What should I do about my dysfunctional family?

What should I do about my dysfunctional family?

(This is really long, sorry.)

Currently I live with my parents(mom and dad) and my younger brother (12). For as long as I can remember, my brother has been considered the “problem” in our family, although no one would ever come out and say that. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how untrue that is.

I’ve come to realize the problem is actually my parents- both of them have unaddressed mental health problems that make them poor parents. They are emotionally immature and unstable- I believe me and my siblings have been emotionally neglected and/or abused.

They have blamed my brother for a long time because he responds to the frequent injustices with anger and retaliation. It is a cruel cycle of my parents being overwhelmed, leading to them being over-controlling, which greatly triggers my brother and causes retaliation, and they bear back down harder. It’s a constant power struggle that is continuing to worsen itself- the more they teach him that their involvement in his life means punishment, negativity, and anger, the more he is going to fight back and make the conflict stronger. Just listening has been traumatic for me, so i can’t even begin to imagine what it is like for him to be constantly violated and punished for defending himself day in and day out.

It often reflects back on me- when my parents feel out of control in their own lives or in my brother’s life, they will give me menial tasks or start enforcing new rules for no logical reason.

But, I feel completely helpless, because my parents believe wholeheartedly that they are doing everything they do out of love. They have people around them that tell them it’s loving to take your child’s privacy away as punishment and that sympathizing with your children threatens your role as a parent. I feel like if I seek intervention of some kind people won’t believe me because of how much they claim to care about us. I feel like it might make my brother hate me, because he’s started to believe them when they say everything is his fault and that he is required to love them back- he’s started to get upset when I stand up for him, truly believing he doesn’t deserve their respect.

I’ve tried multiple times to point out what is going on to my parents, but it only succeeds in making them upset and making it worse for myself- they are completely irrational about it. It might not be worth getting them so upset when I could just keep my head down and ride it out until I can move out.

I don’t feel safe take care of myself- I’m pretty sure I have an eating disorder that stems from my mother constantly criticizing me for my irregular eating habits (I’m autistic.) I only feel fully comfortable eating when I’m home alone and I can eat my safe foods in peace- other times I’d rather skip a meal then go downstairs and face my parents in the kitchen.

This is the same for personal hygiene and staying organized- I can’t do it in a way that works for me without bumping elbows with my parents, so I have to force myself to do it the neurotypical way that takes all my energy or go without. I have been burned out since the start of middle school.

I am counting down the days until I can move out- it is incredibly disheartening to come home to some kind of conflict, fear or criticism almost ever single day. Whenever someone is anxious or overwhelmed it’s like a minefield- sometimes my own room isn’t even safe, because they will be infinitely more upset if I try to “escape.”

I have just two years now before I can move out. I’m just worried about my brother- i really wish I could take him with me. My older sister has already left, but she sides with my parents on all this. Sometimes she’s even worse than them. I know this isn’t right, but I don’t know what to do about it.

Lorena (iel/they)

Hi Theo,


Thank you for reaching out to us, I’ll be happy to answer your questions!

Oh boy. So what you’re telling me is that you and your brother are living with parents who punish you a lot, don’t care to listen to your feelings, and even reprimand you for expressing them. You’re worried about yourself, but also for your brother, who seems to be going through the roughest of it. You’re hoping that you can move out together in around 2 years. First off, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It’s so valid to feel defeated when the place that is supposed to be your safe space is actually not safe at all. And your parents, who are supposed to care for you (including emotionally) aren’t doing their job. As someone who also grew up in a rough household, I sympathize with you. I understand the feeling of being trapped, of wanting to escape, of not being able to do things because you want to avoid certain people you live with, of planning years ahead to move out. Returning home after a hard day at school and not even being able to fully relax. You’re not alone in those feelings, fortunately and unfortunately. I would also like to say that you’re incredible for worrying about your younger brother in times like these. I commend you both for the effort of standing up, planning a way out, and just surviving this kind of environment. 

I think, as you said, your best bet is to move out as soon as you can. That can mean finding a job (ideally part-time if you’re in school) to save up for when that can happen, and at the same time it can keep you away from the toxic environment that is your home. As for your brother, I unfortunately don’t think you can bring him with you if he’s underaged. However, your future place could be a safe space for him to go to in times of need, and he could move out with you once he’s 18. I would still recommend asking counselors that work for US organizations I listed at the end just to be sure, they’re probably more informed than I am since I don’t live in the US.

In the meantime, I find it’s important to get in contact with a psychologist/counselor in this kind of situation. If you have a psychologist/counselor at your school that offers free sessions, I highly recommend that because they will help you manage the daily stress and plan ahead for your moving out. Furthermore, if there is the presence of physical abuse they can help you get in contact with authorities. If not, is there a teacher that you trust, or any adult that could be of help to you? That you can confide in? Do you have any friends that you can vent about this to? It’s important to surround yourself with loving and supportive people as much as possible to help you go through these hardships, or at least make things a bit easier. 

For your brother, I think it would help him immensely if you’re a safe person for him to go to. Someone that will listen to him, hug him if he needs it, encourage him, and such. It might be a lot to ask from you, and it’s okay if you can’t always do that, but I do believe he needs as much support and he could benefit from you as a family member and someone who also sees the abuse face-on. Talk to him about how you worry about him and care about him. Ask him what he needs, what would make him feel better. Spend time with him. Go out together. 

When it comes to your parents and how to deal with them, honestly, it’s hard to say. I wouldn’t want to encourage you to confront them, because it could make it worse for yourself, and you’ve mentioned that this tactic doesn’t really work either. I think it’s best to simply reduce contact with them as much as possible, and to “pick your battles carefully”. If you’re feeling up to it, have the energy and such, retaliate. But it’s also absolutely okay not to. I’d like to emphasize that you’re not weak if you don’t talk back to your parents. Silence can also be a powerful weapon, and sometimes, retreating or staying silent is the best and most mature way to deal with things. Plus, if you can avoid confrontations and conflicts, it can help relieve some stress. Something that could potentially help is to unite with your brother, support each other during conflicts. Being together can be less scary than being alone.

I’d like to link you some useful websites that you can use as emotional support whenever you want (most if not all are available at all hours of the day) and that provide strategies for dealing with abuse:

  • Childhelp hotline (counsellors available for texting, calling & strategies for coping)
  • NAMI (texts, calls, & email available + peer-to-peer support)
  • Teen line (trained teenagers you can contact, call, email, & text)


I’m sorry you have to go through this. Please stay strong for yourself and your brother. I really hope things will get better for the both of you. If you ever need some more advice and support, feel free to contact us again. 

Lorena (they), sexology student