My Father & Sister Abusing Me & My Mum

Question and answer details
A (23-female-Belgium)
As Salaam Alaikoom, I've been living with my parents for the past 23 years, I have never left the house - I've stayed here despite everything, for the sake of my Mother. I don't wish to leave her side, ever. She means the World to me. She has gone through a lot of trauma because of my Father. He has been physically and verbally abusive towards her all her life. Ever since I've grown, I do not let him raise his hand on her. And I have decided that the next time he ever tries to verbally assault her again, I will call the police on him. We are 3 sisters, and one brother. None live with us. One of my sisters is married. She had once eloped with a man and had many affairs behind our parents' back in her younger days. She had manipulated me into doing many things that I didn't wish to, in the past. She back bites my Mother, and fuels situations. She has also verbally assaulted my Mother & me recently, but I have tried my best to defend ourselves. My Father brings home people that we do not like, at his own accord, people that have been involved in 'Black Magic'. I have never done anything behind my parents' back, whatever I do is like an open book for my Mother. I am not a perfect Muslim and I hardly practice Islam, but I do try my best to gain knowledge and hopefully learn more along the way, and grow my faith stronger. My Father had never taught us about Islam. He has NEVER once wished us Eid Mubarak. He acts like a saint towards his relatives. All he's ever done is pay the bills / rent. He NEVER lets us know how much he earns, he hates being questioned. He claims that it is the Mother's duty to teach her kids manners, he uses the excuse; "I've been working, I don't have the time for that, it was the Mother's duty!" My Mother has worked to the bone, in the past, too. My Father claims that my Mother 'stole' his money, when really - she had EVERY right to keep her earnings - which he'd snatch away from her, anyway. He has passed on sexually degrading remarks over my body, too. He has once slapped my bottom (which isn't too long ago), he has made comments over my bottom. He has once suggested me to go to clubs with him, and pretend to be 'dating' him, when I turned 18. He has also once (not too long ago, either) made the most disgusting remark; "Your body should have been as beautiful as your elder sister's." I wanted to bury myself right there and then. It was the MOST disgusting thing I had ever heard with my own ears. The reason he had made this remark was because I still have a child-like body, which I am HAPPY with. But it hurt because it came from a Father. Just yesterday, I had my bedroom door closed because I was changing clothes at 10 PM. He suddenly opened it, without notice, and glanced at me. Luckily I was done putting my top on. I told him "Dad, I was changing clothes." And he completely ignored it. I called my Mother in the room, and told her about it. I was very angry. Because if I hadn't worn my clothes on time, I would have felt embarrassed for the rest of my life. And he started arguing with my Mother, trying to justify his misbehavior. My mother obviously sided with me. I try my BEST to not say anything to him that is considered 'out of order / mean'. I always try to speak my mind, what is right to me. I try my BEST to talk to him respectfully. And yet, he calls me disrespectful, calls me names. He has once called me several disgusting names in a Mall, over a ridiculous reason. I was humiliated in a crowd. He has threatened to harm me, several times. He's done the same with my Mother. He has tried to force me to get out of the house. He blames my mother for not teaching me any 'manners'. Please tell me what well-mannered Father enters a daughter's room without notice, whilst the door is closed? What well-mannered Father speaks in such a manner with his daughter? Because of my Mother siding with me, he has threatened her to not get anywhere near him. He has stopped bringing food. Just to add, he has several times before left the house, without bothering to leaving any food for us to survive. My Mother doesn't wish for me to take up a job till I take up a course, which I've agreed to. He goes to his married daughter's house on a regular basis, treats her children like his own, Gives them Eid gifts and doesn't give us a penny, or even wish us a happy Eid, Back bites us to her, Eats at her house, Praises her, whilst she was the one to elope with another man and spend nights out with other men. While ALL I have done is be there, despite everything. I am the kind of honest girl, where if I liked a guy, I would straight up tell my parents. I wouldn't meet him behind their backs, they would know. My Mother has no objections as long as he is a respectful guy, she trusts that I wouldn't make a wrong choice. My question is, if he ever argues again (which he would); of how it is a Mother's duty to do this and that, that he has fulfilled ALL of his duties as a Father (paying the bills / rent, and not giving us a penny), of how it is MY duty to respect him, whilst he hasn't ONCE done anything respectful. Respect is earned, isn't it? Of how we absolutely HAVE to accept my elder sister (who has eloped / had affairs with several men / stole my Mother's money), and are horrible people for not doing so. Of how a Father can only be bad if he comes home drunk and beats his children up - but if he is verbally abusive, it is totally fine and he is a great Father. What Quranic verses do you suggest that contradict him? Do we HAVE to accept my elder sister? She has done countless evil things to my Mother & me. She is a backstabber. I can't stand the sight of her at all. Nor can my Mother. My sister has also been trying to spread false rumors about me, which my Father knows about and sides with her. I had dropped out of college because of her, in the past. And my sister has been going around, telling our relatives that I was just a failure. Whenever a relative mentions this to me, I remain silent and swallow my pride. Because defending myself would mean having to tell the truth about my sister's disgusting past. My Father has threatened me to not say a word, he says that if I were to tell the truth, God would be unhappy with me. Would Allah (swt) really wish for his people to accept unfairness? If not, should I tell my relatives the truth about my sister? Thank: Love you so much, if you read and get to this. Allah Hafiz
Dr. Maryam Bachmeier

Assalam Alaykum dear sister,

I am touched by your dedication to your mother. I am also very sorry to hear of your struggle. It may be very difficult to navigate through the chaos that you suffer, but there is always hope.

