Having said that, in the past few years, my parents have gone through some extended family issues and as a result, have gotten extremely involved in a non-demoninational Christian church in my hometown, for what I assume was some sort of support during a tough time (I live about 5 hours away). Originally, I thought it was a great idea, since even though I don’t personally follow a religion, I know church can be a place for community and support. However, during this time, they have gotten increasingly judgmental and began referring to me as a “dangerous liberal” and worrying that they won’t see me in the afterlife since I’m doomed for eternity according to their pastor since I don’t follow their religion.
Religion and my beliefs now routinely come up in our conversations and I have gotten off the phone with them many times crying and angry due to yet another fight about something else. I was yelled at for my volunteer work with Planned Parenthood because my mother, who was very much into women’s rights when I was growing up, is disgusted with my current beliefs and works for her church’s “birth crisis center,” which essentially hands out misinformation to very scared mothers who come to Planned Parenthood to deter them from making an informed decision. They also rarely stop at religion in these arguments and start spreading hate about those of different races and cultures, and it’s awful to listen to. I’ve also had many visits with them ruined by a horrible fight that breaks out. I’ve tried many times to ignore their comments or change the topic, but somehow, I get sucked into this spiral with them.
Basically, I’m trying to figure out how to maintain a relationship with my family, whom I once held very close to my heart, when they have become such angry, hateful people. Due to some very strong domestic abuse and untreated mental health issues that are rampant in my family tree, I have very limited contact with my extended family and I do not want to lose contact with even more people. I am very much someone who values family above all else, so this has been a heartbreaking development to deal with. Any advice you have on dealing with this would be helpful. — Losing My Parents to Their Religion
I’m sorry to hear about your parents’ sudden change in demeanor, attitude, and values. It has to be unsettling at best, and I imagine your heart is breaking at the thought of losing the relationship you’ve always enjoyed with your parents. Fortunately, there’s still a chance that your parents will come to their senses and leave what sounds like some sort of cult. But you don’t have any control over that, and you don’t have any control over their behavior. All you can control is the way you react to them and how you choose to conduct yourself knowing what you know now about their current lifestyle, opinions, and values.
You know, for example, that any expression of values that differ from theirs will be challenged. So, choose not to express your values in such explicit terms. Stop talking about your volunteer work at Planned Parenthood. Keep conversations with them superficial or focused on topics that are still common ground. (IS there still common ground? Do you have shared hobbies or interests? Focus your relationship around those “safe” topics).
If you know you cannot resist joining a fight with them (“I’ve tried many times to ignore their comments or change the topic, but somehow, I get sucked into this spiral with them”), you need to take some responsibility for the fighting. WHY do you get sucked into the spiral with them? Do you feel you need to defend yourself? Do you feel like your words are going to change their minds? If you know what the outcome of your defensive arguments will be, change tactics. Fighting obviously isn’t working. Joining them in the spiral isn’t helping your relationship. So, try harder to resist joining them there. And if you simply cannot, then you may need to take a break from speaking to your parents until you think you have better self-control in the face of their religious nut-baggery, or limit your interactions with them to public spaces and events where personal boundaries might be respected a bit more.
I wish there were more I could offer you. But when you’re dealing with what sounds like highly vulnerable and irrational people who may or may not have untreated mental illness (you say it’s rampant in your family, so it’s possible your parents may be included in that group), there’s not much in your power to change or improve the situation. Your best bet is to maintain some communication with your parents — enough that you aren’t totally estranged — but create emotional distance to protect yourself from their madness and avoid being completely alienated by them. And then just keep your fingers cross (and pray if you’re the praying type) that, if they do, indeed, need mental treatment, they get it, that they are able to see the light and pull themselves out of the orbit they’ve lost themselves in, and that you can begin to rebuild your once-close relationship.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.