Standing Up to Auntie

27 Feb

Letterbalm College Girl with Backpack

Dear LetterBalm: I’m a sophomore in college, and two months ago I came back home because I had a serious breakdown. The pressure and anxiety really got to me. I’m home now, recouping and seeing a therapist three times a week, working part-time and staying active. I’m getting better. My parents and my brother have been wonderful – they support my decision to go back to school next September. (I want to be a surgeon eventually.) My problem is my aunt who lives with my family. She’s usually nice, but now she’s giving me a hard time – she says I’m weak and that I’ll never get through medical school if I can’t handle college. My parents confronted her, and there has been a major scene. I think I need to talk with her myself to stop this. What do I say?

–Getting Stronger 

Isn’t it amazing that seemingly normal people – Ms. L.B. assumes your aunt isn’t a serial murderer or a thief – think they have the right to say the most hurtful things? You are smart to take time to heal and understand yourself, which will make you a better doctor and, ultimately, a better person. Your aunt owes you compassion and respect. She also owes you an apology. But you must understand that she may have insecurities you don’t know about that have been triggered by your situation. So, you need to be the firm-but-gentle adult. Sit down privately with her (don’t involve your parents) and say something like this:

Aunt June, I understand that you’re concerned about me, and I appreciate that. But you need to know that it was my decision and mine alone to return home and get better, and my family supports me on this. You also need to know, I’m getting stronger every day, with the goal of returning to school in September. I’m beginning to understand that I made a brave and sensible choice to step away from school temporarily and work through my problem managing stress and anxiety. It’s better to do this sooner rather than later. I think recognizing my problems and dealing with them will make me a stronger person and a better doctor, don’t you? You’ve always been so supportive, my best cheerleader. I hope you can be on my side now.

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