distress, you end up with a distressed damsel.

And consider also... any long term/marriage relationship WILL involve her family... and there is little to no likelihood that they will change, and you will have volunteered to bring that into YOUR life.

As you said:

I am also constantly reassuring her and reminding her that she is intelligent, talented, and beautiful and that she is her own person...

This will be the continuing refrain during the course of your relationship.

Good Luck

1

Having dealt with a similar experience for the past year, I'm going to try to build on EFrankl's answer. I want to forewarn you that you have good intentions, and I understand the feeling that you care for this person and will give them undying support, but you will likely not fix this person. She is going through serious emotional trauma and that can build up and cause her to behave in ways that aren't immediately apparent to you.

For example: I had dated a person that I had loved and cared about for the better part of this past year. She had grown up in an abusive household not too different from the one yours currently inhabits. She immigrated to the states with her father, who has taken care of her and raised her outside of that abuse. However, despite my best intentions, I wound up being strung along in a one-sided relationship. I gave her all of the love and support that she could have possibly needed, and I wound up being used by someone who was so used to surviving and so unable to let me into her life that she couldn't let me get close to her. So I wound up funneling time into trying to save this person, who I loved so much, when I never got a reciprocation of care and suppport on her end. This became very emotionally draining on my end, and I tore myself apart trying to help her.

In short, we are not psychotherapists. We are not professionals. You care very much for your girlfriend, but she needs the authorities to intervene and will need professional help. As EFrankl put it, "I am also constantly reassuring her and reminding her that she is intelligent, talented, and beautiful and that she is her own person..." will be a constant part of your relationship. And you might not get out what you put into this either.

I'm sending this as a warning. Tread lightly and do not try to intervene yourself. Abusive family members have more control, and you directly intervening may cause more harm than good. And be wary of your relationship, you will likely not be able to fix her, but you can provide support when she needs it. Be wary of your own health as well, as this could take a heavy toll on you as well (personal experience). Came here from your continued thread.

I recommend going to the proper authorities and, though you won't understand now, I'll quote what my former girlfriend's father said to me when we were alone:

I don't know what this will become, but I hope it turns out well. I hope that this evolves into a relationship. But you need to be careful; she has been hurt badly. This is not something you can fix, so be careful.

I didn't understand what that truly meant until now. I'm not upset with her, I just couldn't do anymore. Take my advice and tread lightly. I hope all of this works out and your girlfriend finds the help she needs.

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