How I Stop Being Guilty and Live Free From My Dysfunctional Family

Example of One Could Love Another and Still Respect Oneself

Lalita Janette
Lalita Janette
13 min readSep 13, 2020

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Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

I grew up in a unique and ordinary family. It was not as beautiful as I have seen in the movies, but it was not the worst one, either. That was why I was not aware that my family was and is always dysfunctional.

For a long time, I never felt I was enough or did enough for them. I couldn’t be happy if they were not happy. I suffered a great deal of codependency and need for their approval. I didn’t know that my life was mine to live.

I decided to generously share my story, and I sincerely hope it will reach someone who needs it. You are not alone.

How Dysfunctional My Family Was

My parents divorced when I was eleven years old. My younger sister was just seven. My grandmother persuaded us to choose my dad over mum. My mum was a housewife, and she would not be able to take care of us financially. Because I was older, I became, in a way, my sister’s caregiver.

My dad was a rather good father in his own way. He prepared us to take responsibility and go through life from a very young age with minimal guidance.

For example, he let us decide what time we wanted to wake up in the morning and how we would manage to go to school. Even if he foresaw that we would be late, he would not intervene and allowed the negative consequences to teach us.

My sister and I had to take care of ourselves, from laundry, making breakfast, and catching a bus to school. Often, we didn’t have time for breakfast.

In a way, I was grateful as I became mature early on and was capable of doing many things compared to other friends of the same age. My dad equipped me with the essential qualities needed to be successful in my adulthood. I became a top-class student, which prepped the rose-petal path to my career. By my early twenties, I achieved what society defined as a status of success.

Like every coin, there were two sides. I felt neglected and lonely as if there was no one I could lean on. The worst part was that I rarely knew how I was feeling.

One of my childhood memories encapsulated the aloneness I felt deep inside. I remember it as if it just happened yesterday.

That day, my dad went to work. My younger sister and I were still asleep. We woke up late, and as usual, my dad would never wake us up. He thought it was a good way to let us learn the consequences of ignoring our duties. Believe me, I got a lot of those lessons but never learned from them.

Once we were awake, we rushed to the school, but we could not get out of the house because the door was locked. My dad accidentally locked it from the outside. Despite having a spare key at home, it was impossible to unlock it from our location inside the house. If only I could teleport myself, I could open the door from outside. But if I could, I would instead choose to vanish from my life.

I felt angry and frustrated, but not at my dad because he didn’t do it intentionally. I was angry at my life.

Why couldn’t I be taken care of like every other young child?

Why did I have to deal with all of this? After all, I was just eleven.

Only if my younger sister was not there, I would have cried. As a caregiver, I did not want to show any weakness. I unconsciously suppressed my feelings as if they never existed. Only recently that I could cry the pain that I held inside out.

I took the spare key, went up to the second floor of our house, exited through the window onto the roof, slowly slid down the roof, and jumped down to the ground. I landed safely but hurt. My student uniform was full of wrinkles and dirt. I unlocked the door and let my younger sister out, and we could finally go to school. That event has imprinted both negative and positive beliefs inside of me.

“No one would be there and help me out of my problem. Still, I could take care of it myself, anyway.”

That was one of the childhood nightmares that made me feel lonely and often jealous of my friends whose parents were taking great care of them. They had nice clean uniforms and arrived at school by private cars. On the other hand, my sister and I often wore dirty clothes from the day before as a consequence of ignoring our laundry duties.

It was a rough childhood, but I would never blame my dad for it. He had good intentions, and I had no doubt of his love because he had shown us love, in many other ways.

He always put us first over his desires. I didn’t even know if he was aware of his own desires. He never talked about how he felt nor asked about our feelings. My dad was emotionally unavailable.

People praised him because of how he sacrificed his happiness for us. We took his sacrifice as a symbol of love, and we were grateful.

He was generous to my sister and me but cheap to himself. He wore his work uniform on weekends and never bought new clothes for himself. Nevertheless, he sent us to the best school in our city where all the wealthy children went. Little did he know that it caused another trauma in my life as I kept comparing my life with those wealthy children.

On the weekend, we had piano and violin lessons, which very few families in Thailand could afford. We also joined a swimming club and all kinds of activities for our interests. Our dad was more than willing to support us with anything related to our education and recreation.

