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Family of origin is a mess.

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I have recently visited my parents after a ten year absence. I decided a long time ago that it was better not to have them in my life because of their self-destruction and negativity towards me. Growing up there was a lot of violence, sexual abuse and criticism from my father and a lot of violence, manipulation and martyr-ish behavior from my mother. I realize that my mother was a victim of my father’s violence but at the same time recognize that she stayed in this relationship.

Anyway, I have complicated feelings for both of them but they weren’t exactly healthy role models, so I left home and put them out of my mind. To complicate the family picture, I have a brother who is autistic and has remained in the house with these two people. Needless to say, his life is miserable and he serves a servant for two aging people whose health is declining. When I last visited, the house was in a shambles — my mother is a hoarder — and filthy. I couldn’t stay more than one night without becoming physically ill.

My mother is a woman who can dish out tons of criticism and condemnation but cannot handle any suggestion on any topic that has to do with her. She becomes shrill and hysterical. My father is a silent, manipulative man still prone to violence except that it is laughable at his advanced age when he raises his hand.

My mother would rather stay as she is, where she is. My father spends his whole days out of the home with friends and returns only to sleep and eat. The only person I see as the real victim in this situation is my brother, who unfortunately was born into this violent, self-destructive and ignorant environment. However, I am not his legal guardian and do not have the financial resources to take care of him on my own. There are no other family members. I am it. My parents see his situation as “tragic” but fine the way it is.

What do I do? I feel guilty about his situation. I feel like I am abandoning him to his fate with two crazy old people. What is making it worse is that my father is encouraging my brother to hit my mother, according to her.

I feel helpless and frustrated looking at this situation. I forgot about them for ten years and my life was peaceful, now my life is in turmoil when I think of how they are and what I can do, if there is anything that I can do. It has taken me many years to recover from being in such an abusive family. Also, I don’t know enough about my home situation, either. My mother is prone to delusions and my father to denial so it is hard to get a picture of what is really going on. However, from the state of the house, I know that it is not good. How do I help without losing my own mind?

Family of origin is a mess.

Answered by on -


It would be understandable if you shut the door on this family yet again. It speaks well for how far you have come in separating yourself from your family’s values that you can take the high road in this situation and want to help. The way to help without getting overwhelmed is to call in reinforcements. You don’t have to go it alone.

Your brother is going to need some sort of residential support as your folks continue to decline and eventually die. It’s best to start the process of looking for it before it is an absolute crisis. I did do a web search and found that there are services for adults with autism in your province. One agency is Autism Services Incorporated (Phone: (519) 966-7283). You might start there.

I also found Family Service Windsor-Essex County (Phone: (519) 256-1831). I suggest you make an appointment to talk to one of the counselors there about what kind of help is available for people like your parents. They would be in a position to know what community services are available.

You may not be able to help your family directly. In fact, trying to solve their problems by yourself might be detrimental to your own mental health. But you may be able to put things in motion so that local agencies can intervene.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Family of origin is a mess.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Family of origin is a mess.. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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