impossible to study

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker


Q from the UK: Excerpted from a very long post: I have been wondering for the past few months whether I need professional help. I am a Nigerian studying in the UK. My family consists of two sisters, my mum and my dad, I am the last child of the house. As a child my parents tried as hard as they could to mould me into the best child that they could. As a child I was never forced to choose certain things but I was usually guided to what was expected, and it is the same today. I always felt like the fool of the house because I was never taken seriously because I was a child. I never had may friends as a child only a few. In school I lacked confidence and self-esteem, and most of my friends in school were those that lacked self esteem, or had some other problems. I was not able to fit in with the happy and active kid, I was always a spectator, and i longed to be one of them.

As a child I was regularly picked on by others and never had a way to fight back and my small size did not help much. I always felt like an outcast who was constantly ridiculed. I made a habit of pretending not to feel that way as a child. Even though my sisters went to the same schools and interacted with the same children, they were not outcast and never seemed embarassed by their appearances, which means my problem was not from my appearance or my small body size but something more serious. I grew up getting used to being pushed around, intimidated, lacking confidence, having low-self esteem and being depressed. Even though at almost every point in my life I usually had at least two friends I was quite close to I felt alone and was never able to keep in contact with friends, as a result I have no more friends from my childhood days.

From the outside it seemed like I had the best parents who cared for me, had the money to give me a good life and guided me as best as they knew, but I felt imprisoned. My father has always dropped his anger on me but I hardly saw him do so to my sisters which puzzled me. My father always provided me with everything I needed and when it came to education and health he never cared about the price, he always paid, but when it came to luxury he was tight, and quite frankly I believed that he did not care at all for luxuries (but now I have come to realise that he did care but he did not take them seriously) but I did, and I could not tell him. His temper did not help either, my father has an uncontrollable temper and I always feared his temper, so I always tried hard not to cross him, but he is a very hard worker and was always under alot of tension. I sometimes feel it was the work that came between me and him. My child hood had a couple of good memories to it which I cherish but i still some emptyness there. There are good memories but deep down I still feel deprived of some crucial parts of my childhood.

By the time I was ready for junior high my dad was being transferred so I had to go to an all boys boarding school. It was there that I truly realised that I was being protected alot by my parents. I endured so much there from other students and even the school staff, those were one of the worst years of my life, even though today i look back and laugh at some of the things that happened there, but it was hell for me, more humiliation, teasing and pushing around than I had ever endured before, I almost lost my mind there, I always had problems there and I always tried to run away from my problems, especially confrontations and as a result the problems got even bigger (now I realise the solutions is to face my problems and hence face my fear, but even now it is very difficult).

When I moved to the day school things got better it was a new start and I was going to change my life. Things did get much better. People still teased me and I dealt with it by just keeping quiet even though it pained me. Also I could not discuss these problems with my father because I did not want my father to think that I was weak. when i started driving, i had some fun with the car and some of my friends which i trusted, some of my best memories come from that time in my life. That was the time when my father regularly lost his temper due to the decline in my grades, lack of tidiness and my late arrivals home, he also always warned me to be careful with the car, which I was not. During this time of my life was when I started disobeying my fathers orders, and I found it quite exciting to do so, even I make sure I cover up everything so that he does not realise that I did, even though he caught me sometime. He pushed me as hard as he could so that I would get the best grades that I could get. He did not realise that I was not putting in as much effort in school work as I seemed to, fortunately I graduated from high school with good grades. Then it was time for university.