It was never a question when my teacher gave me homework to write about my hero — I wrote about my dad.

As my dad treated himself as secondary to everything, I grew up neglecting my feelings and desires. I placed other people’s needs above mine. I became a pleaser and avoided conflict at all costs. I felt guilty for being happy if other people were not happy, especially my family members.

The family member that affected me the most was my younger sister. I felt obligated to take responsibility for her happiness.

When I started to have income, I supported her financially during her schooling. When she graduated and started her career, she earned just slightly more than the money I used to give her during her time.

As the oldest sister, I felt responsible for sharing my apartment, that I bought with my own money so that she could save up some money.

For several years we were living together and sleeping on the same bed sheet. Our relationship became more complicated. I felt resentment toward my sister but unconsciously suppressed it inside. We ended up fighting, and she left to live on her own. I was alone with the guilt of being unable to fulfill my duty. I felt pathetic.

My sister was over-sensitive, depressed, and held deep anger inside her. I could empathize as I was also growing up with unaware trauma. My sister was more affected. When our parents divorced, she was only seven. Apparently, I became representative of the image of mom for her. I could imagine how my sister was traumatized with the representative eleven-year-old mom like me who could not even get my dress well-cleaned. How could I possibly do better for another human being when I couldn’t do the best for myself? We fought a lot during our youth. We mentally, verbally, and physically abused each other. I barely remembered any pleasant memories we had together.

Our relationship got worse when my sister got sick with a skin disease with red, raised, and inflamed patches of skin. It affected her self-esteem, and she could no longer wear a short skirt or a short-sleeved shirt. It got worse over time, no matter what remedy we tried on her. As the skin disease spread from one place to another place, her unpredictable emotions raged. She became bitter and often mentally and verbally abused anyone who was near her.

Often, my sister accused me of being an ungrateful daughter and selfish sister for any reason or situation that she expected me to do and be more than who I was.

I was trying my best to understand her pain and not take her abusive acts toward me personally. It was hard for all of us.

Over time, all I could do was avoid having too much contact with her. Consequently, I spent less time with all of my family members.

How I Recognized Dysfunctional Problems

Withdrawing myself from my family was like pouring gasoline on the fire. My sister reacted to it. During a family visit, she pretended that I was invisible. She ignored me and pretended to not hear me, and she even refused a gift I bought for her. It was uncomfortable. I stayed with my family for a few days until I had no more courage to live in such an unhealthy environment. I left.

She accused me of being a selfish sister and an ungrateful daughter — something I heard countless times.

I was angry and refused to be guilty since her behavior toward me was irresponsible, although I did feel guilty inside. She shamed me for not feeling or expressing guilt. We have never spoken ever since.

For many sleepless nights, I cried and questioned myself about who I actually was. “Am I selfish and ungrateful?”

Memories after memories had risen and urged me to review. I felt the pain of our duty that conditioned me to be a giver and my younger sister to be a receiver.

If sacrificing our happiness is love, who is supposed to be happy? We live in false beliefs and expectations that lead to only pain.

I felt anger toward my innocent dad rise inside of me. The sacrifices he made for my sister and I shaped my belief that I should not allow myself to be happy unless everyone else is.

I was angry that he treated himself as secondary to everything else. I was angry that he was not a good example of how one could love another and still respect oneself. But he knew nothing better.

The gentle voice of wisdom whispered to my soul.

“You are enough. You are love. Don’t believe otherwise.”

Thanks to my sister’s irresponsible act, it broke me out of the delusion that had been projecting for a long time. I was made to believe I was not good enough and didn’t do enough for her and our family.

I was not the person who she thought I was. I refused to be guilty. I broke out of the duty of being the eldest sister. I confronted her as another human being who would never again allow her to treat me wrongly.

Not that I don’t love her. I do.

Not that I don’t understand her pain, I do.

Not that I don’t feel compassion for her. I do.

But today,

I choose not to be her bigger sister anymore, but rather another human being who knows my worth and respects myself.

I choose to let go of the image of a good sister and a good daughter — any image anyone else wanted me to be.

I choose to be me and love myself no matter who tells me otherwise.

I refuse to be guilty. I choose to be free.

I stand by my value and don’t need anyone’s approval, even though they are dear to my heart.

