Note: The article below belongs to a collection of questions that I received and answered online. This is not intended to, nor should it not be construed as counseling. If you or someone you know is cutting, please reach out to and consult with your physician for personalized medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions.

Question:

My parents had a turbulent marriage, full-on warfare and not pretty to watch growing up. I grew up highly conflicted about how I felt about them- I know I had to love them but it took me until my adulthood to finally like them as humans.

I got a lot of flak from my mom because I was her (metaphorical) punching bag. This didn’t exactly help with the conflicted feelings. I started cutting myself pretty seriously from when I was 18 until the age of 24. I married and moved out and moved on. No more cutting. Yay!

I have a brother, 3 years younger than me who over the last ten years has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, etc. I was never close to him. I became my mom’s punching bag again as she dealt with him. I wanted to help but I also wanted to escape. And here’s how things stand: I help how I can. I get full-blown depressed off and on. I have written to a couple of shaykhs that I’ve studied from (online) but I guess they aren’t therapists. Given my situation, what can I do? Where can I even start?

Answer

Bismillah wa salaat wa salaam ‘ala Rasoolillah.

Asalaamu alaikum,

First of all, I want to acknowledge that what you’ve experienced both as a witness of your parents’ turbulent relationship, as well as being forced to bear the weight of your mother’s difficulties, is something that a child should never have to endure. One thing I noticed in what you said was your statement, “I know I had to love them.” It is completely normal to experience feelings of anger after the years of struggles you’ve endured in your relationship with your mother. What is most important is how you react to these emotions- and it is very admirable that you are striving to help your family despite all of this. I ask Allah (swt) to reward you immensely for that.

Secondly, congratulations on abstaining from self-harming! That is an incredible achievement, and you should be so proud of yourself! Yay for you! Now that you have begun to reintegrate yourself back into your family and the cycle has restarted in the way you are treated by your mother, please pay very careful attention to any signs you may notice that may lead to the urge to cut again. You mentioned that these interactions result in feelings of depression, so be aware that this may lead to the urge to cut again.

In striving to help your family, you are also pleasing Allah (swt). There is a particular emphasis on good treatment of parents as Allah (swt) says, “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them, but address them in terms of honor. And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was small.’” [al-Isra’ 17:23-24]. However, also be conscious that if you do not care for yourself in the process, you won’t be able to help anyone. The Prophet (saw) said, “Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” {Sahih Al-Bukhari} It is not only others that have a right over us, but we ourselves do as well.

With regards to your question about where you can start: It sounds like you already have. It sounds like you’ve taken steps to help with your brother and your mother. It also sounds like despite not knowing your brother too well and having experienced so much difficulty in your relationship with your mother, they both hold a part of you and you love them. I imagine that must be a very difficult mix of emotions to bear- one part of you feels resentful while the other part cannot stay away because they are your family and you love them. As I said before, these emotions are very normal, but it is what you choose to do with them that characterizes you. And it sounds like you are someone who is striving to please Allah (swt) by maintaining ties with your family masha’Allah. I would encourage you to take small steps to reintegrate yourself while carefully taking heed of the impact this is having on you. If you notice yourself getting depressed and struggling to deal with your emotions, take a step back. I would highly encourage you to seek therapy if you haven’t already done so in order to be able to ground yourself at least once per week. This is particularly important considering your history with cutting and depressive episodes.

You mentioned that you are trying to help your brother- may Allah (swt) reward you and grant him ease in his struggle with mental illness. In maintaining your relationship with him, spending time with him and listening to him, you can provide something incredibly valuable. Also, helping him to receive treatment as well as maintain consistency in receiving these services would be very beneficial. Continually seek Allah’s help and guidance throughout this and remind yourself of both the worldly reward (helping others and potentially improving familial relationships) as well as the much greater reward of the Hereafter (the pleasure and mercy of Allah).

I ask Allah (swt) to increase you in peace and goodness and guide you on the path of improving relationships within your family.

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