Abusive Interactions in Families

Q: I am a husband with a high stress job in Silicon Valley. My wife is complaining that I shout at her when dinner isn’t ready on time, or when she doesn’t agree with me. Then I won’t speak with her for several days. She starts crying and begs for forgiveness until I talk to her. I don’t know how else to deal with her.

A: Sounds to me like you have quite a bit of anger pent up inside of you. Are you aware of that? Your high stress job may contribute to that and other issues that you are struggling with. Your working hard is something you are compelled to do. What drives you? Is the job inherently stressful, or are you stressed to begin with? How do your colleagues cope with your personality? There are a lot of things you can do to relieve stress: exercise, deep breathing, taking breaks, better communication, dealing with your emotions, changing jobs, more rest, and being more positive.

Shouting and giving your wife the silent treatment is harsh and cold. It’s an abusive way of dealing with your disappointment, fatigue, and expectations. It’s not your wife’s job to relieve all the pain in your life. Your withdrawal suggests you can’t cope with your own feelings. You need to see a counselor who can help you process your anger, talk without shouting, and take better care of yourself.

Q: I recently saw a play on domestic violence in a South Asian family in the U.S. It’s called Interrogations. It is about a doctor who abuses his wife. At the end there was a discussion about abuse in our communities. I was shocked to hear that elders are also abused in our families. I thought we respected our parents and grandparents more than most other cultures. How could people do this?

A: This is a very disturbing reality in some families, including South Asian. Elders are often respected, giving them power and protection in the family. In some families they are also more vulnerable, especially in this country, where they feel inferior and isolated. Since they are often dependent on younger folks, they are afraid to speak up when they are mistreated, which includes: verbal insults, humiliation, threats, control over their choices and freedom, and even physical violence.

Caring for elders is a responsibility that can demand a lot of time, patience, and resources, especially in this country where help is limited and expensive. If people don’t like each other and have very different values and lifestyle choices, it adds more stress and conflict in the relationship. When children don’t deal with their reactions of frustration, power issues, and resentment they become abusive. Many feel guilty for a short time. Unless the deeper issues are worked out, the cycle will repeat.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (415) 205-4666. www.wholenesstherapy.com

Categories   Dear Doctor  / Lifestyle 
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