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Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,
I am very much outside my parents’ opinion of what is acceptable to society and the Catholic church. I have tattoos, colored hair, and progressive, non-religious views.
We fight about appearance, being grateful or not for a job, etc. We even had a huge fight where they blamed me for the sexual assault I’d undergone because I’d insisted on a solo trip and was an “easy target” because of my bright hair. As you can imagine, it is exhausting.
I feel a lot of guilt. I objectively know that there is nothing wrong with expressing individuality and sexual assault is never a woman’s fault. However, I am compelled to constantly ask for permission, have to fight a self-imposed curfew, and am a practicing non-religious. I am also a 35-year-old woman living on her own (on weekdays).
I lie about sleeping at my fiancé’s place, smoking and drinking, and skipping the nightly prayer video call. After this, I feel intense guilt that causes me to be extremely bothered. My therapist also tells me my excessive daydreaming of various scenarios about vindication has become maladaptive because it takes up a lot of my time and mental energy.
I am getting married soon. My mother said that she hopes my fiancé will join us in our nightly prayer and both of them expect me to continue going back “home” on weekends like now. It came to the point where I am doubting whether I am marrying my kind, understanding, and supportive fiancé just to escape.
I love them and cannot cut contact. I know they were just born in a different time and had a different upbringing. They always say that they just don’t want me to forget the values that they taught me as a child and the teachings of the church. While I understand, I don’t agree with both their version of societal norms and the rituals of their dogma.
I want to live my life my way even if they tell me it’s selfish. But how do I get over the guilt?
Dreading the future and suffering the present,
You are currently caught between a rock and a hard place, between your parents’ views of who you should be and your view of who you actually are, and there is no sign that either side will compromise. Yet you love them and to keep the peace you have resorted to the stratagem of lying about some of your life and the guilt is weighing heavily on you.
Perhaps a way forward is first to reframe the current impasse. Although your parents espouse values which you do not share, they have chosen to continue to preach them to you rather than doubling down and becoming more intransigent, say, by disowning you. They have therefore shown enough flexibility to keep the relationship alive, perhaps nominally disguising it as not abandoning the hope of converting a sinner. Ask yourself therefore if they therefore actually tacitly accepting you for who you are.
To deal with the guilt, you could possibly start being more open about the major points of contention. Your parents’ views are probably not mere facsimiles of the views of their own parents and grandparents, so you can legitimately argue that you should not be expected to ape theirs but instead be your own person. Your success and happiness in life, marriage, work, etc. should not be determined by their hopes, ambitions, and vision, but by yours.
Perhaps you can slowly start to eliminate the lies, monitoring their reactions carefully to ensure that the relationship is kept intact. Marriage to a kind, understanding, and supportive man will not only legitimize sleeping over but with his help bolster your efforts to be your own vibrant self rather than a pallid reflection of your parents’ aspirations.
Thank you very much for your letter, and for summing up your dilemma in your penultimate sentence: “I want to live my life my way…but how do I get over the guilt?” It sounds like extreme guilt is your major problem; guilt because you lie so you do not hurt your parents’ feelings.
But first, congratulations for already starting to live your life your way by looking the way you want to, doing things they wish you wouldn’t, and skipping the nightly prayer video. It sounds like they are not as careful about your feelings as you are about theirs. I am so sorry about your sexual assault, and happy you know this is never a woman’s fault. It is perplexing how anyone who loved you could blame you for it, rather than taking you in their arms, trying to soothe you as best they can, and telling you they loved you. And if you asked them if they thought you had brought this on yourself? They should not lie, but gently, gently…
No one can ever have a truly deep, emotionally intimate relationship without self disclosure about who you truly are, what you truly feel and do, what you want to be. I presume this is what your parents want to have with you. This is probably why they want you not to forget the values they taught you as a child, etc.
I believe that good parents give you both roots and wings, roots to stabilize you and wings so you can take off on your own. Your parents may have been FANTASTIC when you were small, but they failed the test of good parenthood when you reached the age when thinking for yourself became appropriate. Nevertheless, it’s not too late and this, indeed, is the time para ipalaki mo na ang iyong mga magulang ( for you to educate your parents).
You have a great way with words (I love your sign-off: “Dreading the future and suffering the present”) so, in your own unparalleled style, could you start sharing the following with them:
- “I love you both, but that does not mean I have to follow what you think, say, and even pray for. I am 35 and it is a testament to your good parenting that I now listen to and think for myself…which means that, sometimes, I disagree with you.” (You might want to include what Mr. Baer said in his third paragraph about how views change with each generation.)
- “Now it is up to you to decide what kind of relationship you want with me. It can be extremely pleasant, but one where talk is limited to the weather, politics, the price of onions. Or, it can sometimes be fraught, BUT we will be real with one another and share what we truly think and feel. You will get to know who I really am. I want you to know the real me, because if not these visits to you will be come tedious.”
- “I disagree with some of the values you taught me, I am not even sure if we share the same view of who God is in our lives. I will live my life the way I see fit; sorry if you think I am being selfish. If you continue to say only that, and I continue to argue with you, our conversations will never move forward and even you will hope we never speak to each other again.”
- “We will still spend time together, but it is your choice: will it be lovely, but superficial and totally predictable, or honest to goodness, with occasional disagreements, but with our getting to truly know each other?”
Sharing all the above will be difficult, especially since appeasing will no longer be a strategy. You might want to look at to this way: Yehey! No longer any guilt for lying! However, if your guilt for hurting them increases, please know that this is merely a function of their willingness to emotionally blackmail you.
I don’t believe in everything the Bible says, but I do believe in this one phrase from John 8:32: “The truth SHALL set you free,” dearest Donna.
All the very best and would love to hear from you again,
Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to firstname.lastname@example.org.