I have this paternal aunt who lives abroad. When I was completing my higher education abroad, she was kind enough to let me stay with her, and helped me out with some of the expenses when I went through a difficult time. After I graduated and moved out, and eventually got married and settled down, she started getting passive aggressive for some reason. She'd send me and my parents these toxic emails, vaguely hinting at my "selfish" and "manipulative" nature, and she'd keep reminding us about everything she did for us. Assuming that she was talking about the money she helped me out with, I have started paying her back in regular instalments. Rather than being appeased, she has stepped up her criticism of me. I personally am not bothered by the meanness, but my parents get very upset. When confronted, she doesn't give us a straight answer either. How do I deal with this?
A. This reminds me of the old fairy tale about the pregnant woman who stole a cabbage from the witch’s garden and had to repay her with her firstborn child. In other words, no amount of gratitude will ever be enough for your spinster aunt. You were meant to stay and remain her constant companion, playing games of canasta late into the early evening and spoon feeding her khichuri when her strength failed her. The mistake you made was daring to leave and start a life of your own, for which you must now suffer her slights and insults. However, if I were you, I would stop snivelling and feel some sympathy for the old bird instead. Your presence was probably the high point in her lonely existence and she must now live out her ‘golden’ years eating with her cat while you frolic among your loved ones.
I grew up around a father who was very emotionally abusive towards my mother. While he never raised a hand to her, or any of us, he would undermine her, and later us, with constant criticism, negativity, snide comments and veiled threats. By the time I was in university, my mother had gone from a carefree, smiling, and self-assured woman, to a timid, self-doubting mess. I told myself I would never let myself get into her situation. By the grace of Allah, I married the sweetest, most considerate of men. My husband wouldn't hurt a fly, let alone do anything to upset me. I should be more grateful, and I am. However, I find myself flying off the handle whenever something goes wrong at home, and the more he tries to accommodate me, the angrier I get. It's like I get a perverse sort of satisfaction at seeing him cower in front of me. After I've inevitably driven him to tears, the anger fades to guilt, shame, and self loathing, and I realise that I have become the thing I fear and hate the most - a bully, like my father. The question I have is - how do I break out of this? How do I change and become the kind of wife that my dear husband deserves?
A. Dear Rawr,
I suppose I should be happy that you are the aggressor and not the usual stereotype of the snivelling bou, but somehow this all seems very unpleasant. Basic psychology would dictate that you went and deliberately found yourself someone as closely resembling your poor, beat down mother to enact the role of your father on. While you might wonder why on God’s glorious green earth anyone would want to act like that, the simple answer is: control. You feel good taking it away from your husband just like your dad did from your mom. Now that you know what it’s about, are you going to stop doing it? Probably not. You don’t respect your husband and the power dynamic between the two of you may never right itself. You need therapy – a lot of therapy – to work through your daddy issues. And then the two of you will need couples counselling. And then maybe you’ll become the ‘kind of wife your husband deserves’. But then that begs the question, why did he marry you?