You seem very angry and I sense that you are experiencing feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. While this is very normal when living in circumstances as you have described, it will help you to acknowledge your feelings and emotions, while shifting your focus on problem solving. To do this, you will want to come to an understanding of your family member’s behavior and see that they are engaging in survival behaviors. The behavior that you describe is manipulative. You probably are helpless to change your family members, but you can forgive them.

Let’s begin with your sister. It is possible to love the person, and hate their behavior. Your sister’s back-biting is a destructive behavior and causes problems in your family system. This is why you hate the behavior. But your sister, who is engaging in this behavior, is likely acting out of fear. Most destructive behaviors are fear based. She may feel that she needs your father’s approval, or she may feel she cannot be loved or connected unless she engages in this destructive behavior, as she gains the attention of your father.  She may not know of any other way to get the attention that she needs.  She is probably not even aware of what or why she is doing this as often we are not conscious of our motives. Knowing that underneath your sister’s destructive behavior is an insecure and fearful girl; you might be able to even have empathy and concern for your sister, while not approving of her behavior.

This does not mean that you do not develop healthy boundaries and stand up for yourself in an assertive but non aggressive manner. You do want to have healthy boundaries and learn how to protect yourself. The best approach is to be assertive and have strong boundaries as I mentioned.

Just as you learn how to protect yourself from you sister, while continuing to love her, you might consider applying this approach to your father also. But this is a more delicate situation. First and foremost, make sure you are safe. If you are not safe, then consider moving. Considering you are safe, and you are experiencing these clashes, then use this approach. Honor him as father as is his function-there is no reason to contradict your father and it won’t help your situation. The Quran is not a weapon to use for revenge or to contradict another human being, even if you are right.

It is more important to understand others and to do what is right than it is to be right.  With that said, dress very modestly at home and attend to your prayers.  This will be a good example and will also bring positive energy into your home. Do what you can to work on yourself and to become the person that you would like to see in others.   This will help you to find inner peace, and will also help you to be a model for others.

Remember, life is rarely fair. The only goal that will bring you peace is the goal of developing your own inner self and connecting your own self and soul to Allah. It is in that place where you will experience the love that you and all of us seek and need. So, again, I urge you to shift your focus.

Instead of expecting your father to be fair and to behave appropriate, realize who is he and what you can realistically expect from him and make your life decisions according to the circumstances that you find yourself in. It is very likely that your father has issues and problems of his own that you will never know. His behavior may be common, but it is abnormal. Abnormal behavior is learned and often covers up deep pain. You cannot heal, fix, or change your father. Your job is to decide if you need to protect yourself from him, and if you do, how to do that. You won’t make any progress in your life if you are focused on winning the argument with him.  Your progress in life will be made through your spiritual development. Shift your focus onto working on yourself and bettering your situation.

Lust, anger, greed, pride/arrogance, and gluttony are the five passions that we must avoid. But we have to keep the focus on our own inner condition in order to avoid these passions and to draw near to Allah. Your father may not have taught Islam in the home. He has troubles that likely began in his own childhood. However, you are an adult woman now. You will make decisions about your own behavior and if those decisions are to be authentic, then they cannot be based on what other people are doing. Likewise, if the changes and personal growth is going to take root inside yourself, then you cannot be so concerned about what other people say about you or what they do, and you cannot be spending your time comparing yourself to them. Your family has their own way of life and their own way of thinking, believing, and behaving. You want to think, believe and behave differently. So, be a good example without trying to change them.

The main theme that I hear from this post is that you are in a power struggle with your father. If you harden your own position then he will just harden his, and this situation will become worse. If your father is refusing to bring home food, then either you or your mother will need to work. I know that this may be very difficult for you to understand and/or accept right now, but we are dealing with human nature. Your father is likely a very angry man, and he is expressing this anger in inappropriate ways, but these are the ways he has learned and knows. The best way to de-escalate an angry situation is to treat it with kindness. There is a proverb, “a kind word turns away wrath”. Model the behavior that you want to see. Be the change that you want to see.  Be kind to your father. Be respectful.

Keep your eye on your goals. If you do get a job and buy food, consider making your father a plate. Observe how he responds to kindness. But also keep your boundaries. It is possible that your father did not know that you were changing your clothes in your room and that it was an accident and that his pride would not allow him to apologies.  There also seems to be a lot of shamming and blaming in your family and that will cause defense and walls of pride to be built around your hearts. This is a cycle that is likely very ingrained in your family system.  It is unrealistic to expect your family to break this cycle quickly, but you can break away from this cycle. This is a learned behavior and is not an indication that there is anything “wrong” with you or anyone.

Learned behaviors are not character defects, but they can cause a lot of problems in relationships. You can learn to identify when you are shaming and blaming and learn how to change your own thoughts and your own behavioral chain of shamming and blaming. You can then learn more effective ways of perceiving others and events, replace a negative thinking cycle with a positive thinking cycle, and accept people and circumstances as they are. Once you are able to do this, you can assess your situation and develop a strategy for living and make positive and realistic goals.  This is where your focus should be. If you shift your focus in this way, your own experience of life will improve.

I pray this is helpful to you.  Remember, in times like these, turn to Allah.  Allah is your Rab and Allah will guide you and help you find the answers that your heart is seeking.  One day at a time and you might be able to repair some of your relationships.



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About the Counselor:
Dr. Bachmeier is a clinical psychologist who has been working in the mental health field for over 15 years. She is also a published researcher, former adjunct professor at Argosy University, writer, and consultant to her Spiritual community in the areas of mental health, clinical disorders, cultural, family and relationship issues, and more.