He eventually agreed to send me to the UK because he thought I had started to mature since I was getting good grades and seemed to be a focused child, but first he wanted me to stay in Nigeria for one more year so that I can become more mature. After completing the foundation program I did not get the results that I was meant to therefore I had to take a University that was less prestigious than the one I was planning to go to. This infuriated my father, it was then that I realised that he truly loved me (even though I knew it for a long time I never realised that he cared for me so much till then), because even though he spent weeks telling about how i had messed up and that i needed to be more mature, I heard the pain in his voice as he spoke to me, and I felt the hurt too. I was determined to make him proud, I was determined to study and get the degree he so badly wanted me to get so that I can take charge of my life.

i came to university with the hopes of making my father proud, but being in a new country was not easy, no friends and family. I felt alot more emptier than I did in junior high. I started clinging on to friends that were not good for me, friends who put me in bad financial situations and used me, a few good friends but could not be open enough to let them get close enough, this brought about so many problems for which I was ashamed to tell my father, so I suffered alone. I still managed to pass my first, but I could not dare tell my father, my true results, so I lied to him. The same problems came up in the second, year I was not able to take charge of my life I was letting others drive my life. It was then I started realising that, I have been in unhealthy relationships all my life, I have never felt like I had a complete life, I was always looking at other people, who I think are living full lives and I have been trying to copy their personality, It was then I realised that I do not even have a personality I have been trying to live other peoples lives all my life and that is why I feel empty, and that is why I have difficulty getting friends, because no one likes a guy with no personality.

I hit the bottom and got so depressed that I could not even study. I did manage to pull my self together and now I am doing better I now am teaching myself to control who I let into my life and I have started trying to build my self esteem and confidence, and I tried to save my second year so that I can get to my final year and not disappoint my father but I still cannot study to save my life. I so badly want to study and pass I try hard to study, but I just cannot, everytime I try to start reading I think of my father and then I sort of lose all hope. I am going home to Nigeria soon and will have to face him and I do not know what to do, I have even had thoughts of giving him fake results just to buy me time to get some acceptable grades to give him when I am ready to confess that I have failed, but the problem is that I am finding it almost impossible to study and I think that until I tell my father the true situation I am in I will not be able to at all. Please let me know your analysis of my situation.

A: You have clearly given all this much thought. Growing up, you had some challenging times and some successful times. You are also working hard to be fair to parents which shows maturity on your part.

I don’t think the problem is that you don’t have a personality. I think the problem lies with the strategies you have developed over the years to handle difficulty. Throughout your school years, you tried to avoid trouble rather than face it. You’ve indicated some good reasons why that might be so. You didn’t learn skills for standing up for yourself in your family. Your dad could be harsh. You fell in with the wrong kids. You weren’t lucky enough to be befriended by a coach or teacher or friend who could help you learn a number of ways to handle bullies and challenges. Sometimes luck was on your side and you got decent grades even though you were not doing your best. Sometimes you even found a few friends. But it doesn’t sound like those successes were a result of your own efforts. You just happened to be in the right place. Even though you say that you now realize that you have to face your fears, you still retreat to the style you know best — avoidance, and hoping that luck will again be yours.

As for your relationship with your father: My guess is that he is especially focused on you because you are his only son. He wants to see you do well. He doesn’t know how to be more supportive. He shows his expectations and hopes for you by being angry when you don’t meet them. He can’t understand why someone as smart as you are and who he sees as having all the advantages can’t succeed. From his point of view, all you have to do is work hard to do well in life. That worked for him. He can’t see why it won’t work for you.

Of course, it probably would. Working hard usually does make good results. But often a person like yourself who has a long history of getting by without putting in maximum effort gets afraid to find out what he really could do. What if you were to put in a real effort and still not do so well? At least now you can tell yourself that you would be an honors student if you would only get down to work. Maybe. Maybe not. You protect yourself from another blow to your self-esteem by not doing what you need to do to find out.

Faking your results is only more of the same unsuccessful strategy. It’s time for you to develop other ways to handle life. I think professional help is a good idea. A counselor will help you identify new ways to manage life and will support you in finding the courage to change. A counselor will also help you learn how to be honest with yourself and with your father. Although it will pain your father deeply that you haven’t used the gift of an education well, my guess is that he will eventually respond positively when he sees you being man enough to admit it — especially if you have a plan to redeem yourself and follow through.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Jul 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). impossible to study. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/07/14/impossible-to-study/

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