In pain, I realize no one could do, think, or speak us into believing in anything about ourselves except the fear inside us — the fear of not being loved and accepted.

Seeking validation and attempting to protect our self-images causes us to feel shame and guilt. How I perceived my family was a reflection of my own inner-turmoil, my own struggles. Once I chose to take responsibility for how I perceived and reacted to my life experiences, I earned the power to create the life I truly desire.

Being Grateful

Although my childhood was not beautiful, I am grateful for my dysfunctional family and wouldn’t choose otherwise. It made me who I am today.

I forgave myself for neglecting myself. I put my trust in the divine, in God, that my life experiences had a purpose. One day or another, it will make perfect sense to me.

This is just the beginning of self-discovery and the start of my healing journey. I am glad it happened. I shared my life’s story hoping that if anyone finds themselves in an unhealthy relationship — either your family, your lover, your friends, or anything — -know that you are not alone.

I shared my life’s story not to tell you that I know exactly how to deal with it, but to tell you that I struggle with it, and that’s fine. I can’t tell you exactly what you have to do, nor can I claim that I know any better than you. Everyone’s life is different. What I can share is my own experience and how I deal with my situation. Please take my advice with a grain of salt unless your heart resonates with my story, and you feel compelled to take similar action.

Step Back from An Unhealthy Environment and Allow God to Step In.

Stepping back from someone you love doesn’t mean you don’t love them. You can love them and choose to leave. Love is love, and it is always there no matter where your presence is.

Stepping back from an unhealthy environment shows that you respect yourself and trust that God will step in.

Second, Hold the Space for Any Emotion to Arise, Allow Sadness, Hate, and Anger to be Released Without Judgment.

As I was always avoiding negative feelings at all costs when suppressed emotions started to rise inside of me, I felt uncomfortable. It was rather easy to return to the old way of resisting and suppressing.

Many scientific reports have proved that suppressed emotions cause negative physical and mental effects in the long run.

Suppressing emotions may keep you surviving with minimal life experience, but if you choose to fully thrive at living life, it is time to unlearn the old way and let emotions have their own place.

When my anger toward my dad arose in me, I suffered deeply from the guilt of how I could be angry at someone who gave me life and lived for me.

I learned to step back from judging myself and instead be a witness to the anger. I chose to stand by my inner child, who was hurt, and I validated her feelings. I allowed her to feel anger and helped her release it instead of merely justifying how she should feel.

How to Hold a Healthy Space for Negative Emotions?

This story from a Hindu parable, as told by Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening (Conari Press, 2011) pages 17–18, is a great example of how to hold the space for your emotions to rise.

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it.”

“How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter” spit the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked,

“How does it taste?”

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering,

“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things …. stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

That is what holding space for yourself means. You expand on such a level that you are able to welcome the pain and dilute it in the lake. When you allow the emotion to rise, the healing begins. Quiet your mind, and don’t judge yourself for any feeling you have. Allow emotions to pass through you and dissolve into the big lake, the universe, consciousness, into God.

Ask for Support from Others

Last but not least,

As I told you earlier that my childhood memories have imprinted both negative and positive beliefs.

“No one would be there and help me out of my problem. Still, I could take care of it myself anyway.”

It took a great deal of courage and willingness to reach out and let someone know I needed support and to believe that I would be well received.

I spoke to my partner, the love of my life, and a few friends I trust. I allowed them to know that my life is not perfect, and I need a great deal of their love to hold me through. I was surprised to know they were more than happy to help, and I didn’t need to go through this alone.

As we grew up with more capability and independently in this world, I understand how hard it is to be vulnerable. The risk of appearing weak prevents us from reaching out for help. Let me tell you that to be vulnerable requires a great deal of strength. It shows that you accepted yourself as who you are and trust that someone will stand by you.

I strongly recommend you to consult the trusted professional therapist if you feel inclined to do so. Reach out to people who love you and give them a chance to help you. You are not alone.

Remember, sharing love by living your life freely and empowers others to do the same. You are love. You are enough. I love you.

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Lalita Janette
Lalita Janette

Writer of Wild Love Holy Island, founder of Dream Maker publication, sharing Love, building Relationships, enjoying Sexuality, exploring the Spiritual realm