Do I Have a Psychological Problem?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I grew up with a younger sibling with autism, and I deeply love and care for her. As I grew up, my parents always told me that I had to be successful so I could care for her when they died. I was perfectly okay with this at first, but as I entered grade 7 I started thinking life and my reasons for living.

My father wanted me to become a doctor and I grew up with that goal for a while. However one day, I thought long and hard about it and I realized that I really couldn’t see myself in that kind of role. I hated the sciences, and I could never see myself studying it for the rest of my life. Even after realizing this, I still decided to study medicine to please my parents.

I adopted a rather lazy attitude entering the seventh grade, and as my marks dropped to the 70′s and 60′s, my parents constantly reprimanded me. For whatever reason, I was unable to break out of my streak of laziness. My parents became angrier with each mark I showed to them and began reacting as if I had just committed a crime. Sometimes they would cry and yell at me. Sometimes they would blame the marks on my friends and sometimes they blamed the fact that I played video games. What really hurt me, though, was what they said about my role as my sister’s brother. They told me that I wasn’t just failing them, I was also failing her and by getting bad marks I was showing them I didn’t really love her. Through all of this, I never retaliated or told them how I felt. I just stood there and endured everything. Around this time I was very sensitive and prone to crying and I spent that whole year crying myself to sleep every night because of how worthless I felt. I soon realized that these emotions were going to eat me from the inside if I let them go on. I decided it would be much better if I just shut down my emotions.

I trained myself to stop crying and in order to make my ability to control my emotions stronger, I watched some gruesome horror movies and tried my best to feel nothing while watching them. I was dead set on becoming stronger and eventually I was able to endure any kind of emotional trauma and feel nothing. After that, I was a lot more emotionally stable. When my parents yelled at me, I simply listened and moved on as if nothing happened. I still loved my sister, and only let down my emotionless persona when I was around her. Eventually I realized that even though I had become stronger, I felt empty and unfulfilled… I questioned my reason for living and realized I didn’t have one anymore.

I came close to committing suicide at one point but realized that if I was gone, there would be no one left to take care of my sister. I decided that my life did not matter as long as I could make my sister happy. I have friends but I never feel close enough to them to tell them this story. I think about killing myself from time to time but I never feel sad or depressed while doing so. I just feel like it would be better to have everything disappear in an instant.

Do I have some sort of psychological problem? or am I just a pathetic human being?

A. I don’t think you have a psychological problem per se nor are you a “pathetic human being.” Your parents placed a heavy burden on you. Even as a young child, you were told that you were going to be the lifelong caretaker of your sister. What your parents did to you was unfair. You never had the opportunity to be who you wanted to be. Your parents saw you as an extension of themselves. They chose your sister over you. They should have had two children, who for each they wanted the best possible life. Instead they have joined you together to form “children.” They want the best for their children, not what’s best for each child.

As a response to this heavy burden, you developed a coping strategy. It’s evidence of your resiliency and resourcefulness. This strategy protected you from experiencing a great deal of psychological pain but it was temporary. Your true feelings eventually reemerged.

You are in essence sacrificing your life for that of your sister’s. While that sacrifice might be noble, it is unhealthy and it will lead to a great deal of dissatisfaction in your life.

Your sister requires the assistance of health and mental health professionals who can properly care for her. There are many social service agencies and independent caregivers that can assist your family. Your sister is best served by trained mental health professionals who have years of experience dealing with autism. Call your local social service agency and inquire about what services are available for your family.

Your reaction to this situation is logical given when you have faced. Of course you love your sister and want what’s best for her but this should not come at the expense of your life. You have the right to be happy and to live an independent life. You can help your sister as much as you chose to when you have developed your own life. You must seek meaning and happiness in your life.

This burden has led to your contemplating suicide. Nothing, no plan, that leads you to suicidal thoughts can be the correct plan. Erroneously, the plan that your parents had assigned to you was the plan that led to suicidal thoughts. I’m sure that wasn’t their intention. They have a problem because they have a daughter who has special needs and they don’t know how to care for her after they are gone. They would benefit from counseling, to help them assess their choices.

You could also benefit from counseling. It can help you to understand the burden that has been placed upon you and assist you in becoming more independent of your family. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle
Mental Health & Criminal Justice Blog

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Apr 2013

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2013). Do I Have a Psychological Problem?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/04/13/do-i-have-a-psychological-problem/